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Helen Jones

Native Soil


This is the soil that made me,

The blue-black soil of legends, myths

Built from the bones of men who toiled

To dig the coal and shift the lead.

The claggy soil of chapel hymns,

Of Sunday tea and male voice choirs,

This is my soil.


This is the soil that made me, the dry starved soil that formed

From blight and hunger, wasteful death,

Of wilted crops, dry breasts, women in rags,

Of men who dug with calloused hands

The pitiful thin earth and fled

In slave packed boats to other lands.

This is my soil.


This is the soil that made me,

The fertile soil where women worked.

And straightened aching backs in cruel sun,

Of skivvies up at five to light the fires,

Toiling with buckets up and down the stairs,

Of girls dragged out of school to factory gates

For twelve-hour days and dreams of hope long gone,

This is my soil.


It is not your soil.

Your soil is made of sieges and of kings,

Adventurers who sailed to distant lands

Piled up their wealth from plunder and from death,

Of hero generals who killed their men

In great and glorious battles

This is your soil.


My soil is made of poverty and death,

Of men who could not breathe and women dead

Before their time.

Helen Jones © 2023

The Photograph


Winter’s black gobbling mud

Has gone,

Leaving us only dust,

A playground made of ashes,

For Tina and me.

Two little girls with prams,

We are not yet four,

Hands raised to fend off

The unlikely sun.

The camera makes us negatives,

White faces,

Colour bleached out gives us

Sepia dresses.


You look at us and see

The black and white,

A textbook illustration

Of a type, classify us,

Two slum kids playing,

 File us in your mind

For future dissecting,

Use us to illustrate some book perhaps,

Bind us in a thesis that will bring you fame,

We are not real to you; we have no names.

Your alien gaze will miss the vital signs,

The differences which still assault my eyes,

Scream loud reproaches to me

Down the years.


One dress is slightly better,

One pram cost more,

One dad a tradesman,

The other is unskilled.

This lottery of birth pulls us apart,

My school is better, hers has given up.

I go to university, she to a shop,

Works hard for years, never earns a lot.

She finds out early, I take time to learn,

That lack of money always holds you back,

That you and those like you, will always see

A slum kid when you look at me.


Helen Jones © 2023

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