Terri Metcalfe – Witness

Terri Metcalfe LEP&W V1 Dec 2022

Download PDF Here 13th Anniversary
Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume One December 2022.

Witness, poems by Terri Metcalfe.


Of all the girls on the lower site,
the ones it took me twenty years to realise
were cloned cuts of their mothers,
lined up like skittles you could knock
but they wouldn’t tumble, only rock

you were not of that painted vanity variety.
Approaching my doorstep with hair a halo of fire,
I thought, “Here comes the devil”
but God was on your lips,
you made me think it was serendipitous

until I found out that your mother was a nurse
and wrapped up with a razor in a pencil case
a tell-tale trail of bandages had been found
leeching shades of scarlet into the ground.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is
sometimes it takes the wounds of another
to remind us of one choice
and not the other.

Blood Ties

That day on Blencathra,
neither “blean” meaning summit
nor “cadeir” meaning seat-like, within reach,
after my legs had long pedalled out
and only the promise of one more hill
kept me pub-bound,
you told me to look at the view
and take on the hail
though it battered like shrapnel.
I knew the bruises would fascinate me for days
there now, I’d felt something.

The exact way to feel alive
is to ride close to death;
here I learned the differences
between blood and kin
blood ties us together,
its blush river coursing alongside
ever narrowing streets and footpaths,
over ancestral fells and lakes
to the place in our shared hearts
where its fractions embrace
into each rooted knot becoming folk we call family.

Five miles down
you force fed me Jaffa cakes
when I collapsed on the kitchen floor
the sugar rush took me back then. Let’s see,
I was eight, so you about 14: the joker years
you told me the splinter
the new squatter in my finger,
would travel straight to my heart
and burst it. Laughing, you hunted
down the would-be killer
and with bare fingers evicted him.

Some years later we’d sit by the fire,
you pulling ticks from the dog
you said never to leave the legs,
as their blood black bodies sizzled
like a Catherine Wheel funeral pyre.
You’d crammed in these country ways,
like ewes in a pen at lambing season
bleating their way to hardiness,
whereas as I sat on the fence
watching from the comfortable townland,
badly performing the goat.

Sometimes now when I light kindling
I watch the flames lick up
and unfurl twenty years ahead,
I see you no longer as the joker in the pack
but still with a laugh to calm the wilds.
Like baler twine I know you see me wrapped too tightly
a noose around a tree trunk
and sometimes I’m eight again
and I cut free
working my way back through
the blood-full landscape, to home.


The putty rolled in my gritty palms
like hours old porridge. I wondered
if I stuffed it up my nose, would it block
the smell of decaying people, that scent
uncorked only for the nearly dead –
yellow things and red things; tangy tinged
vomit, pockets of piss, pie and potatoes,
blood blisters with their slow-healing,
cochineal bubbles.

Rumours like lumps of coal carried door
to door said that a seventy eight year old
prostitute lay moth-balled behind its cocoon-like
blocks, locals picking at her like carrion crows,
though I didn’t get the joke
about taking her false teeth out.

A car engine lagged and dragged so I tried
to hide by flattening myself on top of the wall,
woodlice marching alongside me
like walking pills. Not even the coppers
drove slowly through our estate –
hub-caps were a status symbol
on or off the car
fake leather jackets
a permanent wave
stab wounds – our dog
took a knife in the ribs for me once
or I’d have been something really special too

and there stopped the royalty of the Raffles rebels
with their Sex Pistols and safety pins,
“Yer fuckin’ fat twat, wot yer up till?
Show us yer knickers!”
Like a decapitated head I fell from the guillotine
of the freshly fitted windows, the local nursing
home’s red bricks now stuck with the fingerprints
of a five year old, like giant, flightless ladybirds.

© Terri Metcalfe

Cumbria native Terri Metcalfe moved to Ireland with her Mayo born partner and two children in 2019. From a down-to-earth, tools of the practical trade family, she only recently in her forties thought it acceptable that she might be a serious poet. Terri has endured several decades of mental and physical ill health which she draws on in her work. She has been published in Abridged, A New Ulster, Green Ink Poetry, Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis and Skylight 47. She was shortlisted for the Open Window 2023 mentorship programme and will be a featured reader at the 20th anniversary of Over The Edge Literary Events held in Galway city library this coming January.

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