I hear you, Nazanin, by Sheila Jacob

You wake me tonight
rattling chains
like Marley’s ghost
but there’s no death
in this haunting.

I hear your anger
as you grapple
ankle cuffs
that bind you
to your hospital bed,

I hear you warning
your captors,
and demanding
a release.
I hear the throb

of your heart
against my ribs,
your breath is strong
and rising
from my mouth,

your voice
becoming my own
as I cry out
against a madness
that was never yours.

Blood Sisters, by Sheila Jacob

A belly-cramp wakes her
before daybreak.
Before the guards arrive
and herd them into the yard
for morning roll-call.

She clambers across
the top bunk,
stands up too quickly
and night’s scald of blood
streams down her legs.

Anna’s watching, frowning.
Sharp-tongued Anna
who prattles in her sleep.
Anna, whispering Martha,
child, don’t cry.

She’s kneeling, lifting
a mattress then padding
to Martha’s side
and filling her hands
with strips of cloth.

Torn secretly, she says,
from her underslip.
They’re used and stained
but she washed each rag
as best she could

and kept them safe.
Thought they’d be needed
again; hoped her womb
would obey the tug
of a clouded moon.


In Auschwitz-Birkenau and other concentration camps, menstruating women had to use any scraps of paper and cloth they could find. Young girls were helped to manage the trauma of this, and a first period, by older women, a vast proportion of whom suffered amenorrhoea.

If walls had ears by Sheila Jacob

We witness in silent ways, swallow voices

into our fabric of stone and mud and dust,

where else do you think the day’s sound

lives once airborne, does it fade like silks,

grow colourless on tapestry for the altar’s

frontal, pure linen for chasubles and copes?


(Fine threads on a chasuble where a needle

stabbed; over, around, tracings of smothered

light, lost resurrections, the chalice brimful.)


We bear the weight of cries from a child’s

sickbed, a woman’s rage;spiders hear it, too,

snag a thread of pain, weave it into corners.

Return to Aleppo by Sheila Jacob

He hammers plastic sheets onto windowless frames.

She sweeps brick dust outside where bulldozers groan

through rubble and it circles back, she’s powder-faced,

swollen- mouthed, coughs stringy phlegm into a towel.

He smooths her hair, promises life will improve if they

pray, work hard, this is their home, their  jewelled city.

Their cold, leaking flat shovelled clear of broken glass.


He walks her to the Citadel, fingers a crumbled wall

and weeps. He’s a good man, doesn’t rage about losing

their son last year when a qunbula  dropped too close

and the child came too soon, slipped from her like a red

wax doll. She buries grief; humps water from street tanks,

scours markets for food while hollering lads chase empty

oil drums, wear striped woollen hats lettered CANADA.

Lyric for Tuam by Sheila Jacob

Did anyone

sing lullabies, kiss you

a final time

before they closed

your small unseeing eyes?


They took you

when the curl of the tide

swirled dark around the bay;

when owls screeched

swoop-winged and you,

little-boned and blameless,

were dumped where the earth

would never tell,

could never tell


but told,

opened its muddy mouth

and rang out secrets

louder than chimes

of noon-day’s Angelus bell.

The Voice of Aleppo by Sheila Jacob

I rise from the splintering husk of a blown shell,

slip through pockets of air, my wings sparking,

trailing smoke between crumpled tower blocks

and satellite dishes mouthing coded messages.


I tremble across the city, roll war’s blood and blast

around my parched throat, loosen globs of trauma.

My gassed lungs wheeze; I croak, breathe the salt

spray of your foreign shore, circle its comfort zone.


You recognise my voice, up the volume on your mp3

muffling the scrape of nails beneath  fallen roofs,

dulling the cries of Rachel weeping for her children,

refusing to be comforted because they are no more.


I prey on your nerves, peck your empty hands, claw

for the gift of your heart beating and aching beside

my own. If I could remember how, I’d roost instead

on a treetop, enchant you at daybreak with my song.

In detail by Sheila Jacob

Peritonitis, his widow explained; stood behind a table as though
in the background of her own life. Mum and Dad listened, stern
faced, promised a Mass for the repose of his soul and we showed
ourselves to the door. They knew what I’d hidden, never discussed
it except to say I needn’t visit him again. I often wished they’d talk,
ask if I had nightmares but perhaps they feared the burden of detail.

Hand-on-knee bus rides. Tumps of hot grass beneath bare legs. Pink
and scarlet geraniums. Passers-by tonguing ice creams. Home-made
fairy cakes in greaseproof paper. Treacle toffee. His narrow fingers.
Sickly-sweet orange squash in the brown Thermos his wife prepared.
He struggled to open it once, cussed her as a stupid woman. My bare
arms. His cheek-to cheek whispers. My new dress. His greedy mouth.

The doll in the Promenade des Anglais by Sheila Jacob

Nice, Bastille Day, 2016


If the doll could speak

would she tell

of crushed bones

and fresh blood

and a woman

wailing for her son?

Would she let

a single tear roll

plop down a smooth

pink cheek?


If the doll could speak

cry miracle!

The dead child

would have risen,

picked up her toy,

breathed words

into a hollow plastic

mouth and blown

them out again

soft as dandelion seeds.

Not brillig in Brexitland by Sheila Jacob


Write, you bastards, urges the poet from Zaragoza

but random words collide, crash like FTSE shares

plunging off the page, zooming down a rabbit hole

where Sam Cam sits weeping, daubs me with an X.

Eat me, drink me, come to mad Nigel’s party, hunt

foreigners dozing in teapots, cart-load them home

flooding the Severn Tunnel and Spaghetti Junction.


Wales, Wales, you’ve scored the losing own goal.

Birmingham, my birth-home, I’ll fasten a bull ring

around your hard nose, show you the departing star.

London Bridge stands firm, isn’t falling for Boris

but I’m still  the wrong side of the looking glass

balancing fear in each hand, pen & paper in mouth,

trying to write by spitting through clenched teeth.

When The King Measured His Bathwater by Sheila Jacob

Britain was at war with Germany
and all I knew  about the Home Front
came from history books at school.

Weren’t you afraid of being bombed?
I asked my Mum.
No, she shrugged, we just kept going,
went to work as usual.                                                  

What about food rations,
weren’t you hungry?
We never went short, she boasted,
our Mom could make a meal
out of anything.

The King measured his bathwater,
I swanked.
Hmm, I dare say he did,
she sighed, unimpressed.

Every Friday night
she heated water
from the kitchen boiler,
heaved pail after pail upstairs
for my weekly bath.
Dad had T.B.,
struggled for breath
if he lifted or carried.

When she finally moved house
aged eighty-two, accepted
a sheltered flat
with central heating
and running hot&cold
I coveted her power-shower.

She shook her head, nervous
of the jet, preferred a basin
or plastic bowl.

Anyway, she pondered
it doesn’t seem right,
 wasting so much water.

Grandad Ernie’s Rosary by Sheila Jacob

Cambrai, Northern France, November 1917



Sarge reckoned we’d nail the Jerries this time,

nab the town of Com-bree, cut off their supplies.

We was all in it together with our rifles, shells,

machine guns and biplanes but them new tanks

was more trouble than they was worth, groaning

and grinding, getting stuck in the blinking mud.


Jerry whizz-bangs came flying out of nowhere,

blowed us off our feet, we was all over the shop

coughing and cussing be’ind waves of smoke.

My best mate Frank copt it right in the kisser,

I ‘eard ‘im cry No-oo then ‘e was screaming

though ‘e ‘ad no mouth to scream with, poor sod.


We crawled for cover, ‘oled up safe for the night.

Frank used to mither ‘ave yow said yowr prayers

 young Ernie, ’ave yow changed yowr wet  socks?

So I said one for Frank, ‘oped ‘e’d gone to ‘eaven,

took a pair of warm socks from under my ‘elmet

and stubbed my septic toe against some stones.


Only they wasn’t stones they was wooden beads

on a proper Rosary, blimey it was a whopper,

the sort monks and nuns wear round their waists.

I stopped effing and blinding, wiped the beads,

buffed the cross against my tunic and ‘eld it tight.

It was the same size as my ‘and, fitted a treat.


I sat for ages puzzling where it ‘ad come from.

I fingered the beads, carved like roses they was,

remembered our Liz and Joe the bab, I ‘adn’t seen

‘im yet, wondered if ‘e was blond  like our first lad

‘oo couldn’t ketch ‘is breath, turned blue on my lap.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death

On Her Wedding Day by Sheila Jacob

She doesn’t look, can’t look,

head and arms pinned back,

bridesmaid’s hands

shielding each eye

and the woman who cuts


squatting low,

trimming beneath folds

of a brightly patterned dress.



the families celebrate.

She’s promised

meat, buttermilk,


bites hard

on the bedclothes

as he takes his pleasure

for the first time.

Girls who drop plates by Sheila Jacob

Should be seen to straightaway,

their fathers warn, hearing the crash,

these girls who sing and dance,

careless about the house, too clumsy

for men to want as wives, they must

be tamed, there are places up north

where this is nipped in the bud

when they’re soft , small, not old

enough to remember the midwife

with her razor blade and a mother

watching, pleading it should be done

because it’s always been the way

of things, a husband  prefers it,

he’ll honour the family, bring

live goats and jewels.


These girls are wild, their

fathers say, it’s against

the law to cut

but in our  far-flung village

who will turn and tell?

In the carpark stairwell by Sheila Jacob

A turquoise mat is fraying

on the piss-stained floor

where plastic bags trail

like discarded ankle-socks.


Foil dishes glint, crowd

cans of empty Carlsberg

spilled across newsprint,

nub ends, crumpled tissues.


A hooded jacket slumps,

warms empty syringes

still as tiny glass birds

who dreamed a skylight.

Bee is for Bright by Sheila Jacob

In summer they buzz round

my washing line, hitch a ride

on cerise and purple T-shirts,

pretend they’re deep  brown

brooches with that faux fur look.


They make it to the kitchen

before I notice, rehome them

in the grass thinking of honey

on golden toast, lit candles

on a  pure white altar cloth.

April by Sheila Jacob

i.m. April Jones (4th.April 2007-c.October 2012)


She went missing

before the light nights ended,

asked to play outside

just a little while longer,


her body’s wholeness

the iconic photo

of a  shyly-smiling girl

who loved to wear pink,

go swimming,buy sweets

at the corner shop.


They found only



Bone in the burned logs.


Blood in the downpipe.


Bone and blood

ashes and tears

staining the hills

of Machynlleth


until April’s month


the  bitter earth

with green buds

and golden flowers

laundered by the rain.


Boy on the Beach by Sheila Jacob

                               i.m.Aylan, Galip & Rehan Kurdi


You shouldn’t be the-boy-on-the-beach

washed ashore face down, salt water

troubling your small dark head.


You should be covered in beach-dust

after hunting shells, arranging pebbles,

pouring sand from spade to bucket.


You should be teasing the waves,

squealing backwards as they foam

your toes, rinse your lean brown legs.


You should be eating an ice cream,

swirling it round your tongue until

Galip guffaws at your white moustache


while Mum finds a tissue, Dad grabs

his iPhone and  takes a selfie of you all

grinning together.