Jan Owen

Jan Owen has had five books of poetry published, the latest being Timedancing, (Five Islands Press, 2002). She teaches creative writing and has had residencies in Rome, Paris and Malaysia. She has been a guest at various literary festivals and conferences including the Maastricht International Poetry Nights 2002.

Swimming Instructor

for Mona Lisa in the fifth lane

Lips straight from the Quattrocento, at each end
a secret curlicue on a face as poised and round
as the smiling angel of Rheims surveying the world of men,
and a neck pure Primavera. Her green T-shirt’s skin-tight
on breasts so high and full they’re made to clasp.
Around her, four small boys of seven or eight
bob like apples in a barrel, shriek and splutter and gasp.
The echoes and reflections bounce off water and wall,
cross-currents of noise, drunken ripples of light.
She moves as evenly as a tide backwards along the lane,
a small head pressed against her belly; backstrokes
faltering left and right, she guides each one in turn:
‘Point your toes Michael. . . Head back, Luke,’ she calls
                                          above the din.
Small knobs hard with cold, they flail and flounder on.
It’s Sunday morning, the fathers have brought them down.
Men nearing forty now, they wait in the humid air,
fidget on benches at the side
and stare at their boisterous offspring and at her.
Their thoughts lap round like water, aching to touch,
as each little boy splashes towards horizons
green as promises, ripe as pippins in May.
The lesson done, they sigh and look away
From the bosom by Rubens under the shirt by Sportsgirl,
And that smile by da Vinci, half-innocent of it all.

From Friendly Street No. 9 and Tuesday Night Live

In the Waiting Room

Five vacant chairs,
a baroque hat-stand,
three naked hangers
on death row,
and a furled umbrella’s
categorical imperative.

I am heavy with molars.
Before and After
snarl along a wall.
It is overcast
in the cavity of the room
and always late afternoon.

Agony of the Monstera,
admirably quiet.
I read the future
on my errand card,
nurse a bag
fat with last week.

My son has a Union Jack:
He is earplugged to
England versus Pakistan.
We do not speak.
Something deepens.
Half-tame words like “syzgy”
snuff and stir.

From Friendly Street No. 17


Although we loved the gentle horse whose nose
of worn-out velvet nudged us for rye-grass,
Antarctica come to the suburbs was what drew
us through the heat; we trotted by its slow
and straining bulk or swung on the creaking cart.
Only the ice-man galloped – through each gate,
bent double over the hessian-covered block:
it weighed him down the side, around the back
and in with never a knock, boots puddling mud
over lino, till clunked on the chest-edge to teeter and thud.
Hot-foot, hot-foot on the road we’d wait,
breathing the wet sack smell, the oats, the sweet-
sour yellow dung, force-feeding weeds to Horse
to earn our chunks of slithery dripping ice.
‘Now clear off kids – and mind the bleedin’ wheels.’
So perched on the fence we kicked our heels,
watching the cart lurch up to Duthy Street.
Johnny always waved as it turned right
and into just a faint clip-clop applause;
while fast as we could suck or slurp, our ice
was licked off at the corners by the sun
or sent in shivery runnels down our skin,
trickling chocolate drops across the dirt.
And when we held the chips up glistening bright,
greyly among the frozen bubble swarms
there went a crooked mile between the palms
to question-mark the light. Beyond us, time
hung round on the wall; at every touch was home –
green streets, my brother’s laugh, a sunny day,
only half-grasped, forever melting away.

From Friendly Street No. 9 and Tuesday Night Live