Gaia Holmes: The Wrong Kind of Birds

This week we are previewing four poems from  Where the Road Runs out, a new collection of poems by Gaia Holmes, which will be forthcoming from Comma Press later this year.  Copies can be pre-ordered here.

Where The Road Runs Out will explore long journeys with dark destinations, the Danish concept of ‘hygge’, holes, cracks, gaps, expectations, rebellious houses, spiritual homes, thermals, morphine and the wrong kind of birds.

Regular readers of The High Window may recall the fine set of  Gaia’s poem which we included in THW #3 and which you can read here.   Gaia will also be our featured essayist in the summer issue of The High Window.


Gaia Holmes: Four Poems from Where the Road Runs Out



Morphine coaxes you away
from the practical things
on your mind-
the lawn you have to mow,
the bills you have to pay,
the will you have to write.
There is grass
creeping through the gravel
of your pristine drive,
duck shit bleaching
the path to the dam
but, for once,
you don’t care.
“There are birds
singing in my head” you say.
“Come closer so you can listen.”
and you grasp my hand,
clasp it hard so I can feel
the fevered tick
of your wayward pulse.
You pull me close
so that my ear
is pressed to your ear.
I hear nothing,
only the arid wheeze
that lives in your chest
and, outside,
the tactless cackle
of sea birds-
the ones with brutal names
and caws roughed-up
with oil-rig rust, fish scales
and drowning.
These, I think,
are the wrong kind of birds.
The birds in your head
must be sweeter-
the trilling, humming,
chirping kind,
the smooth inland
flower-eating kind
with pollen
in their feathers
and honey
in their throats.
I move away
but you pull me back.
“Keep listening” you say
“and you’ll hear them
soon enough.”


It was the middle
of a month of summer storms.
Broad Beans mushed
and blackened in their pods
before they ripened.
Fat slugs the size of mice
gnawed the world back to the stalk,
glossed my nights with patterns of slime,
and you turned up dripping at my door
wearing petrichor like cologne.

The house tried to warn me.
Something popped, sparked
and charred in the fuse box.
The lamp spat out the flimsy glass of its bulb
and you took over.
Light hummed on the tips of your teeth.
Moths flocked at the edges of your smile
and I too, wanted to tap your light.

When I awoke in the morning you’d gone.
Instead of a note, you’d left your outline
scorched into the bed sheets.
I imagined you leaving the house,
you- posting my hot key
back through the letter box,
you- sizzling as the morning mist
licked your skin.
I imagined you crackling
as you walked down my street
melting the hearts of women, stones,
dogs and men
burning yourself away from me.

Petrichor: The scent in the air after heavy rain following a period of prolonged dryness.


He always kept things warm for me –
the front door, the bed, the teapot.
He had these thermal fingers
he’d press on to things,
a kind of laying-on-of-hands
that could defrost a frozen chicken.

Once, when there was a power cut,
we made toast on his palms
and even managed to boil up
a small camping kettle to make tea.

When he was around
frost wouldn’t settle on the window panes.
Cats curled around his legs
as if they were stove pipes.

When he was around
our breath was invisible.
The air had no angles.
He nudged the whole, cold world
to the liquid edge of melting
but if I wanted ice
he gave me ice.


This morning the sky was an eerie shade
of puce and lemon
and the man wearing
the JESUS LOVES YOU sandwich board
outside the station was foaming at the mouth,
punching the hard December air
as he announced that
the end of the world is nigh.

On the bus home
as the day goes mad,
drops sun, snow and rain
from the same bulging bag,
you Google ‘Prayers for endings’
on your mobile phone.

In times like this,
when the skies are bruised
and the stars are slipping,
no one needs a key,
so you are not surprised
when you open your door
and find her sitting on your sofa
writing the names of saints
on the bottom of a shopping list.
You are not surprised when
she opens her mouth
and all the angels come out singing.
You are not surprized
that her lips on your neck
are Armageddon.


We all wanted him to be our father –
this man with hands like shovels,
this man that could strike a flame
on a damp matchbox,
this man who could stave off the rain.

We all loved him
dangerously and quietly,
bit our knuckles in bed at night
when we thought about him
dusting the stars,
rolling the fat, dry moon into view.
Some of us prayed.

He smelled of burnt sky
and sawdust.
The grass was singed in his wake.
We all took photos of his footprints,
pressed them to our chests when we slept.

Each morning
I felt my poems
rotting in my throat
as I waited for him
to return from the woods
his big fingers licked with dew,
his pockets full of mushrooms,
his words tasting of dirt.
There was something of God in his voice.
When he spoke,
my wild heart
lay down like a lamb
and blood lost its meaning.
My small name
stopped beating in my chest.


Gaia Holmes lives in Halifax. She is a free-lance writer and creative writing tutor who works with schools, libraries and other community groups throughout the West Yorkshire region. She runs ‘Igniting The Spark’, a weekly writing workshop at Dean Clough, Halifax. She has had two full length poetry collections published by Comma Press: Dr James Graham’s Celestial Bed (2006) and Lifting The Piano With One Hand (2013).and Tales from the Tachograph, a collaborative work with Winston Plowes (Calder Valley Poetry, 2017). Her third collection, Where the Road Runs Out, will be published by Comma Press in Autumn 2018.



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