Tamar Yoseloff Poetry


Three poems by Tamar Yoseloff including new work commissioned for the recent Sensing Spaces exhibition at the Royal Academy.




My feet, rough machines,

trudge worn paths;

I must move or I’ll root.


The sky has gone to ground;

light darkens my step.


The forest folds in on itself,

reveals an empire of insects,

animals cut into puzzles

by the pillars of trees.


Hazelwood, cure for what ails;

its bark stings but doesn’t

break the skin.


My feet slip on the crush

of stone, unreliable floor.

My fingers fur with dust –

I put them to my face, smell

the sharp cast of age.


No map, no way out.

I dig my bed in the dirt,

place my ear to earth.



(Commissioned by Ekphrasis for the recent Sensing Spaces exhibition at the Royal Academy.)





Objects which were left by mothers giving up their babies to the Foundling Hospital between 1741 and 1750 and which remained the property of the hospital governors.




My heart has fled,

its good meat

a nourishment for another


and what is left

is this case for nothing,

hard and empty,


a reminder of the mother

who carried you inside her

then released you to the light.




How can we be so beautiful,

rejected by our creator,

jewels born out of sand?


We grow to fit our conditions,

the mantle of our host

a temporary home.


We are firm, imperfect,

like grains of rice which do not

stave off your hunger.


Too dear for the likes of her,

your mother. A seamstress

or a lady’s maid, fallen


from grace, the way we fell

from a bodice or a brooch,

our lustre dimmed.




I am a shield for a thumb,

in the bright battle

of needle and thread,


an old hat, a nip of rum,

a tap on the head

for the naughty child,


a shuck of tin, a tick

on the glass from a blowse

saying let me in,


a neat bit, a magic trick:

tip me and I’m gone,

gone, like the girl

who handed me over,

a tiny trinket, nothing

she’d miss.




I am a gaol without a door,

a will of iron. I cannot release

the circle of myself, latched


to my heartless body. No rest

from the work of obstruction,

no rest for those who’ve sinned.


I heave a weight, cold

to the touch, I taste of death

when you put me to your tongue


but I am speechless, charmless.

I am the warden of memory

and I have thrown away the key.




This to remember her by:

her profile realised in me,

the callous ache of shell,


each curl of her hair,

the noble line of her nose,

but she remains unknown;


a speck of a woman

receding, like my nature,





to a door I cannot open

to a heart that will stay broken

to a story never told


to a Bible that holds your name

to a locket that hides your face

to the story of your shame


to a puzzle I can’t mend

to a tear I can’t unrend

to a story without end



1. a hazelnut shell, 2. a string of seed pearls, 3. a thimble, 4. a padlock, 5. a tiny cameo, 6. a key


(First published in Tokens for the Foundlings – Seren, 2012)






Glissando          the small

shimmer of my sashay.

Ssh, or you’ll miss me.


You’ll miss me,

the cool dip as I slip

from your fingers:


the one that got away.

A miraculous fish,

all glide and guggle,


as I dive into my sea

of troubles.

You’ve only

skimmed the surface.



I wear this, precious gift

of industrious worms,

so I’m engrained


in your memory, like

the green light, red room,

the geisha gloom


of black silk          slick

under your fingers

as you undo those


fiddly little buttons

one by one, and open me:


a Pandora’s box,

a bag of tricks,


a billet-doux

addressed to someone else.



(First published in Fetch – Salt, 2007)

12 May 2014