Alice, The Anchoress’s Girl

My mistress Julian cannot see the sky.
But when days stretch long
Sun flickers through her cell
Like herring scales.

My mistress Julian cannot feel the rain.
But when crowds ebb home
Bells still, light falls, rain rolls
Down eaves like tears.

My mistress Julian cannot catch the wind.
When she writes of His love
Cold burns fingers, breaks quill
She blows, stops, starts.

My mistress Julian cannot bring them back.
But when she prays, clasps palms
I see their small souls quiver
Feel hands, hot breath.

My mistress Julian cannot save me.
But I want to tell her
Living under holed, wide sky
Pulls my soul’s threads bare.

My mistress Julian cannot see my world.
But I want to tell her
That when she says
‘Alle shalle be wele’,

That when she says
‘Alle maner of thynge
Shalle be wele’,

That when she says
‘Alle shalle be wele’,
I want to tell her
That it stitches me whole.

Elen Lewis

The message

A long time ago in a garden
Far, far away
August days fell long,
Adrift in a swarming heat.

We stretched our thoughts out
Into a tremor of light,
The hologram spoke:
‘Help me. You’re my only hope.’

It is late. After nine,
We wait, melting into darkness.
Leia flares silently to life.
I catch her,
Put her in my pocket.

Elen Lewis

Wordstorm stories

Her name was Alice and she caught a bolt of lightning in a glass jam jar. She screwed the lid on tight and watched it flip, flop and flash like a goldfish. Sometimes, she kept the jar beneath her pillow and used the light to read books under the bedcovers. Sometimes, she unscrewed the lid and wrapped the lightning around her hand in honeyed skeins. Sometimes, she folded the lightning bolt over and over into a square until it fitted into her pocket. The lightning jar made her hands hot, it made her smiles glow. The moment she put down the jar the spell was broken. Weeks passed and the lightning jar paled and stilled. Alice couldn’t bear the fading. She added drops of rainwater to the jar with a pipette. The lightning hissed and curled. Alice shrouded the jar with black tissue paper. The lightning sputtered. Alice whispered lullabies to the jar. It sounded like a prayer. ‘Lightning bolts are like people, they’re born, they live, they die,’ said her grandmother. Alice waited for the next storm. She changed into one of her seven yellow dresses and she looked like a broken-yolked daffodil. She placed the jar in the middle of the lawn and unscrewed the lid. The rain fell.

His name was Tom and he flew his plane deep into a storm cloud.  He had been reviewing his life. ‘Believe you can do it, and then do it,’ he said. The words spilled from his mouth like morning sunlight on the bedroom floor. He swooped into the deep seas of the sky, sailing through the clouds, his eyes fixed on the swirling blackness of storm. This is where he believed he would find the truth. He wrestled with cumulus and cumulo-nimbus. He flew too close to the sun. Down, down, down. He whispered the pilot’s prayer. He wanted to fly into a storm cloud like he’d never wanted anything before. He knew there were whole worlds in there. He imagined creation. He saw the beginning of the world as a succession of terrifying storms and he understood that this was the meaning of life. He flew his small plane into the blackness and it was so dark that he looked with his heart, not his eyes, until he was enclosed in a hush. And then he thought that he never wanted to go back home.

Her name was Rose and she chased storms all over the world. She had seen lightning lick the floor and seen it suck out the sky with sharp hungry teeth. She had lain at the blue-threaded feet of the Thunder Bride in Finland and spun six times for Santa Barbara in Rwanda. She had seen The Empire State Building hit 15 times in 15 minutes and darted through lightning spears with the fishermen of Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. She had seen thunderclouds roll across the sky so fast, that they made the rocks hum and sing. She had watched lightning strike cook potatoes underground until they were soft and perfectly baked, then roast a flock of geese mid-flight, until they rained down on her head ready to eat.  Gifts from God.  She believed that lightning was the most beautiful word she had ever heard. Later, she learned many others, and she liked to whisper them when she was alone. ‘Cumulonimbus’, ‘Fulgurite’, ‘Ceraunoscopy’, ‘Electrical’, ‘Atmospheric Perturbations’, ‘Fulminology’. They get bigger and bigger if you say them over and over again. She whispered and whispered and let the word grow until nothing exists except the word.

His name was Arthur and he swam in puddles. He made it his life’s work. To travel, to splash, to swim. In deep, velvety puddles, he would hang still and wait for the sediment to settle. Then he would open his eyes. The light was remarkable, like swimming inside a hunk of amber. It had all begun one summer holiday on the southern plains of France when Arthur was eight years old. The puddle was no bigger in diameter than the oval table in his mother’s dining room, but it was bottomless. All day long Arthur dove down the puddle. He swum with water boatmen and tiny black frogs and silver fish the size of his fingernails that flashed in the sunlight. Towards the end of the day he’d hung as still as a cut out bird in a cut out sky and the dust had started to dance. In the sepia lowlight, each tiny grain took on his features and the way he moved until he was puddle-swimming with hundreds of miniature versions of himself. After that, he was trapped. Every puddle held the possibility of an underwater dance with himself. When people asked him why, he would say, ‘it never gets lonely.’

His name was Jonathan and he had a storm in his heart. His voice rumbled. His eyes flashed yellow and streamed raindrops, marking his cheeks. People in the village said that the storm had flown inside him in the heat of late summer, when he was five-years old. It was that time of year when storms are unpredictable, when lightning streaks across cloudless skies. The rain drenches. Ten minutes later the ground is dry. A thunderstorm crossed the valley. It hit him, it stayed inside him, it changed him. As he grew older, he stood on the veranda for hours on end, watching the sky blaze with distant storms. And when he left the farm, he wore dark glasses and tried not to talk. When people spoke to him he pretended he couldn’t understand. And then his mother would begin to explain. ‘Jonathan has a storm in his heart. It came from heaven. We can begin again and we are saved every day.’ Jonathan didn’t think like that. He preferred to look at the sky. He watched the rain come, felt it hit and move on, and waited until he was dry again. His eyes flashed, wept and dried, his voice rumbled, softened and stilled and then it started again.

Her name was Beth and she fell from the sky. She was a gift from the lightning god Shango. Where ever the little girl walked, she was followed by spears of lightning. As the girl grew older she became weary of the lightning, it got in the way of living. Shango explained that the lightning followed her because it loved her so much. She told him that she had found true love with a human boy and didn’t need celestial light. The lightning stopped. At first, the young girl felt properly alive without the constant thunderstorms, she could hear the small sounds of nature for the first time, the rabbits scurrying in fields, the insects brushing wings in the trees, she could kiss her lover in the cloying darkness for hours on end. In time she began to miss the lightning. She realised that it was her lighthouse. Her lover tired of her. He said there was no point in a beautiful wife that he couldn’t see, that he couldn’t catch fish in the pitch black. He told her to pray for rain. She left Shango offerings near her house, a lump of coal, a plump chicken and a beautiful red drum. She spent hours calling his name and spinning around six times. Shango never answered. And the girl’s village was shrouded in layers of darkness onto darkness, where the dark deepens into night and sometimes eases into twilight. And that is all it does.

His name was Zachariah and he collected storms in buckets. It wasn’t about the rain. It was the big guns, the big drums, the balls of light. First, he rolled the thunder, a giant sweet wrapper, into a crinkling ball, and threw it inside. Then, he pulled and wound the lightning around his elbow and hand. The lightning was brittle. Sometimes it snapped before it reached the bucket, so he would wait for the next bolt and start all over again. The storm buckets were taking over his house. They were spilling out of his shed into the spare bedroom, the wardrobe. There were even some perched on the side of his bed, wedged in the space between his pillow and his bedside table. There was no more room in the greenhouse, bulging at the seams. First, he told visitors they were collecting the rain falling through the roof. Then there were too many questions, so he stopped letting inviting people over. His neighbours hated the stormy sounds. His house was constantly rumbling and belching, crackling and whipping. At night, it flashed, fizzed and flickered like a dying light bulb. But as long as the storms kept coming, Zachariah would keep collecting them.

His name was Jack and every time he cried, the rain fell. And every time he laughed, the sun shone. When he yawned, there was a rainbow. When he sneezed, it snowed. Jack lived alone in the rafters of an attic. He prised tiles off the roof, just the odd one, here and there, so he could see the sky at all times. At night, he liked to commando roll around the floor, stopping precisely beneath each gap to see the stars. He named them. It made him cry. And then it would rain. The problem was that when it stopped raining, he felt frightened. It meant he could hear every little noise. The barking of a dog. A knock on the door. The caw of a crow. He tried to think positive thoughts. If I prise one more tile off the roof before midnight, it will rain. If I see three shooting stars before I sleep, the moon will smile. If I sing ‘Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head’ all the way through without forgetting the words, the sun will sink behind that cloud. He held his breath and waited to see what would happen next.

Their names were Joseph, Freddie and Lucy and they lived in a watering can.  They slept head to foot in the spout on pillows stuffed with lavender and dried wheat. The damp air stifled. They dreamed of the sun like a blazing orange lozenge and a desert like the surface of the moon where they could sift hot sand through fingers. Every day they sat inside and waited patiently for visitors. Joseph cooked a simple supper of sausages. Freddie straightened the lichen rug and plumped the velvety moss cushions. Lucy set the table for six and lit four candles. When the light licked the walls, all three knew they were mistaken. It was the way the flames bounced off the tin surfaces. ‘There’s no good reason for their delay,’ said Joseph. And this is what he always said. ‘We can keep waiting,’ said Lucy, blowing out the candles, again. ‘They’ll come,’ said Freddie.

His name was Harry and he was trapped inside a raindrop. ‘The thing is,’ he said. ‘I like it better in here.’ The world outside a raindrop is round and wavy. The sky is small and everyone looks like they’re holding hands. The problem is the constant falling. It makes you dizzy. And the damp. Always, Harry had his favourites of the people outside. There was Alice who unravelled bolts of lightning like skeins of wool. She never gave up. There was Jonathan who had a storm in his heart and the soul of an old man. He never complained. Or, there was Rose who whispered ‘lightning’ over and over until the word grew and all that was left was the word. She was brave. Harry closed his eyes. He reached out his hand. He asked Alice and Jonathan questions. He asked Zachariah and Rose questions. He asked  Martha, Tom, Freddie, Joseph and Lucy, Beth and Arthur. What’s it like out there? Can you see inside the clouds? Can you feel the lightning? Do you like the wet? Do you like me? Can you see me? Can you see through me? Am I dead? Is anyone there?

The house of storms

It can’t keep raining forever. It’s been raining forever.

The morning is full of storms. Every morning the same. Stormy. Storms. First humming, the rain is coming. Drip. Drip. Drop. Drop. Pitter. Patter. Plop. Pitram. Pitran. Chipi. Chipi. Chirimiri. Spatter. Splatter. Squelch. Slip. Spit. Squish. Slosh. Splash. Galosh. Gurgle. Trickle. Runnel. Storm’s coming. Rain’s drumming. Swirling. Whirling. Warning. Whoosh. Whoooo. Whistle. Whimper. Cry. Gale. Howl. Tyne. Dogger. Fisher. German Bight. Sole. Lundy. Fastnet. Waiting.

It can’t keep raining forever. It’s been raining forever.

Wind reading the signs. Rain burning the ground. Sky brooding like tin foil. Here it comes. Light. Flash. Bang. Gone. Darkness. Falling. Bang. Jagged. Zipped. Heat. Sparks. Streaks. Flint. Ebony skies. Window pain. Seersucked. Ripped open. Stitched back. Hiss-s-s-s-s-ing. Flash. Shining. Darkness. We’re rain-rocked, storm-shook, thunder-struck, lightning-lit, lightening-lit, rain-dance, soft-salt, rain-pain, wet-spears, mermaids-tears, storm-burst. The lightning is sharp, bright, sticking its fingers through the sky. The world charred black and white. Word storm, puddle storm, rain storm, thunder and lightning storm.

It can’t keep raining forever. It’s been raining forever.

Constant drumming. Floor glinting. Roof heaving. Curtains twisting. Books swelling. Coats dripping. Teacup trembling. Light bulbs hissing. House croaking. Water walking. Gurgle talking. Air stifling. Darkness thickening. Shadows tearing. Secrets ripping. Worlds opening. Words deepening, clearing. Flashes coming, groping. Living, partly living.

It can’t keep raining forever. It’s been raining forever.

Elen Lewis and Rhys

Elen Lewis – original in English

‘Treasure’ – Film of Lloyd George meeting Hitler

Megan eats grapes

Father, I say
If only poetry could tell it backwards, true,
Cariad, he says
Begin with the truth against the world.

Father, we are
Playing shadows pinned against Bavarian sky
Megan, he says
Under that hat, you’re a cross, a crossing out.

Father, I watch
Sideways, beneath, at his face
I see, the white
Knife flash, slicing hills with blood red flags.

Rhys Iorwerth – translation into Welsh

‘Trysor’ – Ffilm o Lloyd George yn cyfarfod Hitler

Megan yn bwyta grawnwin

Tada, ebe fi,
Pe na baem ond yn gweld y gwir i gyd.
Cariad, ebe fe,
Dechreua â’r gwir yn erbyn y byd.

Tada, cysgodion
Yn y llwydni dros Fafaria ydym ni.
Megan, ebe fe,
Creu llun o groes trwy wisgo’r het wyt ti.

Tada, rwy’n gweld
Drwyddo, heibio i bob boch,
Y llafn sy’n hollti’r
Bryniau’n waed o dan faneri coch.

The Lightning Girl

When Beth is struck by lightning again, the father of her dead boyfriend Sam, who died in a storm, pays her a visit at home.

Chapter 18 

When the storm blew away, the ants flew in. The sky pressed down, cracking concrete, killing plants. Old people had turns, dogs lolled in the street and young lovers couldn’t keep their hands off each other.

The tale of Beth’s lightning strike carried on the sticky wings of the kamikaze ants flying over the village. They were larger than normal with clunky armoured bodies and white diaphanous fairy wings too long for their frames. There were thousands of them, clogging the airwaves, crowding the pavements and dropping from the sky.


Beth slumped over the table, relishing the silence of an empty house. She wondered if the buzzing in her head would ever leave. It was a constant quickening, a swoosh of excitement at the base of her skull, and when she closed her eyes, the blackness was ripped with jagged light.

A car spun up the driveway spitting shingle from its wheels and Beth knew it was not her parents. As she walked to open the front door, her feet peeled and stuck to the cold tiles like post-it notes.

Sam’s dad, Dave was leaning on the door when it opened and he stumbled over the THIS IS NOT A DOORMAT into the hushed dark hall where she waited. He was so close that Beth could smell the tang of ale on his warm breath. She stepped back.

“Mum and Dad aren’t here.”

He looked at her. As if encouraged by the chime of the grandmother clock, he said, “I just wanted to make sure you were OK.”

Beth wasn’t sure what to do with him, so she led him into the best room. Barred unless it was a special occasion, Beth and her sisters sometimes forgot a space existed behind its closed door. Inside, the delicate ticks of the carriage clock shared time with two grimacing china spaniels and a wedding portrait of her parents looking startled.

Dave sat next to her on the edge of the sofa and it slowed his breath. They sat in silence. The carriage clock slowed down and the spaniels watched with interest.

“I just wanted to make sure you were OK,” he said, more confidently. “I didn’t like leaving you like that in the storm. It wasn’t right. But, we couldn’t stay.” He sounded as if he was muttering to himself.

“It’s fine,” said Beth automatically. She didn’t know what to tell him. Yes, she was OK; no, she was not OK.

“It was too much for Ashley. She has bad nerves. It brought it all back, not that it’s ever gone away, but seeing you like that, made her wonder, us wonder, if that’s what it was like for Sam. Ashley said it must have been agony. She hadn’t thought of it like that before. She thinks he suffered. And we didn’t want to have to think like that. Not now, not three years later, for it to come back again, so sharp and vivid and loud. We’re drowning, me and Ashley, we’re drowning.”


“I’m sorry.”

“Did it hurt?”

“I don’t think I can remember.”

“Did it hurt Sam?”

“I don’t know.”


But Beth thought that she might know. Whenever she thought of him, it was only the dead Sam she could see, lying in the mud, black liquid seeping from his mouth like a tree weeping resin. She raised her head and looked at Sam’s father. Unhappiness puffed out of him like the clouds of flour from his bread rolls.


“You’re lonely,” she said.

“I am.”

“Me too.”

“There is no bottom to this sadness, is there?”


Beth watched two ants locked in Dave’s wiry hair, which was the colour and texture of the brillo pad on the kitchen sink. It would scrape her fingertips if she touched it. He banged the side of his head with a flattened wrist and Beth imagined some tangoing ants in the caverns of his ear. They were smooching to Ella Fitzgerald records inside his mind, rubbing their wings against the other through the rhythm. She reached over and brushed the insects from his hairline. As she lowered her hand he grabbed her wrist.


“How are you?” Beth dislodged a fruit pastille from the side of her teeth. She thought she would never really know the answer to that question.

“I’m OK.”

“No. I mean. Who are you?” He looked as if he wanted to drag the answer from her lips.

“Mum thinks I’m epileptic but I’m not. Did you feel that ball of light in the room? Did you see me hold the ball of light in my hands?”

“When the lightning came, I saw you talking to someone, you were talking and you were calm. You smiled. I saw you smile. What did you say? Who did you see? Was it Sam?”

And this time he was tracing the pink fossilised scar on her inner arm with a trembling finger. She let him follow the lightning trail all the way to her wrist, which he circled with his thumb and forefinger.

“Who are you Beth?”

“I thought it was the sun, but it wasn’t,” she said. “It felt like I was holding the sun.”


She tried to look around him without catching his eye. Sadness shrouded his body. Every time he spoke or moved, he made a tremendous effort. His broad shoulders triggered something in her. They held Sam’s shrug. And when he unconsciously raised his shoulders as he asked her that question, she had an overwhelming desire to hold his hand.

“Would you like a beer?” Beth had never offered anyone an alcoholic drink before. She returned with a can of her father’s lager from the fridge, pressed the metallic cold on her cheek and handed it to him. It was not until Dave opened the back of his throat and tipped the contents down in one swift motion, that she worried what her dad would say.

“Come here Beth.” It was not a request. He pulled her from the sofa onto his knee and placed his hands to her face. No one said a thing. Beth knew what was coming. The taste of beer was overpowering. He smelled of damp bread and nerves. His silver-stubbled chin grazed her face. Beth held her breath and clasped her knees with clammy hands.

She closed her eyes, she folded into him; she kissed him full on the mouth. He stroked her hair, he rasped her name into her lips, he pushed his thumb against her teeth. She pulled him down, the stiff fabric of the sofa prickling her bare arms, light and dark flickering as she closed and opened her eyes watching his hungry face, his trembling upper lip. How simple it was to melt against him. She left and watched the scene from the fireplace below her great great aunt’s china dogs.

Sam’s father cleared his throat. He let her go. The carriage clock chimed five and he sank back into her mother’s tapestry cushion. They lay on the sofa for a long time. The long afternoon shadows of the poplar trees shuddered and stretched along the parquet floor like old ladders. Beth wondered what was next.

She swallowed his taste from her mouth. His grief trickled down the back of her throat and lodged above her heart like a large pill she shouldn’t have swallowed whole. She needed a drink. The bees in her head buzzed on. Dave’s sadness pulsed and settled deep inside her.

“I just wanted to understand. Is there anything else you can tell me? I miss him.” It sounded like he was apologising.

Beth shook her head. “I think I hold a kind of terror. I think nothing will ever be the same again. That I am no longer normal.” And then she stopped, pulled her wrist from his grasp and sat up.  “Can I show you something?”


For one moment, upstairs, Beth thought it was a bad idea. But then she knew that if she didn’t show him this, she had no idea what might happen next. She stopped in the hallway in front of the mirror and listened to him humming beneath his breath next door. She looked the same. Pale face pointy beneath her fringe, eyes shooting darts of golden light, the mirror glittered as if it was full of camera flashes. Sam was standing behind her, inky chin and torn T-shirt, he reached around her body and smoothed down the ripples in her dress. Beth walked back into the room.

“What’s all this?” Dave was rubbing his eyes as if he’d surfaced from a deep sleep.

“Treasure.” Beth opened the old shoebox and emptied its contents onto the sofa seat. He didn’t say anything but she watched him move his eyes from a tiny seashell to a dragonfly husk and a Peruvian stamp. Years of her life compressed.

“What have we here?” he said in a whisper. He fingered some of the objects. A polished wooden egg, a sea-smooth slip of blue glass.

“Treasure. I’ve been collecting it since I was six or seven. Since I was young.”

“Since you were young.” He said this in a way that was not a question or a polite echo but something uttered by someone who knows a lot, to someone who knows very little.

“Sam wanted to see it.” Beth tried to read his face but his head was bowed, shaking fingers slipping over shards of treasure.

“Shit,” he whispered. “Shit.”

Beth handed him Sam’s mix tape from the treasure trove. Sam had presented it to her at the picnic the day he was struck dead by lightning. His purple, spidery writing neatly filled each line. Dave cradled the tape in two hands as if it might break.

“Let me keep it,” he said.

“Oh,” she said, sad that she would lose this too.

He was crying now, as the silent music tape rested on his knee. She took it from him, opened the case and posted it into her father’s silver tape cassette recorder. It whirred and hissed and the needles on the dials shot up and down. It began with the sound of an electronic keyboard and then a soft-voiced woman joined them in the room.

Beth sat next to face Dave and thought, I wonder how wrong something can get? She pressed his wet crumpled face into her bony chest, where a caged bird flapped its wings, and said, “Ssh. Just listen.”

The evening ticked on. A long sliver of light shone on the polished parquet floor and flying ants sparkled in and out like fairies. A boy beneath the soap-smudged moon glared through the French windows and the stars fell like stones from the sky.

  • © 2014 Elen Lewis