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24 Eyes – my first poem (apart from limericks) since my school days.

I wrote this after my first visit to the Ham & Jam cafe in Preston for the ‘Just Write’ writers meeting. Before I attended the meeting, I hadn’t thought about the possibility of having to read my work out loud, but as I did, it reminded me of when I played Mary in the school play at junior school, when my voice cracked and faded as I suddenly realised I was in front of a few hundred people. The meeting wasn’t half as scary as being on stage age 10, but the similarities between the two scenarios inspired me to write this little poem.


24 Eyes

I know it’s my turn,
I can’t avoid it.
My story is sound
But reading it out loud?

I take a deep breath
And ­confidently start,
A paragraph is over,
I’m pleasing the crowd.

But just as I settle,
Knowing it’s in the bag,
My mind flips a gear
And up comes the fear.

“Mary? Mary? Are you ok?”
Jesus, mother of Mary,
That’s my cue
But I can’t quite say.

My voice is failing
And I need the loo,
My head is all over,
What’s a girl to do?

Ancient memories of nativity
Still haunt me today,
Where is my voice?
What will I say?

No! Fifty percent,
You’re half way there,
No one has laughed
You’re okay, my dear.

My eyes glazing over
Peripheral vision closing,
Twenty-four knowing eyes
On my every move.

With no one to save me
Or hold my hand,
I clear my throat,
And battle ahead.

I won’t be beaten
Or give in to the demons,
I’m going to read this,
Steadfast in my reasons.

Where Mary failed
And ran off the stage,
I’m no longer her,
Look at my goddam age!

With the end in sight
I chance a glance
At the eager bunch,
Gentle and kind.

They don’t care I may stumble
Or lose my place,
They just want the end
No matter what it takes.

These friends I’ve met
Are talented and rare,
Ham & Jam?
I’ll see you there.

Janice Cumberlidge

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