Worlds I borrowed: The poetry of Phoebe Nicholson

By Phoebe Nicholson



Baking tonight.
I came upstairs to write that
you’d have loved the oven-spring
on this one:
taut, the gluten strung and
stretched and webbed,
the air blowing inside.

I checked the hollow tap,
held it by the crown,
fingers in the rough slash
I showed you to gash
painful on its curve,
like an eyelid.
It split.

But gave up floral groans of damp air,
the bake of the kitchen,
flour-crust and yeast-must
and you liked it when I baked.

When you bought a house,
you chose a kitchen I could bake in.

Now I bake only for me:
two loaves, one I’ll creep through
during the week,
the other I’ll slice and freeze.

I wonder now about that kitchen,
if its air stares clear and cold,
whether you’re back on bagged white sponges
picked up on your way home
from work.

Flour under my nails,
ageing my hair, a dull-grey pall.
I wonder if I rubbed off on you
at all.


For Edinburgh

I’ve been living in a house
used and soft with mice and moths
and doghair,
the people whose worlds I borrowed.

I learned the lightswitch configurations,
the full evenings and the empties.
I learned the strings of streetlamps
on Leith Walk, the bus routes.
Packing up, I feel I have finished
a project.

I have had much to think of here:
how the trees shedding an old skin
reveal old bones which dig new life
from their bark.

I will visit again when I have
something to show for myself –
when I can show you what I have made
from those long nights bleeding into your sofas,
raking ideas from our hearts in
dark pubs,
what I have made from those promises
that leaving was
the right thing to do.

Ryan asked me when I saw him last,
when are you coming back home –
and on the train I realized he meant
not the city like a balled-up fist
that I was hurtling towards
but the one which had just
let me go.

Phoebe Nicholson is a poet based in Oxford, England. Her work has appeared in a number of magazines and e-zines, including The Fractured Nuance, The Interpreter’s House, and Words Dance. She recently collaborated on a chapbook with her sister called Red Devon Mud, about roots, family, and creeping things. It can be found here:


  1. I wonder what the meaning of “bagged white sponges” might be? Are bagged white sponges a drug reference or just something one finds on English streets coming home from work for some reason? Also, I wonder why the poet bled into sofas? i find myself feeling frustrated in knowing several particulars of what is being said, even as I like how these poems convey youthful searching for home, understanding and knowledge of self. I am touched by how well Phoebe Nicholson reveals the sense of loss which occurs when one sets out to explore, query, and demonstrate one’s worthiness. I found myself hoping the writer discovers a place for herself which is not a “city like a balled-up fist.”


  2. I figured it out; it was so obvious I am shame-faced to not have known that the bagged white sponges are store-bought bread. The baker’s former housemate (lover?) may well have returned to buying bread instead of having it be baked for/by him/her. Yes, that is sad.


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