Author Archives: benhenleysmith

The River Bank | Pt 1

Jack found these days hard. Hot days by the river where he might have to take his clothes off in front of his family and Rachel. It didn’t make it any easier that Rachel knew something was wrong. 

‘What’s wrong jack?’ Asked Rachel. ‘Nothing’ said jack. But there was something. Not eating had been his safety. Within his control. When everything else felt like it was changing, only jack could say what he could eat. Being 14 wasn’t easy at the best of times. The small town where jack lived had one big school and that big school didn’t work well for boys like jack. Now ‘Sticky Jacky’ or ‘Skin Thin Jacklin’ might be seen without his trademark dirty black T-shirt.

‘Come in it’s not deep’, said Rachel. ‘I can swim you know’, said Jack. But jack stayed on the ground next to the tree that the 4 of them had settled near. 

Rachel lived next door to Jack in their small town near Doncaster. Her mum, Jilly, was the kindest lady he’d met. She was always wearing a dress and always smiling. Rachel had never met her dad before, but it didn’t matter because Jacks Dad offered to spend lots of time with Rachel and Jilly. 

‘Is something wrong jack?’ Rachel was in the water now and looking for someone to be with. ‘I’ll race you to this tree if you are quick enough!’. Jack wasn’t concentrating on Rachel. He wasn’t even looking at the river. In fact, for such a young boy, the only direction jack seemed to look was inward. But despite whatever was going on in Jacks mind, he took his shirt off slowly and walked towards the waters edge. 

The spot they’d picked was away from the others people who had parked their cars. They’d walked further along the track to a green square in between trees that created shade on the nearest side of the river. On the other side, yellow and green fields spread themselves into the distance. The shallow water of the river shone light blue. You could see stones through it. It was a like a postcard. Like a place Rachel and Jack might go someday.

Jacks feet touched the water edge and the chill made its way up Jacks body. His arms were crossed far enough that he cradled both elbows with his hands. The structure of his body served its purpose – a sort of crumpled protection. And as the sun shone down through the sprinkled leaves overhead, jacks pale white skin seared in the red heat. 

Rachel, always thinking of others, made an effort to keep talking to jack as normal – without looking at him or his body. Rachel always did this type of thing. She knew how to do the small things that could make people feel better without them knowing. But as jack got further into the water and began to uncross his arms, Rachel couldn’t help but notice the streaks of red across his stomach. They looked like lashings, bruising too. If jacks frame had been any larger – there is no way his arms would have covered up the damage.

The day would pass slowly. Jack crouched over the trunks of trees and Rachel chatting and exploring nearby. All the while, Jilly and Jacks dad Neil spent time on their own too. They seemed to enjoy letting Jack and Rachel do their own thing. It wasn’t the first time the 4 of them had come here, and it wouldn’t be the last. But it would be the only time Jack remembered this piece of grass and river with happiness. The coming months would reveal what he had been most afraid of and what he hoped Rachel would never see. 


The tarmac road carving up this landscape 
Spits up dust and dirt on our travels 
A fiery beast of the road 
Ignited by rolling rubber travelling through
Yellow stain soaks this earth 
Baked by the pounding orange sun 
Brown fields splice into wilting triangles 
Deadened crops deserted by all living things 

The greying trees in the far distance  
Itch beneath their bark in the heat
Nothing can flourish here 
But the soul that will stay its course 
For as Autumn arrives 
These deadened lands will perish on their own accord 
And will shed their skin 
With dignity and purpose 

What makes these late august days trying 
Is the inevitability of a great power 
Sheering its mite from above 
Upon an unwilling recipient 
A landscape raped 
Bereft of it’s place
Now learns to survive
These punishing summer days 

Our spirit

Light bounces between us 
As we swim around 
This square of river 
In circles together 
Just us 
And the waters chill 
To throw back the years 
And play 

I am happy 
Just being here 
With you 
No more  
The sound of water falling on rocks beneath 
Won’t distract from this heart 
Beating to a rhythm
I know

Our spirit
Wisps down the streams 
Up the hills and tracks 
Across the sweltering fields 
Inside sunflower heads
Bursting its yellow 
From its bud 

It’s no wonder I make peace in gardens now 
Sparking shoots 
And the blooming petals 
And bring me back to us 
To this place 
We left 
Long ago
Hetty & Felix


Submerged beneath the surface 
My bubbling mind dunks down  
Under this water  
I find it’s gift  

This French sun cooks the waters lips 
A wine region in need of rain
Now too hot for grapes 
Suffers from the august heat

To escape 
In the rivers that share their waters 
Creatures of the land visit
For a cool sanctuary 

I have travelled far to this place 
From the city smoke
Now underwater 
I arrive 

Deliberately now
Pressures from above 
The waters crust 
Can’t reach

So I drink this peace
Down here 
My source of refreshment 

This self

So why is it 
That this life is best lived 
Out of context 

I pull at the threads 
And they unravel 
In my ageing hands 

What if I had known 
My self 
In this

The echoing truth
That Humms it’s tone
Next to my ear 

The hidden truth 
Found in plain sight 
That I’ve missed 

If only id known
Being this 
was ok 

If only I’d known
Only this
was ok 

Would I have felt
This chewing
My empty

Would I look back 
With no regret
And smile 

Lemon vomit

I retch acid
Sharp tastes from the night before that 
My toothbrush with bristles hard as brush 
Can’t scratch from this soured breath 

Two fingers flick my throat 
Unlocking a channel for liquid flow 
The putrid stench falls
As my mind clears 

My blessing and curse 
Bewitches an aching body 
With spells of pretend confidence 

For those hours I dazzle 
My paws ooze life
Until they don’t 
And it’s sweat 

2am, again
Outside where no one can hear 
My body produces lemon vomit 
The moon my only witness


A stretch 
These marks on my hips 
Slits of blood 
Valleys of red 

They stretch 
My capacity for work 
Is beyond the limit 
I stretch

This love 
For more and for depth 
Is stretching and killing 
What’s left 

My tank 
Depleting it’s load 
Until it’s dry 
And then …


Ballooning green leaves rush 
From the fingertips of nature’s hands
Like fists piercing the earth 
A passage between earth and sky 

A poplar blows side to side 
Like a nervous child in the school line 
Skinny and taller than most 
She listens with her patient eye 

That hornbeam bully 
Who snatches your lunch 
Is fatter, no wiser  
Even if it hurts  
Sweet chestnut you don’t know who I am
Or who I’ll become 
So I’ll love you from a distance
And that’s ok 

My leaves will still tremble on hollow twigs 
But like a true Birch
I will find my journey to the sky
And leave this earth

Eating light

Not ideal 
Grown in the ground  
Bred on land   
Let me eat light 

That is what plants do 
With their arms out wide
Like a junkies injection 
They skip meals
To eat light 

Maybe somewhere out there
In the Andromeda 
Maybe they are dancing

Crazed species 
Energised life forms  

No middleman 
No supply chain 
No hurt 



For when 
We took that walk through private land  
Got in trouble with farmer man 

For what
Scooters from school and toast at home 
Racing bikes with Harry in tow 

For her
Purple hair and battered coats 
Fountain pens and written notes

For it 
Im bigger now and older too 
Important stuff for me to do