The Gambler

His eyes spin roulette wheels,
red black in desire,
odd even with gain,
gilded in guilt,
dizzy with shame.

Words skitter,
settling on zero.
Fingers explode my skin,
keen as greyhounds
out of traps.

Like a player on tilt he loses.
Cards face down,
waiting for Lady Luck.
He shuffles, I cut.
We begin another game.

 

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Photo by the author

 

 

Unbound

One day you’ll write about us,
you said on your last visit.
A starry love story, a film…
Betty Blue meets Quadrophenia,
you said. I said,
but how will it end?
As I left you at Central Station
you said, I’m missing you already.
I said, never, remembering silence
as we drove deep through Kielder forest.

There’s a bond between us
that can’t be broken,
you wrote in your last letter.
Blood, sex, magic
you said. I said,
I’m sick of bleeding
and magic’s not real
and there’s more to life than fucking.
I want to be cherished,
You said,  that’s cloying.

Sometimes, naked on star-less nights
I Google your name and wait.

 

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Photograph by the author

The Day Room

She doesn’t look up,
swaddled in pink toweling.
Dinner in the Day Room, haddock on a tray,
the old queen who lost her soldiers slumps an empty table.
Above her head the TV plays silent memories,
survival of the fittest in exotic locations.
A lioness stalks prey while another dies.
She doesn’t look up when I speak.
Lips rotate, chewing, tasting the sins of the world
cut up in pieces.  Her hand trembles as she adds salt.
My absent presence, invisible bones on the edge of her plate.
She starts on the sponge pudding with custard.
She doesn’t look up when I leave.

She doesn’t look up when I leave.
She starts on the sponge pudding with custard,
my absent presence, invisible bones on the edge of her plate.
Cut up in pieces, her hand trembles as she adds salt.
Lips rotate, chewing, tasting the sins of the world.
She doesn’t look up when I speak.
A lioness stalks prey while another dies,
survival of the fittest in exotic locations.
Above her head the TV plays silent memories.
The old queen who lost her soldiers slumps an empty table,
dinner in the Day Room, haddock on a tray.
Swaddled in pink toweling,
she doesn’t look up.

 

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Original Photographic image created by the author

The Day Room is an example of a specular poem – the second stanza mirrors the first.  Please see  a-poem-for-remembrance-day  for another example.

Two Fish Suppers

 

Fish and chips is a traditional English dish that has been popular with the working class since the mid nineteenth century.  The idea of hot, fried fish sold from street stalls may have been introduced by French, Spanish or Jewish immigrants.  During World War 2 it was one of the few foods not to be rationed and many believe the availability of such a comforting meal helped sustain working class morale through the intense bombing raids in the cities.

 

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For those of you who have never been lucky enough to try this tasty dish,  it consists of white fish (usually cod or haddock) deep fried with a golden crispy batter together with fried chipped potatoes.  It can be served in a variety of ways; with salt and vinegar or tomato sauce, mushy peas, pickled onions or bread and butter.  Originally the fish was cooked in beef dripping but most outlets now use vegetable oil.  Despite concerns about the health risks of fried food and the sustainability of fish stocks, fish and chips remains one of the most popular take-outs, particularly in the north.  Until the 1980s the food was traditionally wrapped in old newspaper so you could catch up on current affairs while you ate your supper!  A childhood day out at the seaside was never complete without getting fish and chips on the way home.

 

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Photos taken by the author at Reid’s Riverside Chip Shop in Thurso.

 

 

 

Whisky and Red Roses

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Photo of eighteenth century whisky bottle label taken by the author at Timespan Museum, Helmsdale.

 

On the 25th January each year Scottish people celebrate Burns Night with whisky, haggis and bagpipes. It’s a special day to honour Robert Burns, the eighteenth century romantic poet, lyricist and political commentator.  Most of Burns’ writing was in Scots dialect and he is revered in Scotland as national poet and cultural icon.  He was a man of the people, an early socialist and is sometimes referred to as ‘the ploughman poet’. As a non-Scots living in Scotland I find his poems fascinating but a little impenetrable.   His songs are more accessible and to commemorate Burns Night I’m posting a YouTube link of Eddi Reader (former lead singer of Fairground Attraction) singing a beautiful version of My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose.  I’ve seen Eddi perform several times and she has tons of charisma and a great voice.  Hope you enjoy.

And for those of you who don’t know what haggis is – it’s a traditional Scottish dish…not for the squeamish or vegetarians as the main ingredients are offal (sheep’s heart, lungs and stomach) and oatmeal.  I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never had the courage to try haggis as I’m not much of a meat eater.  Apparently it’s delicious…

 

Reading Between the Lines

You can’t judge a book by its cover

but can you judge a woman by her books?

 

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Photo by the author

 

Credit to http://www.stevestillstanding.com for inspiring me with his recent black and white photos of bookshelves.  You can see his pictures at

Upstart Photographer#4. Book Shelves.

They made me look at my books afresh.  My shelves are all full so I have mini piles of books around the house.  This was a random selection.

It is What it is (or is it?)

I’ve been trying to figure out why I hate hearing this phrase which seems to be everywhere these days.  It’s like the ultimate cop-out, a slick way to terminate any awkward conversation and is used frequently by politicians, the police, sports people, business entrepreneurs and many pop celebrities.  I’ve heard it in bleak Scandi-noir TV dramas and once or twice even caught myself saying it.  It’s the title of several films, songs and books.  Such a pat phrase that just slips off the tongue and makes you seem cool. But why has it become popular and what does it say about our society?

To me, “it is what it is” reeks of negativity, passivity, resignation and defeat.  It’s saying, ‘this is a bad situation but there’s fuck all I can do about it”.  It’s saying let’s accept reality, let’s just lie down and die.  The phrase suggests that reality is a fixed, immutable state and that we have no control, we are merely passengers on an uncomfortable train to hell.  I don’t know about you, but that is not the way I choose to live my life.  I am not a brainwashed battery hen clucking away in a cage, pretending I am free while I’m really being processed for destruction.

OK, I agree some situations may be out of our control but there’s always something we can do to improve matters.  Just because it is difficult to change something doesn’t mean we should give up.  We should at least try.  It’s like when people shrug and say, ‘oh well there will always be wars, it’s just human nature.’ Was it human nature to profit from slavery, rape women, exterminate disabled people,  participate in blood sports and send children down the mines?  These are all horrors that we no longer tolerate in a civilised society.  They may still happen in secret but are considered crimes.  Society can and does change. People can change.

When people say ‘it is what it is’ they are implying that a situation is fixed and knowable.  This is not true.  Any situation, even something simple like ‘it’s raining today’ is a matter of perception, of experience, of interpretation.  Reality is in a constant state of flux and so are we.  It may be raining in your street but not on the other side of town.  And the rain may  stop at any moment. The sun may shine the next time you look out the window.  We are never 100% aware of all the facts.  We only have a partial view based on limited information.  For example, a loved one may be diagnosed with a terminal illness, but doctors are often wrong, the body can and does mysteriously heal itself. The sick person can adapt and learn to live successfully with illness.  Life is a multiplicity of greys, a misty landscape and not a row of black and white boxes.

Take this photograph as a visual metaphor.  It shows a rather elegant entrance to a building which could be a hotel, a school, a conference centre, a hospital, a law court, a police station…we may speculate on what lies beyond the doors but until we pass through them we do not know.  Every day in your life is like those doors.  Never make assumptions about the future. Never give up on a situation.

 

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Photograph by the author

Next time you are tempted to say ‘it is what it is’, hang fire and try to think out of the box.   Change is always possible and it sometimes happens in small steps.  Humans have evolved and survived as a dominant species because of our ability to adapt.  We can be clever and inventive.  We can be compassionate.  The day we stop doing that and become resigned to an unsatisfactory fate is the day we cease to thrive.