It’s Better to Know

this is not a love
poem, the howl of storm

pain, the rain inside.
The forever house

on the dead end lane,
over-grown, deeply

rutted tracks, bordered
by forget-me-nots.

Two plain Janes stand
guard with crucifixes

and Bibles of grief.
They point to the sky,

dispense sunglasses.
Is everything fair

in love or war?
It’s better to know.

Go, open the door,
look into the dark.
 

Lydia Popowich; Broken Doll

Artwork by Author, acrylic, household paint and collage on canvas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Like It Cold

In John o’Groats Marilyn is ready
for the fray, fresh lipstick, folded pink
napkins, polished counters.
And her namesake pouts from on high.

One scoop or two? She’s ample
with vanilla, frivolous with fudge
frosting when the Orkney ferry men
drop by for cones and the latest crack.

The easterly ripples the canopy stripes,
keening like the piper from the pier,
The Pentland Strait froths whirlpools
of café au lait on the rocks.

End to Enders celebrate, guzzling
champagne, taking turns taking
photographs under the signpost.
By lunchtime Marilyn’s low

on peaches and cream, high on rum
and raisin.  She pops out for a fag,
sits on her bench in the car park reading
War And Peace as Stroma disappears into haar.

Herring gulls scout for wafers at her feet.
A bus full of Germans reverses past
the Edinburgh Woollen Mill, clockwork heads
turning her way.  Mizzled tourists queue

but Marilyn is oblivious. The wind surges
and her skirts swirl like a snow flurry.
A sudden gust and she rises, bench and book
and all, up, up high into meandering skies.

 

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Note 1:- John o’Groats is a small village on the far north eastern tip of Scotland with spectacular views out to the Orkney Islands.  It’s a landmark destination for tourists, many of whom wrongly assume it’s the most northerly point of mainland Britain.  In fact, a remote spot named Dunnet Head is the most northerly point and is located about 15 miles west of John o’Groats.  ‘End to Enders’ is the phrase used to describe the many determined folk who journey like pilgrims, sometimes on foot or by bizarre means, from Land’s End (Britain’s most southerly point) to John o’Groats, a distance of 874 miles.

Note 2:- ‘Crack’ or ‘Craic’ is a northern term meaning gossip, news or chatter.

Note 3:- Stroma is a small abandoned island, part of the Orkney group.

The Birthday

(a re-interpretation of the painting by Marc Chagall)

Too many bubbles in the Buck’s Fizz, said the triage nurse.
They were having trouble holding me down,
ankles bandaged to the steel legs

of waiting chairs for seven hours and counting.
Luckily everything was nailed in Emergency.
They threatened me with a heavy

radiation suit of lead. I threatened to sue.
Mark held tightly to my wrists as an extra
precaution (too tightly perhaps).

Urination from a height was Olympic.
I broke free and rose
to the top, beating my head on the ceiling.

I formed a neat hole, a short cut
to Maternity. This was not the birthday I’d expected
but I could still recall the sweetness of his watermelon.

 

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Note 1:- The Russian artist Marc Chagall painted The Birthday in 1915.  The woman in the picture is Bella, his muse, whom he married later in the same year.   The oil painting is now displayed in the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fall of Icarus

(after the painting by Marc Chagall)

Perambulating through the sky,
carefree as a rain-less cloud,
the boy forgot everything.

With sun dreams in his heart
and wild angels in his hair,
Icarus flew on the easterly wind.

One by one, his feathers waxed and flared.
Flapping, folding like a fish, he fell
towards the sea of turnip faces.

His wings of fire split the morning,
pirouetting between life and death,
indigo smoke, the ochre of fear.

Upturned, the butcher, the ploughman, the undertaker,
the midwife, the milliner, the teacher, the whore,
the schoolgirl, the donkey, the ducks on the pond.

The boy corkscrewed down, down, down
while the ducks rose up in a feathery shroud.
Their chorus soothed his burning skin.

Their gentle beaks held him close.
Their rainbow wings bore his limbs
homeward, to a cerulean pool.

 

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Note 1:- My poem was inspired by Marc Chagall’s 1975 surrealist painting, The Fall of Icarus.  It’s an example of ekphrastic poetry, that is, a re-interpretation of a piece of visual art.  I have given the myth a more positive ending!  At present the painting is displayed in the Georges Pompidou Centre, Paris.  Marc Chagall was a Russian painter whose dreamlike images often featured flying figures.

 

 

 

Inheritance

No-one knows the people of bone
or why my drunken grandpa brought them home
from an auction room on Goldspink Lane,
shipyard wages blown
on beer, cigarettes and porcelain.
Their unexpected arrival, smooth and brittle,
put grandma in a flutter
flapping about with her feather duster,
finding the best place for aristocracy.
The old king with daughter at his knee
and her lover, typecast, ensnared eternally
by some secret quandary,
unaware of their position,
centre stage.

On a white cherry blossom day
I sipped cider with my lover on Goldspink Lane
while Player’s No 6 sucked grandpa away,
left grandma alone with royalty.
No-one knows their story, how it ends.
They hover inside my door, uninvited,
the bone people atop the tall cabinet
next to the clock.
I make my entrances
and exit,
looking up as I pass by.

 

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Note 1:- The subject of this statue remains a mystery.  The figures appear mythological or Shakespearean.  The object is about 18 inches tall and is made from Parian Ware, a type of bisque porcelain imitating marble.  The material was popular for sculpture in Victorian times and was developed around 1845 by the Staffordshire pottery manufacturer Mintons.  It was named after Paros, the Greek island renowned for its fine-textured, white marble.  It was prepared in a liquid form and cast in a mould, therefore suitable for mass production.

 

Narcissus

As far back as I can recall, my mother has been my number one problem.  I’ve spent most of my life trying to understand her behaviour and fix our dysfunctional relationship.  My childhood home was not a sanctuary filled with love and support but a battlefield where any tiny mis-step by myself or my faded father would result in a massive explosion of rage and abuse from Mama.  Nothing I ever did or said was good enough.  No matter how hard I tried to become the daughter she wanted, it was a lost cause.   I was a clever, pretty child, straight A+ grades in every subject at school and glowing reports from teachers.   But she wanted perfection and as most of us know, only God is perfect.  It was impossible to be the daughter she required but I still kept on trying.  I longed to see love and pride shine from her eyes but when she looked at me her face was always twisted, crumpled with disappointment and contempt.

There was never any peace as I grew up.  My mother would go days and weeks ‘not speaking’ to my father or myself due to some mysterious minor transgression.  Sometimes her mood would escalate to violence, smashing up ornaments, ripping up family photographs,  stripping naked and running around the house screaming.  I never knew what might happen next.  She would go to any length for attention and control.  I remember nights when she would exit the house like Betty Davis in a 50s melodrama swearing she was going to kill herself.  My father and I would spend anxious hours searching the dark canal bank with a torch, expecting any moment to find her floating in the cold water.  Or we would cruise the suburban streets looking for her.  When we found her marching, head erect and facing front like a furious soldier, she would ignore our pleas to get into the car.  At the age of 13 I took an overdose of aspirin in a moment of loneliness and despair.   I slept through nearly 24 hours.  My mother never noticed.  She was always busy cleaning the house which had to be immaculate at all times. She was always looking in the mirror and applying make-up.  She was always dressing up in fur coats and gold jewellery. Image was everything.  Other people thought she was a devoted wife and Mother.

 

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I married the first boy who came along at the age of 18 just to escape my home environment.  Then I tried to create as much physical distance as possible between myself and my mother.  But she continued to exert power over my emotional well-being for many years.  It could take just two minutes of hearing her voice on the phone to propel me into a severe depression.  It’s only gradually, through counselling and reading and writing that I’ve come to understand that my mother has Narcisisstic Personality Disorder.  She is concerned only with her own needs and ego.  Other people are mere objects, tools for her gratification.

According to Wikipedia:-

“A narcissistic parent is a parent affected by narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder. Typically narcissistic parents are exclusively and possessively close to their children and may be especially envious of, and threatened by, their child’s growing independence. The result may be what has been termed a pattern of narcissistic attachment, with the child considered to exist solely to fulfill the parent’s wishes and needs. Commonly parents attempt to force their children to treat themselves as though they are their parents’ puppets, or else be subject to punishments such as emotional abuse. Relative to developmental psychology, narcissistic parenting will adversely affect children in the areas of reasoning, emotional, ethical, and societal behaviors and attitudes as they mature. Within the realm of narcissistic parenting, personal boundaries are often disregarded with the goal of moulding and manipulating the child to satisfy the parents’ expectations.”

We are taught by religion and society to respect and obey our parents.  But what if they do us harm?  What if it’s either them or us?  Our first duty is to protect ourselves, to survive.  Sometimes, sadly, there is no solution to dealing with a narcissistic parent.  The only way is to break away, have no contact.  This hurts.  There is grief, guilt and loneliness,  even though it’s not rational.  I envy friends who enjoy spending time with their mothers.  I envy harmonious families.  In fact I find it hard to understand because my experience is so different.

I believe it’s better to be alone than to live with abuse.  If you have a narcissistic person in your life, beware.  They are toxic.  You will never fix them.  Their satisfaction depends on your demise.  You can only save yourself.

Serenade

Her feet were jelly fish stranded in a rock pool
or filo pastry left in the rain
and her toes were marbles lost under the sofa.
And her ankles were secret trapdoors
and her legs were ships lost in the Haar
and her thighs were a terrorist ambush.
Her crotch was a picnic under a shady tree
or a foreign film with subtitles
and her vagina was a waiting room with velvet sofas.
Her stomach was a piano keyboard
or a bottled gas cooker
and her waist was Fingal’s Cave
and her ribs were hieroglyphs found at Skara Brae
and her buttocks were exclamation marks!!
Her breasts were cumulus clouds at sunset
or thermonuclear weapons
or lamps in a distant window.
The crooks of her elbows were pistachios
and her arms were War and Peace
or bulldozers on a building site
and her hands were Olympians.
Her spine was a rope bridge over a canyon
or an Aeolian harp
and her shoulders were white whales.
Her neck was a seagull diving
and her chin was King Canute
and her cheeks were beech leaves used as bookmarks
and her skin was Flamenco.
The tips of her ears were whipped cream
and her teeth were a cryptic puzzle
or the standing stones at Callanich.
Her eyes were a film by David Cronenberg
or Mississippi Mud Pie in a late-night café.
And her eyebrows were squeezed tubes of tooth paste
and her nose was a wind turbine on a Scottish hill
and her mouth was a furnace manufacturing steel rods
or a jewellery box lined with jade.
And her hair was the wings of a Gypsy moth
or frosted willow branches
or a moonlit path
to an unknown destination.

 

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My surrealist poem, Serenade was inspired by Not the Furniture Game by Simon Armitage.  He is one of my favorite poets and he was born in Yorkshire, England like myself!  I wrote Serenade during a bout of influenza, high with fever, painkillers  and sleep deprivation which I’m sure helped the flow of bizarre images.  Perhaps it was worth getting the flu as this is a poem I remain proud of.  I often use it in writing workshops with adults to encourage the use of bold metaphor.