The Vanishing

She held her breath and passed beneath the wishing trees. Their evergreen tips arched across the path to the beach. Kiss Me Quick, Squeeze Me Slow. The sea played out beyond the dunes.  The world unraveled an orgy of blues as the red kite spiraled up into the heat.  On the horizon, the mist spooled like the edge of dreams. She held her breath and waited for the wind to drop.

The kite shrank to a small dot, vanished. The sky grew dark and stormy like ruffled raven’s wings. Blue eyes and long black hair, her skin was delicate and fair. She began to run, over sharp stones, through thorns, back across the swamp until she tripped on a twisted tree root and fell, into quicksand. She held her breath.

During police interview her mother said, Aye, she was trouble alright. Born unlucky,
that girl.

 

A5BDD209-9BEA-4F47-A0E4-761604672301
Image created by the author, photography, collage, ink.

Looking into the Dark

There’s a question I’m often asked about my art and poetry; why am I so interested  in dark subject matter when I could be writing and making images about ‘happy stuff’?

I’m not sure if I choose my themes or they choose me.  Inevitably my work reflects my life, my view of the world.  From early childhood I’ve experienced pain and trauma growing up within a dysfunctional family where I never felt safe and also at the hands of an uncaring medical establishment that treats disabled people as expendable.  Although I’ve been lucky enough to have love, friendship and joy in my life, it’s always been within the context of a threatening world.  I’ve spent most of my life in ‘survival mode’.

It’s important to me that my creative work tries to expose the truth as I see it.  I want to confront my reality head on, with all its flaws and sores.  I don’t want to retreat into a rose tinted bubble and pretend life is perfect which is what the State would prefer us to do.  It’s much easier to control a population that doesn’t ask difficult questions.  Of course, it’s also essential to maintain a positive attitude and a sense of humour.  To see into the dark we also need some light.  Before you descend into the subterranean depths of your pain make sure you have a torch.

 

0CC4E9E5-1102-444D-B7B1-817C34DBF1C8
Original Photograph by the author

 

An attraction to the dark side of life may be a tendency among creative people. There certainly seems to be a link between poetry and pain. There’s a higher rate of depression, addiction and even suicide amongst poets.  Flick through any poetry book and you will find more poems about loss and pain than happiness.  Personally, I find cheerful ditties about love and rainbows rather tedious.  Misery is far more fascinating!  Perhaps truly happy people (if they actually exist in the real world) do not feel the need to agonise over choosing the right words in the right order on a piece of paper.  They’re probably too busy doing whatever it is that normal, happy people are supposed to do, making money, having sex and playing football or whatever (no disrespect to rich, sexy footballers intended!)

One of the reasons I write poetry and make art is the hope that sharing my experiences may help others in similar situations. It’s comforting to know you are not the only one with difficult thoughts and feelings. We can all learn from one another, we can all gain strength from one another. We don’t have to be alone. That is the beauty and power of art.

 

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.

 

89E8284F-1F6B-4A39-8AB2-693955CFCA83
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.

Forgetting Mozart

We met the second
time in the old scarlet fever hospital.
You were pale as sea-pebbles.
We followed the beat of Arabian
drums down secret passages,
footsteps echoing on linoleum.
Rain pelted
prestissimo at the skylight.

I put Mozart on ice, played Sad
Eyed Lady of the Lowlands for you,
arpeggio style. Don’t need melody you said,
hunched in the shadows with your heroin
cheekbones and roll-ups.
You turned the lights down on your way out,
left me smeared across the ivory.
Don’t need complicated, you said.

So I learned simple chords, A major, E minor,
two of us on the piano stool, free style.
Not looking for a solo but looking
for adagio down the motorway
shooting out the window with my Lomo.
I was looking for a car crash.
I was looking for a mindless.
Don’t need money, as you took my last fiver.

We met the last time as  the sun
fell into the lake and a murder
of crows ripped from the birch.
In the twilight everything
was almost alright, alright?
There was a moment when I saw a new
moon over your shoulder, a moment
when we almost touched.

 

36047B47-EBF6-4A70-95FF-4EA0E1C61DB7
Original image by the author

 

The Whisperers

In Medieval times gossip was considered a serious crime in Britain.  Perpetrators were physically punished and humiliated, forced to wear a mask of shame called a scold’s bridle and paraded through the town on a leash.  The scold’s bridle was an iron muzzle enclosed in a framework that surrounded the head of the accused. The device prevented the person from talking by a bridle-bit which was put in the woman’s mouth and pressed upon the tongue.  Sometimes a spike was attached to the bridle-bit, so that the movement of the tongue would cause wounds.  Christianity viewed gossip as a sin.  Islam, Judaism and the Bahai faith took a similar stance.

I believe it is natural and healthy to take an interest in other people but there is a big difference between negative, malicious gossip and neutral gossip.  Passing on factual information is one thing, but twisting the facts and inventing sordid tales to create a frisson of excitement is another.

For example, neutral gossip – Mrs Smith says to her neighbour:- “I saw Susan in the Post Office this morning. She’d just had her hair done and was wearing a new coat.”

Negative gossip:- “I saw Susan in the Post Office this morning.  She’d just had her hair done.  Pink hair and a leopard print coat at her age – talk about mutton dressed as lamb!” Followed by mutual laughter.

Unfortunately, most gossip tends to be malicious and is carried out by ignorant people with low self-esteem to make themselves seem more interesting.  Gossip is akin to an act of violence.  It can cause huge damage to the lives of others.  Very often the victims of gossip are marked out as different or vulnerable in some way, eg single women, people with mental health problems  or those from ethnic minorities.

The old English proverb states, “sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you”. Not true.  Words are powerful.  Physical wounds will heal over time whereas emotional damage may last forever.  In my local village there have been cases of marriages breaking up, people losing jobs or forced to move away and even suicide due to malicious gossip.  It seems small rural communities enjoy gossip and relish the stigmatisation of minorities.  However, gossip happens in all types of enclosed communities including schools and workplaces where it is particularly dangerous.  Gossip is a form of bullying and with the advent of social media it is a growing problem throughout the world.

Our attitudes to gossip have been moulded by language.  Many metaphors used to describe gossip have associations with food or drink, eg spilling the beans, tempting, scuttlebutt, a water cooler moment, grapevine, juicy, delicious, delectable, tidbits, morsels.  It’s as if gossip is something to be devoured, digested, a form of nourishment. The writer, David Rakoff complained about the negativity of these expressions as they imply that the pleasures of gossip are those of schadenfreude: that is, one person’s enjoyment at the expense of someone else’s pain.  The word ‘gossip’ originated in the Old English ‘godsibb’; god sibling, the godparent of one’s child and usually a close friend.  Shakespeare’s uses of the noun were derogatory: “Shall she live to betray this guilt of ours—A long-tongued babbling gossip?”

If you become the victim of malicious gossip you may feel upset, violated and helpless as rumours and untruths circulate.  Challenging or arguing with the instigator is not to be recommended.  It is demeaning and only adds fuel to the fire.  The best policy, although it can be difficult, is to ignore the whisperers, raise your head up high and pretend you don’t care.  When you are forced to meet your accusers be polite but indifferent.  Build up your confidence and nurture your self-esteem by treating yourself kindly.  Remember your achievements and that you are a strong person.  Surround yourself with friends and supporters as much as possible.  Do activities that you enjoy.  Show the gossips that you don’t need their approval or validation to survive and be happy.  Remind yourself that the people who gossip are sad individuals with empty lives.  Defamation is the only way they can get their kicks.  They are not the type of people you would choose as friends.  But do not indulge in gossip yourself.  Let others find out for themselves where the truth lies.

I recently bought the small ornament pictured below as a reminder that gossips are insignificant.  It is only what you think about yourself that matters.

 

253AC95D-3411-4735-A6E0-A4BC1C1B3F2D
Example of a Victorian fairing, porcelain ornaments once given away freely as prizes at fairground stalls. Now collected as antiques.