History

Everything is more beautiful in retrospect.
Sometime between the sepia past,
the grey today and the flash of tomorrow
truth slips away unseen, a tangle of electric
eels squirming in an underground stream.

We look back and see only clear skies
and carefree picnics but never the cold.
We look back and feel only tender kisses
and the soft caress but never the blows.
We look back and remember nothing.

Salon

Here’s a poem for those of us suffering bad hair days in lockdown and missing our mask-less trips to the local salon:-

 

Asymmetric is the new black, she purred
into the forest of mirrors, a rainbow
Janus, her two faces receding into infinity.
Kate was so blown away by herself, it hurt

in the forest of mirrors. A rainbow
beyond the rain-tumbled glass arched
a January sky, the crumbling walls and
For Sale boards of a deserted Main Street.

Beyond the rain-tumbled glass arched
a customer, bobble-hatted and doubled
against the wind like tumble weed rolling
towards a make-over with 15 percent off.

A customer, bobble-hatted and doubled
in need of a break-fix miracle-treat curl
please height-riser mega-sleek moisture
me rich airy-builder with no yellow matrix.

In need of a break-fix miracle-treat curl
Kate unholstered her scissors, quivered
her combs and twizzled her natural bristles.
On hearing of Sue’s new marble jacuzzi

Kate unholstered her scissors, quivered,
chopped, snipped and razored Sue’s golden
locks to the floor and with a chameleon smile
Asymmetric is the new black, she purred.

 

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Zero to Ten

In the beginning, I count down cigarettes and orange
scorched days in the dark cocoon of Now, Voyager.
I inhale red velvet and the upbeat of your heartbeat.

In my first year you are out of reach on the marble
shelf as I ride my silver cross carriage to the Castle.
I desire a warm drink not clocks and candle sticks.

In my second year my meandering footprints are cast
in cement and the violence of passing trains.
I feel the sting of Aztec girls and foreign tongues.

In the missing year I watch electric light triangulate
as my door is wedged open by the white coats.
Beyond glass, snow falls and you wave from a distance.

In my fourth year you lug my dead weight to pointless
rotations of my left foot. “ Good girl,” says the physio.
My reward is crumbling bread for ducks in Lister Park.

In my fifth year Miss Blowers raps me over the head
with Noddy and the Magic Rubber. “Stop talking” she says.
I wet my pants. Why are the scissors always too blunt?

In the sixth year, semolina congeals but my lips are sealed.
Red-faced, father dances a vodka jig by the camp fire.
Rubbing my knees, I am told nettle stings are good for you.

In my seventh year, I hide within canoodles of trees
by the Leeds and Liverpool, stay silent when you scream
my name. Rain beads sycamore leaves like mercury.

In my eighth year, I survey the crater of an extinct volcano,
see you small and alone down below. Turning circles,
you shout my name. I hear the rush of lava flowers.

In the nothing year, I leave myself behind in a waiting room.
The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. Parallel bars
and surgical scars. I watch as chrysanthemums sour in vases.

In my tenth year, legs braced for action I’m back to school.
They say they’ve missed my piano playing and mysterious
chalk drawings. I carve a car from balsa wood. My knife slips.

 

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Your Poem

The passage of one life is like a poem,
the end an echo of the start; a solitary
fight to enter this world, darkness
to light. The bloodying of white
sheets observed by strangers in a room
with thin curtains, mirrored in the final
stanza only without felicitations.
You hope you die before you get old.

The romance, the action, the clues lie
in the middle section of your poem,
an exposition on your main theme;
a search for happiness, love, money,
acceptance, fluffy cats, fame, red hair,
a good shag or prize-winning dahlias.
You hope you die before you get old.
Whatever floats your boat, baby!

By stanza seven you learn you are not
a boat but a desert island, unexplored.
You hope you die before you get old.
You sit on the shore watching the murky
tide of water and wait for the Ferry. Angel
whispers in your ear. It is the jade game,
the sky is not the same blue, the sun holds
no heat and no one will ever truly get you.

In stanza nine the diminishing begins.
Your body shrinks (except for your nose).
You shape-shift, spend more time looking
down and back. Chins multiply but hair
and friendships fall away. Downsizing.
You hope you die before you get old.
You can’t piss in a pot no more.
You can’t recall names no more.

You hope you die before you get old.
The passage of your life is like a poem
structured by repetition, rhythm, rhyme,
recurring motifs and metaphors exploring
a theme (same shit different day). The arc,
the meaning of your story remains hidden
to you (although strangers see) until
the moment God turns over your page.

 

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Photo by the author

Falling

the fall begins
at conception
a slow decline
unnoticeable
slippage seven
ages in one
arbitrary                        miscarriage
accidental
cancerous
murder                         by fire water
dis-eased
melancholy
can’t remember         faces no more
the brutality
of old age
can’t piss                  in a pot no more
or a swift
acceleration
choosing                   an open window
irresistible
gravity calling
200 mph
a dislocation                  of ghost limbs
hot wind
shape shifting                    hair aflame
till you hit
ground zero                             running
the red light

 

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Image created by the author

Notes on a Pandemic

There’s a pandemic but no one is dying. No, they are all ‘sadly dying’. The adverb ‘sadly’ is now inevitably coupled to any mention of death.  Journalists, broadcasters, politicians and other famous figures have all succumbed to this trend – feigning sympathy for the deaths of unknown people as a way of distancing themselves and their audience from the grim realities of dying. It’s particularly hypocritical when UK politicians use this phrase as their lackadaisical response to the Pandemic has caused many vulnerable people to die unnecessarily. People in care homes, health workers, essential workers, disabled people and the elderly have been thrown under the bus due to lack of Personal Protective Equipment and not enough testing for the virus.

The public are struggling,  not so much with social distancing and isolation but with this close up encounter with their own mortality. Uncomfortable, terrifying, unfamiliar. Death is one of the remaining great taboos in Western societies. Many people go their whole lives without witnessing a death.  Death is hidden away in hospices, hospitals, care homes and the third world. Even in the midst of this pandemic I’ve been surprised how many intelligent people are convinced they could not possible die of Covid 19. They think they’re too smart, too fit, too wealthy, too young or immune because they had a bit of a cough over Christmas and eat a lot of yoghurt.

’Dead is dead’ is a phrase my father used. It sounded harsh to me as a teenager but my father knew there was little room for sentiment when it comes to dying. We are all born to die. Sooner or later, one way or another. We are flesh and blood.  My father lived through Holodomor in the USSR, World War 2 and life as a refugee. He certainly knew about death.

We do not help ourselves by hiding away from the truth. The way we use language is important.

Here are some alternative phrases and colloquialisms for dying:-

pop your clogs; kick the bucket; drop dead; snuff out; expire; breathe your last; depart this life; dead as a door nail; launched into eternity; gone to Davy Jones’s locker (drowning); pushing up the daisies; one’s race being run; shuffle of this mortal coil; peg out; hop the twig; slip one’s cable; close one’s eyes; give up the ghost; pay the debt to nature; cross the Stygian ferry; to go aloft; last gasp; the swan-song…

 

Here’s the marvellous Leonard Cohen’s take on the inevitable with his powerful song Who by Fire:-

 

 

Love and Hate

You are nothing but a clatter of bones in a dressing gown
coughing up phlegm over our breakfast table.
You are nothing but a slither of liver, lungs, kidneys, brain,
faithless heart pumping white crimson around and around.
You are nothing but a hundred billion neurons firing arrow
thoughts about yourself into a mist of grey.
You stab the butter knife in the marmalade.
I want to stab it in your eye, see your ego bleed out.

Suddenly you look at me and describe a dream
you had about building a house from Plasticine.
As you turn your face and smile, morning sunbeams
glow just below the curve of your cheek
bone, the place I kiss before we go to sleep
that tastes so deliciously of tangerine.

 

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Photo by the author

Remember

we gather at the edge
white feathers falling
in the dark
staring into the void
we are alone
the children wave purple lightsabers
kitted out in knitted hats
adorned with pom-poms
there’s a sense of urgency
mother and child move quickly
the wrong direction
teenagers pace and stiffen into poses
words fade with the wind
the burning of wood
the Ivory Tower
the crackling of flames
taking hold the awe
exploding the shock
we gasp smoke
sparks rise shimmering bat-wings
it is beautiful
the stars weep green roses
silver snakes carved
in the perfect dark
a father thin and tired
carries his daughter
to the edge
holds tiny pink hands
in huge gloved fists
nuclear dots burn
in the emptiness
we hold the fire
and only the wind

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2020 to all my friends and supporters!

 

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Photo by the author

 

 

 

 

Dark Days

The end of the year can be a difficult time for those of us who are alone, either through circumstance or choice.  In the northern hemisphere temperatures drop, the nights grow longer and Christian communities begin their Christmas celebrations.  More than any other time of year there is an emphasis on family values and sharing which can leave single people feeling alienated.  There is a stigma attached to being alone at Christmas.  Turkey for one?  So in this post I wish to share some inspiring quotes reminding us that solitude can be a positive and healthy choice.  Being alone does not necessarily mean feeling lonely and company is often overrated.  The beaming, perfect families of television commercials rarely exist in reality.  If you find yourself alone this Festive Period use the time wisely to recharge and regenerate your energy levels, treat yourself kindly and cherish your freedom.  I’m planning to lock myself indoors with a fridge full of party food, a bottle of the local whisky liquor and a pile of wonderful books.

Ten quotes to celebrate the gift of solitude:-

1. “… the highest and most decisive experience of all, … is to be alone with his own self, or whatever else one chooses to call the objectivity of the psyche. The patient must be alone if he is to find out what it is that supports him when he can no longer support himself. Only this experience can give him an indestructible foundation.”

Carl Jung (1943)

2.  “In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.”

Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

3.  “The only antidote to fear is to go through it. Only by embracing loneliness may its tyranny be broken.”

James Hollis (1996)

4.  “I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.”

Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

5.  “My imagination functions much better when I don’t have to speak to people.”

Patricia Highsmith

6.  “Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away… and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast…. be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend. Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn’t necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again; when you see them, love life in a form that is not your own and be indulgent toward those who are growing old, who are afraid of the aloneness that you trust…. and don’t expect any understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.”

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

7.  “There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more”

George Gordon Byron

8.  “The more powerful and original a mind, the more it will incline towards the religion of solitude.”

Aldous Huxley

9.  “I have to be alone very often. I’d be quite happy if I spent from Saturday night until Monday morning alone in my apartment. That’s how I refuel.”

Audrey Hepburn: Many-Sided Charmer, LIFE Magazine, December 7, 1953

10.  “Orlando naturally loved solitary places, vast views, and to feel himself for ever and ever and ever alone.”

Virginia Woolf, Orlando

 

If you need support try http://www.standalone.org.uk

 

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