The Honeypot

The Avon lady lived at Number 5.
She wore black stockings and a loose beehive.
On Saturday evenings she energised
weaving down the street, wiggling her behind.

Laced up in my blue book-strewn room I heard
her singing Elvis songs and swigging beer
straight from the bottle, unladylike cheer.
Her lipstick crimson, her complexion clear.

At midnight stilettos tapped a morse code
for I’m alive and in love, don’t you know?
as she zig-zagged home, teddy boy in tow
rousing me from nightmares of frogs and toads.

I watched the lovers from my curtained screen
as they kissed and smooched by the apple trees
and I wondered why she was on her knees
while he softly moaned, begging please, please, please.

The Avon lady buzzed up at our door
each month with her sample box, treats galore;
Here’s my Heart, Persian Wood, Wishing, Rapture,
To a Wild Rose – desire choked our parlour.

Mam always chose Lily of the Valley,
innocent and not for whores, she proclaimed
eyeing me down in my navy school plains
as I sniffed each little bottle and prayed.

Avon lady thought me a Topaz girl.
Her warm scented touch on my wrist burned
like the bee stings of her loosening curls
so my honeycomb heart melted and yearned.

 

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Image created by the author

Noddy Speaks in Tongues

Break-time. The English sip milk through a straw, crunch crisps.
I am the foreign kid, cornered by Miss Blowers, stick the tip
between your teeth. The them there this. The they them, like this.

Her tongue protrudes from her mouth like a sliver of salami.
De dem dare dis. De dey dem, like dis, I repeat.

Miss Blowers holds Noddy and the Magic Rubber. Her sharp
fingernails tap the cover; rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat. Thwack.
I am crowned with Noddy. I detonate with pain and shame.
The they them there this. The they them! roars Miss Blowers.
My tongue strikes, three thunderous thumps, thanks.

Back home Mama prepares borscht, slicing beetroots, carrots,
Chop, chop, chop into small. Her knife slides through red
flesh with no resistance, taps as it hits the chopping board.
Don’t like bosh, says I. Not de bosh, but de borscht! says Mama.
Not de borscht but the borscht and out comes my tongue.

 

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A Light Bulb Moment- photo by the author

 

 

 

The Other Side

Somewhere in the Hambleton Hills
I took a right turn down a track not
on any map and edgy with yesterday.

Like Alice I plunged down a tunnel
of yellow gorse, silver birch and rocks
that had danced in the Book of Genesis.

A large pink dog, the sort that calls
a spade a spade was waiting by a stream
where the track vanished in a tangle

of weeping willows and a warning sign
Check depth before entering. Deep water
and shadows beckoned. The dog wagged

his tail in approval and I saw beyond
the ford; a fertile valley and sheep
like ballerinas in tutus and a rainbow

house on a hill in a dazzle of sublime
clouds. I saw a smiling face and a hand
waving, an orchard and a rose garden.

I smelled strawberries, fresh bread
and wood smoke. The whispers of leaves
and birdsong drifted on the breeze.

The dog waited, his eyes wary as hope
while I considered the darkness
of the crossing and judged it too deep.

 

 

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Peacock Blues

It was a time of velvet love,
revolution and Snakebite.
My mother gave me beige
polo necks and warned
of the dangers of touching.
My summer job yielded
a red dress from Bus Stop
with a plunging neckline
and a scalloped hem that swirled
when I twirled to Bowie and Bolan
alone in my room, rehearsing
my poses with a feather boa.

I met him on the landing of a cold
terraced in Queensbury, queuing
for the loo and giddy with homebrew.
He pretended to take my picture
with an imaginary camera, squinting
and clicking his tongue. You look like
what’s her name from Pan’s People,
he said as he kissed my neck. He wore
a peacock feather in his blonde locks
and a guitar with a tartan strap. His lips
were curvaceous like Bryan Ferry’s.
He called himself Fritz and a pacifist.

My mother was ironing father’s
socks, underpants and cotton shirts
when I got in, the steam clouding
the kitchen with a choking mist.
She didn’t look up when I gave her
the peacock feather. It’s pretty, I said.
Some call it the evil eye, she replied.
Next day it was tucked behind her
gilded wedding photo on the shelf
with the candles and the broken clock.

 

 

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Rehab

finally                       upright
and                            braced
swinging                  dead
legs                            between
parallel                     bars
I                                  struggle
towards                    reflections
of                               myself
one                            step
after                          another
says                           physio
walk                          tall
says                           physio
good                          girl
says                           physio
visiting                     hour
enter                         mother
face                           crumpled
and                            pale
my                             baby
is                               broken
she                            says

 

 

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The Borrowers

We drift in the wind, nomadic, elusive,
mercurial as scraps of tinsel, we hunt
human gatherings, crossing forests, seas
and cities, passing from home to home
we reap your memories, your secrets
that doze like fish in a torpid pool.

Small, almost invisible, you mistake
us for sunbeams, for insects floating
in the sultry night, for snow melting
on your child’s face or candle light
glinting in your lover’s eyes. We are
constant as the air you breathe, entering

your nasal passages, your mouth, seeping
into your skin and every private cavity.
We grub deep into the coils of grey
where you hide. Without you we are empty
as a church without the presence of God.
We can’t love. We can’t hate. We can’t sing.

So when you reach the top of the stairs
and forget why you are there, when you fail
to recall your mother’s voice or the taste
of beer, when you forget the meal you ate
ten minutes before and your own name,
please don’t mind too much.

 

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Image created by the author

 

Closure

Time and lavender do not heal
your marks like a signature at my door.

My plastic skin splits beneath flaking
layers of paint. Wind and rain penetrate

my openings. No one hears the alarm
and soon decay sets in. The floor

sags underfoot, the walls are festooned
with festive mildew. What goes around

comes around. Time is a serpent biting
its tail, a palimpsest. If I close my eyes

real tight I see you running, a flash
of orange on green, a broken traffic light.

 

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Photographic image created by the author.

 

The Doctor Always Knocks Twice

Afterwards, mother offered
tea in bone china
spiked with roses, edged with gold.

The sugar tongs we never used
lay centre stage on the lace tablecloth.
His fingers struggled with the fine cup.

Mother looked away when a stain
bled across the virgin white.
In the next room, I smoothed down

the pleats of my school uniform,
pulling up my socks
as far as they would go.

 

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Photograph taken by the author

Loopy Linda

Wild as an easterly gale,
on a yellow April day,
you swirled around the grey coast.
Always causing a commotion,
fresh with a smile, a banter
and a sunshine wave.

The first time I saw you was in The Com,
dancing with a chicken leg between your teeth,
see-through as your sparkly top.
You liked Robbie Williams and a beer,
a fag in the sun with your mates,
leaning against the wall, chewing up the day.

The last time I saw you was at the Chippie Van.
Thinner, hair cut short and night in your eyes,
laughing too much, teasing all the guys.
You never got that coffee at mine
or the Spanish holiday, only brief escape
to Witherspoons for one final, sweet latte.

I wish I’d known you better,
the granite girl with a sherbet heart.
I brought daffodils a day too late,
a sudden gust had taken you away.
So wherever you are Loopy Linda,
fly free and blow a hurricane.

 

This poem was written in memory of Linda P, died March 21st, 2013.

 

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Photograph by the author

Spot the Difference

Here are some beautiful words penned by a charismatic young man named Hamish Hawk from Edinburgh.  Is this a poem or the lyrics of a song?  What do you think?

Catherine Opens a Window

So you turn over,
Whisper into my shoulder
That you’re not clever enough to be sleeping with me.
But it’s not about schooling.
It’s more about using what you’ve been given, what you’ve got
And what you’ve got is more than enough.
I remember when cancer was just a constellation,
A starry-eyed crustacean with nothing to say of whether you and I live or die.
I don’t remember Glasgow until I was fourteen.
It’s where people I know tend to let themselves go when they’ve got something to bring to an end.

Well, it’s one, two, three
Steps in the cul-de-sac
You and me,
Your feet on the ground, mine hitting your back.
We’re running so fast that we smash into the bins
And we tumble over.
Catherine opens a window,
‘Now boys, that’s not how you play’.
Catherine, just wait,
What a peculiar thing to say.

I remember Maxwell.
I remember his mum too.
Her hands in the cool drawer of the fridge and her man’s fists on the window ledge.
I remember Michaela.
I remember her last name.
I know she could dance, I know she could hide, and that she won a netball game.
But she’s gone now,
Sticks in the corner.
There’s a bus ticket in the breast pocket of her green blazer.

Her mum has hung it up to dry in the airing cupboard
In the hope that she might need it the morning after.
Just once, maybe forever, again.

Well, it’s one, two, three
Steps in the cul-de-sac.
You and me,
Your feet on the ground, mine hitting your back.
We’re running so fast that we smash into the bins.
And we tumble over,
Catherine opens a window,
‘Now boys, that’s not how you play.
Catherine, just wait,
Well, you know
You’ll both have jobs one day.’

 

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Photographic image created by the author

 

So have you decided? Is this a poem or a song?

Song lyrics and poetry have much in common.  They both use rhythm, rhyme, repetition, refrain.  They both work through the building up of images and utilize metaphor.  But song lyrics have the advantage of music to help communicate emotion, atmosphere and meaning.  Poetry has to work that much harder because it exists in an empty space either as typed words on a white page or spoken aloud in a silent room.  Poetry has to look good on the page, it has a visual element as well as aural. This is particularly the case in concrete poetry.  Line endings are more important and can make all the difference to interpretation, to create pauses, to aid the flow of words.  In song, music takes care of these things.

There used to be a lot of snobbery about poetry.  It was seen as the superior, intellectual cousin to song lyrics.  Fortunately, this ridiculous distinction is fading and song is now considered just as worthy an art form.  Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016, an event that officially gave lyrics the same status and gravitas as poetry.

Well, did you guess right? ‘Catherine Opens a Window’ is actually a song from Hamish Hawk and the New Outfit’s latest album called From Zero to One.  It’s a terrific album with a full band sound and every track is special.  Hamish is a young musician who reminds me of early David Bowie crossed with Morrissey from The Smiths  with a touch of Ray Davies.  Here is a YouTube link of Hamish singing the song solo in his living room.  Listen carefully, does hearing the words set to music alter your understanding….?