When the Parties Stop


I remember the first time I was stung 
by a bee. I was six. It was my Russian 
cousin Olga’s birthday party. Suspended

in the airless dark we waited for her to blow 
the candles out. Smoothing the itchy collar
of my summer dress I felt a stab of pain.

I remember an innocent walk in the black 
rain of Chernobyl to the fun fair in town.
We joked about wet clothes, scoffed candy

and Coke, ignored the creaks and groans
of old machines. We clung white-faced
to the safety rail as we spun on the waltzer. 

Today I stare at the daffodils on my table. 
They clamour from their vase, gaudy petticoats 
flapping a can-can at a funeral. In Kyiv 

sandbags not flowers line the streets. A blast 
of golden cluster bombs, pools of pus and piss 
in field hospitals, yellow wheat fields smoulder 

a band of war on the sky blue flags of home. 
In the deserts of Mariupol, walls claw at the sky
and bones burn pale as newborns.

Servants of time, my  daffodils will shrivel, 
lose lustre like the crepe skin of an ageing chorus 
girl. The badlands will birth new blooms.  

Image by the author

Turn Off the Lights

She longs for the refuge of dark interiors.
The Tiffany lamps and plush burgundy
of city bars, torn between Aqua Velva
and a Dirty Martini. In the gloom, eyes
gleam and lies bloom unseen on dry lips.
Dimly lit, anyone will be someone.

She dreams of peering through the gap
in the chintz curtains as his family coils,
roils in the blue flicker of a widescreen.
He sips tea from a cracked mug, The Best
Dad in the World embossed in faded gold.
Dimly lit, anyone will be someone.

She imagines the marine glow of their bed
-room, matching furniture and fluffy robes.
The green drapes smother the rumble
of traffic on Harbour Road. Newborn
light pales his face when he smiles.
Dimly lit, anyone will be someone.

She craves the murk of musty hotel rooms.
A silk scarf cast over a single lamp, sheets
and limbs tangled, the acrid taste of him
on her lips. His sleeping foot dangles,
sock still on and she sees a hole in the sole.
Dimly lit, anyone will be someone.

She recalls the tobacco heat of his BMW,
leather beneath her thighs. The dashboard
flickers like broken glass. Fireflies swirl
in the beam of headlights. Morse code.
His face turns away when he speaks.
Dimly lit, anyone will be someone.

She longs for dark interiors, not this naked
white room. Fluorescent light beats down
and she shrivels under their weight like a moth
who finally made it to the moon. She’s waiting.
She’s been here so long, she forgets why.
Brightly lit, someone will become no one.

Image by the author

Mobility Issues

Poor Queen of Coins has ageing bones.
She enjoys many thrones, crimson velvet
and gold with roses, shamrock, thistles,
acanthus, oak leaves but none have wheels.

It doesn’t do to be seen as weak and mortal,
pushed around like those who cannot stand
for the Queen, endure hunger, isolation, cold
but still have strength to fight a bitter war.

The luxurious bathroom facilities at Ward 3A, Raigmore Hospital, Inverness. Note the lack of grab rails, lack of wash basin, lack of wheelchair turning space and low height of loo seat. I reckon this is a throne the Queen would politely decline.

War in Ukraine

For the last few nights I have jolted awake every hour or so in panic and anxiety about the situation in Ukraine. My parents were Ukrainian refugees during the second World War and I grew up in England. Throughout my childhood I heard horror stories from my family about what they endured when they fled their home at short notice during the Nazi invasion not knowing where they would end up and carrying only the few belongings they could gather. Today I wept upon seeing footage of Ukrainian families having to run for their lives just like my own family did seventy years ago. I still have cousins living in Ukraine and God knows what is happening to them. I feel powerless to help. My mother’s home city of Dnipro was bombed today by Russia. I am glad she is no longer with us and spared the knowledge of this atrocity. She died three years ago. As a gesture of support and solidarity for the Ukrainians who are now homeless and terrified I am posting my poem ‘Heartland’. It is based on my mother’s story and is one of the poems in my recent book, The Rush of Lava Flowers available on Amazon.

Heartland                                                        

I

The train is leaving but I am here
in a yellow room with curtains of sky.
The door is chained from the inside,
the lock and the mirror are broken.

The train is leaving and you’re not here.
The prints of army boots have scarred
the wood I once polished on my hands
and knees with melting candle wax.

The train is leaving, I can hear it’s wail.
On the sunlit balcony above treetops 
where the birds have fallen silent,
a young boy hangs from a rope.

The train is leaving to I know not where
but my cat is hungry, my roses wilt,
poor Mishka waits on the window sill
and they will not fit in my suitcase.

II

Will I find you arched across wild waters?
Will I see you in the sparks of burning pines?
Will you shimmer like an island in an ocean of wheat?
Will I smell you in the northerly like the promise 
of snow or grass that is limpid green?
Will I meet you in the white lines in the middle of the road?
Will I catch you like a ghost in a speaking mirror?
Will I taste you in buttermilk pancakes 
or tea sweetened with cherry jam?
Will I feel you in the blue fur of a cat?
Will I discover you folded inside yourself 
like a secret at the back of my wardrobe?
Will I fear you in my dreams of showers without water 
or scroll you on my screen as a drone 
follows the River Dnieper Mama once swam?
Will I hear you in the trains as they scream through the night?

My mother and I during a day out in Scarborough 1986