1933 Babushka kept a pig in the bathtub while the Red Army raided barns and larders enforcing Holodomor. Out on the Kiev streets stick bodies staggered, bloated and staining snowdrifts like squashed bluebottles.
The children named the pig Nina against their mother’s warnings. Come slaughter day they waited on the balcony with scarves tight round their ears but the screams rang loud and their tears froze.
1974 The British three day week; fish, chips by candlelight. I strutted my hot pants to Bowie and Bolan on Pirate Radio; sniggered when Papa built secret shelves inside the chimney breast to hide tins of flour, sugar, rice, pasta and preserves.
Babushka, me and Mama chopped and shredded cabbage, carrots, onions like swathes of virgin lace spilling over the yellow table, pickled in old sweetie jars with faded labels. The blue room soured with the stink of vinegar.
2020 The year of Covid 19; I empty bookcases, arrange tins of soup, sweetcorn and tuna. Lockdown. The silent sky tumbles sapphire and stags browse my garden. Their antlers spark a murder of crows spooling from the willows.
When the amber light fades to dusk ghosts come knocking at my door. I look out at a deserted street, counting down every wavering heart beat. In the still mountain night I hear the echo of Babushka cheering.
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.
There was nothing but the hunt,
the pain, the struggle, the dark.
She had to keep running. Run!
She could barely recall a time
before the breaking of branches.
She could barely recall her time
of being human, of skin
touching skin and naked picnics
when she gazed boldly at the sun.
In her upright days moss and wild
flowers sprang from her every
footstep, birds sang her every word.
Now she ran on all fours. Run, run!
Her cloven hooves were raw, spiked
by thorns. She was pierced by nine
arrows, fur rank with pus. Venomous.
Calculating. The forest was silent,
a lifeless zodiac of roots and branches.
She could no longer recall her name
or why she had to run. Her lungs failed
and she fell in the shadow of a crippled
tree. As she waited for her joyful exit,
forked lightning unravelled silver
threads of hope across the night sky.
Note:- this is an ekphrastic poem based on Frida Kahlo’s painting shown below.
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.
the fall begins
a slow decline
ages in one
murder by fire water
can’t remember faces no more
of old age
can’t piss in a pot no more
or a swift
choosing an open window
a dislocation of ghost limbs
shape shifting hair aflame
till you hit
ground zero running
the red light