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.
The first spilled secrets in filthy school loos.
The second gave ginger cut to the chase.
The third made love, death and crime on Ward 5.
The fourth shared The Sound of Silence.
The fifth fell into a snow drift.
The sixth surrendered beautiful on the banks of the Tyne.
The seventh gave a wedding ring and split lip.
The eighth made excellent chicken soup.
The ninth gave gin massage on hot lawns.
The tenth offered midnight lifts to therapy and falling stars.
The eleventh staged punctures in motorway service stations.
The twelfth gave tarot card readings.
The thirteenth banned the Bomb and taught self-defense with a spanner, sickle and hammer.
He slept with his socks on.
The fifteenth performed impressions of Richard Gere.
The sixteenth gave empty, like Dire Straits.
The seventeenth cracked my zoom lens.
The nineteen rowed my boat to the island of woolly mammoths.
The twenty second shared Victoria Sandwich and arson.
The twenty eighth gave life drawing. He jumped off the High Level Bridge.
The thirty sixth sent crocodiles under my floor.
The one after him played a mean pianissimo and made the top forty.
The last one believed in the theory of reincarnation.
These found poems are based on the real letters of Annie Mackay. She spent her brief life working the small family croft in a remote area of the Highlands. Sadly, she developed cancer and died at the age of 21 in 1957. Her orphaned six month baby boy was left to be raised by an aged uncle. At the time illegitimate children were considered social outcasts. No-one ever discovered the identity of the baby’s father which might be hinted at in these letters. They were written to Annie’s married sister Violet who had moved to Edinburgh. I love these letters because they are full of joy and humor even though Annie was already aware of her illness. They also paint a picture of the preoccupations of a country girl and life in the 1950s.
I sold eighteen turkeys
so we can have a night
out in the pub,
going from bad to worse (puff).
Ronald says Ray is a born lunatic,
that was his opinion when he saw
the photos and then the blue jersey.
Your hair looked very nice,
is that a new dress you had on?
I hope it’s nylon
I’m not in favor of wool.
Lots of love and kisses,
I can tell you about it. There was turkey for dinner, then at 3 o’clock tea.
I had my cake with 21 candles. All the family were there listening to Lux
and singing The Railroad Runs Through the Middle of the House.
I think its super, don’t you? Lena brought the record Walking in the Rain.
I like it do you?
Jesse gave me £5 and Connie £2 and Grandad two aprons and Mary a nylon underset
and Margaret a necklace, sparkles all colors and Donald a mohair scarf (awfully warm)
and Sheena nylons and Jane a cameo brooch and Granny a Terrylene blouse.
I’m not in favor of blue.
And from Julie a ‘Le Page’ compact and from Johnny, Black Rose perfume,
very good of him and from Lynn a Coty lipstick, nearly ruby and from Alan a purse.
What a present, not much use with no money and then of course, your presents.
Johnny stayed till midnight… everyone else went off at six.
Lots of love and kisses,
PSA Separate Special Instalment for your Eyes Only:-
BURN AFTER READING
My first experiences of poetry happened early in childhood. My maternal grandfather wrote a poem for me each year to commemorate my birthday. It would be penned carefully on the back of his birthday card. I am sad today that I did not keep these special tokens of his love.
My first poetry book was A Child’s Garden of Verse by Robert Louis Stevenson. A beautiful blue leather bound copy with gilded page edges was presented to me at Primary School as an Attainment Prize. I was nine years old. Again it reinforced the idea that poetry was something precious. I began to write my own poems. I recall a gem that began with the lines, “I was playing in the dairy/when I first saw the fairy”!
At the age of sixteen I was initiated into contemporary poetry (together with sex) by my Glaswegian boyfriend. He introduced me to the music and poems of Leonard Cohen. As a Christmas present he bought me a little book of his poetry and I still have the battered copy on my bookshelf. Cohen’s poetry is often overlooked as he is best known for his songs. I like his short poems which seem to have a mysterious double meaning. Here is one of my favourites called I Heard of a Man:-
I heard of a man
who says words so beautifully
that if he only speaks their name
women give themselves to him.
If I am dumb beside your body
while silence blossoms like tumors on our lips.
it is because I hear a man climb stairs and clear his throat outside the door.
I read Cohen’s romantic and political poems over and over again, learning some of them by heart. At the time I had no idea poetry would become such a vital element of my life as it is now. For me, poetry is therapeutic but more importantly, a way to communicate difficult emotions and experiences to others.
What were your first tastes of poetry? Were they positive or negative? Did you learn poems by rote in the classroom? Or did your parents read to you? Do you remember your first ever poetry book? I would love to hear how you were initiated into the wonderful world of poetry.
And here is a YouTube video of Leonard Cohen singing one of his most famous and poetic songs:-
groovy French name,
eyes cool as mud,
In teenage shade
U left your cabbage
heart 4 me,
white as paper.
in my book.
Note:- Before the age of Facebook and digital ‘likes’ adolescents used autograph books with pastel colored pages to collect signatures and messages from their friends. These often included humorous rhymes.