Midlife, Middling

You showed me how easily

the cheesy wotsits crumbled through your fingers

sticky orange dust filling your hands

my heart pouring its molten mass onto your palms.

You hold out your hand

and laugh softly, beckoning, seducing,

wordlessly, I bend to lick off the crumbs,

nibble those long fingers,

caress my liquid heart aquiver in the scoop of your hands.

My tongue feels pure joy

electric flashes.

***

And then the morning-starved yell of one fat baby

pierced the thickening dawn

and that was it

dream gone

querulous mouths back demanding

running up and down those stairs

retrieving wellies and jumpers to pull on protesting limbs.

Yet that dream glow stayed with me all day

as I gave my serviceable Mum-shoes a miss

and slipped on lethal heels.

That day I felt attractive again.

We first kissed under the laden waft of Chernobyl

all that summer we were ablaze

counting the hours since our last kiss

you only knew my body in its sinewy smoothness

not the quaver softness of child-stretched flesh

you only remember hopes and ideals

not the compromises and shortfalls

I like the picture of myself in your mind’s eye

still dewy potential, spirit and energy.

But then the pale sceptre arises with rueful smile

admitting, ‘I’m tired now. I’m off to bed.’

The Maternal Twist

This is an older poem, which I have already shared on Cowbird, the storytelling website with which I am currently obsessed (I try to limit my time on it, but always end up reading ‘just one more story’).  I remembered it and wanted to add it here after reading the wonderful and funny poem  ‘Nursery Crimes’ by DP Bowman.

Twinkle twinkle little star

What a bore you know you are!

How the trill of sing-song rhymes,

high-voice patience, hurried smiles

breaks the wit that I had borne.

Salt in wound I stand forlorn.

 

Yet baa baa black sheep

Have you ever lived

‘til childish breath rests on your cheek?

Half-chewed toys brought to your bed,

wilted flowers, kisses wet.

Salted lashes fluttering now.

Sleepy smiles and furrowed brow.


 

Dandelions & Bad Hair Days – how mental health & motherhood woke up the writer in me

Dandelions & Bad Hair Days – how mental health & motherhood woke up the writer in me.

Looking forward to reading this book – the anxiety that dare not speak its name in the competition of upbeat self-deprecation of the school run!

Clone Trooper Wins Again

We reach the park. It doesn’t take long for Mum to get bored: ‘Enough of swings!  I’m tired.  Run about, do something!’

It’s cold, windy.  The monkey-bars are icy, and there are too many children on the climbing wall and see-saws.  My baby brother sticks out his lower lip. ‘Don’t wanna!’

Mum rolls her eyes. ‘First of all, it’s “I don’t want”, not “don’t wanna”.  Secondly, tell me clearly what don’t you want?  Talk to me!  Can’t help you if you don’t tell me!  When will you learn to express your thoughts instead of just crying and whingeing all the time?  Waa, waa!  Is that all you guys ever do?’

She’s off again.  No one can say Mum is stuck for words.  Press a button, and she goes on forever.  I have my pocket remote and switch her off like the sound on telly.  Only let a few words slip through, just to make sure she isn’t suddenly saying something important, like lunch or time to go home.  But no, it’s the usual stuff…  How could she have given birth to such lazy children?…  Sports are so good for you – unhealthy, stuck indoors all the time – only interested in Wii… Nobody will be our friend if we behave like this…

She folds her arms and sits, muttering, on the bench.  Jake stands stiffly beside her. Face all screwed up and snotty.  Refusing to have fun.  I shrug and start playing Star Wars.  I always play this on my own – no one else, not even Jake, may join in. I’m a clone trooper, fighting enemies with my light sabre.  I run around with sound effects. Mum hates this game.  She says only Jedi knights have light sabres and clone troopers are stupid. But I want to be stupid, I want to look like everyone else.  All Mum’s brains, all those college scarves in her sock drawer that we’re not allowed to touch… and she has to go to hospital every month. Feels sick like a slug afterwards.

Besides, Jedi knights are boring, like grown-ups: they talk too much, they’re always right, always winning.  Light sabres should belong to everybody.

Hunger

Oldest story in the world: top of her class, distinction at uni, hired then poached by ever better-known firms.  Youngest to make partner.  Tipped for wealth and greatness. Travel, exotic foods, white villa with Ligne Roset furniture.  Then cutting back as one adorable toothless grin, then two, then three captivated her heart.

‘Not pasta again!’

‘Don’t want to wash my hands!’

‘Staaaaarving!’

Husband off again, something about bringing home the bacon. He was trapped by long hours, but she was the bacon.  Right there: cauliflower crumbs in her hair, stained with sauce, scoffing remains, falling over muddy gear.

‘I’m sick of you all!’ she screeched.

Grunts subsided, six eyes looked up.  Was the fear in their eyes a reflection of hers?

Later: ‘Did you know, Mummy: pigs can’t look up at the sky?’

Nor oxen either.

They never found out why she thought that the funniest thing ever.

And in case anyone thinks that there is a recurrent theme in my work and that I hate or resent children: this is fiction!  But what interests me is that tension between the creative best version of self and the everyday workhorse. Stanley Kunitz talks about the poet’s need to find the taste of self, which is ‘damaged, wiped out by the diurnal, the cares, the responsibilities that each day demand one’s attention… but the day itself cannot be construed as an enemy; it is what gives you the materials you have not only to contend with, but to work with, to build…’

Harness

‘You’re sure it’ll work?’

‘Trust me, it will!  I’ve seen it happen over and over again.’

‘So all you do is strap those babies on either end…’

‘And the female will then obediently yoke herself into the harness and start ploughing her furrow.  Clever, isn’t it?

‘But when she realises she’s only moving around in circles, what happens?  Doesn’t she ever try to escape?’

‘Not once.  That’s the beauty of it.  When we feel a little tremor of rebelliousness, we just grow the children a bit.  They get heavier, they start complaining, she worries about them more… and back she goes to her plodding!’

‘And what do you give her?’

Give her?  Oh, rewards, you mean? That’s the fantastic part – you don’t need any.  When the kids grow up, they just hop off, run off without any thanks. Sometimes they don’t even wave goodbye.  She still cries when they leave, no matter how much she sacrificed for them.’

The alien students nodded in wonderment at their professor.  ‘Wow – humans sure are fascinating…’