Schneider

We had nothing but rags
Bags of old costumes
Piled in the corner
Of a dusty room
Discarded scraps
Of forgotten dreams
So I taught myself to sew
Building a tapestry
Of my patchwork life
Knees folded on the
Chilly bathroom floor
Its cracked blue lino
Like ocean waves
The tattered curtain
Tucked up over the rail
Learning to navigate
By feel and intuition
As I frowned
Squinting at my needle
Trying to get the thread
Through a tiny hole
In the mushroom-coloured dusk
At the awkward age
Of thirteen years and one month
I wore them out
My colourful creations
And people stared
Admiring and mocking
In equal amounts
When I grew
Good enough
That you could see
Design in my skilful
Manipulation
Of throw-away stuffs
I sold some
For coin, or bartered favours
Tailors can be born
And they can be made
I took commissions
If you could describe it
The perfect dress
I could draw it in my head
Then threading your dream
Through my careful fingers
Seam by seam
I could make it
Come alive

The girl I wanted to be

I envied you your freedom

To wear short hair

Pierce things

I had only seen

On TV

Fall off your motorino

Breaking a wrist

With such impunity

Unafraid of the

Consequences

Approaching exams

Short skirts

Body paint

Cool for days

I didn’t see

The things that

Frightened you

Kept you acting

The social butterfly

To avoid authority

Running from those

Who demanded things

You could not bear to give

How could I?

With my own demons

To manage

In my long skirts

Flat shoes, subtle

Silent screams

Haunting adolescence

Like a will-o-the-wisp

We are similar now

Grown treading different

Yet parallel paths

Outlasting our pursuers

Ignoring our denigrators

Fiercely seeking our own truth

In a sea of snake oil salesmen

We were never friends

Yet hardly enemies

Mere acquaintances

Each wrapped up in

Our own, private concerns

On nodding terms

Barely aware the other

Existed, but rivals

For all the wrong reasons

I wish you well

Perhaps one day

Our minds may form

A greeting longer

Than the casual nod

We spare one another

From across the room

At some ghastly

Virtual reunion

Organised by those

Who peaked in high school

And want to compare

Their declining ambitions

In a club house

After dark

Like giggling teens

While the next generation

Smokes round the back

Of the toilets

Hoping a mint

Will disguise the smell

As parents pretend

Not to recognise

Their own poor choices

In their offspring

Still single?

Deserted?

Divorced?

Half dead?

Any rugrats?

Really?

Same. Or nearly.

Deep scars from wounds

Old and new

Here’s to us

And all those like us

How about it, Fay?

We happy few

Still standing here

Upon this day

At bedtime

I lack the words to describe this feeling

My sense of oneness with you

Who grew out of my flesh

And into this world

Making room for yourself

In our lives as if

You had always been there

On the edge of existence

Just waiting to step out

Into the light

We hold you

Folded tightly in arms

That we now see

Decaying

Withering as those

Of our parents did

Limbs curving

From old embraces

Into a touchless existence

You grow as we shrink

Such is the way

Of the world

But for a moment

I may yet hold you

Suspended in the bliss

Of a mother’s love

You fall to sleep

In my arms

I can pretend

We are still one

Cocooned

In this microcosm

À trois ans et un peu

Elle est têtue, ma fille

Elle veut sa propre volonté

À chaque but et coin de rue

Et dans le soi-disant ‘super’ marché

Indépendante, cette jeune enfant

Qui casse le front-uni de nuit

En refusant de brosser les dents

Porter son pyjama, dormir?

C’est quoi ça, maman?

Que tu viens de me dire?

Insensible au désespoir de ses parents

Du jour en jour, elle s’amuse

Changer son avis de nourriture

Ce qu’elle va manger et sans pensée

Pour ses vielles âmes qui cuisinaient

Nourrir ses larmes grosses, de gosse

Exagérées l’heure confronté avec

Devant son plat d’entrée de

Végétaux croquants et sans gratin,

Les pâtes sans ni sauce, ni rosmarin

Les frîtes même, sauf le mayonnaise

Pas de cassoulet, pas d’hollandaise

Elle veut le monde à sa façon

Du poisson, un oeuf, du saucisson?

Et non, mais non!  J’en veux pas, maman!

Les céréales, chaque matin, surtout

Quand on a oublié d’achéter du lait frais

Réemplir le frigo, Dimanche?  Et ouais!

C’est qu’elle veut nous tous faire craquer

J’en suis convaincu.  Ses absolues et chaque refus

Nous rendant tous debout, dès le début.

A l’admirer, cette jeune merveille

L’auteur de notre vie en famille entière.

Translation:

At three and a bit

 

She is headstrong, my girl

She wants her own way

At each goal and bend in the road

And in the so-called ‘super’ market

Independent, this young child

Who breaks through our united front each night

By refusing to brush her teeth

Wear her pyjamas, go to sleep?

What is that, mummy?

That you just said to me?

Deaf to the despair of her parents

From day to day she amuses herself

Changing her mind about the food

That she is prepared to eat, and without a thought

For the poor old souls who cooked

To feed the huge tears of a spoilt brat

Histrionics at the point she is face to face with

Her plate of appetisers, some

Crunchy veg without cheese sauce

Pasta with neither sauce nor seasoning

No sausage and bean casserole, no hollandaise sauce

Even French fries, minus the mayo

She wants the world done her own way

Some fish, an egg, some sausage?

And no, but no!  I don’t want any, mum!

Just cereal, every morning, especially

When we have forgotten to buy fresh milk

Refill the fridge, on a Sunday?  Hell, yeah!

She wants us all to lose our minds

I am convinced she does.  Her harsh rules and each refusal

Make us stand and stare, since the beginning

To admire her, this young miracle

The artistic director of our entire family life.

Lock Stock and Blockbustered

That time I took you to the Ritzy

‘Cos all your friends were doing it

Trying to blag our way into a movie

Some unseen authority claimed

We were too young to see

And we got as far as the  counter

With our carefully hoarded coins

Then you forgot your fake birthday

But they thought I was the one trying it on

To sneak in underage,

As if!  Outrage shone on both our faces

For the three year plus gap

Yawned in the other direction

I wasn’t even that spotty

But your suave blonde dye job

Carried the can far more convincingly

At the age of twelve

Than my mousy brown timidity

At fifteen.  Stymied by

Sensible shoes and conservative hemline

An embarrassment of youth

Despite the bus pass they swore

I must have found somewhere

For once the system worked

And we had to settle for ‘Grease’

Subtitles

Your much lamented dyslexia

Was the bone of contention

You used to beat me down

When choosing between early Almodovar

And the Nouvelle Vague.

We each spoke one language

But reading between the lines

Proved impossible.

Ice cream van

Dinosaur wellies
Stomping the park puddles
Familiar green shapes
Immortalised in
Rubberised plastic
Formed from crude oil
As if forged from the
Fossilized bones of
Long dead ancestors
Reincarnated
As protectors of
Juvenile feet
Roaming freely
Through marshy ground
Wild as once before
Roaring early displeasure
At competition for
Territory
A chance to slide
Through mud
Young pitted against young
Tooth and claw
Fighting to be first
To feed

Everyone’s A Critic

The loud purring
Of a sensitive soul
Rumbles across my lap
A gentleman-mouser
Whose claws are rarely
Sheathed in my flesh
Save for those few
Accidental motions.
He pauses in his
Hypnotic kneading
Of careful paws
Twitches a whisker
Opens a lazy eye
We are content
Devoted Familiar and
Current Provider of ear-scratches
Precious moments spent together
Do not last as long
As they once did
Those rare islands
Of near-silence
I try to spend
Writing.
Such a distraction
Is sadly unacceptable
In company
My failure to stroke
Soft furry egos
While fingers
Play over lettered keys
And coffee cools
At a careless elbow
Lead to gentle taps
Polite, then more insistent
I frown and mutter
Trying to shake loose
Some old ideas
From new forehead creases
Transmit them to my dusty screen
Before the next
Set of demands is issued
By the charming pout
Of the other House Tyrant
Whose three-year-reign
Continues to sway
The working lives
Of all her subjects.
It is not enough.
I cannot please all
Of my many masters
Not this day.
As gentle snores fade to yawns
I sift through the tired
Dog-eared card catalogue
Housed temporarily for safekeeping
Within my rapidly emptying skull
Brain cycling faster
The vocalisation
Begins in earnest
Close behind my ear
“Miaouw!”
He is starting to insist
“Pssst! Shush!”
It is a futile gesture
To try to silence
An old friend
The search continues
There are paws on my shoulder
Tapping, prodding
A hint of sharpness
A gentle shove
Hot breath on my neck
Can I find a verbal noun,
Subclause, or synonym
To convey my sense
Of panic at the first stirrings
Of any sleeping creature
Under four feet
But still a giant?
Too late.
“Mummy!”
I hiss my discomfort
At the sudden perforation
Of my thigh.
Time’s up once again.

Rediscovering myself

I am looking for the joy that sang in the world
When I wore out my hand-me-down shoes
Saving my fare and walking home
Through Portuguese neighbourhoods
Listening for conversations
Whose words tasted foreign on my tongue

I can almost remember
Watching the sky grow dark with cloud
Anticipating lightening playing
Across high Victorian windows
As voices droned at the edge of hearing
From my seat on the mat

I am sure it may be found somewhere
This sense of wonder, just out of sight
Perhaps around the next corner
If I can hold to optimism
Grit my teeth in a rictus grin
And let tired bones carry me onward

I may see myself reflected in memory
Surely I am stood there waiting
Perched on a doorstep, just out of sight
Down a dusk-dusted alley
Outside the daily grind-you-down
Of this commuter-belt world we inhabit

Where yesterday’s news is recycled, repurposed,
Shrunk to fit the typeface and house style
Even opinions can be retrofitted
For safety’s sake, toned down to win arguments
Bland, dulled to match our senses
Sleepwalking through middle age

While violence echoes around the chambers
Of our video games, our online escape
The falsehood in which we lurk, concealing our true faces
With old images, carefully posed
Retouched for personal vanity and public use
Long before fine lines trailed roadmaps across our skin

Meaningless arguments abound across the Twittersphere
While the atmosphere of the living room
Takes second place and we sit, heads in our screens
Commuting our sentence, communing with contemporaries
To the whine of an air conditioning unit
And the slow, but certain death of adulthood

Who are these selfie-prone, entitled shadows?
I bite down on their tales
Squaring the circle, trend-bucking
In this year’s Melancholy
Today I will be wearing blue once again
Practising mindlessness, in search of me

We three kings

What can I give you
But words from my lips
A breath for your lungs
The breadth of my hips

To feed you and clothe you
And shelter you there
Our hope for the future
Small star that we share

In misunderstandings
All foster more strife
Too coy for the joy
Of a conflict-free life

No formal pronouncements
Of greatness to be
We limit announcements
To those we can see

In feeble concealment
Until you are grown
We’d raise you for strength
A mind of your own

And watching your progress
Will whisper as one
The charms that may comfort
Your sorrows to come

With hands in my pockets
Concealing all pain
I’d walk through the desert
To find you again