Telling Times

Wedged into the sofa cushions

Gazing at other people’s parroted opinions

Wasting precious moments on Twitter

My daughter asleep in my lap

Waiting to hear more news

From the hospital

Wondering if grandma

Will need brain surgery

As her Googled symptoms suggest

The paramedics were not optimistic

Though they thought it was just

Concussion at the last visit

Repeating the same tests

Hoping for a better outcome

Can we allow ourselves to believe in miracles?

Or will she, like grandad

Go downhill quickly

Seduced to eternal sleep

By a mundane global nightmare

Transmitted in a hospital corridor

After a fall.

Strange these parallel lives

It is barely a week

Since the last funeral

And already I fear

There may soon be another.

Will my employer be willing

To suspend their disbelief

In the cruelty of the Fates

And lend grudging credence to the notion

One family could be the seat

Of such frequent misfortune?

I cannot say

Only Time will tell

And I continue to offend

That elderly gentleman

Numbing my senses

Scrolling past the paltry nonsense

That passes for news

A political procurer of

Public opinion is protected

By his powerful protégé

After a very public breach of policy

Big whoop. Conservative tastes

Do not lend themselves to

Common causes. He’ll not swing

Unless someone else has something

Sleazier than he can sell

To buy themselves his job

Dead men’s shoes, don’t you know?

The anxiety mounts with each beep of the phone.

We are all waiting

Sick of this virus

And the dread

And the endless grind

Working from home

Trying to focus on the Big Picture

Alongside the minutiae

While kids run amuck in the background

Leap-frogging over the broken and unwanted objects

We can’t yet take to the tip

For a decent recycling

Attempts to home-school abandoned

In the face of reality

They are creating new patterns

In the junkyard of our

Once orderly home

While the pile of dirty clothes

Mounts ever higher

Overspilling the laundry basket.

We have an excuse

We have forgotten whose turn it is

To do chores

All days blurring together

In this strange world of lock-down

At first we were industrious

To a fault

Clearing the decks of any

Half-assed DIY projects

Every evening and weekend

Buying improbable shades

Of garden paint online

Two months in

It’s a matter of sheer chance

If we remember when to put

The bin out.

The phone vibrates with news

And as the hopeful message

Trickles down the airwaves

Past the sleep deprivation

Bypassing nostalgia tinged with fear

To sink slow, clawing relief

Into my foggy brain

I am alerted to a new sensation

The damp embrace of a child

Whose nap time has now

Exceeded their bladder control.

At once I am reminded

It must be a Tuesday.

Bugger.

The bin will have to wait another week.

Loneliness of the terminally challenged

I’ve got nostalgia for the way things weren’t
Aching out of every pore
Oozing and cruising and snoozing
A way around the darkened room
Humming lonely tunes to the dusty
Second-hand curtains
Striped ambition swaying in the draught
That strips the jangling nerves
From my fingers to the fingering of keys
Old style letters locked at arms’ length
Just in and out of awkward reach
Trying to find a balance
On a dented mattress
Elbows sore from shifting weight
Dusk ’til birdsong
Gloom lingers on the brow
Leaving lines from one ear to the other
Hoping to hold my cold cup of Joe at bay
With bayou blues rockin’ ‘n’ rollin’
Across the lonely 3am airwaves
Surrounded by the gently snoring chorus
Everyday keepsakes firmly rooted in reality
Strong stock piled in corners
Well-heeled feet nailed down
To their own groove
I am adrift, tethered by a fraying string
My mind prowling through its wonder-land
Howling a song for the moon

Whatever

Whatever gives us closure
Whatever sets it right
Whatever helps to soothe the fear
Or make it through the night
Whatever little gesture
However small or shy
Is what provokes the beast in you
And pacifies the “Why?”
Whatever covers hunger
When anger slakes our thirst
Whatever makes us wonder
Who came up with it first
Whatever files the edges
Not sanding us too raw
But reinforcing boundaries
Well-tested from before
Whatever is an answer
Whatever doesn’t hurt
Whatever leaves us calmer
A sprinkling of dirt
Whatever takes you over
With every nasty prod
Until whatever’s left to see’s
Between yourself and sod.

REM Regrets

It’s the end of the world as we know it
And I’m feeling nothing is fine
Since slipping down stairs on the slime of your tears
As we stumble toward one more crime

With our pulses and tempers increasing
‘Til the drumbeats are all we can hear
With the pounding of chests just a signal at best
For there’s plenty out there now to fear

Do we dare raise an eyebrow to challenge?
Would majority views still prevail?
Those whose protesting shocks in the ballot boom box
Were a message: Society? Fail!

Is there hope for our woeful tomorrows?
Can we ever recover the cost?
Now we’re set on a course to an ending of force
May we mourn what it is that we’ve lost?

Feathered Misfortune

What came first, the bird, or the egg?
Well, I spotted the dead pigeon on Monday night
As I was walking down the embankment
Trying not to breathe too many fumes
Still shivering from an over-chilled office
And shocked at the sight of mangled grey feathers,
A broken neck and damaged wings
I wondered if it had been hit by a vehicle
Or disorientated, had flown beak-first
Into a mirrored tower block
Before plummeting to the pavement below.
I had no answers. Nor did anyone seem
Too interested in the fate
Of an earthbound, flying sky-rat.
I walked home, pondering
The funeral rites of a feathered pest.
The next day, passing the other way
I saw it was still there.
Must have been missed by the road sweepers
Or deliberately ignored as someone else’s problem.
That evening, Tuesday after work
I felt sure someone would have mentioned it
And had the bird disposed of
But no.
Nudged off the pavement into the gutter
At the side of the road
Still a crumpled heap. Grey feathers dirty
From the road dust and oil residue.
I walked on.
By Wednesday evening, the bird was gone.
This morning, I took a different route to work
Staying on the bus to the museum
Then walking the few blocks North to the river.
As I passed under a bridge, I saw an egg
Shell cracked, yolk scattered on the ground
Dirty down feathers floating
While trains rattled above, shaking the shadows
A lone pigeon fluttered overhead
As if mourning their loss.

Winnipeg

Cry me a red, red river
A river of dust and bones
Of hearts that bleed and shiver
From broken and bruising homes

Blow me a kiss of willow
To echo a mourner’s moan
The ache of an empty pillow
Another child’s fate unknown

Cry me a red, red river
To fold me within its bed
And comfort the cares that slither
Through thoughts of unending dread

Bring me a message, finding
Too late what you had to face
My anger a knot, a binding
A coiling of thoughts that race

Cry me a red, red river
Reflecting a distant star
A chorus of souls, a quiver
That calls to me from afar

Paint me a cold moon rising
Surrounded by frozen waste
Still warmed by a hatred, blinding
For victims that leave no space

Cry me a red, red river
From words that no longer mean
An end to the dreams that linger
Its path a forgotten scream

Soothe me to sleep through Winter
To wake in the roar of Spring
With gifts that are carved to splinter
Where birds cannot bear to sing

Cry me a red, red river
And lay there upon this shore
The past where I long to wither
And hold you again, once more

This was written for the Red River Women.

A Little Number

Before I was born
Just a twinkle
In the universe
Of possibilities

Reflected in eyes
Both bluest grey
And olive green
Did you know me?

Or was the I of me
And mine all one to you?
My seedling promised,
But unplanned

Was a meeting of
Hearts and minds
Foretold in song
To bardic strains

Or merely Cast
Upon the plain and
Simple lines
That sprang and pranced

This two-fold dance
Of fire and ice
Your foreign couplings
Kept apart

By Mother Earth
Who did not dream
Of feelings torn
From the widening

Womb-like walls
And shallow shores
Of an underground
Kingdom

Nuts and Colonels
Carried away
With crowns of pine,
From slender hopes

To careful, caring
Tender traps in
Wadded cotton
Whose snoring sheets

Wedded Pluto’s
Darker dreams to
Persephone’s Oblivion
Before there was me

Last one standing

When they came by
For a cupful of sugar
Took my old man
And waltzed over the hill

I was still standing
Polishing silver
Gonna be standing
Forever, until…

Next time a caller
I’d hoped would be smaller
Tripped on her doorstep
Got carried away

I was still standing
To see to a Mother
Gonna keep standing
Another long day

One time you told me
That things never mattered
Half the amount I
Pretended to say

I was still standing
Alone with no lover
Not understanding
Which words made you stay

Then they came by
With a warrant for searching
Hoping to find
What I’d hidden away

I was still standing
In need of your comfort
No one to hear me
And nothing to say

Turn from the shadows
If you fear to follow
All those who greet us
And pass on their way

I am still standing
Myself and no other
One day I’ll falter
But never today

For Harry Rabinowitz

My grandfather died last week at the age of 100.  Unfortunately, thanks to the French law requiring cremation within six days of death, and to generally poor timing, I, along with several other members of the family can’t get to the funeral.  Only a member of my family could manage to die in the middle of a European football tournament, my cousin’s GCSE exams, immediately prior to the collective insanity of our EU Referendum, and find his funeral being scheduled abroad at the whim of a disinterested foreign bureaucrat, on the day of a national transport strike.  (To explain my mild cynicism, another member of my family was once genuinely late for their own funeral when the hearse got lost… some days my more theatrical relations do seem to be living in a situation comedy.)

As I cannot be there in person tomorrow for Harry at his final send off, I wanted to write something expressing what it meant to me, growing up, to have this person in my life.

“Not everyone can be bothered to charm a child. For someone who loved an audience, Harry was, rare in a musical obsessive, also someone who knew when to be quiet.

I have fond memories of long walks in the woods with a battered basket, hunting for edible mushrooms, my sister getting her wellies stuck in a bog and needing to be rescued, then watching in fascination as he insisted he cook and eat what we had picked. Other adults wringing their hands, forbidding us from partaking, convinced he would suffer the consequences of his own stubborn refusal of natural caution.

I remember piggybacks and very serious games of pooh sticks using the stream at Hope End. I remember visiting Mr Pumblechook, looking for sweets in hollow trees, and I remember my earliest form of musical education, when Harry used to ask me to help him find all the Cs on his piano.

A lot of people knew him as a serious, charming, professional musician. I knew him as the charming joker who taught a shy, seven year old girl to clap polyrhythms and tend bar, and who preferred his favourite music, clothing and even footwear to be loud.

He surrounded himself with laughter, and enjoyed wine, women, and orchestral music wherever such delights were to be had.

Little doubt that he will start organising some sort of a gig surrounded by friends, old and new. Woe betide the third desk violins if they miss the F sharp in the third bar of the second movement. The maestro’s grimace will not balk at halos.”

Harry’s obituaries can be found on the BBC, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Jerusalem Post, the Classic FM, and the London Symphony Orchestra websites.

Harry’s Desert Island Discs episode can be found on BBC iPlayer Radio here.

Dead Flowers

Though I am fond of
An eponymous song by the Rolling Stones
I have a lifelong dislike of dead flowers
Their brittle stems a stiff reminder
That everything we look upon
Is doomed