A change of scenery

I went to stay in sunny Italy for a year
Living in a town world famous
For haute cuisine, truffles, fancy ham and pecorino
The very foodiest of destinations
I did a lot of cooking
(Well, it was to be expected)
Navigating new ingredients by taste and smell
Before I learned their names
Only poisoned myself once – not bad on the whole
Made some new friends,
Lost touch with some older ones
Painted, wrote, sewed
Hung around market stalls
Trying to find my own rhythm
In a land of foreign charms.
Rode trains, went to the beach
Burned my pale, freckled skin to a
Delicate shade of lobster
Learned some new swear words
From the Pharmacist
Whose prickly, heated suggestions
Soothed more with their familiarity
Than any packaged pills and creams.
I sang with a choir
My immodest soprano soaring over
Earthier tones of local talent
Evaded a would-be stalker
By placing myself out of reach
To sing with a different choir
With a better grasp of syncopation
On the other side of town.
Flew home for a funeral
Then back again before I lost myself
This new me, forcing down my feelings
Keeping family at arms’ length
Hoping to hold on to that
Hard-earned accent
Avoid de-tuning my ear
With old quarrels and new grudges.
Felt a bit lost. Dropped some weight.
Photographed forgotten corners
Wandered streets teeming with lost souls
Gazing at Architecture – with a capital A
Treading dusty marble in heat and snow
Watching my pockets for stray fingers
Trying out new meanings for ‘home’.
I treated myself to the cinema
A foreign-object-lesson
Surrounded by pitying groups
Sporting sunglasses, crisp shirts
Smooth skin and sleek, shiny hair
Putting my bushy auburn curls,
Ill-fitting jeans and t-shirt,
My lack of entourage or escort to shame.
I signed up for a course
Taught by a woman
Whose intimate knowledge of
Ancient sarcophagi and killer heels
Screamed bride of Boris Karloff
Just like the Fulgor cinema
With its dusty portico and
Timeless playbill.
I squeezed into the third row
Of a crypt, asking questions
With a confidence I did not feel
Alabaster windows, gold mosaic tiles
Dressed to impress as best I could
With my mismatched wardrobe,
My evolving makeup collection –
Dark brows, red lips, sunglasses
Bright headscarf to set off
My noir-inspired look
Blending in by standing out
Pale anglicisms dwarfed by design.
My fellow strangers seemed
Unmoved by most of it
Buildings of such rich decoration
Crammed with foreign students
Rubbing elbows with the natives
Who rarely looked up
At the painted ceilings
Youth wasted on the young
History forgotten by those entranced by
More modern pursuits, fashion, technology
I learned to exist in a different landscape
Blended in as a natural oddity –
Imperfect scenery, but unremarkable.
Yet, all this wealth of experience
Failed to move me from my mundanity
And I returned to rainy Manchester
Salivating at the thought of a cheddar cheese sandwich
On wholemeal sliced
A slick of marge, all the way to the edges
Maybe with a dab of Marmite to top it off
And a mug of supermarket-own-brand
Red-label tea to wash it down
Brewed strong enough to stand the spoon
With a splash of milk
As comforting to me as rain in August,
Grey skies and green fields.

The Trade

Where is this freedom
Promised me
When first they told me
Work makes free?

I look around
And know I’m lost –
What’s free I buy
At such a cost

No youth, enjoyment
Holidays
Solid employment
Only pays

In minted coin
As all are robbed
Of our free time
We’re bobbed and jobbed

And pensioned off
Freely to freeze
As Winter brings us
To our knees

A lifetime spent
In servitude
While taking care
To save on food

Essentials only
Frugal thrift
Is hardly free
To those who drift

Through twilit streets
And shopping malls
In suits and boots
Or overalls

No longer knowing
Why they strive
For Freedom finds
Few left alive