Shopping List

Never send a man

Whose skills require

Seeing the bigger picture

To obtain anything specific

At a foreign supermarket

That is how you end up

With a reputation

As the family

Who rolled into town

And purchased two

Jumbo packs

Of incontinence pads

On the very first day

Of a two week

Holiday

Attention to detail

Was never your strongest

My dearest

That said, they proved both

Useful, well padded

And highly absorbent

So we left the remainder

In the bathroom

For the next tenants

To spare them the

Embarrassment

Of a middle-aged father

Having to ask

The Spanish word

For tampons

At least we didn’t need

Contraception

God only knows

What might have

Been the result

Water balloons?

Firecrackers?

Or merely

A tasteful calendar

Populated with

Saints days,

Helpful hints,

Thoughts, and prayers

Loft Lyrics

I grew up with an internal radio station

Better than our parents’ clock radio

My ears played on through

A sea of uncomfortable silences

Blasting songs that chimed with my psyche

Until I was old enough to find my voice

These days I don’t have to hide

My mental playlist

Hoard records like a miserly dragon

Perched atop a sea of

Battered cardboard sleeves

And faded pictures

I just talk to a box and it starts

Opening chords strummed on a guitar

Take me back to a time before

I knew more of the world

Than my own small patch

Middle-aged thoughts

Humming along

Drifting homeward

On a smooth, Atlantic sound

To a time before we were grown

Feelings surface like an old bruise

Half-healed, then suddenly pressed

I can taste the air

Dusty summer evenings

Hollyhocks and forget-me-nots

Claiming the cracks in the pavement

Outside our front gate

Flip the record over for the sound

Sunshine and staying up late

Neighbours over the back fence

Drinking and smoking in their yard

Trainers airing on the roof

Outside the bedroom window

Across the way

Someone picking at a battered guitar

Me and my imagination

Staring at lengthening shadows

On the cracked barley-white ceiling

As the switch to night lit up

Our rainbow.  We lay back watching

The tower block on the corner

Each window its own colour

Turquoise, pink, yellow, mauve

I was never alone in the dark

Surrounded by signs of the high life

We never saw up close

Just a little stifled

Bedtime would find me

Trying to splay my coltish limbs

In their hand-me-down, too short

Darned pajamas

Neckline off-centre

Their cartoon cat’s face

Twisting with each rotation

Feet up on the wall to keep cool

Through the night

Waiting for sleep to overtake us

In our overheated box bedroom

Postcards and photos stuck up

To disguise the chips in our plaster walls

Cover the lack of care

For our decaying ruin of a house

That was home – patched but not mended

We took it in stride

Knowing nothing else

The five foot three bunkbeds

I shared with my sister

Squabbling for a turn

To enjoy the view

From the top bunk

Thin tartan mattress over

Groaning metal springs

Until I left home at eighteen

In search of a new set

A brand new sound

And someone to play with

Holding it

Can you make it a little further?

Just to the next bend

Almost home

Mere steps really

Cross the road

Jump the puddle

Past the bins

To the front gate

And through

Can you cross your legs

On the doormat

While I fish for keys

Elusive in pockets

Of tissues and masks

And useless pennies

That nobody takes

Anymore?

Can you keep your cool

Your calm?

Clench and unclench

Fists without disaster

Until I push the door

And you rush past the

Escaping cat

Whose plaintive mews

Mean the feeling is

Surely mutual

One in, one out

To next door’s garden

Trousers down

Flowerbed

Aaaaah… at last!

That’s better!

B*ll*cks to the bakesale!

I am not sure whether it was
The burnt banana bread
Or the under-spiced
Over-baked biscuits
That did it
But I am thoroughly
Sick-as-a-dog
Fed up to the back teeth
And beyond
With the schoolyard
B*llsh*t bakesale
Not just the politics
The cut and thrust
Of who gets to bake
And who gets to buy
At the thrice termly
Repeating misery
That is the fundraiser
Conspicuous, competitive,
Consumption
For a school committee
With more money
Than common sense
Soliciting donations:
Baked goods; sweets; 
Good-as-new toys;
Dictating requirements:
Own clothes; costumes;
Odd shoes; socks;
Random coloured shirts;
Hair ribbons; headgear;
We all pay for a day
Out of uniform
Or suffer culinary torture
Face it, ladies
I can actually cook
But my kitchen will never be
One hundred percent
Gluten or nut-free
I don’t want to poison
Anyone (by accident)
And I resent the waste
Of good ingredients
This charade entails
Let’s just forget it
The whole in-crowd
Phenomenon
What are we, twelve?
Phooey to the PTA!
Us working mums have
Bigger problems
Than dusting off a dirndl 
To play at housewife
On a weekday afternoon
Though what you choose
To do with your own time
Is none of my business.
And that was my 
Considered, rational,
Personal perspective
Before we ate the
Glitter-encrusted
Muffin of doom
That somehow gave
The entire family
Galloping gut rot
(Even the cat)
Don’t ask me how
I no longer care
We have run out of
Buckets, bog roll,
And fresh underwear
Seriously,
Screw the whole thing!
I am switching to
Online donations
At least they don’t
Require that I provide
Correct change
Nor that I invest my
Hard earned paycheck
In industrial quantities
Of bathroom bleach
And antacids
Only to be sneered at
By the clique of
Suzie home-maker
And sycophants
Holding court
At the school gate
Judging me and mine
For our contribution
To the latest cause

Getting it wrong or times I regret being myself

A reckless promise made
To someone I barely knew
An obvious mistake the second they
Decided it was time to make good
On something said in jest
The time a good friend
Sat me down to make me learn
A life lesson I would have walked
Naked through the desert
To avoid ever knowing
The time I decided it was my duty
To leave things in a better condition
By attempting to explain a toxic
Workplace dynamic
To the deliberately deaf
The times I took jobs I knew would be awful
Because I couldn't let myself believe
There would be anything better around the corner
The times I stayed in them
The times I turned the other cheek
The one time I was naïve enough
To stand up for myself
Only to be shot down
In a vicious character assassination
By someone I trusted not to abuse their position of power
The time I was attacked in the street
For being in the wrong place at the wrong time
And observing some nefarious activity
In which I had less than zero interest
Following a truly lousy evening
The times I was groped on the bus
And couldn't bring myself
To make a loud scene
Cursing myself for cowardice
As much as the perpetrator
The times I listened to my detractors
More than my supporters (always, sorry).
Most of them live in my head
It gets hard to avoid their commentary
While dehydrated
The time I tried to explain my surprise
At the coloured anatomy of cats
Over board games, while tipsy
Offending my best friend's husband
So badly he refused to visit for seven months
The time I let my conscience overrule social norms
The time I spoke the unfiltered truth
Without thinking, sleep deprived
Beyond the wit of my audience
And suffered for it
The time I dropped my phone in the street
And swore
But failed to hang up on the grandmother
Who never forgave me
A single lapse in a public setting
The time I couldn’t help my father, dying of a heart attack
Because I was half-way to a funeral for another relative
At the other end of the country
He still whispers to me of his disappointment
Late at night when I can't sleep.
I am sorry, dad.  I tried.
Nothing I did or did not do
Would ever have been good enough
In that moment
Made for regret
The time I believed a loved one’s lies
More fool me
Twice, three times, staying
Until I told myself it was the right moment
To walk away
The time I couldn’t believe
Someone's personal truth
Despite understanding all the small ways
In which we are blinkered
By our own experiences
For once I found it hard to see
Through someone else's eyes
And tried to fill in the blanks
Meaning two plus two
Made minus five
The time I blurted out a correction
And ruined a first impression
In front of strangers
Because my inner perfectionist
Refused to suffer a lie
The million times I could not bring myself to say no
For fear of hurting the feelings
Of someone who lacked the same consideration
For my own
Assuming they were my equal
The time I called the police because my neighbour
Was being beaten by her partner
The time the despatcher didn't care
And I did not challenge their callous response
Because I was too concerned that help arrive quickly
The times I have swallowed my pride, my words,
Bottled up my feelings, ignoring the knots
In my gut at the wrongness of what I knew
I was about to sacrifice - my dignity
My sense of self
All these times call to me on repeat
Those grey days when I am feeling
'Lower than a snake's ass'
As my other grandma used to say
Rudderless, unworthy of love
And now, at almost forty
What is all this worth, this much regret?
We live and learn
Perhaps the real problem is
I do not know the answer yet.

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

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.

Vigil on Mothers Day

What are we waiting for, mum?

Shh, darling.  People are paying their respects.

To the old lady?

She wasn’t old, my love.

So why did she die?

An accident.  No, not an accident… She was unlucky.

What do you mean, mum?

She was on her way home and then…

Yes, mum?

She met someone who wasn’t nice.

Not nice?

Not all people are nice, sweetheart.  Some of them are nasty and like to hurt other people.

She met a bad man?

It seems that way, yes.

How did she die?

We don’t know yet, baby.

But how?

We might know one day.  The police are investigating, trying to find out.

But she wasn’t old?

No, beautiful girl.  She was young.  That is why people are sad.

Why did they bring flowers?

That is what people do when they are sad.

But we didn’t.

No.  We didn’t know the lady.

But I want to bring flowers.

It is better for the people who did know her to bring them.  It will help them to feel better.  We are not bringing flowers so that there is space for theirs.

Oh.  When can we bring flowers?

When it is someone we know.

Like grandad? 

Yes.

I don’t like it when people die.

I know, sweetheart.  Nobody does.

Why do people die?

It is part of life.

So she died because it is part of life?

Not exactly.

Then why?

I don’t know, my love.  I don’t know.

Try to remain calm (trigger warning for abduction)

The girl who didn’t come home
Did everything right
Exercised
Worked hard
Graduated
Had friends
Kept to a well-lit path
Talking to loved ones
On her phone
Headphones in
Music off
Covered head to toe
In muted, age-appropriate
Weather-suitable
Clothing
It made no difference
Someone snatched her
Took all her well-made
Choices away
For no good reason
Wiping her light
From the face of the earth
Before returning her
To the soil from whence
We all come.
Now what do we
The troubled audience
Make of this story?
Was the snatcher
An aberration?
Can we find some way
To blame the girl
For transforming
From a positive
To a negative
Statistic?
Her victimhood
Plunging property prices
In the area
Where the monster
Did not live or work
But chose to hunt.
The narrative
Of a week-long-wait
Haunts us.
Forensics teams
Combing through
Ill-kept shrubbery
Blocking the usual
Criminal activities.
A small bonus, perhaps.
We bite our nails
Reading tabloid
Speculation.
Hoping for innocent
Explanation
Car crash?  Coma?
Jane Doe?  Dunno.
Checking phones
And feeds
For well-raked muck
Old and new leads.
Hiding our nerves
Measuring risk
Wondering when the
Anti-climatic
But by now
Anticipated
Charge is to be
Read out by
Cringing colleagues
Whose work lives
Just got more complicated:
Having to justify
How one of their own
A bodyguard
Trusted to bear arms
Pissed in the pool
In spite of safeguards
Psych profiling
Developed vetting
In such a public
Press-lined
Arena.
What do we learn
Boys and girls?
How can we reconcile
The role of protector
With predator?
Are they two sides
Of the same coin?
Symptomatic of
Toxic masculinity
Or some sort of
Mid-life crisis
Prompting a
Psychotic break?
Would we be as shocked
To read the story
Coming from overseas
Wearing foreign faces
Living lives that bore
Less resemblance
To our own?
How can we
Protect ourselves
From further selection
By opportunistic
Solipsistic
Middle-aged parents
Abusing the family car?
Was the position
Of authority
Incidental
Or did it go
To the head
Of the perpetrator
Tipping the scale
From potential aggressor
To active threat?
Can we trust that
This was an
Isolated incident
An anomaly?
Or will there be
Further reckoning
Of countless
Cold cases?
Must we walk home
In packs of ten?
Keys clutched in
Sweaty fists
Ready to go
For the eyes?
Armed to the teeth
With pepper spray?
Trained in martial arts
Aiming roundhouse kicks
At fellow commuters
All jumping at shadows?
Avoid crossing the road
Unless covered by
CCTV from all
Possible angles?
Spurn all contact
With strangers?
Take vitamins?
Go vegan?
Eat, love, pray?
The situation
Remains hopeless.
Life continues.
We work, eat, sleep,
Exercise, dress down,
Carry a personal alarm
(Until it causes us
Too many problems),
Practice defensive
Manoeuvres.
Try to remain calm.
Family and friends
Mourn her passing.
Strangers gawk at
Sensational headlines
Turn the page
Scroll to the next story.
The senseless
Will now be
Minutely analysed
By future victims.
A crime has taken place
We all try to understand
How to ensure
It never happens
To us.