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.

In search of something

Looking up the ancestors

Tracing a family tree

Am I in search of them, my love

Or really in search of me?

Finding pairs of twins who married

Sailed off across the pond

Only to find in a generation

Home was what they’d scorned

Trying to cram onto scraps of paper

Names and dates and more

Wondering why they had chosen to scatter

Themselves from shore to shore

Picking over the bones of stories

Scraps of my family lore

Wishing I’d asked before someone passed

A couple of questions more

Chuckling over the old intrepid

Tales of derring done

The girl who ran guns in place of her brothers

As they’d only blab to mum

The lady highwayman; army driver;

Girl of a thousand smiles

The one whose paintings went down with the ship

The ones who ran quite wild

How would I fit, these elderly legends

How would I measure up?

Putting myself into clogs and sabots

Filling old boots with luck

Knowing the secrets that spring from boxes

Hidden on dusty shelves

Of births and deaths and marriage and proxies

Chicken-scratch bibles and tombstone kells

The hideous source of a score of quarrels

Love letters from the wrong side of a war

Black sheep and politics; actors and brothels,

Family heirlooms and so much more

Mystery facts are now uncovered

A lady who lied for years

Pretending to youth and no old lovers

To soothe a new husband’s fears

Learning why some names were missing records

During a time of strife

Who had migrated and waited and waited

For news of their family’s life

Postcards and poems and brochures and programmes

From concert and theatre and prom

Knicknacks and geegaws and troubles and trinkets

Collections they handed down 

Sepia prints and chemical glass

My ancient faces scowl

Melancholic in rented clothes

They are caught dead in now

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

O, Camelot, Where Art Thou?

Everything is awful
And yet, we persevere
Leaving hope to poetry
To trundle on in fear

That one toe too far over
The party’s bread-crumb line
Makes weeding out dissenters
A mere matter of time

While power speaks for no man
And landed gentry frown
To battle one another
For the puppet-master’s crown

We’re plotting for a future
Most hope never to see
Still bargaining, unseated
And without a winner’s fee

But how to hold our assets
From the treasured hoarding trust
While shoring up economies
Still reeling from the bust
 
Can you perceive horizons
That might signal Finnish line?
I’m getting more myopic
Through these passages of time

And ravaged, lost and sleepless
With no comfort to be had
I’m all but feeling helpless
To prevent what drives us mad

External shadowed forces
May be mustering to lead
The ignorant through tripery
To see how Red we bleed

For driving all before us
While historic, still untrue
No plaudits for the chorus
Of Titanic bally-hoo

I’m not to know the answer
Though I wish, it is in vain
My child must be my Reason
For I voted to Remain

Inheritance

I write now with my father’s pen
Old steel has assumed my
Ragged pencil’s place
Smooth and worn in my
Calloused fingers.
Daughter at my breast
I remember my father’s stories
As my own swirl and foment
Beneath the creased brow
That is my other inheritance.
Not a gentle man, nor a good one
But a crafter of careful lines
Who spoke limited truth
To lasting effect.
What of him remains
But my own comfortable lies
Sweeter than fact, more palatable
Harder to deny than the
Elusive verisimilitude
Of others.