City Dweller

I am bad at being on holiday

Perhaps it’s the lack of purpose

At home, at work, I have routine

Things to achieve, means of measuring

The worth of my own time and how

I have chosen to spend it.  Here?

Not so much.  I measure the days

In bug bites, crumbs, accumulating

From unhealthy breakfasts in odd corners.

By gas miles trying to locate a bin

That takes mixed recycling.

I am stumped by the lack of a

Sewing needle to mend favourite

Shirts and skirts town by errant handles

On rented bathroom doors

Skilled fingers itch in their impotence

Requiring a shopping trip – my own

Personal hell – to a mall where

Every single security gate is triggered

By my keys, the zipper on my purse,

Or some such similar nonsense.

I am forced to empty my pockets

Try to explain in broken sentences

Of a language I do not pretend to speak

While you accompany our child

Whose toilet training seems to err

In the climate, to a gendered bathroom

With me staring down a twenty-something

Minimum wager with an axe to grind

On a Thursday afternoon.

Nothing to find – too bad!

Better luck catching the

Next middle-aged mom

Who may feel some sort of

Vicarious thrill swiping fifty cent

Plastic merchandise – none of which

Can easily be concealed

In a purse or a pocket.

I hate holidays.  This kind of crap

Doesn’t find me at home.

In an environment that I can

Kid myself remains

Within my control.

I sweat, try not to scratch

At my bites, my sunburn,

Recall I had to borrow

Your deodorant

As mine had failed

To cope with the local temperatures.

We keep being promised rain.

But such a luxury

Fails to materialise.

Night after sleepless night

Trying to ignore the free concert

The rooster and pack of dogs that feel

Some need to duet at the crack of dawn.

My eye twitching at the

Unwelcome whine of a mosquito

Hovering in the tepid darkness

Waiting to feed on this

Overheated foreign delicacy

Reaching for pharmaceutical reassurance

That the never-ending irritation

Will have an expiry date.

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.