Snake Oil, Sass and Razzamatazz

I envy those women in the magazines
It goes back to something missing from my teens

Their white trouser, silk blouse lifestyle
When pimples and bad hair were my style

Do I deserve their barefoot walks on the beach
With a dog whose perm is out of my reach?

Can I emulate their effortless charm
In a climate where thick vests are the norm?

And as advertising copy is rife
Where do I sign up for their perfect life?

With a spouse who is polite to my mum
And a car that is the envy of some…

Or is that only alive on the page
While we sigh, we buy, but bicker and rage?

What has happened to us living the dream
In a home of painted white wood and cream?

How are we supposed to manage to burn
All the endless stuff they tell us to earn?

And as pensioners smile sweetly at kids
While their offspring bust a gut on the skids

Keeping families from floating away
Working harder, longer hours each day

For an ad campaigner, trainer, shamer
Knows no namer, public blamer

Never better, next trend setter
Panty wetter, promo debtor

How is this for living the dream
We grip tighter than our miracle cream?

The watermelon that wanted to be wine

After a day of dreaming
Exotic visions
Of cool, popular appeal
Thoughts fomenting
In the summer heat
Grew so excited
Reaching for the stars
Through the kitchen window
Tore convention asunder
Sides split
Spilling ambition in
Sticky streaks across the counter
Down the cabinets
And pooling resources
In a puddle on the tiles
Now what?
Momentarily floored
Smiling with
Sugary, toothless
Carefree abandon
It fizzed at the moon
While a pale face
Shone through the night
Reflected in a
Domestic waterfall
Of over-ripe
Sweetness

Hedgehog

I once moved country
With a sleeping bag
A dictionary
Two dresses
A blue t-shirt
One pair of jeans
And a change of underwear
To live in a nine foot
Square box with no
Toilet or fridge
I cooked ravioli
In the tin over
A five euro
Electric kettle
And washed both
Food and clothing
In the bidet
Entertaining friends
One at a time
As I acquired
A single mug
With no handle
Singing songs
With strangers
Who were also
Far from home
So do not dare
To presume
That I will permit
Myself to acknowledge
The inconvenience
Of personal growth
There are other things
Upon this Earth
That chafe

Mandela’s Mandala

My grandmother spoke of a great man
Whose skin colour was a secondary concern
To the taste of his ideas, his morals on her lips
Hands on hips in her folded apron, she showed me
The power of strong rhetoric, tropical thinking
My grandfather chopped wood and remained silent
Unwilling to share his politics with those so young
I watched him split logs with one swing of an ancient axe
Shirt off in the pale, English Sunday weather
I watched my grandmother from my perch on the pondokkie
Swinging my legs as she peeled the potatoes
Split her open and the rings would show no colour
But the shape of her beloved country, through each
Cell of her deep-tanned, well cared for, white skin
A difficult woman, she held her beliefs with vicious tenacity
Preferred to attack what she viewed as injustice
With a verbal barrage that would put Sergeant Majors to shame
She laid bright flowers in an eggcup on the windowsill
In the hope of his freedom and a speedy return
To the country of her birth, her much praised Africa
Whose yellow skies and long heat warmed her
Even across the forty years of chilly English countryside
The dust of an old dirt road clung to her feet
Rising with her sense of South African pride
The day they released his book, she bought ten copies in hardback
This lifelong huntress of bargains for once profligate
Spilling coins without waiting for the price to come down
She gave them to her friends, those chilly, trophy wives
Who nodded their thanks through their layers of paint
But whose plastered on smiles did not reach their powdered eyes
Her own copy was placed on the coffee table, strategically
Next to the woven bowl of blackened bananas – fully ripe
The only way my grandfather would eat them
His eyes skimmed the man’s face each time he reached for
A handful of soft, sweet, wizened fruit
She wore him down, political peace by piece
Until her discussions were moved from the kitchen to the parlour
With all the adults involved while the children lay on the rug
Completing the two Christmas jigsaws of Africa and South America
With camels and elephants slotting into place next to the date palm
Once the borders had taken shape and the cape jutted out
Before finding the pieces of cactus with its sombrero and poncho
Under the corner of the cake plate
And then, when I was still a child, Mandela was free
She showed me the pictures, sat at the kitchen counter
While fish fingers fried in the pan and the calico cat
Stalked the sizzling butter with determined paws
She turned to turn my page and a finger was out of the pan
Onto the floor with the cat jumping after it
That was the first time I did not hear her scolding
Scalded paws scurried away with their prize
As she pointed out the man I had been told would save
My grandmother’s beloved South Africa from itself

Breathing Space

For years I felt that a cupboard, a room
Was all of the space I could need
I’d sit there surrounded by books in the gloom
And scribble my thoughts by the light of the moon
Fill my head with the words I would read

I’d not have to worry at all for the neighbours
Or find time to re-paint the bath
For comfortable was just a duvet and PJs
With nothing more needed, no disco or DJs
A candle gave light from the hearth

But somehow we found that with two of us there
It was no longer quite the same palace
The world had grown bigger and started to stare
With the castle we built out of no more than air
At the couple that lived from a suitcase

We struggled, resistant to others’ attempts
To provoke us to find a new shelter
We shivered through winter, and mended the fence,
And in summer we suffered in panting offence
Rigged a fan to the bookshelf to swelter

Then finally when we had reached boiling point
All our options had dribbled away
We agreed it was time that we looked to the rent
To decide our intentions by firm government
We examined our options to stay

Though it took us ten years to find one we’d afford
Now a house we have suddenly bought
Yet still reeling in shock at the sight of the floors
Finding furniture shops and new knobs for old doors
What incredible chaos we’ve wrought

For such jealousy now seems to stem from the tide
Of those others who’d scorn, scowl and scoff
I am tempted to find a new cupboard to hide
Quite confused at the poison that seeps from outside
From their tedious, terminal cough

Though it seems we gave in to their constant demand
It was hardly to match with the Joneses
And though cupboard and room has expanded in ground
We have worked to repair what we needed and found
We have never yet tilted our noses

For at heart I’ve a cupboard I can call my own
With a book and a candle inside it
I vacuum the floors and I dust every tome
For the library walls I can now term my home
Though my friends may but scarcely abide it

For a home is a place that we find in ourselves
With no need for the trappings of glory
To be quite at peace with my own book-filled shelves
While I scribble my thoughts on our heavenly hells
Is but one chapter of my own story

Plato’s model

The likely days and nights that pass
reflecting in my mind’s cool glass
the happiness I would enjoy
with him I choose to be my boy
my twin, my heart, my other soul,
once split-apart, now makes me whole
but walking through the world I know
has brought me little but sorrow.
The one I recognized as such,
who made me laugh and pleased me much
did leave me sad and quite forlorn,
and crying even, when withdrawn
my source of love now quite unknown
chose once again to be alone.
Then did I find thee, gentle friend
who knowing I had reached wits’ end
did comfort me, and let me grow
before forcing your heart to show.
Thus all was done in goodly time
with pleasant passings, sweetened vine
now riper, richer, more mature
in this, as some, less can be more.
So I have found my split-apart,
saved grace, built home, and mended heart.

A trudge down Memory Lane

Giraffes do not grow on trees, well, not according to my Dad, anyway.

I miss the colourful hilarity of childhood, way back when the height of misery meant the red crayon had rolled under the fridge and I couldn’t reach a wooden spoon to poke it out again. I remember being excited to the point of hysteria by a new yellow umbrella, and feeling no guilt at toothbrushing sans-paste when it had mysteriously fallen off the brush and gone down the plughole, not stopping to greet the teeth on the way. Mum always knew when the fluoride had reached its destination as I would spend at least half an hour spitting like a camel and dramatically gargling water all over the bathroom floor to try to rid myself of my new, abhorrent ‘minty-fresh’ breath, then stomping downstairs bad-temperedly to demand something to ‘take the taste away’.

I remember halcyon days in shades of orange with such wonderful sports as ‘puddle-jumping’, and wading through wet, smelly piles of leaves, kicking up clouds of muddy mulch as we marched; long, dusty summers when we drew epic masterpieces on pavements with a sharp stone.

Old age makes fools of us all, and even our childrens children will believe that fifteen is the height of senility, with older siblings’ faces resembling an Hawaiian pizza, preferring to sleep all day, locked up alone in a darkened room, listening to angry white noise, rather than braving the warm violence of sunlight and risking untravelled hormones loose in the outside world.

Ah, adolescence, that fun-filled decade of emotional turmoil, strange sensations, sights, sounds, smells and swellings. Bubonic plague condensed to 5’4″ and made to suffer the indignity of sharing a bathroom with no lock on the door. Discovering that Christmas brought nicely wrapped, clearly expensive zit-medication, a baggy jumper in bottle-green from Aunt Matilda (nothing too tight, dear, while they develop), and pink fishnets from Uncle James.. thinking Uncle James was cool for all of five seconds before Auntie Rose started on him with long words like ‘inappropriate’, and ‘juvenile delinquency’ and you realised that pink fishnets were only being worn this season by 45 year old moustachio’d Bank Managers known as Mandy on weekends..

Kids grow up so fast, gushed some family friend who hadn’t bothered to drop in and see you since you were five, as you cringed, sighed, and tried to get comfortable in clothes held together by far too many safety pins on the lumpy chair you had insisted on throwing yourself into. You may never have gotten around to actual nose-removal, but self-imposed discomfort through spite was a common theme among the terminally uncool.

I look back these days and I even reminisce over my agonies of exams. Three hours spent scratching away in yesterday’s unwashed, unironed school uniform, with dirty hair and inky fingers, wondering what sadist ever thought up slow death by sports-hall sock-smell suffocation and quadratic-equation-queasiness.

And the hell didn’t end with results day. Work experience was to follow. Three weeks of sheer pointlessness pretending to be learning about the world of work while not reaping any of the benefits of the Saturday job you’d had for the past three years (no pay packet for starters, and having to make endless hot beverages for strangers).

Ah, how we suffered, the agonies and indignities both in the name of education. But it was all worth it, that glorious day of liberation. University arrived, and we were so very ready for it, anxious to throw off the restrictive shackles of clean sheets, enforced hygiene, regular, balanced meals..

On we charged, returning home in the holidays to discover that life had somehow gone on without us. Siblings had claimed any items we had rashly abandoned, and what corners of the parental home we had once called our own had been painted and filled with the ‘tasteful’ (unwanted) Christmas presents no one had seen for years, and a lot of cheap shelving to house them.

Most worrisome of all was the seeming lack of caring of our recently-bereaved of our presence-parents. Those bedrocks of familial pride, who after a cursory search for drugs, and a declaration that we were old enough to do our own washing, didn’t bother to go so far as to raise their voices to impose a curfew. And these the carping adults who had brandished the whip all through school, driving us ever onward to new heights of geekery in the name of learning!

Mother

A beacon in whom we all believe, shining there above and below us. Gentle calloused hands stirring the waters, the well. Fountain of my youth and mirror of my dotage.

Veins standing proud, swelled with age, pride, scientific mysticism… chemicals. Inscrutable lines mark the outward planes, invisible chasms mar the landscape within. Danger lurks there.

Inevitably we shall all succumb and return to what we always sought to find. Back to the womb. But the inner comfort and security of those walls has given way to an external terror.

And the prodigal becomes the fruitful. Plenty springs from what was barren desert, and the circle begins once more.