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
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.
That time I took you to the Ritzy
‘Cos all your friends were doing it
Trying to blag our way into a movie
Some unseen authority claimed
We were too young to see
And we got as far as the counter
With our carefully hoarded coins
Then you forgot your fake birthday
But they thought I was the one trying it on
To sneak in underage,
As if! Outrage shone on both our faces
For the three year plus gap
Yawned in the other direction
I wasn’t even that spotty
But your suave blonde dye job
Carried the can far more convincingly
At the age of twelve
Than my mousy brown timidity
At fifteen. Stymied by
Sensible shoes and conservative hemline
An embarrassment of youth
Despite the bus pass they swore
I must have found somewhere
For once the system worked
And we had to settle for ‘Grease’
We both knew all the words
To each of the numbers
And most of the steps
But neither wanted to be first
To break into song
Cowardly as the proverbial lion
Surrounded by the judgement
Of our peers and their puerile
Forays into social exclusion
At a dumbed-down video sleepover
Where MGM was not associated
With Leo or Slats,
Black and white was ‘boring’
And they had never heard of
Noir, or the Studio System
But could recite the calorific content
Of black coffee, chicken soup
And the price of keeping
On their uppers
Otherness, that Big Brotherness
Shy, awkward, standing-in-the-corner, self-hugger. Stressed
With anxiety. Though sobriety
Lends an inevitable hand to propriety. I stammer
Stuttering a greeting that gets lost upon our meeting
In the chaos, overheating, panic seeping ‘til I’m cheating
Stepping out for some air, with strangers turning to stare
At me becoming aware, of laughter everywhere… Surrounded
Following a pealing that can set all senses reeling
‘Til I’m floating near the ceiling, tongue-tied, fingerless, unfeeling.
Shake my hand? No conversation with the cowards of creation.
I am sinking with sensation when I hear the celebration –
Party pooper! Join the group-er! Super duper! Have you heard?
I am chatting through my hat and it is really quite absurd
Can’t stop thinking while you’re drinking that I’d rather be back home.
In the company of others I am stubbornly alone.
Please believe me that I didn’t want to crowd your little clique.
It’s not personal, no, not at all, I’m shy and quiet. Quick!
While they’re quizzical, get physical just grab a bag and go.
I’ll be cruising while you’re schmoozing, floosing, boozing yourself slow.
Thumping heart, still overheating, terror-beaten and guilt-eaten.
Stumble, tumble an apology then fumble past the seating.
Through the constant sea of voices calling for too many choices.
‘Bout to lose my cool again if I give in to Twist and Shout.
God, it’s lonely on the fringes of the automatic out.
‘What does music mean?’ I asked
The day you demanded to know
Which bands I liked,
What songs I knew by heart
What right I had to hold you?
The darker tones you rationed me
Those reserved for seduction
Sent delicious spinal shivers
As you so righteously accused
Me of musical treachery.
Standing in the rain by the bus stop
People looking us up and down
We stood like strangers, past-less
Wild hair blowing across your glasses
Peering into my face to try to
See how I might fit into your
Careful constructed fantasy
Defiant in your metal tee and boots
I smiled at your adherence to these
Uptight social conventions.
Unblinking, I considered my response
As if there were a wrong answer
Forming on my tongue.
I knew your little lover’s heart
Was restless, wanting to trade bedfellows
You were so obvious, waiting
For my careless chosen gift
Lovingly bestowed by
Another doting devotee of
Bad boys in black jeans;
A perfect excuse for you
To end whatever strange
Fantasy we were living.
I could see the angry words
Taking final form in your
Deep brown eyes, watch you
Later, sat in the comfort
Of your local haunt, The Bush
Surrounded by bandmates
And potential conquests
Younger and dumber than I.
‘She just didn’t get me, man’
You would say, accompanied by
An obligatory eye-roll,
Well-rehearsed, and all
Pouring cheap words and
Libations. ‘Drink of us’
While First Year Goths
Bat heavy lashes and
Casually bounce off the beat,
Showing their interest.
Alas, the musician’s daughter saw
All this and still felt minded to foil
Your planned escape with a trick.
Ignoring her eidetic recall
You didn’t know how to respond
To cry or to laugh
As I sang all your favourite tunes
Word-perfect, as always.
Those long-hair days of wild and free
While young did not come easily
I grew into my genes too late
To benefit from youthful state
But learned the songs with all the rest
While others danced in pants and vest
As I kept covered awkward shape
They blossomed, trawling fashion’s wake
The skimpy morals of my peers
Confirmed my parents’ base-born fears
Thus all attempts to overcome
My shyness, foiled as they’d begun
No makeup, heels, short skirts for me
No skinny jeans or baby tee
The rare events I did attend
Kid sister came to shed each friend
As chaperone she proved effective
Showering with much invective
Any mate in whom she’d sensed
My interest, until offense
Was taken by so many there
No longer welcomed anywhere
I sought my solace by myself
Content to moulder on the shelf
In preference to company
For self-defence relied on me
Until the day I’d saved enough
To leave them all to guard my stuff
I barely spoke at home, it seems
While every thought throughout my teens
Was monitored by blood relations
All in hope of revelations
Youth began at twenty-one
As finally in search of fun
I left my childhood far behind
To see what joy there was to find