The poem I should have written

The poem I should have written basked in safety, made you spread your arms to enfold me.  An old friend.  That poem would be held to your warmth in comfort, secure in the knowledge we posed no threat, to you.  Your narrow world view.  Your careful ambition.  

The poet of the poem I should have written was your favourite.  Firmly in the black and white of your corner, unlike me with my shades of grey.  Part of the tribe, not going to challenge any part of your familiar routine, try to shake things up, change the world. 

The poem I should have written would have sold millions of books to sit in shelves, adorn greetings cards, be quoted at weddings, funerals and wherever you need something suitably generic – universal. 

The poem I should have written would have won me plaudits from a million accounts on social media – not all of them bots. 

That is the poem I should have written.  Did I write it?  No.  Will I try again tomorrow?  Probably.  Will I succeed?  Unlikely. 

I am not a fan of the poem I should have written.  That is unfortunate.  The words of the world are too harsh on my tongue.  My pen cannot speak them with conviction.

My rough edges cut through the soft wooliness of emotional panacea.  Claws and beak eroding the security blanket over my cage.  I struggle to stop myself from fighting the oblivion of sleep. 

The poem I should have written eludes me.  It would cost me something to knuckle down and write that poem.  Someone else can do it.  I don’t mind.  They can take the fame and fortune. 

I will stick to this corner of obscurity.  Keep scribbling my own perceived truths.  Find something that whispers to me in the dark.  Until I roll over and reach for my pen.  Sharp and subjective.

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

Schneider

We had nothing but rags
Bags of old costumes
Piled in the corner
Of a dusty room
Discarded scraps
Of forgotten dreams
So I taught myself to sew
Building a tapestry
Of my patchwork life
Knees folded on the
Chilly bathroom floor
Its cracked blue lino
Like ocean waves
The tattered curtain
Tucked up over the rail
Learning to navigate
By feel and intuition
As I frowned
Squinting at my needle
Trying to get the thread
Through a tiny hole
In the mushroom-coloured dusk
At the awkward age
Of thirteen years and one month
I wore them out
My colourful creations
And people stared
Admiring and mocking
In equal amounts
When I grew
Good enough
That you could see
Design in my skilful
Manipulation
Of throw-away stuffs
I sold some
For coin, or bartered favours
Tailors can be born
And they can be made
I took commissions
If you could describe it
The perfect dress
I could draw it in my head
Then threading your dream
Through my careful fingers
Seam by seam
I could make it
Come alive

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.

Was there a reason?

Was there a reason

And if so, what was it?

Can you explain

How we got to this place?

When things happen

That defy description

We assign meaning

Attribute actions

To some greater plan

Those who enjoy

Their sense of mystery

May even claim

To understand

The whys and wherefores

Of existence

Both good and bad

I too have done my share

Of anthropomorphic

Solipsism

Casting of nasturtiums

And other such malapropisms

Until I am left

With the notion

That I simply

Cannot understand

The world in which we live

If by some miracle

You know what I mean

Then draw me a picture

Using your words

To remove me

From my indecision

Perhaps a map

That we may both use

To find our way back

To something that

Closely resembles

A reason for us all

To believe

Failing which

I will take payment

By alternate means

In the universal currency

Of coffee or pizza

Seeking midnight solace

In creature comforts

That some deem

Earthly delights

At least my senses

Shall feast

While the rest

Is silence

Do you hear what I hear?

When I speak the words aloud

Are you listening to each pause?

The whispers between the sounds

Sibilant sighs, plosive pops and

Friction reflected in fricatives?

The more clipped and precise my

Consonants and vowels

The angrier I am.

Do not mistake my veneer

For truth, I will remain

Icily polite.  Strangers may not

Understand the depth of rage

Concealed beneath these dulcet

Tones. But trust me

When you listen

To what I do not say

You will hear my thoughts

And then, if you are wise

Turn tail and flee

Before my temper

Gains its head

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

The Worst Best Years: A Student Life Anthology

I have just had a poem about my student days published in a new anthology by Acid Bath Publishing. Copies of the anthology can be ordered online here:

https://www.acidbathpublishing.com/shop/worstbestyears