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

I am not a nurse

People tell me I look like one

Whatever that means

I hope it alludes to my

Caring, empathetic nature

My tolerance of others’

Less savoury habits

Being an all-round good egg

Always on time and

Well-equipped

With clean cuticles

Kind eyes

And a sympathetic ear

I have my doubts

Hospital corners and bedpans aside

I worry all you see

Is a short skirt

A clipboard

And a pair of sensible shoes

You have to fill in the blanks

Imagine the stockings

Far better to think on

Than the reality of my

Boring old socks…

While I am not one

To knock a good fetish

It is strange how

Blood pressure rises

When you see me

Snap on some marigolds

Ready to get down to business

Doing the washing up

Dressed in blue

At bedtime

I lack the words to describe this feeling

My sense of oneness with you

Who grew out of my flesh

And into this world

Making room for yourself

In our lives as if

You had always been there

On the edge of existence

Just waiting to step out

Into the light

We hold you

Folded tightly in arms

That we now see

Decaying

Withering as those

Of our parents did

Limbs curving

From old embraces

Into a touchless existence

You grow as we shrink

Such is the way

Of the world

But for a moment

I may yet hold you

Suspended in the bliss

Of a mother’s love

You fall to sleep

In my arms

I can pretend

We are still one

Cocooned

In this microcosm

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.