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.

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.

In search of something

Looking up the ancestors

Tracing a family tree

Am I in search of them, my love

Or really in search of me?

Finding pairs of twins who married

Sailed off across the pond

Only to find in a generation

Home was what they’d scorned

Trying to cram onto scraps of paper

Names and dates and more

Wondering why they had chosen to scatter

Themselves from shore to shore

Picking over the bones of stories

Scraps of my family lore

Wishing I’d asked before someone passed

A couple of questions more

Chuckling over the old intrepid

Tales of derring done

The girl who ran guns in place of her brothers

As they’d only blab to mum

The lady highwayman; army driver;

Girl of a thousand smiles

The one whose paintings went down with the ship

The ones who ran quite wild

How would I fit, these elderly legends

How would I measure up?

Putting myself into clogs and sabots

Filling old boots with luck

Knowing the secrets that spring from boxes

Hidden on dusty shelves

Of births and deaths and marriage and proxies

Chicken-scratch bibles and tombstone kells

The hideous source of a score of quarrels

Love letters from the wrong side of a war

Black sheep and politics; actors and brothels,

Family heirlooms and so much more

Mystery facts are now uncovered

A lady who lied for years

Pretending to youth and no old lovers

To soothe a new husband’s fears

Learning why some names were missing records

During a time of strife

Who had migrated and waited and waited

For news of their family’s life

Postcards and poems and brochures and programmes

From concert and theatre and prom

Knicknacks and geegaws and troubles and trinkets

Collections they handed down 

Sepia prints and chemical glass

My ancient faces scowl

Melancholic in rented clothes

They are caught dead in now

Trade Burdens

Put your shoes to one side,
Turn around
Open your eyes
Then remove the blindfold
Really open them
What can you see?
Is it a pretty picture
One you would hang
On a bedroom wall
To gaze upon
Each broken dawn
Or one you would bury
Deep in an album
Kept in a box
Under the bed
Dusty with disuse
Only to see the light
When grandkids visit
At some idyllic future time
Of tolerance and teaching
That is yet to come
And may never happen?
Truth be told
It doesn’t matter.
Whatever your vantage point
Gender, skin tone, genetics,
You see things
As you see yourself
And feel excluded
From any grouping
You view as ‘other’.
This is life
(Or something like it)
Your experience
Will not match
That of those ‘others’
Nor theirs, yours.
We are all different
And empathy is not
Experience.
That certain knowledge
Of the unknown,
The unknowable
Could be our strength
But differences also
Divide us
One from the ‘other’.
Those who would understand
Take it further
Try to get closer
To forbidden wisdom
Fail in their attempt
For alas!
We cannot truly
Experience ‘otherness’.
Plato’s cave all over again
Nothing but shadows
Elusive and unfeeling.
We are not all filled
With benign curiosity
Hardly surprising.
For those whose world view
Does not admit equality
It only ends in tears,
Accusations,
Mimicry, farce,
Inappropriate
Cultural appropriation
Labels, stereotypes,
Profiling.
So what do we make of it
This unfathomable ‘otherness’?
Racism, misogyny, xenophobia
Fear of the unknown
Misunderstanding
Embarrassment and even
Murderous hatred.
The persistent among us
Keep picking at scabs
So old wounds fester
To the point of eruption
Irritated by irrational isolationists
Lodestone
To the bitter iron
Of bad blood
Drawing down ire like
Hera in her lousy marriage
Choreographed blame
Detracting from the culpable
To the scapegoat.
Bringing forth bolts
Of heavenly fire
Raining misery
Down upon us
All mere mortals
And still we stand divided
Our own ugliness comes to the fore
Humans racing
Competing for each burden
Losing face and patience
Fraying, unhappy peace
As we ignore our ignorance
Setting aside compassion
For righteous bigotry
Small-minded acts of defiance
Banner waving, street fighting.
Fail Army?
Too bloody right!

 

Telling Times

Wedged into the sofa cushions

Gazing at other people’s parroted opinions

Wasting precious moments on Twitter

My daughter asleep in my lap

Waiting to hear more news

From the hospital

Wondering if grandma

Will need brain surgery

As her Googled symptoms suggest

The paramedics were not optimistic

Though they thought it was just

Concussion at the last visit

Repeating the same tests

Hoping for a better outcome

Can we allow ourselves to believe in miracles?

Or will she, like grandad

Go downhill quickly

Seduced to eternal sleep

By a mundane global nightmare

Transmitted in a hospital corridor

After a fall.

Strange these parallel lives

It is barely a week

Since the last funeral

And already I fear

There may soon be another.

Will my employer be willing

To suspend their disbelief

In the cruelty of the Fates

And lend grudging credence to the notion

One family could be the seat

Of such frequent misfortune?

I cannot say

Only Time will tell

And I continue to offend

That elderly gentleman

Numbing my senses

Scrolling past the paltry nonsense

That passes for news

A political procurer of

Public opinion is protected

By his powerful protégé

After a very public breach of policy

Big whoop. Conservative tastes

Do not lend themselves to

Common causes. He’ll not swing

Unless someone else has something

Sleazier than he can sell

To buy themselves his job

Dead men’s shoes, don’t you know?

The anxiety mounts with each beep of the phone.

We are all waiting

Sick of this virus

And the dread

And the endless grind

Working from home

Trying to focus on the Big Picture

Alongside the minutiae

While kids run amuck in the background

Leap-frogging over the broken and unwanted objects

We can’t yet take to the tip

For a decent recycling

Attempts to home-school abandoned

In the face of reality

They are creating new patterns

In the junkyard of our

Once orderly home

While the pile of dirty clothes

Mounts ever higher

Overspilling the laundry basket.

We have an excuse

We have forgotten whose turn it is

To do chores

All days blurring together

In this strange world of lock-down

At first we were industrious

To a fault

Clearing the decks of any

Half-assed DIY projects

Every evening and weekend

Buying improbable shades

Of garden paint online

Two months in

It’s a matter of sheer chance

If we remember when to put

The bin out.

The phone vibrates with news

And as the hopeful message

Trickles down the airwaves

Past the sleep deprivation

Bypassing nostalgia tinged with fear

To sink slow, clawing relief

Into my foggy brain

I am alerted to a new sensation

The damp embrace of a child

Whose nap time has now

Exceeded their bladder control.

At once I am reminded

It must be a Tuesday.

Bugger.

The bin will have to wait another week.

Shy at retirement

The happy ex-executive
Is finished with their woes –
May quaff another malt
When curling up with slippered toes
Can sit and read the papers
Take his breakfast pipe in bed
And when the press come calling, say
‘Ask someone else, instead!’

The happy ex-executive
Has set his suits aside
To walk the dog in comfort
With no other plans to hide
The boardroom doesn’t matter
As he mutters through his day
No longer forced to listen
To the nonsense some might say

The happy ex-executive
Has time to count his chicks
Now grown and flown and flapping hard
For mortar board and bricks
He sits and sips his coffee
That no secretary bears
And wonders why the future
Hangs so often round his ears

The happy ex-executive
Now pastured and put out
The boredom that keeps looming
Moulds his frown into a pout
At four a.m. deciding
That enough’s enough, ‘tis done
It’s time to join a panel;
Find some new oblivion

The happy ex-executive
No longer sees himself
As more than the reflection
Over mantle, mirrored wealth
And what was it he wanted
When he first took on the role
But to see himself rewarded
For team efforts, on the whole

The happy ex-executive
Is feeling somewhat lost
Unsure that it was worth it
Pensioned off as ‘managed cost’
The marks of market forces
Take a little time to fade
But happy ex-executive’s
Already got it made

O, Camelot, Where Art Thou?

Everything is awful
And yet, we persevere
Leaving hope to poetry
To trundle on in fear

That one toe too far over
The party’s bread-crumb line
Makes weeding out dissenters
A mere matter of time

While power speaks for no man
And landed gentry frown
To battle one another
For the puppet-master’s crown

We’re plotting for a future
Most hope never to see
Still bargaining, unseated
And without a winner’s fee

But how to hold our assets
From the treasured hoarding trust
While shoring up economies
Still reeling from the bust
 
Can you perceive horizons
That might signal Finnish line?
I’m getting more myopic
Through these passages of time

And ravaged, lost and sleepless
With no comfort to be had
I’m all but feeling helpless
To prevent what drives us mad

External shadowed forces
May be mustering to lead
The ignorant through tripery
To see how Red we bleed

For driving all before us
While historic, still untrue
No plaudits for the chorus
Of Titanic bally-hoo

I’m not to know the answer
Though I wish, it is in vain
My child must be my Reason
For I voted to Remain

Inheritance

I write now with my father’s pen
Old steel has assumed my
Ragged pencil’s place
Smooth and worn in my
Calloused fingers.
Daughter at my breast
I remember my father’s stories
As my own swirl and foment
Beneath the creased brow
That is my other inheritance.
Not a gentle man, nor a good one
But a crafter of careful lines
Who spoke limited truth
To lasting effect.
What of him remains
But my own comfortable lies
Sweeter than fact, more palatable
Harder to deny than the
Elusive verisimilitude
Of others.

Forza!

May the force be with you
But is the force with May?
As we spring toward this month
With more or less display

Plotting mass equations
Just to lever into place
All our expectations
Of another fall from Grace

What became of Alderaan
Or Oberon, or Puck?
Are we really on the run
And truly out of luck?

Would this change with pixie dust
As dreams may come and go
Have our hearts been captured thus
By asses heads for show?

What is at the fore of it
Conducting as we sing
Marching into April
While we hold each iron ring

Who can tell me what’s to come
Or even what’s the cost
Measuring to tot a sum
Encompassing what’s lost

Dare we face elections
Knowing nothing more of fate
Than the false reflections
To remind us it’s too late?

Onward, all who toil here
In the hope of future gains
The droids we have been seeking
And an Empire for our pains