Reborn

sky-sun

Calamitous clouds
break beneath the weight of water.
Pewter hues of grief enshroud meek June skies
as swathes of rain imbue unsheltered heads.
Precipitation
taps vain threats of devastation on the roof,
yet clears my vision, solicitously rinsing dust
from windows that protect me,
keeping me dry.

Soon, the sun will shine again,
reflecting the light that plays in my chest;
cradling these reborn rays.

©Jane Paterson Basil

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The Gale That Bent The Tree

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From the back seat, it might
seem polite
to tell him your reasons, or at least
say goodbye before leaving.
I assume you’ve never been buffeted
by a hurricane that would have you believe
you
are the gale that bent the tree and
he
is the frailest leaf.

His initial gust was subtle,
His excuse plausible. His apology,
though perfunctory, was prompt,
restoring my required trust.
Later, when the downpour came
I thought communication
was the solution.
It incited his ire all the more, so I tried
to tread lightly in his tangled wood,
but even the bracken
seemed braced for attack.
My feather defences, my arrows of fair play
no match
for his fluid brigade of tactics.
Love and romance were out of action;
the black knight
had captured the white queen. Turtle-doves
flew for cover, their coo-coos
fading in my grim chamber, beaks
melting in the heat of his rage.
His moods
ricocheted like a moth
locked in a bright closet;
at dawn, he was an orphan who had lost his way.
At breakfast he accused me of stealing his keys
or his toothbrush
or one of his boots
and sometimes as many as three of his shoes.
All day I watched his humours fall and rise.
Nights when I begged for restful sleep,
he’d gleefully force-feed me rancid passion
thickly laced with bile and ice.

With tantrums, tricks and lies,
he blindly trained me to recognise
designer madness.
It’s time to leave.
Closing the door, I silently
ease
the catch into place.
I don’t say goodbye.

No brief farewell, no jester’s kiss
no faltering wave of the hand,
no sideways nod, nor backward glance
for the man who can turn a heart into glass,
then grind it back to sand.
.
A kind wind plays on my stretching wings.
lending me strength, sweeping me into flight.
I rise, swooping high, singing my rights,
keeping my mission of freedom in sight
so when the hunter
takes up his gun,
he won’t be able
to shoot
me
down.

Domestic abuse takes many forms, but it generally follows a distinct pattern. The abuser tends to initiate with a barely discernible drip. If left unchecked, the level of abuse will increase. It will become a stream and then a river. The innocent partner/child/parent/sibling will be swept along in an increasing torrent of accusations, threats, excuses, apologies, insults, twisted truths, outright lies, all kinds of weird head-fuckery and sometimes physical violence. Abusers will use any tool they can find in order to undermine, and they can be extremely imaginative and clever.

Many abusers are likeable and charming, appearing to be above reproach – which is how they get away with it for long enough to hone their skills – so when the victim complains, he or she is assumed to be making it up. Even professionals who have been trained to spot the signs might be blind to the perpetrator’s behaviour. This makes a horrible situation even worse for the abuser’s prey, who is diminished beyond all recognition, beyond all capacity break away without a great deal of support.

Fortunately, there are organisations that recognise abuse; who train and employ intelligent, compassionate support workers.  In my home town, we are lucky enough to have one such organisation; NDADA (North Devon Against Domestic Abuse).

Thank you, NDADA, thank you for your warmth and understanding, for advising me, for making me feel nurtured and for putting the strength back to my arms. You helped me to change my life around.

Victims of abuse need all the support they can get. If you are confident – or fortunate – enough never to have  been entrapped by an abuser, please bear this is mind:

there but for fortune…

…makes me cry every time

©Jane Paterson Basil

To Mary: This Too Shall Pass

When I consider the reams
of frazzled verse, written in the days
when my sinews
ached with anger, dread and grief

breaking down dams to drown my sorrow in words
igniting fires to singe the stealthy remains
picking through ashes even as the flames bit
yet still, he blindly drove his bloodied steel
between my ribs, piercing
the heart of me

I feel

remote

from those emotions

as if it was a marathon masquerade of misery that I
mistook for reality, holing myself up
in the host’s attic, beneath
an old crate of broken memorabilia, where no friends
could find me to explain
that the gates of hell
were paper mache stage props
and the pit was the cracked lens
of a reclaimed camera obscura

When I single out a poem, I revoke details;
the nature of conflicts and pain inflicted,
but from a

distance.

I could be watching a documentary
or reading a book featuring the anguish of families
skewered by addiction
Empathy for the innocents
seeps into me

Yet when I read a verse from this
strangled
chapter of my life,
my heart contracts and my toes
instinctively curl away from a mud slide
which has ceased to be.
At such times, I summon your voice –
your voice, with its warm Northern edge –
sharing your mantra,
gifting me the truth that calmed you
whenever the mud of the morass
threatened to engulf your chest;
“This too shall pass.”

“This too shall pass.”

Lately, new growth
breaks through my decay,
willing the frayed remnants of pain
to dissipate.
I take a breath of clean air
and luxuriate
in the mellow texture of grass
tickling my feet.

Dedicated to my friend Mary Beer. Mary, you are an amazing woman, an Amazon whose strength inspired me, whose words gave me courage and whose very existence made me feel less alone. When I was at my lowest ebb, it was the echo of your voice which ran through my mind: this too shall pass – and (of course) you were right, it always did.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Rejuvenation

Sometimes
an image skims my brain,
a moment viewed from a distance
or an action that moves in slow motion,
but the faces are blurred, the glare is dimmed;
the intensity erased from each emotion.
Memory cannot reclaim the pain
of one
single
breaking point
that I may compare and fully appreciate
this ease
after those lethal years.

I reach for phrases to describe those times:
my heart hammered in my chest, I write.
I was desperate, losing weight, shedding hair, sinking into destitution, angered by demands, aggression, thefts, manipulation, endless lies and tricks, threats of violence and suicide, frightened of men willing to take revenge on an innocent parent, intimidated by gun-toting dealers who invaded my home, disgusted by layers of filth. I made plans, raised my hopes, tried in naive ways to save my two wasted offspring, only to sink when my efforts failed. I feared the warning toll of the bell; the two solemn uniforms that inform of death. The joys of life slid by me. I felt shame; I was lesser being, someone untouchable, sub-human. I wished I was invisible.
I wanted to die, I write,
I wanted
to die.

I can recall
thoughts, fears, cause and effect,
but not the strychnine flavour. On reflection
it feels like fiction, like a well-written book
I read and gave away
a while ago.

Birds sing beyond my window.
Lofty leaves exercise in the breeze.
Even my neighbours seem peaceful today.
I ruminate on change, enumerate improvements
and think of the strength of family,
of rejuvenation and unity.
Sunshine sinks into my skin
as the tail-end of healing takes place.
I take a hefty slice of cake
and savour it,
leaving not one crumb on my plate.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Why I’m Not Writing Much

 

It would be
a lie if I claimed
that my words have fled;
each step I take and with every action
the words expand, tripping through a mind
which blindly taps out rhythm and rhyme, picking
through alliteration, simile, metaphor and more,
yet before a composition is complete –
before I pick up my pen to commit
the words to print,
they are
erased
and boldly replaced
by new schemes in my rushing brain.

—-

©Jane Paterson Basil

The Complexities of Chess.

After he won my confidence; after
he got a grip on my home; after he snared me
with false promises, after all that, he never once
told me I was ugly or fat, never once called me
stupid or dull company, never once said
my food was crap, but he found a thousand  insidious ways
to make me feel a failure
in every way.

He was an avid chess player.
Only now do I make the connection between that
and his treatment of me.

His first aggressive move came on the day he returned the keys of his bachelor flat and came to live with me. His attack showed me I had made a mistake. I looked at the trap he had wrapped around me and saw what he must have guessed;
my compassion suppressed the temptation to throw him onto the street. I told myself it was stress, tomorrow would be better.

But from that day it all changed; no more
was he the fun uncle to my kids, no more
did he convince me of his love or admiration.
He gained the finances, chose the food,
paid bills if it suited him, bought useless trinkets
though rain leaked through the soles of my daughter’s shoes,
leaving her feet wet and me broke, while he pretended
to be trying to help. His torture was clever,
inventive, his helmet of ignorance hiding the truth, and I –
unable to explain and ashamed to admit the error I’d made –
played the happy bride when outside eyes
were upon me.

It must have been a breeze for him. My shrinkage
was rapid; by the time compassion ceased
I had already lost all self-belief;
I had no strength to make him leave and no faith
that I could survive alone.

In twenty years he didn’t hit me once,
never did more than occasionally raise a fist,
but he combined subtlety with growling rage
to beat my spirit into pulp.

I wondered if I smelled bad,
thinking I must be repulsive in some shameful way,
but when I plucked up the courage to question him
he was not swayed by temptation to reassure, instead
selecting to look vague, yet turn away as if
in distaste, as if
he didn’t like to say….

He used friends, family, strangers in the street, my political alignments, my ethics – everything I possessed, liked or believed in – to hack at me, yet when I described my debasement to a trusted few, they looked beyond me in disbelief and switched to a safer subject.

Only my mother listened to me.
She looked sad as she said:
Put simply,
he
is
inadequate.

Her words were my validation.
Looking back, I think she was trying to help me make a decision,
and I suspect she saw a reflection
of her situation in my eyes.

I did my best with my children, who fell into two categories, those we shared and those who were mine. He used each in opposing ways, giving no consideration to the future of his own, and with dire intent for the two he had not sired.

When he agreed to relationship counselling,
like a fool I believed it was a breakthrough – but he
knew this; risky moves can prove advantageous
when playing chess.

The female counsellor
fawned beneath his charm, instantly morphing
into another pawn. I was ringed
by black players, while all that might
have been my whites
turned grey.

He had a catchphrase for occasions when his back
was against the wall: It was a misunderstanding, he would say.
If I dared challenge him again he’d play his back-up tactic;
flying into a rage.

Sometimes he’d be angry enough
to pack a bag and go to London for a couple of days.
On those occasions, the moment he drove away, we’d fling cushions on the floor,
up-end the sofas, slide down our stairs on on old horsehair mattress.
We bounced on the beds, threw pillows at each other’s heads,
skipped about on the kitchen’s flat roof,
hiked up the music. We screamed, we rampaged, we sang
until our throats were sore and our ears rang,
celebrating the brief holiday.

We made sure that when he walked back through the door,
no clues would betray our joyful rebellion;
we’d swept away the feathers that flew.
Nothing could prove us guilty of frolics and fun.
Everything was clean, still and neat.
We’d be sitting, miserably prim, his presence deleting
our secretive grins.

I don’t go in for competition; while I was with him
I failed to perceive the chequered board.
Like a fool, I sought to improve, thinking
to win his respect, not knowing
he wanted me to lose.

In Sue-Ellen style I’d tried changing my hair and my shape. I even wore make-up one day, breaking a lifelong rule of keeping such gunk away from my face, but he insulted the consultant who plastered it on. I wore the clothes that he bought me, read the mags that he brought me, talked to the women he thought should be my friends, tried to find out who he wanted me to be, but he couldn’t change what was inside my mind, and no matter how he might try to reshape me, he didn’t like whatever I tried, so I resurrected my creative side and hoped he get pleasure from that.

While the children were at school or in bed
and whenever I got a break
from my solo act of shaping our joint business
into a small but great success,
I renovated our ramshackle home;
honing my building and carpentry skills,
I worked up from the ground floor joists to the attic,
demolishing defunct walls, making new rooms,
sawing, nailing, stripping, plastering,
sawing again, screwing, sanding, decorating
to perfection, working late into the night, making do
with five hours sleep. Next,
I dug, planted and snipped our surrounding wilderness
into a lush garden replete with secrets and surprises, hemmed
by a cleaned-up stream.

Village folk and passengers on buses admired my work.
They took pains to compliment me.
The Lady of the Manor was impressed with my efforts.
When she held a garden party
she proudly showed me around her greenhouse.
We talked about plants, and for a moment
I felt significant.

I did too much, too well and too famously.
He accused me of leaving him with nothing to do.
His only ambition had been to steal all of my achievements,
and was angered that people knew
I was the achiever. That’s when I realised I was the enemy;
the enemy he wanted to keep.
He’d dressed me in white so he could diminish me,
punish me until he no longer viewed me
better than him;
too good for him.

I finally understood I could never win with him.

A few weeks later my mother was found cold in her bed, the smile on her face suggesting she had somewhere better to go. I thought of the trauma she had survived and of the freedom she had gained when my father died.

I had endured two decades of abuse.
Those twenty years of abuse were swallowed up
by the grief of losing my mum. I cried every day for four seasons
Surviving that suffering gave me the strength
to finally leave.

I left,
picked up my feet,
nipped neatly across unseen chequered squares,
and off.

Played at competition level, chess is a complex game. Whole books are written about particular moves and their ramifications. After I left my partner, I was talking to my brother about his chess skill. My brother, who had his own reasons for not liking the man, remarked “Yes, of course he would be good at chess. I’m a poor player myself; I don’t have his competitive streak.” He added that you need a killer instinct to be a good player.

©Jane Paterson Basil

My Beautiful Drunk

Even when
you don’t show up for months
I know that you will return, your smile,
your eyes, your frame communicating
release from longing,
you will come and my need
will ignore all
that I try not to dwell upon.

You are here.
My lips silence the apology on yours.
I don’t mind that you dined
on Dutch courage before you arrived.
We’re both of us breaking the rules.

You are here,
shoulders shrugging off duty,
eyes pale as twilight ice, yet
like a welcoming Spring, smile
describing a question
and echoes a reply:

“Do you still love me?
Yes, you do, and I
love you.”

“I’ll get my coat,” I say.

Dipping into the living room
I ad-lib a hasty drop on my stop-gap squeeze:
“I need you to leave. You’re welcome
to finish your coffee. Sorry but I want
you gone.
It’s been fun. Sorry it’s so sudden.
Sorry but we’re done.”
I have no time for pleas. His lack of dignity
repels me. I didn’t encouraged him
to fall for me;
I always warn them;
nobody can compete
with Frankie.

Maybe I am harsh
but my heart beats only for you
and now you are here,
you are here.

When our destinies drive us apart
I might train to be kind to those
who don’t compare
to you.

We find a pub where we are not known,
the void forgotten;
pointless days stretching to months
aping passion, faking pleasure
with failed imitations of you,
playing the field without reason
in a game where I cheat, don’t care if I kill,
where nobody wins and no healing takes place,
filling space while I wait for the only man
who leaves me intact.

As you turn my way,
that rebellious blonde forelock
flops over your face.
You flick your head,
and as always, your effort fails.
A kitten wakes inside me, chases a tickly ball of wool,
nudging the overfilled bucket of love in my chest,
spilling it everywhere.

Wherever I go, your glow accompanies me,
pumping through my veins, blowing in the wind,
catching in trees,filling me, pressing my flesh,
its tendrils
caressing all I see.

When we are together
Your physical presence
overwhelms me.

You’re over the limit
so you drive slowly, tyres
clipping the bank once or twice, yet
I know you will keep me safe, like in the days
before I was told you were spliced;
all those times you threw your knife
while, locked in faith
I lay, a starfish in a pool of grass,
the blade missing my fingers and thighs,
It could have been luck or skill that guided your arm
but love shared a place.

We speak of inconsequential things;
paper and bricks, scraped shins,
spinning tops and sycamore wings,
while our souls hold their own conversation.

You are my nutrition, my breath, my home.
You love us both, and that’s fine by me.
Your happiness is top of my list.
Any joy that might come my way is a bonus.
In your shoes
I’d be unable to choose
between sane homemaker and dazed adventuress.

The clock ticks, timing each moment.
banking memorise
to hold when alone.

You will ever be my succour, the source I sup from.
When I grow old I will relive
each moment;

the shrug of your shoulder,
the sun in your sky-eyes,
the dissident slick of hair,
the smile that wakes butterflies.
My ears won’t need to strain
to hear those familiar words of love
rising sober from the sodden slur.

I love you,
my beautiful drunk.
The car idles while we pretend
to be saying goodnight.
You admit defeat and turn the key
leaving silence,
silence
but for the distant whistle of guilt
accompanied by two heartbeats,
while you and me;
our clasped hands displaying your frayed loyalty;
remain untouched by release
on separate seats.

©Jane Paterson Basil