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

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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

Rush Hour

On stuffy streets as day recedes
waste-bins spill discarded swill.
Well-fed skins in well-bred suits
wade through crow-picked sandwich packs
sweet-wrap glued to soles
of shin-buffed shoes.
Vendors turn tail when designer thieves
ditch decorum to outrank the elbowing
out-bound rush.
Commuters strap laptops on gym trained backs
to paddle down steps that sag and are speckled
with spat-out chewing gum.
Sunk in the gloomy tube the leavers weave
like honey bees to the hive
yet the hive was demolished long before
technology flew to the fore
before Guy Fawkes fell fowl of the law
before kings and paupers took to war
The hive was broken
before we chipped our first weapons from stones.

Grime chases motoring escapees;
filth silts bonnets that shone last Sunday
grey covers grey covers faded grey
on a plumbers battered van whose rear
bears timeless finger-scribbled hint:
“Please clean me”, it quasi-politely invites.

White lines across one-way lanes
defy fiery drivers to break highway rules
so they usually wait at ruby lights
though they ache to speed away.
Widows and singles, mothers and sons
racers and cruisers, winners and losers
of a million hungry games, all
wait,
sitting in in triple queue
at the lights
impatient for later to arrive
with kisses and drinks and cushions and food.
Thumbs drumming snippets of brain-numbing tunes
they wait for each set of lights
to change
hoping the next will be kind.

Beneath fudged city sky, sterile erections
flash screens that advertise corruption.
Rainbow phrases designed to disguise the trail
that leads to our stumbling destruction
are blurred, yet never erased
by the dust that rises
from humankind’s futile stretch.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Proof of Love

 

 

philipp-sewing-1166470-unsplash2

Detail of photo by Philipp Sewing on Unsplash

There are myriad ways
to display true love;
a simple kiss, a blooming rose,
a bashful smile, a frilly note.

I appreciate
you raised me from the floor
to staunch the flow of blood, but
it is inappropriate
to coo like a solicitous dove, as if
the punch which broke my nose
was in any way
proof of your affection.


©Jane Paterson Basil

My Son

crushed-can

My
son,
were I
to measure
the depth of my love
by the dread Gehenna of loss
each time the wind blows your image across my tired eyes,
the ocean could not contain it.
A great tsunami
would rise up;
The world
would
sink

-<>-

So
please.
my child.
let  this  be
the last lager can
I uncover while I’m cleaning.
The last drunken can that ever you concealed from me.
I don’t require such reminders
of our broken ties;
reminders
that I
lost
you

-<>-


A  fibonacci poem…

©Jane Paterson Basil

Promises

promises-tent3a

Be mine.” he whispered, ”You are my chocolate coated limousine, my deepest bungee jump, my highest schoolyard leap-frog, my cool breath in a heated discussion, my hot water bottle at the frozen peak of mount Everest, my best cheese grater, my tastiest salt-lick, the cog around which I rotate. Your caress is cricket to me, your kiss is pink concrete.

Open me, live in me; crush me with the weight of your sub-atomic love bomb; your over-exposed throat; your forked knife sharpener; your ready whittling and all the utensils that you hide beneath the tittle-tattle of a million silences.

Take me, let me teach you to ride on the back of the butterfly that flits from gullet to lips; to scale the heights of fishes which fly in the sand; to extract kettle fluff from photographs of Mona Lisa; to build an atom from an elephant, a mousetrap from a mighty dam, to ignite the stars armed only with a broken toothpick and an excerpt from Handel’s Water Music.

Let me show you the truths I stole from centuries of reading rotting carrot heads and studying the birth of synthesis.

Come, share my bent nail, take the lonely word-processor from my fluted heart. Be my new burnt bread, my ocean of sky, my everything reduced for one day only, again and again, for ever and ever ’til death do us part. I’m begging you in B minor; express a quiet acceptance of fate. Let me love you.”

(He wanted to win me)

I don’t like your tone!” I cried.

Do not try to win me, or I will extract your teeth with a sledge-hammer. I’ll destroy your father’s estate. I’ll make the tax office refuse your rebate. I’ll tear down your house, drive your Mercedes into a wall, kill your computer with a rash of vicious viruses, burn your books, shatter your faberge eggs I’ll break your bed with my plastic passion. I will trifle with your affections and I will leave you raw and heartbroken.

I will undo you.”

(I told him that I liked things the way they were)

But we could be a perfect match, like Morecambe and pistachio nuts, like strawberries and the little plastic blocks that you screw on to hold modern kitchen units together when you buy them from places like B&Q, like bread and hair remover, like a hammer and all kinds of items that pair up nicely.

We could tie the tangle, dance the fandango, slide into sheets of satin on a brave raft of reality. We could build a barn, raise the roof, and fill it with glass and china and soft furnishings and small sharp metal objects. We could make tiny things with ten little fingers and ten little toes, that grow and go. We could wave them goodbye and turn to each other and say It’s just us now,’ and You go and sit down in front of the telly, while I make us a nice cup of tea.’ We could relax. We could retire and grow old together. And when the moment was right, we could die in each others arms.”

(He was just an ordinary bloke really)

Oh, I see,” I said. ”That puts a completely different slant on it. It sounds very nice. We’ll get a sensible semi-detached property in the suburbs. We’ll have quiet nights in, playing tiddly winks and tic-tac-toe. You’ll have to remove your shoes as soon as you come home from the office; can’t have you getting the carpets all dirty. When the babies come along, my mother can stay, to help me out until I get on my feet again. I expect I’ll need a nanny. They’re so useful, don’t you think? When you retire, we can move to a cottage in the country, and grow roses around the door. You could take up vegetable gardening, and I could join a bridge club.

Yes, I’ll marry you.”

(I was seduced by his offer of security)

When we wed, he expeditiously discarded the word-smithery with which he had won me, preferring practicality and rationalism, sprinkled with roses and romance. He lay carpets at my feet, regaled me with tasteful trinkets and household requisites. Furthermore,he tucked surprise gifts in hidden places: rank, balled-up socks under the bed. In the bathroom; twisted tubes, sticky globules, opposing odours. In the kitchen, crumbs and citric smears in the butter dish. At breakfast, grunts and unkissable stubble scumbled my serenity. In the evening his T.V. killed my creativity. At night the heat from his body chased sleep away.

(However, he soon irritated me)

I extracted his teeth with a sledge-hammer. I destroyed his father’s estate. I caused the tax office to refuse his rebate. I tore down his house, drove his Mercedes into a wall, killed his computer with a rash of vicious viruses. I burned his books. I smashed his faberge eggs. I broke his bed. I trifled with his affections and left him raw and heartbroken.

I undid him.

(We parted company)

When nights draw in I keep myself warm with many layers of thin clothing and thick blankets. In the musty swill of my tent I sleep easy, letting fickle seasons lead me. In spring I wake each morning with the dawn, eased into sense by light which pricks the skin of my tent. Overhanging trees dapple a caramel silhouette on the canvas of the tent that protects me.

My passion is consumed.

(I prefer to be alone)


Sorry Paul; I couldn’t resist tweaking my poem a little before publishing it on this site.
I left the original version untouched.

© Jane Paterson Basil

The First Rehearsal

best-friends

.

April and me
reckon we’re every chef’s
recommended dish of the century.
Arms linked, skirts swishing,
breasts jiggling, legs on display,
heavy on the body spray but light on our feet,
we’re dancing to an inner beat,
heading for the first rehearsal.
No-one would guess
we dread
the opening show.

Promenading through the park,
snooting hooting cars,
big blues slanting, spying our pray
like we don’t see them looking our way,
daring brave souls to prick holes in
the arty bubble that circles our skin.

Sloshing Cider,
smoking stolen ciggies like pros,
noses pressed against a future we think has arrived,
music in our ears, eyes wide closed.
We’re subtle as a scream,
cool as pyromania,
a fool’s wet dream of creamy thighs and wild abandon.
Virgin blueprints of sin;
aces who play Queens of seduction,
we throw jokers over our shoulders
if fingers reach to hook our knickers, since
this
is our first rehearsal.

Flaunting our elastic youth
we queue to pay for chewing gum,
taunting tutting prunes
whose fumbling hands and tumbling brains
have trouble with the change.
They fix us with their rumpled glint,
then stutter home to water plastic flowers
and launder frowzy frills and worn-out frocks
and plump limp pillows on their beige divans.
Those fossilised flints were never fresh like us,
born too old to understand,
long before the script was even written.

April and me are both fifteen,
luscious, delicious, any chef would recommend us.
We’re poised to rule the Universe,
There’s no more you can teach us;
bring on
the dress rehearsal.

.

©Jane Paterson Basil