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

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

Can I Say You’re Hot

I’m so happy! I’ve just discovered The Weekly Terrible Poetry Contest. It’s a little-known fact that I love, love, LOVE terrible poetry which is trying to be… terrible poetry. Three or four years back a wrote a few Terrible Poems (note: those words are in upper case, which means they were intentionally terrible). I took a look at them, with a view to submitting them, but they were terrible! That is, they were awful – funny, but lacking poetic form. In order to submit a Terrible Poem, I had to rewrite a terrible Terrible poem and make it into a worthily Terrible Poem. Get it?

I chose Shakespeare’s sonnet: Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day. Basically, he’s telling a woman that she’s beautiful and she’ll continue to live and be beautiful throughout eternity, since people will always read the poem he wrote about her. It was a popular theme with him. Unfortunately, not everyone understands what he was getting at, so I have selflessly rewritten it to suit a contemporary market. Also unfortunately, I messaged a faulty copy to the contest, but hopefully that adds to the Terribleness of the poem. However, here’s a perfectly Terrible copy, followed by the Willie’s original:


You’re As Hot As I Get When I Win A Race

You’re as hot as I get when I win a race;
You’re pretty and you’re always sober.
Gales blow petals all over the place;
It’s like, as soon’s you blink summer’s over.
One minute I’m sweatin’ like a goat,
The next the weather goes all cloudy;
You always need to take a coat,
‘Cos accidents and nature make stuff dowdy;
But your beauty will never go away,
And they’ll never take you from the sunshine.
You won’t even die, ‘cos you will stay
Alive thanks to this pretty rhyme;
As long as there’s still people around,
My poem will hold you on the ground.

Here’s Shakey’s take on it:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

Thank you, Chelsea, for injecting some fresh fun to my life.

©Jane Paterson Basil

The Eagles Nest

nest-moon1
When a new moon strikes an overblown page
highlighting the changes that life has wrought
changing your story to lies and half-truths
you suddenly know you must start anew
so you find a clean slate and you write and delete
You write and delete, then you write again
wrestling images out of your chalk
naming the changes that life has wrought
listing the joys that you sought for so long
piling the words on the slate until all of the ache of past failures
— all of the problems and unsolved pains —
are buried beneath an eagles nest
within reach of a window where a lone figure sits
She sits and she thinks and she writes and deletes

She writes and deletes
then writes again
wrestling images out of her chalk
Naming the changes that life has wrought
listing the joys she sought for so long
piling the words on the page
trying to hide the problems and pains

but the nest is too small
to contain them all.

©Jane Paterson Basil