Monthly Archives: March 2016

To be a poet

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I have always been hungry, hungry for life, for the beauty of creation, for the strange white creatures that float, forever shape shifting, in the sky,  for all of the magic things that surrounded me. They told me the world was a chemistry set, but I always knew the truth; knew it was magic.

I ate up all of the magic, the art, the literature, the trees, the wildflowers, the oxygen, the gifts of strength, balance and acrobatics, of writing, drawing and creating, swallowing magic of life in great gulps, and I thought these things were mine forever.

I was hungry for success, for fame. When, at the age of nine, I defeated Graham,the twelve year-old school bully, I gained notoriety, and that seemed like a good beginning. Being allowed on the school climbing frame when conditions were not deemed safe enough for any of the other kids made me a minor legend. My death-defying balancing tricks on the very edge of a viaduct at the tender age of thirteen increased my kudos, fascinating boys, but causing sneery, nudgy comments to drift my way from the girls’ corner. They disliked and feared strange animals such as me, and they hated the male attention I attracted.

I was considered to be an extraordinarily talented writer for my age, which was encouraging. I expected to be a famous writer one day, listed among the all-time greats – the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Somerset Maugham, et al.

I was hungry for love, or anything with a similar feel. My desire to be accepted resulted in a self-destructive politeness. Yes, I was hungry, and way off in the distance, at the end of a poker-straight path that ran uphill, I could see a banquet that could keep me fed for life. The courses were laid out for me; career success, followed by the right kind of love – the love of somebody worthwhile – security, and all kinds of interesting desserts. But there were many distractions along the way, and soon I was off the path, eating greasy chips and mass-produced sandwiches, because it seemed rude to refuse them, when it could be seen that I was hungry.

I strayed further and further down precipitous, rocky lanes, tripping, falling, righting myself, taking care not to limp in case someone may see my loss of dignity.

Most of my life has passed me by now, but here I am, trudging a lesser path, but one which is straight and narrow, though not so steep.

I have come to terms with the fact I will never again perform death-defying feats on the edge of the viaduct. In my youth it was a disused railway line, far from anywhere, but these days a main road runs along it, and if I were to attempt the acrobatics of my youth, cars would screech to a halt in a misguided effort to dissuade me from suicide.

I have come to terms with the fact that a happy marriage is not for me, and I no longer have any desire to share my life with a man. I am far happier living alone.

I still have the beauty, the art, the literature, the music, the oxygen, the wildflowers, the trees, although I rarely climb them now.

These days I only hunger for success. I hunger for my words to be recognised and respected in the wide world, because if they are not, I will never be sure whether I have earned the title of poet.

And more than anything, I hunger to know, beyond any shadow of doubt, that I am a poet.

Written for The Sandbox Challenge #33 “What do you hunger for?”

©Jane Paterson Basil

Only so many

I reckon, she said
you only get so many goes at sex
and once you have used up the allotted number
that’s it, finished; you dry to a crisp
while the man in your life wonders
what the hell he did wrong

she was only joking
but I was left with a creeping unease
that every gift may be given in pre-set quantities
allowing me only so many goes at using words
and one day I may find myself staring
at the empty coffers of my mind
unable to finish a sen…..

©Jane Paterson Basil

Passing by

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It was 1973. I was eighteen years old, and playing at being a hippy, though I worked for a living and didn’t take drugs, making me a bit of an oddball; an outsider in that clan, as well as every other clan I had brushed against away from the confines of my home.

Travelling was achieved by standing at the side of the road with my thumb extended. I liked to pretend I was a free spirit; ready to take off at a moment’s notice, because the sun was shining in a particular way, inviting me to explore new fronteers, but the reality was that I had to fit it into weekends and holidays, and even when I was in a position to go away I rarely felt like leaving my sewing machine, my fabrics and embroidery threads, my pencils, paper, paint, or my mother, for whom I had a fixation. These attachments kept me tied to my home, even preventing me from going into further education in Bristol, only about 100miles (160 kilometers) from where I lived.

However, I did take the odd trip into the unknown, and the following poem was scribbled down quickly, as I sat in the passenger seat of a lorry, somewhere on the motorway. I found it amongst a box of old photographs this afternoon, and it instantly brought back to me the emotions of that day, so long ago. Back then, it was easy to hitch a ride, and I met all sorts of interesting people. The day was hot and clear, and the sun had a look of youthfulness about it. I was returning home from a moderately disappointing stay with my boyfriend in Cambridge. He found my attitude to cannabis irritating, and I found his stoned, ill-thought out prattle irritating. We weren’t well-suited.

 I had been given a series of lifts, each one only taking me a short distance. All of the drivers felt like chatting, and when I alighted from each vehicle, I felt as if I was saying goodbye to a friend. I was a misfit with low self-esteem, and so lonely that I felt endlessly grateful to these people, but deep down, I knew they had no particular reason to want to know me better. I vacillated between euphoria and sorrow.

It appeared to me at that moment that all we ever do as human beings is cross each other’s paths, smiling and making empty promises as we recede into the distance.

My ideas have changed with the passing of the years.

Passing By

can we be normal, you and I?
sitting, talking, passing by
Look at the earth, look at the sky
time to live, hard to die
nudging, giggling, passing by
have to laugh, want to cry
have to, want to, need to try
laughing, shouting, passing by
time for truth, have to lie
sometimes low, always high
waving, speaking, passing by
people mutter, whisper, pry
my, oh my, oh my, oh my
seeing, being, passing by
passing, passing, passing by.

©Jane Paterson Basil

In mufti

She couldn’t resist men in uniforms.

It had happened again. The fire alarms in the block were over-sensitive, so every few weeks a fire engine would arrive outside, sirens blaring, and men would leap out, only to discover it was another false alarm. There was always a long delay before they left – perhaps because paperwork had to be completed. She was determined to nab one tonight.

She’d been saving up her glass bottles for weeks, to ensure that the recycling would be really heavy. She grabbed the green box and struggled outside with it. As she passed the loitering firemen, one of them offered to carry it to the recycling enclosure – it was that simple.

She was good at this. Within a few minutes he had agreed to call around at her place at the end of his shift. She could hardly wait to lure him into her bedroom.

She put on the baby-doll nightie which she had bought for just such an occasion. Her drawers were stuffed with similar scraps of lacy whimsy, but she liked to get a new one for each assignation.

By the time the bell rang she was in a frenzy of anticipation, unsure about whether they would make it to her perfumed lair before she tore his clothes off.

She opened the door. Her glance swept briefly over his ageing, uneven features, taking in the fleecy jacket and jogging bottoms which stretched over a corpulant body. With a look of disgust, she blocked his entry and slammed the door in his face.

She walked with dignity to the bedroom, removed her sexy nightie and threw it into the drawer; another wasted expense.

Just like all the others, he looked different out of uniform.

This challenge was written in response to mylovingwife#tuesdayuseitinasentence. It should have been posted yesterday, but I only discovered it today, and couldn’t resist adding my  tuppenceworth.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Kickstart

pillows-820149_960_720The fat ache of loss and failure greets my awakening; a feeling that there is no reason to get out of bed. My mind drifts to those long spent efforts of the past; all those attemps to kickstart an elusive feeling of wellbeing, the few times I succeeded in achieving temporary relief, receiving a fleeting glimpse of belief in better things.

I remember running until my shins ached, battling with my resistant lungs when they threatened to explode from my chest, those rasping breaths as saliva filled my mouth, the collapse onto unresisting grass, the molten metal burning inside me before cooling to a comfortable temperature, dispersing, leaving me spent, but with a hint of contentment, albeit temporary.

I long for that actuality, that exitement, that attainment, but I haven’t the energy. I feel unable, heavy, lazy.

So I lie there, picturing the gym where I used to exercise. I disliked attending, but I went because it was good for me, on many levels. I know I won’t renew my membership. The atmosphere was too severe, too proficient, too intense.

Then it comes to me. Three weeks ago I was walking with a friend. She pointed to a building and mentioned that it contained a recently opened women’s gym. The news sank through my cranium, to be stored in my brain.

I leap from my bed, dress hastily, lick my face with a cold flannel, clean my teeth, leave my flat and walk briskly to the building. I arrive surprised and a little tearful. The instant I walk in the reptionist registers my state of shock. We talk, and she takes down details. She will ring me on Wednesday to check whether want to join. I have already made my decision. This place is friendly, casual, quietly feminine. It’s five minutes from where I live.

My spirit has shifted, and I feel empowered, able. I anticipate brave acts. Instead of retreating to my safe space, I hasten to the library and book a seat at a seminar on self-publishing. I take a detour on the way back to my flat, to check out a mental health charity which my GP has been repeatedly recommending to me for the past fifteen months. It’s closed, as this is Saturday, but I will go back.

At home, I switch on my laptop, find out where I can get an Indian head massage, ring the establishment, and take the earliest booking available.

I’m meant to be going to the beach with my nephew and niece, but I haven’t heard from them. I’m happy with that; this evening the family will eat together, amidst catch-up talk and unrestrained, expanding balloons of laughter.

It is noon. At five to ten I was in bed, despairing. By five past ten I was discussing gym membership. In two hours I have taken several massive strides, paving the way for a better life.

The smile that creases my face feels comfortable, as if it has been waiting patiently to find it’s right place.

©Jane Paterson Basil

The hero returns (to prison)

the early morning sky brightens,
shimmering with promise.
I think of picnics,
of seaside trips,
children playing in sandpits,
distant music wafting in through my window,
a ribbon of unfamiliar road,
sweeping hedgerows,
fresh hellos.

the sunshine brings to mind
all those images, those sunshine activities,
absent from today’s agenda.

he has made his decision
later today he returns to prison.
I will be released from these hidden bonds,
to be granted independence at the expense of his freedom.

he will be away for twenty-eight days,
and though I will grieve for him
deep down I am relieved.

after he has left
I will walk up the hill to visit a friend.
I will talk, eat,laugh and cry in her safe company.
she invited me to stay overnight,
but I won’t take up her kind offer.
Instead I will buy a miniature brandy,
come home, and drink it
alone.

©Jane Paterson Basil

The Walkway

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The harps are intended to calm grieving relatives as they cross the walkway from the hospital, to take a final look at their recently deceased loved one, lying  peacefully in the chapel of rest.

You can generally identify the religious leanings of everybody who takes that walk. The atheists are scathing, while Christians are reassured by the sight of the gold-sprayed plywood cutouts.

Devil worshippers bear their teeth and growl. Some turn back. The brave ones try to pass, but are burnt to a cinder as soon as they walk between the harps.

Written for Sonya’s 3 Line Tales. Anyone who wants to join in the fun, click HERE.

©Jane Paterson Basil

A reason to Be

Gazing, through dust-flecked glass, at a clear blue sky, I stretch my mind back, and try to enter the head of my three-year old self. Back then I had no need to search for a cause, a purpose, a reason to Be.

I just was.

In the warm kitchen of my childhood home, mixing a cake to give to my brother when he burst through the door, cheerfully working beside my mother as she prepared more nutritious fare, I was content in the present. The question of reason went unheeded in my infant mind.

My first day at school brought frightened excitement; the simple description I gave in response to my mum’s query; what did you do today?, the horror at discovering that I had to go back tomorrow. It was fun for one day, but tomorrow stretched out towards forever. When would my mother and I cook together again?

To please my mother
I pretended to enjoy my days in school,
but it gave me a thrill to discover that every book
contained secrets which were to be found by simply turning the pages;
when I opened them, it was like uncovering buried treasure.
I wanted write secrets like those I had seen
and conceal them in stiff covers
for others to find.
I developed a passion for words;
for the ways they could be woven into so many exciting shapes,
and as my writing skill developed,
my words were hailed to be
well formed,
descriptive imaginative,
talented,
advanced for my age.
Such was the praise I received from parents and teachers alike.

I had found a reason to Be.

It was assumed that I would take up a career in writing, and it was my own wish, but, although I never stopped writing, I became distracted. I wanted to be away from the musky odour that only exists in the classroom, from the other children who found me strange, from the loneliness of the playground on the days when my few friends didn’t attend, from the constant insistance that I could do better, when I knew my lack of concentration was not to be helped. I wanted the freedom that a pocketful of money brings. I left school and took the first job that came along,
forgetting my reason to be.

I married, kept house, cooked tasty and interesting meals, gave birth to children, fed them, dressed them nursed their ills, cared for them, loved them, tried my best to protect them. The work filled my days, my nights, and swelled my heart. By becoming a parent I had found
a new reason to Be.

As the years passed and my children grew, they gave every indication of becoming independent, and I moved forward, embracing nature, taking seeds, propegating beauty and and life-sustaining plants, digging in the dirt, shaping little corners of the landscape, creating gardens,
finding an added reason to be.

My youngest two children rebelled against their healthy bodies,
dabbling where they shouldn’t,
slipping without thought into the dark well of addiction,
bringing chaos with their sickness,
sapping my energies with their desperate requests,
their rage,
their despair,
their eye rolling,
limb lolling heroin highs,
their squirming,
gut-churning,
brain-seering,
body-curling
clucks when
they couldn’t raise the money for the next hit,
the danger they brought through my door and into my home,
leaving me,
arms flailing,
at the edge of a metaphorical precipice,
emptying me out,
until I was me no more.
I had never given up writing,
and now I tried to make it a bigger part of me,
to see if I could finally build it into a career,
but I lost the battle to keep on track.

I mislaid my reason to be.

Through dust-flecked glass I see the sun sinking behind the fields – as if angered by its descent it blazes a vivid shade of red. It finally disappears as it does every evening, leaving behind a grey sky, highlighted with hopeful pink, while I hunt the core of my being, in a pathetically brave effort to concentrate, trying to find the time, the rhyme, the state of mind to mount the saddle of my reason;

my reason to Be

©Jane Paterson Basil

All but his heart

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Thanks to Sue Vincent for this lovely photo prompt, which I was lucky enough to find as a result of reading  Donna’s great take on it.

When they first began to appear we thought they were ordinary animal dens. But soon people noticed there were knots of them in all the affected towns, and that’s when we began to suspect.

Our town had not yet been touched by the horror. That poor child saw one of those holes, and reached his hand into it. He struggled, but stood no chance. I heard his screams. A few seconds later they spat him out in pieces, all but his heart, just like the others. The vultures circled, but didn’t swoop. They knew the danger.

©Jane Paterson Basil