Monthly Archives: October 2017

Trickery

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Boil the cauldron till it sings,
then add a pair of spider wings,
leaf of toad and bud of newt,
heart of fungus, rabbit’s root —
Throw them in and mix them up
to make a wicked witches cup.

Worm’s left leg and fishes foot,
frozen flame and snow-cap soot —
add a pinch of ghoulish youth,
a silent laugh, a liar’s truth,
hemlock toenails, adder’s hair —
fling them in without a care.

Eye of creeping pondweed slime
and other stuff that makes a rhyme
will finish off the recipe,
now stir it gently just for me.
Mash it up and make a paste —
not a drop must go to waste.

Now try this recipe on all
insurance men who come to call.
Smear it thickly on your face —
they’ll run away without a trace,
then wash it off, and you will see
your skin will glow more healthily.

Oh! what a foolish girl she is
that she should vainly take notice
of a stepmother like me,
and make my toxic recipe.
Her former beauteous, smiling face
now melts beneath a gruesome paste.

And what a clever witch am I,
I didn’t need tell a single lie;
The silly salesman ran away
to see her glowing green and grey,
and now the mirror will agree;
there’s no-one prettier than me.

©Jane Paterson Basil

A Thought

You can’t reach
prunish age without a few
cracks and bruises,
and you can’t
always
protect your children.

We tell our tales,
then cheerfully say,
“the breakages
shaped who I became.”

This is true,
yet who among us
wants our children to
suffer the pain
that we went through
on the way
to where we are today?

I think of you,
an extended picture of youth,
yet I
see the wounds.

I could say
my arms were full
of food for the hungry,
of balm for the lame.
I could say there
were too many places,
too few of me
but you needed me too.

While I know
you don’t blame me;
don’t even know
that you’re broken,
I wish that I’d
held you more carefully,
and when you fell, mended you
more skilfully.

xxx

©Jane Paterson Basil

I Ran out of Space

Saw her from my window,
arms crossed
against every remembered
and forgotten loss,
cold-shouldering
her shadow, practicing
self-defence, envisioning
black scribbles
on the unwritten
pages of her book,
all hope stolen
by tenacious history
that still physically
clings.

Her walk is like yours,
her hair –
and not so long ago,
you, too, were closed,
hugging despair to
your ribs,
but you shared
every ache with me,
venting your rage,
cutting me with your pain,
locking me into
your danger, enabling me
to lead you to safety.

I loved all of you equally,
but, in midst of the melee,
I ran out of space
and, without complaint,
she silently fell away.

xxx

©Jane Paterson Basil

I am Here. (A ghostly poem)

WARNING – THIS POEM CONTAINS VIOLENT IMAGERY.

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Tickled out of gritty sleep by
a tingle of  marrow issuing into my dry
spine, I listen as the Church bells chime to wake
we dead, and I think my way
into the mortal world,
if only for today.

Six feet beneath
the earth, my gnarled bones stir.
Joints grate, to lock end-to-end, in preparation
for brief celebration of something akin
to life. A witchy weightlessness
lifts me through rotted timber and the fertile
decay of wormy graveyard dirt.

“I am here!” I think.

Dry organs reclaim remembered nests
beneath this ragged shroud. Muscle and gristle
rebuild – I have no vulgar need
for blood or nerves, and warming fat
has scant urge to return to this cold abode. Even the skin
is unwilling and thin. It hangs in sagging
strips; but I have no time
for primping vanity.

I jiggle, incomplete,
yet whole enough to dance a jig,to stretch and twist
without risk of sliding ribs, of brain
slipping through the gaping space where once sat
soft twitching lips which – but
the history of my lips is
of no consequence

I test my vocal chords:

“I am here,” my hoarse voice calls.

I am here,
looking upon streets still
filthy with the damned. Inebriated creatures stagger, indecently
swaying hips, displaying naked knees
for all to view, as they tout
cheap scarlet sin.
I see that the simpering hoardes of Whitechapel
still have sorely undeserved need of my special skills.
Though death has limited my abilities –
fingers that once were nimble can no more hold
a scalpel, no longer dissect a whorish
heart that recently
stopped beating – yet I have tested a few
phantom neck-severing tricks.

It was cruel to call me
Jack The Ripper; my knives were
surgical, my cuts
clean, and my art, while it was death to some,
was glory to me.
They criticised my calling; callously
ignoring my creativity, refusing me their gratitude, caring not a jot for
my history; they who never listened to the whispers
in the night, the voices that ordered me
– but enough; my psychological profile is not
to be picked over by you.

All you need to know is
that death has honed my hunger for the kill,
and on this day every year,

I am here.

©Jane Paterson Basil

All Hallows’ Eve

 

halloween-couple-240

All Hallows’ Eve approaches fast
when rotting dead come out at last,
and humans run and flee, aghast
to see the ghosts of days gone past
approaching through the evening mist
as cloudy shapes or smoky wisps,
who reach for you with open fist
protruding from a bony wrist.

Dead paupers and the hangman’s bait
drag heavy chains that clank and grate,
impatient from their year-long wait
in crowded grave at old Highgate,
while others play a sneaky game;
as floorboards creak, they sigh your name,
they slam your window, break the panes,
drip blood on walls and block your drains.

Though normal mortals hide away,
in terror of this haunting day
when skeletons from graveyards stray
to frighten folks in phantom way,
I have no need to turn and flee,
I prowl about impatiently;
I know his bones will hear my plea,
and drag themselves back home to me.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Dem Bones

Although we have a few days left before the ghosts come out to play, in the spirit of All Hallows Eve, I’d like to present a short Disney animation from 1929, the year after Walt Disney created the immortal Mickey Mouse. By the time I first saw this surreal film, it must have been around for about thirty-five years, but it didn’t seem dated, since our TVs were still in black and white. Even now – almost ninety years after it was made – it still holds its appeal for me.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Time. An Extreme ABC Poem

a
bottomless
chasm
deceptively
easing
favourable
green
hope
into
jewelled
kernel,
lending
me
no
overtime,
permanently
questing,
rolling,
slyly
ticking,
unceasing,
vast…
willfully
x‘ing
yesterday’s
zest.

Here’s another one for Mick’s Short Form Poetry Challenge. I don’t think this poetry form is officially recognised, since the only example of it that I can find is a poem I wrote myself,  and posted on my blog back in August 2015. Therefore I tentatively claim it as my own, and I give it the title Extreme ABC Poetry. It contains 26 lines, each line begins with a different letter of the alphabet, and the lines run in alphabetical order. The difference between my extreme form and the standard form of ABC poetry is that each line contains only one word.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Without Prejudice. Finale

I throw out these scraps as if it’s all there is to tell, but these are mere highlights in my tale of our police. I could write a book, and on every page I’d describe some small or major kindness; the type of generosity of spirit that is too rarely commented upon; far too meanly treated, especially when meted out by the police. 

However, I expect this chapter to be the last, and it tells a story which ended on Thursda, with me weeping from gratitude, even though I had faith that it would happen. It concerns a WPS; S, who had a special interest in my daughter’s plight. She specialises in abuse cases, and she was involved with Laura for a while. During this time we met a few times, and had several phone conversations.. During this period, Laura was particularly unwell. She knew my deepest fear, and she shared it. Rather than pretending that she reckoned everything would be fine, she owned up to the truth; that my daughter was unlikely to survive much longer, and that no professional who was working with her, could understand how she’d stayed alive. She added that in the best case scenario, Laura would be involved in a serious accident which neither killed nor permanently maimed her, but took her off the streets for a few months, where her only choice would be drug recovery. Looking back, I expect she knew, as I did, that Laura had a reputation for running across and back in the path of moving cars. Even with this information and more, hard as they tried – along with the local drugs services, they couldn’t get her sectioned, as they have no authority over the NHS. Three doctors carry out an interview on the patient, and they have to agree that she is putting her life, or the life of someone else, at risk. People in psychosis are often remarkably sly, and more aware than you may expect. They frequently slip through the net. Sometimes they die as a result.  

Coming back to the subject at hand, S’s remarks may sound harsh, but she only told me what I knew to be true, and followed it up with my own secret wish. She was deeply intuitive; she knew that I had no desire to hide from the truth, and thanks to her being open, I felt less alone in the sustained terror of my daughter’s death. It’s true to say that the end of our talk I felt strangely relieved, to the extent that I began to hope that the grizzly miracle might happen, taking Laura’s recovery out of her hands and placing it firmly in the lap of the unwilling, underfunded, oversubscribed NHS., and giving her a chance of a future. If she ended up with a steel shaft in her leg, so be it. Better metal than graveyard mould. That’s how desperate I was to avoid what we all thought was a foregone conclusion until my WP friends gave me hope. 

Laura had not committed any crime; rather, she was chief witness (otherwise known as the victim) to a filthy batch of them. Perhaps due to limited court time (Rule Britannia, Britanna blah blah blah, Britain never, never, never shall be sane), only three were being brought against the abuser, but they were serious. Contact with S ceased to have any professional relevance when Laura proved herself to be too unwell to appear in court. The judge had no choice but to abort the trial in the interests of her mental health – not that it helped; at that point nothing helped. Laura continued to spin in a jerky trajectory that seemed to have only one possible destination. S continued to be privately concerned about Laura’s precarious lifestyle.

As many of you know, in Spring, Laura fulfilled my highest hopes by going into determined recovery, with the support of a kind friend of mine who has since become more to her, leaving all who truly know her dazed, while the addicts of this town continue to be cynical about the changes she’s made.

They haven’t seen her.

I got a thrill when I reflected upon how much better her life is now than mine has ever been – I still do – but one thing was bothering me. The police had not been told, and they deserved to know. On the day I called them to complain about the monstrous man who threatened me with death, the guy who took my call was so accommodating that I explained my quandary. Immediately – even eagerly – he asked me for a name that he could send a message to, pointing out that the police rarely hear the happy endings, no matter how they care and wish to know. I gave the name of my favourite WPS, and although he was in a call centre forty-eight miles from here, in a straight line, he was as good as his word.

On Thursday afternoon, as I worked in the back room of the Oxfam shop, I got a call from a private number, and before I touched the phone, I knew who the caller would be.

She sounded the same as always; warm and friendly. I gave her all the details of Laura’s current life – within reason; I didn’t mention her new clothes or finicky things like that, but she got my drift, and I heard the relief and pleasure in her tone. She told me how many times she had thought about Laura, and dreaded the expected final report on her desk, and it suddenly occurred to me that if the worst had happened, she would have been almost certain to have requested or chosen to be the one to visit me, if she’d been at work.

I could so easily have been soaking her clothes with my tears.

I held myself in check while she asked me to send Laura her warmest regards, and wish her the very best for her future. I kept it together while she said she hoped she would see my daughter in Barnstaple some day, and have the opportunity to speak to her now that her tragic mask of killing addiction has been flung onto the motorway that leads to her home in the city, and crushed by a million cars; now that he had finally silenced the wild cacophony inside her head, and returned to health – except that she didn’t word it quite so colourfully.

I said goodbye to S, who had once considered applying for a transfer to the City, where the would be more promise of promotion, but changed her mind when she realised that city police have less sense of community; she’d have less opportunity to apply the personal touch, and to work in a close-knit way with her colleagues who were less friendly than those in this country town. That’s why she stayed.

I put down the phone, and cried tears of joy. I knew how much her wishes would mean to Laura, and they meant a great deal to me.

The complex mix of emotions that rose as I was writing this post have exhausted me like no other I can remember.

I’m so tired that I can hardly stand. Maybe I’ll sleep on my sofa tonight.

©Jane Paterson Basil

The Stretch of Time

…A Fibonacci Poem…

 

When

time

is viewed

from the front

its mirage expands

beyond the misty horizon,

yet when you spy the end of the trying lane of life

and look  back, it is simply an abortive trip on a train that brakes too soon.

<> <> <>

I’ve just discovered Mick’s Short Form Poetry Challenge. It’s a new source of enjoyment for me. Does anybody out there fancy joining in?

I’m hoping that my chosen form of poetry is considered short enough for the challenge. If not, maybe I’ll come up with something shorter tomorrow. In my defence, I’m using it because Fibonacci is one of my favourite forms, and I want to help to keep it alive – though I haven’t used it for a while. A Fibonacci poem is one whose syllables reflect Fibonacci’s mathematical sequence of 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21 etc. 

©Jane Paterson Basil

Without Prejudice. Part 2

Last week I made a statement to the police.
For some reason, the man who tried to break my daughter’s neck
and left her in a pool of blood,
is threatening to kill me.

Of all the cheek!

Unlike the attack on Laura, it’s no big deal – no more than
an interesting story to add to my literary CV.

Although he has
twenty four convictions for violence in his history,
lives round the corner from me
and I believe him to have a terminal disease
(which slims down his reason to fear reprisals
if he should carry out the deed),
he’s too solid to intimidate me. Lately,
only phantoms can succeed in that department.

They seem to rise out of
the coffee pot along with the steam or
strike you while you’re kicking through flotsam on the beach
but you know there is no escape since they
are holed-up deep deep deep
beneath your skin …

But this story is not about me.
More importantly, I wanted the police to know that although
she cannot prevent that psychopath
from carrying out a different, but related crime,
I wished to report that he also warned a physically weak addict
to expect a visit from him,
when he would beat her mercilessly;
I’ll name her Emma, to protect her anonymity.

The sergeant looked concerned, and shaking her head, she said
“Oh, no, not poor Emma.”
Her gaze shifted to the wall, and a grey haze
flitted across her face as she entered a place where
empathy raises the question;
“How can I help?”
Sadness and despair emanated from her slender frame.
It was with an attitude of failure that she
returned her gaze to me.

(An aside: Unfortunately, Emma probably envisages this woman as her enemy).

I mentioned the policewoman’s reaction
to an acquaintance whose brother happens
to be a recovering addict.
When I said Emma was under threat, she murmured
“I know her. She probably deserves it.”
I asked why, and she replied
“Bloody junkie. All those bloody junkies. I see her in Church Lane…”
as if that explained her remark.

Church Lane is an old walkway in the centre of town.
It contains two benches, one of which is often occupied by addicts,
while other addicts stand around and chat. They
don’t snatch handbags, and if they are in the way
they move aside and politely apologise,
and while their their language is often over-ripe,
its content is less offensive than that of many
teens who swagger down the streets loudly shouting details of
sexual intentions and conquests, but the addicts are deemed to be
threatening in some unaccountable way.

I refrained from asking if my daughter also deserved it,
instead simply telling her that Emma matters to me.
Ignoring her own vulnerability, she defended and supported
my daughter when she most needed it, thereby
putting herself at risk of reprisal,
and now she is suffering for her act of solidarity.

I thought of those who try to keep
us safe, of their patient efforts on behalf
of our victimised neighbours,
our disenfranchised kin.

With these humble words, I salute
their depth of understanding and empathy, and I wish
we were all more like them.

This town has been
either careful or lucky
in its selection
of police.

©Jane Paterson Basil