The only way to change is to embrace truth, and if you are able to do so it might help with your recovery. Sit in a safe place with all your guilt and shame. Be brave, allow it to breathe. Don’t try to smother it with drugs; it only comes back, stronger and more fuelled every time. If you have courage enough for that, you will become a better human being, finally able to make amends and move forward.
Winter had clung, its bitter wrap of ice-flinted snow suffocating fleets of sunny seasons, clenching my gut. Fevered hope pricked me with uneven heat. Faith was feeble, thin; a hand-spun fishing line, plucked from the gleam of halcyon days; it frayed and broke, frayed and broke, to be knotted again and again; my fumbling fingers fighting in vain to cease their trembling shake. In the end, estrangement felt safer, less painful, yet when it came, it bit, it stung; as events remained uncelebrated and months mounted, it ate me away. Sometimes, change is sudden: as if on a whim, the world spun, whipping up a conglomeration of fear and isolation, an unheeding pandemic of sickness and death, yet grace was the gift this year brought me; banishment hit him, helped him to battle his searing addiction; his demons had scarred him but now they were bleeding, while his wounds were healing; I could see they still ached, but Spring had returned. Reunited with my child, with pride and relief I can see he carries the family genes: the blood of the Phoenix surges through his veins. ©Jane Paterson Basil
Over the past few months, I’ve found it difficult to write. I put this down to the fact that my soul is less tortured. So, last Friday I began a poetry course which was offered by our County Council as part of a mindfulness programme, to help people through the difficulties of Covid, so it wasn’t really designed for poets. However, I thought it would be useful as a kind of refresher. The above poem is the fruit of my first session’s labours. I hope you like it x
The grit of a dozen
scrapes my mind,
straining to be arranged,
aching to stain virgin paper with blurred shades
of sorrow and rage.
I will not, I say:
I will not, I cry:
I will not write this piece of me,
for to write is to bleed.
The pain never dies,
but if left in peace it might rest,
it might sleep awhile.
I’ll deny my psyche’s keening request; I will not try
to unravel the gravel which scars my soul,
and I will not weep
for one who was lost
©Jane Paterson Basil
shape sinuous words,
but only silence reaches my ears
as he confronts
my still psyche.
This might be
a final goodbye,
yet I let the question
float on the horizon.
that threats and lies
can be so easily dumbed
by a medicated sky.
All around him,
childhood trinkets and toys
rain around his untouchable frame.
They sink, lost forever
beneath the blind sea.
I recline on sturdy rock;
hazily trusting it will hold me.
If I am strong,
will not drown me.
Should the message
be his final goodbye,
might bring solemn women or men
whose warning uniforms
and gentle breath
will lower me
into the wild vale of grief.
If this is to be,
I’ll reshape the vision,
paint flowers at his feet,
add a balloon, fill it
with five fathoms of words
describing all the love
he ever felt for me,
but for now
the air caresses me,
and I sleep.
Written for Word of the Day Challenge: Fathom
This is the fear that the loved ones of addicts face every day. We learn to push it to the back of our minds, but it’s always there, waiting until the addict has a wobble. That’s when the fear goes into full attack mode.
©Jane Paterson Basil
Lately, times and dates become smudged.
I only know it was a cold October.
My mother was taking a break away from home.
She meandered along the embankment, noting
how her beloved London had changed.
Wrapped in a warm coat, snuggled into gloves and scarf,
she shivered as the chill
She’d looked forward to this ambling trip down memory lane, but now
she missed the warm house, safe from wintry elements,
where a friend from agile dancing days awaited her return.
She envisaged strong coffee, cosy conversation,
intelligent debate, heartfelt agreements.
Later would come supper, wine, a welcoming bed.
Wine, with its layers of taste
Wine, gulped down, leaving a wide smile, and no visible stain.
She stepped up her pace at the place
where the ground beyond the wall on her left
began to dip.
Glancing that way, she spotted the shock
of cardboard city; the place that street-sleepers might wryly call
their safety zone, where they laughed and cried and fought,
where few found love and many raged in anger and frustration,
where most drank themselves into a stupor to escape racking pain and loneliness,
where flattened boxes raised chilled, aching bodies from
That night she wrote it in a poem – her hopeless, hollow, agonised desire
to make it right;
to take it all away,
to save, to save… to wash and shave them, change their clothes,
dress their sores, pour a healing salve onto their brains,
to feed and shelter them;
to make them well again.
She described her sense of helplessness for these broken lives.
She said it felt like a punch
between the eyes. Her shoulders curled in, her legs
threatened to buckle.
“Dear God,” she wrote,
When she came home, she showed me the poem.
Though something in me preened in the reflected glory of her elite literacy,
I cried for the plight of the homeless, and for an elusive secret
tucked between the lines;
a message I couldn’t quite read.
Still weeping, I typed her words onto a clean sheet of paper.
This I gave to her, together with the original.
I kept no copy for myself.
Maybe it was down to the drink, but
for whatever reason, the poem was spirited away,
probably thrown out by mistake –
along with other significant documents.
My mother’s words, gone forever.
Those precious words shared the secret her misplaced shame
could never speak, yet they remained unheard.
Years later, a mystery illness revealed the weakness hidden in her genes.
My father pulled out green and amber bottles
concealed beneath the bed, behind her clothes,
inside cupboards and closets.
I smelled the amber liquid as it glugged into the sink,
a picture forming in my mind –
I’m twelve years old, delving through a pile of rags,
discovering empties underneath,
my mother’s brief irritation, her evasion, when I questioned her,
and how, when she found an excuse,
I couldn’t dispel the feeling of unease and confusion.
Did I never guess, or did I refuse to know?
Twenty years on, the clue was there, in the last lines of her poem,
the only lines which have not been – and will never be – erased from my mind:
Dear God, dear God,
there but for thy grace,
This poem – like many others I have written – honours my mother, who had more positive qualities than any other woman I have ever known. She was plagued for many years by alcoholism, but her love and strength were such that her family had no idea until she started to experience frightening catatonic spells, and was admitted to hospital. Addiction is a tragic disease that often runs in families. She warned me against it, and I took heed. I know I carry the disease, and I owe it to her that I have not allowed myself to become lost in it.
Were she alive today, she would be 102 years old on 14th February.
©Jane Paterson Basil
Can’t read or knit or go to buy my daily bread.
Staring at the window without focus, an inch from the jaws of paralysis.
Will it continue like this until I am laid to rest?
The principle victim might beat addiction,
and push temptation away,
But for sisters and mothers and all of the others
the danger is always in play.
Tried to hold it at bay, but last night it crept up from behind, encroaching on my peace of mind, floating just beyond my vision like a fruit fly scouting for the sweet rot to feed on, and finding it in me.
Thannie’s funeral was today, and I feared what the wake might bring.
So many premature deaths, but – apart from the worst one, so long ago, –
this is the first one that has occurred since he ripped away the chemical curtain.
Tried to sleep through it, but I woke stiff with dread of what he might do after the coffin passed through the doors. I choked down my breakfast and read for hours, struggling to stop the words from blurring, determinedly working the words into sense, my limbs heavy with the effort of pretending that I wasn’t scared.
Tried not to call him, until I could stand it no more.
His voice flowed strong across the line, and I could tell the ogres had fled at the sight of his tears. He was as safe as he could be.
Need to take some exercise, but my legs still refuse to work, and there’s a wall between me and the front door.
I knew that ringing him wouldn’t help. Someone’s trying to break in. There’s no rationality to this. My hands are shaking. It’s dangerous outside. There are people with knives. This isn’t me. None of this is real. I have to break through the wall and return to sanity.
I want to phone him again, but I mustn’t. I’m putting all kinds of imaginary dangers into my head, to avoid the fear that he’ll use. Images of knives and the smell of death on my hands are distractions, to stop me from thinking about what really frightens me.
He’s not going to use. I mustn’t ring him. I have to remember what my coping strategies are, but I can’t concentrate.
I’m afraid that if I stop writing what little courage I’m holding onto will fall apart.
To all the people who loved Thannie, I’m sorry. Today should be about him. It’s horrible that he died.
And to my son, I’m sorry that my faith weakens when I think of your grief. It’s not your fault.
©Jane Paterson Basil
You hustled a one-way ticket to hell,
hopping heavily aboard the chugging train,
smutty snow dripping down shrinking lanes,
tripping its way into cellular recesses
sifting your sight and your senses like sand.
Love and ribboned opportunities
jumbled up with rusty maybe-memories,
stuttered on the hollow horizon.
Blinded by the back end of a telescope,
all you perceived were burning trees.
You regretted the leathery ticket to hell,
and bravely you leaped from the trickety train.
Bruised by boulders and freed from near-misses,
the broken pieces were soldered with kisses
and you bathed in the cleansing rain.
This video is visually poor, but I like the sound. Beatlemania was a weird phenomenon – the fans made so much noise that they drowned out what they had paid to hear…
©Jane Paterson Basil
When we were families,
grandma’s house was a shared nest, and her attic
held history’s secrets beneath
dust that had caressed generations of kin.
Fingerprints revealed the smudged sheen
of an oaken music box, broken
by children’s rough love.
Though empty, it retained memories
of seamed silk stockings and a mother’s kiss.
Buried in a leather trunk an unworn
wedding dress told a musty story of domestic hope,
its promise stolen by the guns of war;
beneath the yellowed crepe-de-chine
lay mothy remnants
of a bridal bottom drawer.
When we were families,
most of us had somewhere
we could call our family home.
It may be humble, rough-and tumble,
with crumbling bathroom walls,
but it was many times better than no home at all.
When cold weather crept through our vests,
we’d pile into the kitchen through a welcoming door
and nestle next to a warming fire.
* * *
Beyond my window, rain splashes passers by.
A billowing wind blows them forward, to where dry warmth beckons .
Half a mile away an encampment of flimsy tents
does little to protect our homeless friends.
At night they crawl inside their sleeping bags, fully dressed.
Curling up tight, they pretend to themselves that their nest is safe,
while council officials continue their plot
to rob the dispossessed of what little they’ve got.
©Jane Paterson Basil
This is part two of my response to Reena’s Exploration Challenge Week 11. You can find part 1 HERE.
The first part of my post covers the first question – although it doesn’t do so until you reach almost to the end of the poem. 🙂 Now for my answer to the second question:
I described my daughter as an angry fox. I chose the metaphor to match her hair; some of you will know it has a lovely red glow to it. Also, owing to my surname and the colour of my own hair (which has since faded to a lighter colour) I used to go by the nickname of Basil Brush. Basil Brush was a fictional fox in the form of a puppet that starred in a popular children’s comedy TV show in the ’70s.
It wasn’t the best metaphor I could have chosen, but once I started, I decided to run with it. The most accurate thing about my story is its ending. The night my youngest daughter came to me, broken and bleeding after a violent attack, from a man who tried but failed to break her neck (the memory of which still makes me cry), I knew there had been a change in her perspective, and if she could hold onto it for long enough to make that change a reality, I knew it would change my life.
Has my perspective changed? Yes, it has. Laura has risen far above my highest expectations. She’s made me more proud than I ever thought possible, and more than that, she’s been instrumental in my son’s recovery from addiction. Paul’s journey has been hard; he’s undertaking his recovery in his home town, learning to avoid the triggers which must pop up daily. Even the staircase to my flat is a trigger. I don’t often speak about Paul; his addiction stripped him of all compassion, leading him to hurt me deeply throughout those torturous years. The wounds are slow to heal, but we’re making good progress. He switched to a vegan diet a while ago, so lot of his attention is concentrated on food. He and his girlfriend have offered to cook me a meal next week. I look forward to it with relish. He’s a good cook, but more than that, it will be another step towards healing.
Now it is time to turn my mind to the rest of my family. My two elder daughters have suffered too, but through their suffering, I have always known I can count on their support. My oldest grandson has been witness to things he should never have seen, but he’s come through like the champion he is. It’s been difficult to maintain close relationships with my four younger grandsons, so I have a lot of ground to make up.
(Life is not always easy for the siblings of prodigal children. I must tell them that my pride is not limited to those who have recently returned to the fold. I must let them know that they are magnificent.)
Looking back at my life, I can see how my strength has increased, along with the increasing difficulties I’ve faced. It’s a bit like weight lifting – as the weights get heavier, your muscles split and heal continuously. My mental health has suffered, but I do my best to keep on top of it, constantly reviewing and learning.
I’m stronger than I ever thought I could be, and happier than I had come to expect.
Yes, yes, yes; my perspective has changed, but only for the better.
©Jane Paterson Basil
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
©Jane Paterson Basil