Category Archives: dysfunction

They are young

they are young,
moulded by the past
and those who would use them.
they do not know their beauty
or question that the world is theirs.
adolescent brain chemicals fizz in their heads
twisting them in loud high street mating rituals crudely practiced
from the age of twelve, or ten, or even less.
at sixteen their techniques
may be a little more sophisticated,
but the lost ones drink in the park, pick up quickies,
tell themselves that every notch in the shrubbery bark
is a valuable conquest, another page of evidence
that they are loved, that they can
win the heart of any man –
but they don’t believe it.
they are young, in a land
of brittle hearts, charred dreams,
greedy advertising of harmful things,
where we reach for inconsequential fakery
in the crossed-finger promise of a better life.
they think the whole weeping world is theirs,
but we haven’t shown them its beauty
and they cannot see their own.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Thirty Years


So much forgotten laughter
and so many remembered tears.
So much clawing, grasping hope,
and so many losses and crashing fears.
So much mutual hurt and pain,
as with hatred you thrust the knife in your side,
and twist it again and again.
While every wound you inflict on yourself
strikes me like icy rain.

So much forgotten laughter,
captured in print when you were a child,
in those distant, sunshine summers
when the woodlands beckoned, so free and so wild.
Your heart was like a flower,
and your hands reached out, by nature beguiled;
and nature rewarded you handsomely,
leaving you innocent, undefiled,
but the clock ticked on, and left us
with so much to be reconciled

So much forgotten laughter
and so many remembered tears,
while the heedless tick of the clock
adds up the stolen years,
dropping each second into the past,
dispensing with time so quick and so fast,
while the future threatens to pass you by,
too lost to live and too gripped to die,
and every day I hope for a clue;
a vestige of someone who used to be you.
And the clock ticks on, like a clockwork train,
while I pray that my prayers are not in vain,
and someday my flower will bloom again.

Dedicated to my troubled daughter, Laura, who is thirty years old today.

©Jane Paterson Basil



Image adapted from: photo by Peter Drier

(An everyday tale of love and marriage)

”Be mine.” he whispered, ”You are my chocolate coated limousine, my deepest bungee jump, my highest school yard leap-frog, my cool breath in a heated discussion, my hot water bottle at the frozen peak of mount Everest, my favourite cheese grater, my mix of perfect concrete.

”Stand on me, and crush my brain with the power of your sub-atomic love bomb; your over-exposed throat; your agile knife sharpener; your ready whittling and all of those things that you hide beneath the tittle-tattle of a thousand silences.

”And I will teach you to ride on the back of a butterfly as it flits from flower to flower; to scale the heights of fishes underground; to extract kettle fluff from the painting of the Mona Lisa; to build an atom from an elephant; to ignite the stars using a broken toothpick and an excerpt from Handel’s Water Music; to do all of the things that I have learnt from centuries of studying rotting carrot heads and the birth of synthetic fabrics.

”Come, share my bent nail and take the lonely word-processor from my empty heart. Be my new baked bread, my ocean of sky, my everything reduced for one day only, again and again, for ever and ever ’til death do us part amen. 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 possess me, or I will extract your teeth with a sledge-hammer. I will destroy your father’s estate. I will make the tax office refuse your rebate. I will tear down your house. I will drive your Mercedes into a wall. I will kill your computer with a rash of vicious viruses. I will burn your books. I will break your bed with my passion. I will trifle with your affections and 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 a list of things 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 and 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 could have quiet nights in, playing tiddly winks and tic-tac-toe. You’ll have to take your shoes off as soon as you come home from the office, because I don’t want you getting the carpets all dirty. When the babies come along, my mother can come and 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 we 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 I accepted his soft, downy proposal, I thought to drown my passion beneath it. I thought it could save me from my nature.

He expeditiously discarded the word-smithery with which he had won me, and replaced it with practicality and rationalism. He lay carpets and furniture at my feet. In my hands he placed cooking implements and cleaning products. He tucked yet more gifts in hidden places: rank, balled-up socks under the bed, twisted tubes of toothpaste and bad smells in the bathroom, crumbs of toast and smears of marmalade in the butter dish. In the morning, his loud laughter and readings from the newspaper tangled my thoughts. In the evening the noise from the television killed my creativity. At night the heat from his body chased sleep away.

(However, he soon irritated me.)

After a while, 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. I drove his Mercedes into a wall. I killed his computer with a rash of vicious viruses. I burned his books. I broke his bed. I trifled with his affections and left him raw and heartbroken. I undid him.’

(We parted company.)

These days, in winter, I keep myself warm with many layers of thin clothing, and thick blankets, and I sleep through the long hours of the night. In summer, I wake up each morning with the dawn. I am eased into a calm consciousness by the daylight, as it soaks through the thin skin of my tent. Overhanging trees dapple a caramel silhouette onto the cream canvas wall that protects me.

My passion is consumed.

(I prefer being alone.)

© Jane Paterson Basil



not so long ago
all of the treasures which were mine

all of those gems
which shine forth
throughout each day

the friendly smile and
the grandchild’s

did not reach me,
but remained unrecognised and unheard.

not so long ago
came the day when
my need for escape
freed me from my shell
I floated to the ceiling

I looked
down upon
of myself
abandoned on the kitchen floor
the part of me that contained the mouth
and the sound that it formed was
“this too shall pass

Perhaps there were crack dealers with guns in my attic, or perhaps I had come home to hide after running from my son. Maybe I had found him in a terrifying drug stupor, or I had got my wallet out and it was empty when there should have been enough money for me to buy food to stave off my hunger.

whatever the cause
I was on the floor
had suggested that
I look
at the
another angle,
and I had never lain on my kitchen floor before, so I was trying a new cure for what ailed me. I was searching the ceiling for an answer. It was the only new angle I cound find.

chanting lips
could not
drive out
the horror
was my

could not
assuage the
my son
who I loved
although I
was going to die.

He was going to die because he could not begin to control his habit. Even though he was in touch with his mortality, it was beyond his ability to save himself. His willpower had flown, and his habit increased.

death honed his scythe in preparation.

not all of them die
so prematurely
but of those who do,
some have
the mark upon them,
the skeletal grin
of the grim reaper
at their shoulder
months before

the ceiling held no answer to my problem.

after a while my sad spirit sank back into my body
and despairing, I sat on the stairs
staring at the wall

it passed.

and now all of the treasures which are mine

all of those gems
which shine forth
throughout each day

the friendly smile and
the grandchild’s

my son’s laughter and his kindly eyes

reach me,
are recognised, heard and celebrated.

© Jane Paterson Basil

Plucking at Something

Here is my take on today’s assignment for the Writing 201 Poetry course: a prose poem about hands, incorporating assonance.


You come to my home uninvited, unnerving me, and although I’m uneasy I silence my tongue, because today your subdued air of submission gives me unaccustomed trust in you. I don’t want to shun you, my unravelled daughter, though my love seems redundant and unkindly used. The cuts and the bruises are ugly and telling, starvation and pallor are are hard to ignore. Your fingers are busily plucking at something under the rubbish in the hub of your bag

And now you are urging for news of your brother, a worrying subject, for one so unwell. I have nothing but good news, which shouldn’t unhinge you but unhealthy thoughts could worry your skull. I plunge the memory of our last discussion under my consciousness as must be done.

He walked out of prison anxious and wary, he was clad in mis-matched minimal garb, because everything he had worn upon entry was already filthy and ripped and marred.His feelings were mixed as he breathed semi-freedom at the side of his case-worker and walked to the car, because under the fear of a failure at freedom, was excitement at the thought of the fun he cound have.

(From under subversive eyelashes I watch you, and see my reluctance was undeserved. You unreservedly absorb every morsel; your abundant joy is undisguised. But still unremitting your fingers keep picking, plucking at something inside your bag.)

When he arrived at the re-hab the staff and residents all reached out a welcoming hand. He was overwhelmed by strange emotions and the push and the pull of feelings within. But he knew that very soon he would settle to a new routine in this friendly regime. He was longing to see his sisters and nephews and for trips to the city during weekends. When we visited him there within hours of his entry we brought him fresh clean jeans and tee shirts, and it was easy to see that he was intending to be a good brother and uncle and son.

I conclude my tale by re-asserting how pleased I am and how terribly proud. I re-assure you of his desire to see you, as soon as an appropriate day is arranged.

And although your fingers still pluck and worry at whatever is lurking inside your bag, I can see that you needed some news of your brother, and maybe his freedom will help you get well.

© Jane Paterson Basil



Ella Tequila’s hair is a mess.
There’s coppery dye all down her dress.
Green eyes sit in ochre pools
As spilling her drink she sits and drools.
It’s easy to think that she’s lost her mind
Leaving all her marbles and her memories behind
As she sits and she mutters and she stares at her feet.
Thin body swallowed by the overstuffed seat

Now Ella’s eyes stroll about the room,
Sliding around in the pressing gloom.
Skimming mementoes and slipping away
Over pictures of how life was in the day
When men were toys to dangle along
And life was all drinking and laughter and song.
Now she sits and she mutters and she stares at her feet,
Her body too small for that massive seat

Now Ella Tequila looks my way
Glaring at me as if to say
As so many times she has before
”I wish you’d just walk out of that door.”
Then shaking her head as if to clear
A secret voice only she could hear
She sits and she whispers and she stares at her feet
A body engulfed in an overstuffed seat.

Ella Tequila seems to slip away
Into the night of a long gone day.
She sits and smiles as her brain sips champagne
And considers her newest sleazy campaign
Her lascivious eyes she can’t disguise
And those twisted lips that betray her lies.
While she sits and smiles and admires her feet
And her body blossoms forth to fit the seat.

Ella Tequila looks into my eyes
And she sees the fear that I can’t disguise.
Youthfully leaping from her chair
Angrily tossing her chemical hair
She grabs my wrist and shouts in my face
”You’re dead! You’ve left the human race
You’ve gone to hell. You are not here.
So you think to murder me with fear.

I never wanted a screaming brat
You gave me wind and you made me fat
I tried to kill you but you hung on tight
Your new-born body was a horrible sight
And it got worse as day by day
You grew up in that horrid way.
And here’s my final word to you:
I hate you and your daughter too.”

Ella Tequila loosened her hold
With a glance that made my blood run cold.
As I backed away she sat down in her chair
Re-arranged her dress and patted her hair.
It’s easy to think that she’s lost her mind
Leaving all her marbles and her memories behind
As she sits and she mutters and she stares at her feet
Thin body swallowed by the cosy seat.

”Goodbye Grandma, I’ll see you soon”
I said as I left that hated room.
And as I heard cruel laughter start
I thought again with anguished heart
It isn’t true that she’s lost her mind
Leaving all her marbles and her memories behind.
And she preens and admires her pretty feet.
While she’s artfully arranged in her comfy seat.

© Jane Paterson Basil


My mother was on the rant again. I suppose I shouldn’t have been baiting her, but any conversation we had ended up this way, so I thought I may as well get some entertainment out of it.

”You can’t put a fun head on old shoulders,” I had said to her, twisting around the old adage she had just slung at me.

Her fingers bent and straightened as she wrapped and re-wrapped the yarn around knitting needles which click-clacked furiously. The scarf was growing at an alarming rate. Already it was so long that it would probably wrap around the house. She knitted when she was mad about something. She was often mad. Almost anything could incite her ire:

The neighbours cat, sitting on the wall, looking at her. ”It’s staring at me again.” she would say.

Conversations between characters in Eastenders. ”What did he have to go and say that for. He’s really hurt her feelings,” she would say, as if it was real, as if she was somebody who cared about the feelings of others.

Puddles in the street. ”They should do something about it,” she would say.

The whir of the cooling fan in the corner shop. ”It’s so loud I can’t think,” she would say.

The sound of my father’s voice. ”That horrible man is on the phone for you,” she would say.

Yes, many things made her angry, but most of all, I made her angry. My presence and my absence, everything I said and everything I didn’t say, everything I did and didn’t do, everything I was and everything I wasn’t.

Which made life a little tricky, as I lived with her.

Now she stopped knitting, and pointed her needle at me.

”Fun?” she spat. ”Fun? You talk about fun? I had fun once. And what do you think the result was? You! Planting yourself inside me, stealing my nourishment, taking my space, growing and making me fat and ugly. Pushing on my spine and my bladder. Scrabbling through my tubes, pushing your way out of my body. Expecting to be fed and clothed! Screaming and shitting all the time. Don’t talk to me about fun.”

I yawned, and looked out of the window at the sky. A dark cloud was forming overhead, signalling an upcoming storm.

The phone rang.

”Well, answer it!” she said.

The voice at the other end asked for her by name. Irritably, she slapped her knitting on the arm of the chair.

I watched impassively while she held the receiver.

”Speaking,” she said, curtly. ”Yes, that was me.” Then ”Is this a joke?”

A long silence as she listened. Finally she said ”This is ridiculous, but yes, I can make it tomorrow.”

She put the phone down. She put her knitting away. She was subdued for the rest of the day.

The following day, she went out. When she came back, she hugged me tearfully. I took in the hitherto unexplored fragrance of her hair, surprised by the smell of flowers and musk, of disinfectant and human being.

She told me about the woman who had given birth on the same day that I was born, and had always claimed that she was given the wrong baby to take home. babyAfter years of being ignored, a doctor had finally carried out DNA tests, and had found that she was right. An enquiry had been opened. My mother had gone in today for a DNA test, but it was considered more a formality than anything else. They were pretty sure that I was the other woman’s child.

”They can’t have you. You’re mine,” she wept. ” I wanted you. I fed and clothed you. I wiped your tears away. I watched your first tentative steps, and I urged you forward. I encouraged you. I taught you right from wrong. I loved you, and I will always love you. You are mine!”

I disentangled myself from the woman. I looked out of the window. Yesterday’s rain had left everything clean and sparkling. The world looked new and fresh.

© Jane Paterson Basil