Category Archives: free verse

Stain

When vile truth
shatters complacency, when his pupils
shrink to obsidian pins, he will refuse
to meet your eyes.

He will mutter:
It was only once or twice, just
for fun, just to try it out, just to find out, just
to know what it was like. You’re
too old to understand but I
can handle it. It’s not
a problem.

The years and the lies trundle by,
punctuated by multiplying shades of dread
until all that appears on each succeeding page
is smudged punctuation in black, brown
and blood red.

At night, drear bundles
slump in damp sleeping bags.
Bent heads sink. Limbs sag. Limp lips
beg change to spend on the devil’s silence.
As I pass the darkened bank, a man says:
Excuse me lady, have you got any…
I swivel my head, and see
my son’s face.

Outside Tesco Express
a second voice invades my space
and though I know he’s miles away,
again, I see his face.

To keep tears at bay
I formulate rhymes whose meter
matches my pace.

I despise my weakness
and hate the unbidden ache
that hides in my skin.

I need my bed,
but I fear the demon in my pillow
which won’t let me forget.

In sleep, my mind
plays playground games,
raging and grieving in turns.
For once I dream my son uncurls.
Washed clean of the streets,
he stands tall, his flesh
advertising vitality.

My joy negates all of the pain.

Yet when I wake
I know that nothing has changed;
the blood in his punctured veins
still stains my soul.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Brother

By day
I revel in the airy treats of life
sipping up the sounds and sights
inhaling scents and relishing my simple tastes –
but through the weighty hours of night
I read to flee the waking dreams which take the place of sleep.
I read until my eyelids droop and I must fight to concentrate.
With all my will I fight to stay awake until my eyes
can no more see the script nor keep my lids
from blinding me
so by the time the pillow finds my head
my mind rests in tranquillity and I
have no more need to fight
since slumber reigns
and slumber brings me peace.

Each day I wake too late to see
the break of dawn
and as I rise I tell myself the war is done;
I say the foe is dead
and yet if I let down my guard, an ashen finger
slithers from its dusty urn to torment me.

Today I told you how my loved ones’ lives
were skewed and stunted by our enemy
like we were trees and he sent out a hurricane
that tore us from our bed of loam
to drop us on a rocky mountain top
where he controlled the heat and cold
and every time his rage burned red it singed our flesh
and every time his fury cooled
he froze us with his cutting gusts of tempered snow.

Brother,
when I saw the roughened sword clutched in your hand
and felt your longing for revenge
I said there was no more to do, yet I
am grateful for the love that prompted you to stand.
I look within my soul to find a flower blooming there
a flower sown by you
and I am less alone.

I’ve been trying to do an audio of this poem, but notifications keep pinging, and the software is a bit rough, and I don’t have a microphone – which isn’t essential since my laptop has a built-in mic, but it would improve the sound – and to cap it all, my accent sounds silly – particularly the way I enunciate words like ‘down’ and ‘sound’. To prove my point I recorded the following two sentences:

“I am renowned for round” (snigger) “brown found” (giggle) “sound. Like a hound” (snort)  “I pound the ground” (guffaw) “and flounder” (pause while I unsuccessfully attempt to create a dignified air) “as the ground” (shameless laughter) “resounds.”

You won’t get to hear the recording, or my irrepressible laughter, since, after weeks of playing with sound for the purpose of laying it at your feet, dear friends, I have finally discovered that my free WP account doesn’t support audio. It seems a shame, since I’m pleased with the way this verse flows. Try reading it out loud – see what you think.

Maybe it’s time to upgrade…

©Jane Paterson Basil

To Mary: This Too Shall Pass

When I consider
the frazzled reams of verse, written
when sinews simmered with rage,
when organs ached with dread and grief

when dams burst and words tried to drown sorrow
when fires failed to singe the fighting remains.
I picked through ashes even as the flames blistered my skin,
and still, he drove his bloodied psyche
between my ribs, piercing
the heart of me

I feel
remote
from those emotions

feels like a marathon masquerade of misery that I
mistook for reality, holing myself up
in the host’s attic, beneath
an old crate of broken memorabilia,
away from friends who might have explained
that the gates of hell
were paper mache stage props
and the pit was the cracked lens
of a reclaimed camera obscura.

When I single out a poem, I revoke details;
the nature of conflicts and pain inflicted,
but from a
distance,

as if I’m watching a documentary
or reading a book featuring the anguish of other families
skewered by other offsprings’ addiction,

Empathy for the innocents
seeps into me, yet when I read a verse
from this strangling chapter, I realise it was my life.
Memories  bite;
my heart contracts and my toes
instinctively curl away from a mud slide
that has safely flaked and dried.
At such times, I summon your voice –
your voice, with its warm Northern edge –
sharing your mantra,
gifting me the truth that calmed you
whenever the mud of the morass
threatened to engulf your chest;
“This too shall pass.”
“This too shall pass.”

New growth
breaks through decay,
willing the frayed remnants of pain to dissipate.
I take a breath of clean air
and luxuriate
in the mellow texture of grass
tickling my feet.

Dedicated to my friend Mary Beer. Mary, you are an Amazon whose whose words gave me courage, whose friendship made me feel less alone from the start, and whose strength continues to inspire me. When I was at my lowest ebb, it was the echo of your voice which ran through my mind: this too shall pass.

I posted this on my other blog a few months ago. I’ve edited it a little and added it to this blog so that you might read it, Mary xxx

Grit

The grit of a dozen
imprisoned
rhymes
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
long ago.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Farewell to Jenny

Last night

while I wrote remote history, last night
while I revived lowlights of my life, last night
while I cried over a spilled note, last night

Jenny died.

<<@

Jenny,
you wept
even as you entered
the scented season of life.

You felt
– long before the sickening Fall –
– ere grief’s canker grew organic form –
you felt
your roots being gnawed
by flown protectors of your youth
while your sore heart languished between
the spectral hands
of the child
of your womb.

<<@

Jenny,
the woman
that everyone died on;
a truth that consumed you.

Ashes
sullied your cloak of bright colours,
choking your willow courage, yet you fought
far past the darkest hour, beyond the point
where salt
ate your rainbow disguise.
Untiringly you stitched, yet
each time you tried to repair
the flimsy attire
the thread broke.

<<@

Jenny,
I waited, somehow knowing
that we would meet some day. Long before
I saw your face, I sensed your breath on my cheek as if
your spirit whispered to me, yet I did not guess
that our acquaintance would be 
so brief.
We met but once,
a singular meeting which conceived
an embryonic friendship, aborted
by the decree that would
steal you to eternity.
Jenny, it was an honour;
for in those brief moments
you exceeded my hopes.

<<@

Jenny,
you must have shed
a lake of tears deeper than
the raging stream that swept her
to her death. Now
the flood ebbs, eased by your stilled flesh.
Today and for evermore,
may you rest
with your daughter
in peace.

<<@

©Jane Paterson Basil

Loveable Drunk

I never expect you, yet
I am ever sure that soon
you will reach my door,
your smile, your eyes, your body talking,
communicating all that I have longed for and all
that I refuse to dwell upon.
It rushes in as I lay aside the simple “sorry” on your lips,
mouthed beneath the clamour
of celebrating heart, racing pulse.

You are here.
I don’t mind that you dined
on Dutch courage before you arrived.
We’re both of us breaking the rules,
you renaging on a vow made for life,
me evading thoughts of your wife.

You need another drink.
Still I don’t mind.
You are with me again,
shoulders shrugging your duties away,
Germanic eyes pale as ice, yet
like a welcoming sky on the day that Spring arrives,
your lopsided smile issuing a silent enquiry.

How could you doubt my constancy?

Reading my body’s response,
you display ivories I’ve been longing to see.

“I’ll get my coat,” I say.
Dipping into the living room,
I relate a hasty Dear John to a misbegotten distraction:
“He’s come for me.
You can finish your coffee and take
the back way out once I’ve gone.
It’s been fun. Sorry it’s so sudden, but
we’re done.”
I have no time for his tears. At this moment
he repels me.
It’s not my fault, I tell myself –
I always told them no-one
could ever
compete
with you.

It’s true I am cruel,
but I think only of you and now
you are here.

You you you.

Maybe when we say
our last goodbye
I’ll train to be kind to those
who don’t compare to you.

Meanwhile…

we drive to a village pub,
stepping into a hubbub
instantly hushed by the arrival
of two outsiders.
As conversation resumes
we choose a quiet corner of the murky room.
You get the drinks while I
shake off memories of the void;
pointless days stretching to months,
aping passion,
faking pleasure with insipid 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,
failing to fill a space while I wait for the one man
who leaves me intact.

As you bend to place the drinks on the table,
that rebellious forelock of blonde hair
flops across your face. As always,
you shake your head to move it,
and as always, your effort fails.
A kitten wakes inside me, chases a tickly ball of wool,
nudging the overfilled bucket of adoration in my chest,
spilling it everywhere.
I love, love, love you.
Wherever I go, love keeps me company,
pumping through these veins,
blowing in the wind, catching in trees,
filling me, stroking my flesh, its tendrils
caressing me, embracing everything I see,
yet still your presence
overwhelms me.

By the time we leave you’ll be three sheets.
You’ll drive slowly, perhaps your tyres will clip the bank,
but I trust you to keep me alive, like in the days
before I knew of your duality;
All those times you practiced knife throwing skills
while I lay, limbs akimbo
trusting that the knife would miss my armpits and thighs,
I neither knew nor cared whether
it was luck or skill
that guided the knife.

You take my hand.
I burrow into your shoulder.
Sounds issue from our lips;
inconsequential things that describe
dinners, histories, bricks,
while our spirits hold their own conversation..

You, my beloved one, my breath, my home.
You love us both, and that’s fine by me.
I ask only for your happiness.
Any joy that might come my way is a bonus.
Were I in your shoes, I would find it hard to choose
between homemaker and adventuress.

The clock ticks, timing each moment.
Later I will memorise this;
clutch it close for when I am alone.

It’s time to go home.
We sit in your car, letting it idle while
we pretend it is easy to say goodnight.
After a while you turn the key,
leaving silence. At this stage,
secrets trail silver streaks in the wake
of each word we speak,
me and my supreme, loveable drunk,
so we share light kisses, lips barely brushing,
sticking to the limits we set,
sitting on separate sides of the clutch.

Written for Paul Sunstone over at the café philos, in response to his brand-spanking-new

->->->-> poetry prompt <-<-<-<-

This was the day that I was finally going to catch up with the blogs, see how my friends are doing. But I got an email from Paul. I don’t know how to say no to him, so my time has been spent writing, and you all know how I hate to write. The poem doesn’t fulfil all the requirements, but the moving finger writes, and having writ, it makes an obscene gesture and moves on.

©Jane Paterson Basil

We Loved So Well

rose-echoes

We loved so well
with a depth I treasure to this day,
yet I don’t regret
that age might erase my memories,
or fear that all vestiges of it
will be stripped away when we cease to breathe,
since throughout eternity,
the waves we made will reverberate.

You see,
we are no less than butterflies
whose wings barely disturb the air,
no more than Kingfishers dipping their beaks,
causing ripples that indiscernibly adjust
the course of the stream,
yet together with Dinosaurs and Frankenstein’s sheep,
together with all sentient beings that swim fly and creep,
together with all creatures that have ever been,
together everything current and ceased
beneath the sky that leads to infinity,
though we be tiny, finite,
our energy echoes forever.

We loved so well
with a love which will kiss the earth
*(as it gently recovers our vacated flesh.
Flowers will bloom, worms will flourish)
and the earth will listen to the wind
singing our story
throughout eternity.

*I’m not sure whether I should keep these two lines, since they might detract from the romantic mood of the poem. Hence the faded writing. Opinions please?

©Jane Paterson Basil