Category Archives: memories

#atozchallenge Hair

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It’s only my hair, I said
it’s not as if I have a life-threatening disease.
– although I was embarassed to think that
I may attract pitying looks in the street
from people who assumed
I was receiving intrusive cancer treatment.

being consumed by far more pressing terrors
I didn’t even notice it until my daughter,
who was lovingly brushing my hair,
paused, and I heard the intake of breath,
sensed something less than a chill,
but more than nothing.
she put the brush on the floor.
mum, she said,
and again, there was that still, tense, pause,
reflecting a concern, a question in her head,
a preparation for words spoken with care.
but she could think of no other way,
so she said it plainly
mum, your hair is falling out.
well, I replied, it does, doesn’t it?
hair, falls out, all the time.
she’d given me a massage,
and I was too relaxed to manage full sentences.

she scumbled her fingers through my scalp
pushing the strands this way and that,
tangling them. examining, scrutinising the damage.
No, mum, she said, it’s more than that.
you have bald patches.
Have I? oh,well, can’t be helped, I murmered
through a sleepy smile.
It crossed my mind that I had lately detected
a lot more hairs than usual
clinging to the plug-hole of the bath,
and now I knew the reason.
I caught the uncertain don’t-alarm-mum tone in her voice,
the effort at a business-as-usual mood
while she told me that they weren’t that bad.
but, try as she might,
Laura was unable to hide her dismay.
As for me, even when she guided my hand
to the smooth gaps where my hair should have been,
I didn’t really care.

over time, those rude, naked circles increased in size.
Laura bought me some vitamin pills to strengthen my hair
but my mind was filled with other matters
and I rarely remembered to take them.
I got a hairdresser to chop off
my thinned out, fading golden locks,
and arrange my shorter hair
in an effert to hide my born-again-virgin skin;
but still my friends and aquaintances
looked at my silly disfigurement in horror,
and gushed words of sympathy.
as if I was about to die, as if this was my sickness,
and not just a symptom of what ailed me.

I wanted to tell them that my daughter
had returned to the boyfriend with whom
she had first enjoyed her poison
that I could see she was slipping dangerously,
that I had recently resuscitated my son,
bringing him no closer to giving up the drugs
and it looked as if they would kill him,
that his writing had become illegible,
his short-term memory was shot,
he had kidnapped my home and my life,
and stolen most of my valuables and
every penny I had, leaving me cold, hungry and in debt,
and that every day I woke up disappointed
to discover I was still living.

I wanted to say to my friends and associates
why should a little alopecia matter to me?

but instead I said, it’s only my hair
it’s not as if I have a life-threatening disease.

Note: My hair started falling out almost three years ago. Since then, it has grown back, perhaps thicker than before.

©Jane Paterson Basil

#atozchallenge Diary

AD

I scan the pages,
all blank but for a date
boldly heading every page,
there is no hint of that unwritten history.
I bauked at recording each crisis as it happened,
as if by keeping it from these virgin sheets I could conceal it,
make it less real, and therefore easier to forget,
to slip back into previous days of possibility;
but time has revealed that every detail
is indelibly burnt inside my head,
like those happier times;
all, all of them gone.
If I had written the facts
every day, as they happened,
I could have boxed up my diary,
locked it up, hidden it far away,
but it would only have been a photocopy.
I have the original, unwritten manuscript.
I carry it always inside my brain,
the ink still drying on a label
bearing the legend
“times past.”
Dust may gather;
I will not wipe it away,
and, though now and again,
unwelcome memories may drip through
I will be stern, and turn them away.
They will not get a grip on me.
I will not bare my scars
as if they they still
pustulate and fester.
I will stand tall,
move with the moment,
and prepare for my next tomorrow,
whatever it may bring.

©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

To Ian

sometimes
you mislay a friend
for a time, or forever
but the memories stay

those were the days of possibility
youthful opportunity whispered promise
while I whirled by, blinded, unlistening
with weak pretence at innocence

I couldn’t feel the deepest cuts
the days before the dye was cast
recent wounds suppurated prettily
giving me a flavour of mystery and depth
I
squeezed
my
grazed flesh
revealing pink disease
pathetically thinking I had nothing
more interesting to offer sweet humanity
and you treated me as if I was real
never questioning whether I
had earned your respect

I have always regretted
being such a careless friend
sweeping away your feelings
as if they were unseen

you never complained
or called me names
you just
quietly
said
goodbye
and
went
away

but today
you found me,
I smiled at the surprise
your kind face a little aged
but otherwise the same

no longer half a lifetime away
so, connected by a facebook page
we will re-aquaint across the ether
and maybe we will meet again
and I will be your friend

Dedicated to my dear friend ,
Ian Lee

©Jane Paterson Basil

My blurred facsimile

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the evening sunlight strikes weakly,
giving permission for my dusky shadow
to
s
t
r
e
t
c
h
long and lean,
from my ponderously treading feet
and paint a blurred facsimile on the grey concrete,
but, upon yellow-eyed examination, it occurs to me
that in days gone by, when my step was nimble,
my grin elastic, and my skin unwrinkled,
that just like me, my shadow had
a sharper edge to it

©Jane Paterson Basil

Thirty Years

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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

A cerebral ramble

Hedgerow flowers alongside the B3283
Image credit Rod Allday

Far beyond the small-town clatter,
the pavement patter, the chattering children,
the scolding oldies and gossiping grannies,
beyond the motor’s commotion and the turn of the wheels,
beyond drunk nightclub clammer and sham evening glamour,
buildings dwindle and tarmac narrows,
twisting to fit between flower frilled hedges,
hemming the edges of lost summer meadows.

When travelling in your mind, you can arrive in an instant
at whatever hidden haven you longingly crave,
but nine miles South-East of where I lie dreaming
is a paradise which waits for me.

In this endless moment of ideal perfection
selected and plucked from those timeless hills,
each simple daisy is placed precisely,
and the oak never loses the tiniest twig.
No breeze disturbs the soothing tranquility,
unless I should choose it, in which event
it arrives as a whisper from over the hillside,
building a little as it comes nearer,
riffling my hair away from my face
and stroking my skin with its soothing embrace

When travelling in your mind, you can arrive in an instant
at whatever hidden haven you longingly crave,
but nine miles South East of where I lie dreaming
is the place I ever long to see.

I gaze at that stolen moment in nature
pulled from my guileless history with care
and so often returned to, ever recycled
with each tree, whether fledgling or towering above me
unchanged, dispite all my absent years,
each butterfly bright, each bee busy buzzing
and each hedgerow bloom at the peak of perfection,
to forever remain as a perfect reminder
of where I began, and who I have been.

When travelling in your mind, you can arrive in an instant
at whatever hidden haven you longingly crave,
but nine miles South-East of where I lie dreaming
is always the perfect place for me.

Thanks go to Esther for the single word, ‘Nature’, which inspired this poem. I wonder why Esther’s prompts always bring out the eccentric in me…

©Jane Paterson Basil