Category Archives: prose poem

Maps

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We all have our own, personalised maps, which we carry in our heads. Red and green roads leading to doctor, family or shops may stand out from the rest, these destinations painted in gold, grey and red, radiating from the place where we live. As we age, the world moves on in jagged stages, and the trails may change.

Addicts have maps, too. Ten years ago, two of my children displayed theirs, waving them in my face, their ash-stained digits tracing narrow, blackened tracks for me, gazing with sinking-unblinking-blinkered-blinded-pinprick-pupilled eyes, eyes which failed to see their fall, or the festering fissure that yawned each time they entered my chest.

The creases of the pocked pages of their maps made a smudged and faded cross in the middle of the paper, and that cross marked the spot that gave me unlikely hope. It was the abode of E.

Like many, E. had his sad history. As an illiterate kid, he’d assumed that when he grew, his feet would fit into his father’s shoes. His father would teach him the specialised trade that he practiced, and the people in his little world would gaze in awe. He would be made; in his own eyes, he would be an idol, like his dad was to him. While he was still in his teens, his father died, leaving E. helplessly clinging to the scarred fingers of his suffering, sole surviving parent, as he swung one inch above an open hole.

His own hands, slick with sweat and tears, slipped, and he fell, readily descending into the well of addiction. When my children met him, he was in the depths of that hellish pit, eating needles and rocks, and beginning to think there may be better nutrition at the surface.

E. spoke to them, and later, to me, of recovery. Though they weren’t yet ready for the pain of healing, he had planted seeds in their brains. Later still, I met him on a hill. He was clean, and he said it had been easy. He’d put on weight, and got a dog, a black whippet, to keep him company. From then on, whatever shape he may be, when I sighted his canine friend, I knew he’d be nearby.

For a long while, my children danced in the dark, down where hollowed-out passages lead them to their punctured desires.

Meanwhile, E. looked down, nostalgic for the closest thing to comfort he could recall. This time, he jived to his decline, ignoring the facts of it, chasing the cackling witch of addiction, tasting her many flavours, licking his lips, greedy for the next tickle in his nose, the next explosion of the brain. Speed, cocaine and spice; banned drugs and legal highs of of every kind, while he told himself:

“At least it isn’t heroin.”

As my children slowly rose, raggedly climbing over craggy stones and sly shale, sliding, then climbing again, they met E. several times, going down.

I watched my two, and I reached, while they were yet out of reach, until I saw they were scarring my heart, and in doing so, tearing their own souls. So I stood back, crying, “Here I am. Find me in your own time. Come to me when you hunger for love and not for drugs. Come to me, not for money, or to sully my truth, but free from the uncouth devil that charms you, holds you in her sticky arms. Come, let me to stroke your sore feet.Feel my warm hands on your face. Come to me for a smile or an embrace.”

Their sinking-unblinking-blinkered-blinded-pinprick-pupilled eyes gazed, glazed. Agonised requests stuttered from across the caked terrain. They begged for sharp things, for painkilling murder in the veins. They begged for death, diluted in the blood.

Every time I saw E., he would look at me, eager, shifty, from the edge of the abyss, his arms  battling with Saint Vitus dance – but losing, his loose, drooling lips speaking through frowsy, chemical haze “I am clean, Jane, see, I am clean.”

My children peruse the bright, speckled lanes, marking out new trails on their maps. Laura, thrilled with her pristine plan, takes me on brief excursions down spingtime highways, pointing out primroses, softly smiling, soaking in sunshine, her lovely eyes holding mine, as they silently describe love, regret, compassion, and hope.

Paul knows that if he shows me a roadmap, I’ll suspect it’s stolen, so he keeps it folded, and stays away from my desgner rage, designed to keep the wolf at bay. This could be a good sign, but I shall not waver from my decision to stay distant until I feel safe.

Today, I got a text from Laura. “Hi mum. U want to come ova? xxx” My reply was followed by “How about 5 o’clock. Love u lots. xxx”

I looked into the cavernous hole below. Neither of my children did I see, just a man with a black dog; a whippet. I didn’t immediately recognise the guy; he’d lost weight, but I knew the dog immediately.

I went into my kitchen to make coffee. From my window, I could see E. waiting in the rain, waiting impatiently, pacing, waiting at the bottom of that yawning cave, waiting, waiting, for his dealer who lives in a flat – marked with X in the rusty colour of old blood, on E.’s crumpled map – a block away from me.

Beneath gratitude for the new hope given to me, I feel sorrow and pity for E.,who planted the seeds of recovery in my offsprings’ heads, so long ago, when even the echoes of my own laughter had become a distant longing. I watched him on the incline, climbing so much faster than those tied to my womb, and I saw him topple and tumble back into the pit. I saw him crumble beneath the weight of hollow air. I felt the void that his father wrote, with ink that wasn’t there,  his dead fist limp in the grave, unable to grip a pen that wasn’t anywhere.

©Jane Paterson Basil

The lonely man

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Having made the decision to dismiss all things related to jiggling passion and doe-eyed romance, she hypnotised her libido into an indifferent torpor.

Months stretched peacefully into years, before a lonely man with physical allure, but dull conversation, approached with an inviting smile, injecting a rippling frisson beneath dry skin;
a tiny itch like the tail of a sting.

The eyes of the lonely man dove deep into the core of her, and with a finger, tickled unwilling, damp fantasies.

His hand(as if by accident), brushed lightly against her thigh, pressing lascivious ideas into wakening flesh.

As weeks went by, each accidental meeting added heat to her unwanted, wanton desire for the relief which he was longing to give.

And he, hungry for love, pitching for her heart, her soul, continued in the only way he knew,
until she, weakened by the ache, gave him the treat of no more than her body.

It would not be true to say she had no heart, for in the moist heat before he undid her buttons and zips, her heart froze at the knowledge that the lonely man with physical allure but no conversation, was undone.

Later, in her melting tower she turned the lock, took a shower, cleansed herself in steam, all the while humming the closing strains of a bawdy song, her demeanor briefly shaken by his desolate scream.

Wrapped in fresh linen, her renewed flesh forever banned from thinking of him, she slept.

The Daily Post #Banned

©Jane Paterson Basil

Somewhere he walks with children

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I loved my uncle Robert even though – or perhaps partly because – he was an irrepressible, irrisponsible alcoholic.

I was nine the first time we sat at the mouth of a river, drinking cider that he’d hidden inside his jacket. My mother and aunt believed him when he said we were looking for shells.

In the mornings it was best to leave him sleeping until late, when he was ready to wake, to evade his ill-tempered hangovers, but the rest of the time he was endlessly entertaining to we children, even though he may irritate anyone over twenty eight or so.

I must have been eighteen when his lung cancer was diagnosed. What with his dicky heart, his schlerotic liver and other complications, his body was not strong enough to survive.

After he died, my brother’s best friend, Pete, with whom I had dallied for a while, wrote a eulogy. The guy wanted to be Bob Dylan, but couldn’t, as the post had already been taken by a better poet.

Pete’s pretentious poem was read out at the funeral, accompanied by his inflatable ego. It claimed that my uncle knew something clever about glass houses which the rest of us didn’t. It sounded good, but wasn’t true; all my uncle knew was where to get the next drink, and how to blow up balloons so children would follow him down the street, in a parody of the pied piper, but without any harm coming to them. He loved children because he never ceased being one.

They laughed as they ran, and so did I, but the laughter stopped for a time after he died.

Maybe I grew up that day, standing with my family as his coffin was lowered into its resting place. I tried to see his face through the wood; to take in the truth of what it cantained. I had seen him several hours after he stopped breathing, and yet it was difficult to understand this final leaving.

My left hand clutched a sodden tissue to wipe my stinging eyes; my right one was plunged deep inside my pocket, fingers squeezing secret balloons in the bright hues he had liked. I’d placed them there with the intention of filling them with air while the grieving trickled dirt into the horrid oblong hole, but when the moment came I thought it would appear pretentious; just as Pete’s poem bore no relation to my uncle in life, so the balloons bore no relation to him in death, and there was a risk they may upset my aunt, who already gave the impression that her face was melting.

Those balloons stayed in my pocket for months before I threw them away. Even then I wondered if, in not inflating them, I had let my uncle down.

The last wisps of resentment cling tenuously as I admit P. had previously written a bitter poem about me, making the damning claim that I was a fake (to which I would have liked, childishly, to respond, “It takes one to know one). The reason? I didn’t love him.

Maybe he thought my uncle did, but Robert was pretty indifferent to all but children, mothers, relatives and alcohol.

The one thing P. said which made sense was:

Somewhere he walks with children

I hope he does.

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©Jane Paterson Basil

#atozchallenge Momentum

AM

I recently heard the story of an addict who had been using for years, daily staggering through the same old game, hustling for the money to feed his habit before trailing after dealers to sell him his next inch of jaded relief. One day he was sitting in his regular patch when an old friend from school passed by. Without slowing his pace, the man turned slightly, and, glancing his way, said Are you still at it? in a disinterested tone, then continued on his way.

The addict stared after him, shocked by those few, simple words. Only he knows what images of the past crowded his brain, what feelings of loss at his wasted days, what thoughts of his shame and degradation – but in that blinding instant he made the decision to change, to embrace the future he had perhaps, long ago, in his schooldays, taken for granted.

He went into recovery, and now he repeats his inspirational tale to all who he feels may find it helpful.

I like to think that he thanked the school-mate for clicking the switch that gave him the momentum to change his life.

We all have moments of grace, when desire, strength and faith combine to make many actions that hitherto seemed too distant to consider, achievable, and the littlest thing can open our minds to great possibilities.

©Jane Paterson Basil

A reason to Be

Gazing, through dust-flecked glass, at a clear blue sky, I stretch my mind back, and try to enter the head of my three-year old self. Back then I had no need to search for a cause, a purpose, a reason to Be.

I just was.

In the warm kitchen of my childhood home, mixing a cake to give to my brother when he burst through the door, cheerfully working beside my mother as she prepared more nutritious fare, I was content in the present. The question of reason went unheeded in my infant mind.

My first day at school brought frightened excitement; the simple description I gave in response to my mum’s query; what did you do today?, the horror at discovering that I had to go back tomorrow. It was fun for one day, but tomorrow stretched out towards forever. When would my mother and I cook together again?

To please my mother
I pretended to enjoy my days in school,
but it gave me a thrill to discover that every book
contained secrets which were to be found by simply turning the pages;
when I opened them, it was like uncovering buried treasure.
I wanted write secrets like those I had seen
and conceal them in stiff covers
for others to find.
I developed a passion for words;
for the ways they could be woven into so many exciting shapes,
and as my writing skill developed,
my words were hailed to be
well formed,
descriptive imaginative,
talented,
advanced for my age.
Such was the praise I received from parents and teachers alike.

I had found a reason to Be.

It was assumed that I would take up a career in writing, and it was my own wish, but, although I never stopped writing, I became distracted. I wanted to be away from the musky odour that only exists in the classroom, from the other children who found me strange, from the loneliness of the playground on the days when my few friends didn’t attend, from the constant insistance that I could do better, when I knew my lack of concentration was not to be helped. I wanted the freedom that a pocketful of money brings. I left school and took the first job that came along,
forgetting my reason to be.

I married, kept house, cooked tasty and interesting meals, gave birth to children, fed them, dressed them nursed their ills, cared for them, loved them, tried my best to protect them. The work filled my days, my nights, and swelled my heart. By becoming a parent I had found
a new reason to Be.

As the years passed and my children grew, they gave every indication of becoming independent, and I moved forward, embracing nature, taking seeds, propegating beauty and and life-sustaining plants, digging in the dirt, shaping little corners of the landscape, creating gardens,
finding an added reason to be.

My youngest two children rebelled against their healthy bodies,
dabbling where they shouldn’t,
slipping without thought into the dark well of addiction,
bringing chaos with their sickness,
sapping my energies with their desperate requests,
their rage,
their despair,
their eye rolling,
limb lolling heroin highs,
their squirming,
gut-churning,
brain-seering,
body-curling
clucks when
they couldn’t raise the money for the next hit,
the danger they brought through my door and into my home,
leaving me,
arms flailing,
at the edge of a metaphorical precipice,
emptying me out,
until I was me no more.
I had never given up writing,
and now I tried to make it a bigger part of me,
to see if I could finally build it into a career,
but I lost the battle to keep on track.

I mislaid my reason to be.

Through dust-flecked glass I see the sun sinking behind the fields – as if angered by its descent it blazes a vivid shade of red. It finally disappears as it does every evening, leaving behind a grey sky, highlighted with hopeful pink, while I hunt the core of my being, in a pathetically brave effort to concentrate, trying to find the time, the rhyme, the state of mind to mount the saddle of my reason;

my reason to Be

©Jane Paterson Basil

Ginger

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He startled me that first time. I hadn’t seen him standing by the gate at the bottom of the garden. His unexpected voice, deep and throaty, was spoken in lions’ language: a forthright enquiry with a touch of command.

Surprised, I turned to find him standing proudly by the gate at the bottom of the garden,
head raised, eyes which gazed arrogantly into mine, captivating me.

Mike said he was feral and that if we approached him, he would slash us with his fangs, tear us with his claws, but my children and I were fascinated, and every time we heard his growling call we went outside.

We kept our distance, and he never came to us, but one day when Laura and Paul were prowling the woods they saw him basking by a tree, and Paul walked up to him, scooped him up in his arms, carried him home and diposited him on the sofa, where he curled up happily.

From then on he was part of the family, and whenever he came home from one of his jaunts he would announce his presence by beginning to meow as soon as he crossed the stream that led to the trees, and not ceasing until he reached the back door. We watched him, enthralled by his powerful phisique, his stately walk, his shimmering ginger mane, and felt honoured by his regal presence.

One day he brought home a wild stray tabby with three timid kittens, but they were afraid to enter the house, so, because they were his guests, we fed them from a plate left at a suitable distance.

Every day he brought them to us, and every day we gave them food. Soon, there were only two kittens, and we wondered what had befallen the third. A few days later, there was only one kitten with her hungry mother.

They sometimes showed up uninvited, and Ginger, who had been so keen and kindly at the start, sulked when they arrived. One day he didn’t come home, but it had happened before, so we tried not to worry, but the day became a week, and stretched still further. We had heard that he was still in the vicinity, and were relieved that he was still alive. We concluded that he had tired of the female feline company, and found himself a fresh place to stay.

Now the tabby came alone, having lost her final baby somewhere along the way. I heard unpeasant rumours of cats being poisoned. Soon after that the mother cat failed to appear, and the following day I found her rigored body in the garden.  She must have used up the last of her strength to reach the place where she knew she was safe, but it was too late.

She fitted easily into a shoebox. I dug a hole and buried her close to where I had first seen Ginger. We felt pity for that skinny, itinerant stray, who had lost all of her kittens one by one, before being killed herself, but we all hoped that her absence would bring Ginger back, being convinced that he loved us.

We were to be disappointed. We never came home again. We spoke of intimate moments we had shared with him, of his many affectionate and unique traits. We kept thinking that some day soon we would hear his throaty greeting, as he came towards us from the stream, and although he never entered the garden again, we never gave up until the day we heard the sad news of his demise on a nearby road.

Twenty winters have passed since, yet still we speak longingly of him, re-telling the memories, yearning for another to fill his space, but convinced that none ever will.

Dedicated to Judy, who inspired this post.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Mark, still alive in ’95.

For nineteen years he lived.

Just nineteen years.

It’s been nineteen years since his life ceased.

If he was still alive that would have been half his lifetime ago.

He didn’t know how ill he was. He was just tired, and thought he had flu. Peacefully he slipped into his terminal sleep.

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I will never forget you Mark, and this is my tribute to someone I loved as a son, although the feeling crept over me so slowly that I didn’t know it until you were gone.

You were such a large personality, crashing into our lives with your two opposing sides.

The victim of heartbreaking abuse, you had learned to find your own family, and for nineteen years I have felt honoured, that for what turned out to be the last phase of your life, you chose us.

I remember it all; the good and the bad.

The time I discovered you and Claire innocently sleeping side by side when the two of you
were no more than best friends.

The car you built. Like a child you collected up items from around the house, to make into a steering wheel, a gearstick… and then you sat on the sofa, driving your car.

The light in my son’s eyes every time he saw you, the way you spoke to him as an equal although he was only eight years old.

The times your anger and pain came out and you became drunk and offensive.

The times I was hurting and you scooped me up, making me smile and laugh again.

Your hugs. Those hugs like no other.

The time you threatened to hit a guest and I threw you out, not realising that the guest had done something which almost warranted your behaviour.

The night you shyly sang to me, and I had never guessed you had such a beautiful voice.

The three of us, Claire, you and me, walking the yellow brick road.

The way you could sometimes conjure joy from thin air.

The care you took over designing that tattoo for your wrist. Secretly I didn’t want you to get inked; as if you were one of my own, I wasn’t keen on the idea of permanent marks on your skin.

That line you wrote around town beneath your tag “Still alive in ’95.” You couldn’t think of a rhyme for the ’96, and tragically, you didn’t see that year out.

Those silly, loud quarrels you and Claire used to have, disturbing the neighbourhood
and yet at the same time, often entertaining us with your furious words and gestures, while she gave as good as she got.

That soft look on your face as you cuddled the blanket I had crocheted for your unborn baby, just two weeks before you died.

Two days later you and I fell out again and the next day my landlord said that I was not to allow you into his house.

The last time I saw you alive was in the street. We smiled and talked warmly, but I offered no re-assurance that our differences were resolved. I could have spoken up or if I had just put my arms around you there would have been no need for words.

You treated me like your mother. You gave love in so many ways. I wish I had returned that which you earned. I could never have taken the place of the woman who had turned from you so coldly, but I could have tried to repair the hole she had left in your heart, because deep down I loved you.

The truth hit me after the event, and it was doubly hard, because amidst the realisation of my feelings, my main concern had to be for my pregnant daughter, who was grieving the loss of her first real love.

Seven weeks later, in the midst of all of this sadness, your son was born, and named after you.

He has had trials in his life, and seen some terrible things, but he has had the advantage of being loved the way that you deserved to be loved throughout your short life. Although he is his own person, sometimes I look at him, and I think that he is a reincarnation of you. It is as if he rides on the edge of your experiences, taking on board the next stage of the lessons you learnt.

You would be proud of his efforts. You would be proud of his poetic and musical talent, and the way he works towards what he wants. You would be proud of his compassionate and understanding nature.

He will do well.

If you were here with us, when he became unhappy you would lift him and cheer him up as you did me. But you are not here, unless you are he, and if that is so, then everything is as it is supposed to be.

Nineteen years on I still think of you. I still miss you. In death you taught me lessons that may have passed me by, had you lived. Maybe this is because when you were alive the more frustrating side to your nature interfered with the picture, blurring the positive qualities.

You were never able to get a job, because people were too afraid to give you a chance. But your life was not without purpose. Although not in the ordinary way, you gave so many people so much, but like me, they probably didn’t appreciate it until you so shockingly left us.

I hope that you knew in life what some of us only learnt through your death: that you were loved by many.

I am only one of those. The legacy you have left is beyond measure.

© Jane Paterson Basil