Category Archives: prose poetry

Trinkets and Treats

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Seen from the street, the shop-face seems
neither eager for me to browse, nor to push me away.
It emits an air of indifferent dignity; the sense that –
should I frown – it will ignore me, yet if I show interest,
its welcome will be warm.

The window holds yesteryears’ extravagant
trinkets and treats;
their sepia hints pricked with the kind of modest pride
typical of old gold and porcelain.
Should these elite items be vying for purchase,
the contest is  concealed by dignified grace.

Inside, gifts of love and duty mingle with acquisitions
of status and desire.
They pose in glass cases and perch on polished shelves.
Large sculptures artfully swoop and arch on generous floor space.
Some might hide deep secrets, while the tales of others
were told and retold long ago, by glazed grandparents
to children who wriggled with impatience,
their minds scrabbling toward cake tins or trees to climb.

Old treasures are looking-glasses of the dead –
those whose eyes are blind, who leave
no mist on the filigree mirror –
such pretties contain no memories;
yet they retain an air of history, even when separated
from the ghosts who wrote their stories.

Were the proprietor other than Mark Parkhouse,
I might suggest that the glinting acquisitions
were the pillage of thieves, but
I trust this antique dealer.

As I enter, a female assistant greets me.
Mr Parkhouse is a man who knows how to dress;
his quiet presence is such that I hardly
register the perfection of his grey suit
since my attention is concentrated on his face.
It is only is recollection that I see all of him.

As I explain my mission, he rises
from behind his tidy desk and speaks in a warm tone.
I open the box, show him a brooch,
making my usual apologies; I doubt
that this example of costume jewellery has
more than miniscule monetary value,
but it is a beauty, and while I would like
to offer our customers the opportunity of ownership,
I want to charge whatever is due to it.

A lesser man
might fling it aside,
arrogantly hissing the words, “ten quid”,
but he shows respect
for me, for the charity that I represent, and
for the small vanity which glitters in his hand.
Examining it, he tells me what to look for
and recommends a ten pound ticket.
When he says it hails from the 1930s,
I can’t resist a smile;
it matches my estimate.

The box contains two other brooches;
a slightly damaged, but charismatic marcasite
plus an attractive 1950s piece.
He takes the trouble to value
my humble offerings.

Before I leave, he exhorts me
not to be ashamed to bring my optimistic discoveries;
he will willingly impart
the knowledge of his forty years in the business,
and some day, the charity I represent might hit the jackpot.

Walking back to Oxfam,
a wide grin splits my face.
I let it stay, making the most of the moment.
My heels and my joints have become
well-oiled springs.

Mr Parkhouse knows a lot. This
is what he doesn’t know:
this gentle, rare man
adds bonus points to my store of happiness.
It doesn’t matter that when I see him,
he doesn’t recall having met me before,
all that is important
is that he is


©Jane Paterson Basil

God of the Wild


I was raised in a verdant place where roads consisted of a single lane, and lanes were carpeted with tyre-marked grass.

Hypnotised by feeble lure of tainted, small town tinsel which seemed glamorous to this country girl, I turned from the trees and trotted to urban pastures, where a Mars Bar was only a minute’s walk away, and the night was exciting to one who had never spent time in a town after sundown.

Frowzy bars wafted billows of booze-tinted nicotine and noise into the street, where kids dropped vinegary chip shop wrappings that were lifted by the wind, to ripple and drift past my shins.

Teens nattered and swore, cat-calling high-heeled hopefuls out on the pull.

Drunks staggered backwards into bushes, sideways into clumsy fights, forwards toward a lock that didn’t match the key, dribbling piss and spittle as they spun erratically into muttering oblivion.

British bikes spluttered and roared, leather clad bikers uttered curses that spat on the paving beside a backstreet cafe where spilt coffee left dingy rings on scratched formica, and filter-tipped ciggie butts were stamped out on a greasy floor.

Cars that had seen better days splashed muddy rain onto complaining passers by.

The strains of Petula’s sixties song echoed in my head:

“When you’re alone and life is making you lonely you can always go down-town,

down-town.” she said.

It took me a while to admit she wasn’t describing this ditch-water town, but the city.

Soon, my soul ached with an unspecified hunger.

My shoes leaked. I was used to sopping feet, but my socks reeked of chemical pollution.

Mulch-strewn liquid dripped and gushed from blocked gutters, making slim rivers where slithery algae collected, eager to trick careless feet.

Tired stars glimmered with little lustre, too listless to compete with jaundiced streetlights that advertised pools of rain on the road.

Shrubs were artlessly arranged by human hands. Wild rebel seeds – should they have the audacity to shoot, were uprooted and sentenced to death without trial.

Parks were designed for mild childhood behaviour. Swings and slides were made with safety in mind. No-one climbed trees.

Two Mormons knocked on my door, proselytising,
looking for a neophyte.

They found it in this hollowed-out soul who greedily supped from their biblical cup, as yet too blind to recognise my plight:

I was missing my God of the wild.


©Jane Paterson Basil

Healing. Part 1





There was a separation between my life before the angry fox arrived, and all that followed.

She – for it was a she – brought pain, but that was not the fault of the fox. How can I lay blame on carnivorous nature, or demand perfection to reign amid the complexities of this, or any, era?

Like an orphan, she cried out for love, but with no blueprint for such emotion and no clue of my sentience, she mistook the empty space in her parched heart for hunger.

Dancing around my legs like a feather-light, fleet-footed boxer, she easily evaded my amateur parry, taking every opportunity to bite chunks out of me. Whether growling or wheedling, she always succeeded in beating me.

Repeatedly I silenced my screams as her teeth sank into me.

The wild fox fed voraciously until she had her fill — keen for the meat, but shy of the kill, leaving me still breathing, her foxy instinct needling her, telling her she needed me, even as she misconstrued the shape of that need.

Friends advised me to drive her away; to hide within my walls, lock and bar my doors, or to flee, but I could no more do that
than amputate a limb;

I would not
give up on my
beloved fox.

Soon, my meat was too scant to satisfy. She sought more dangerous fare; creeping where wolves prowl and hyenas leave only the crunched
bones of small creatures.

She hid in the wasteland, chasing chameleons, in the expectation that they could make up the insufficiency – following those deceivers, letting them lead her into the fray where my wounded fox could only lose.

Damaged and confused, she often came back to me, each time more battle-scarred and emaciated, yet still too blind to seek sanctuary.

Like a blubbering fool, I described the bludgeoned depths of my mothering soul, showed her safe roads where hunters never lifted a gun, drew pictures of the sun warming olives in Spain, painted all sorts of possibilities, describing every style of happy ending to our story, begging for release from her ravening teeth.

But foxes don’t speak the same language. As if in retribution for my insufferable, indecipherable noise, she took another bite, chewed, then limped away,

to dredge the depths for dread, grinning enemies; beasts who fought for grim death in that killing place, unknowingly swallowing themselves whole, all of them escapees from hope.

Years passed. The day came when I knew I had to refuse her entry; she’d almost eaten me away, yet she still hadn’t learned where the hunger lay. Maybe if she found a lesser place to feed, she would come to see the truth of her needs. Only then would she be free.

She prowled around my grounds, growling. If I left the house, sometimes she’d find me, and take a brief nip before I fled.

After a while I became a source of confusion; she’d sniff the air, then wander away, a bemused look of longing bending her frame. I watched that longing become an ache, and the ache become an agonising pain.

I saw her from my window when she trotted up with a bunch of white flowers in her mouth. After she’d gone, I plucked them from my doorstep. Tears fell on them as I placed them in water.

I began to leave small treats for my grieving fox – making sure she wasn’t around, placing them a distance from my house and scuffling away.

One day she came to me, dragging the metal jaws of a familiar trap. She was beaten down, ready to chew off her leg. Pitiful whimpers dribbled from her bleeding mouth, dripping down her jowls, as she clung on to the failing embers of her life. Running to her side, I checked the trap; rusty from age and misuse, it took no more than a glance; an undisguised look of love, to prize it apart. This time, she didn’t snap.

As her shocked eyes sought mine
the picture melted into an end and a beginning;
she’d found what she never knew she’d been looking for;
surprised to realise that it had been there all the time.

Behind us, wild beasts wallowed and sank in the dirt that they made, their frail veins freezing beneath the heat of failed dreams.

Ahead of us lay a welcoming road, banked by hedgerows laced with early sun-kissed blooms, part-shaded by green-budded trees that dappled the track with pink shadows. A short way ahead a simple dwelling beckoned – my home, her sanctuary, Beyond was a crossroads, its sign draped in wild roses and honeysuckle. On each arm was written the same word: freedom.

She licked my skin, nuzzled me, and gently, she wrapped herself around me.

Softly she spoke:

“I love you, mum.”

Sensing a shift in my body, I glanced down and saw that my scars were already healing. I had become strong.

Turning to her, I noticed that she had grown taller than me.


This story spans almost thirty-two years. It’s hard to find a metaphor that covers the essence of it, since there have been so many twists and turns in that time, and – like all of our lives – my life consists of a mass of tangled stories, many of them mine to a greater or lesser degree, while there are others in which I have only a walk-on part, or act as understudy to a secondary character. Therefore, I present this as a work of fiction, inspired by Reena, who has thoughtfully chosen to continue her Exploration Challenge.


As this is such a long-winded poem, I’ve split my response to the challenge  into two parts. This part of my post covers the first question – although it doesn’t do so until you reach almost to the end of the poem. 🙂 You can find Part 2 HERE.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Wake Up.


— Wake up. Please don’t sleep. The danger isn’t over.

Helplessly, I hang above my prone body, trying to communicate an urgent message to my brain. I’ve come so far, endured storms that threw me from the boat to struggle and choke in chilling water, sun that seared and flayed my salty skin, thirst that forced me to drink my own urine. My food supply was washed away even before I lost count of the days. Sometimes my grip on sanity has drifted off on the monotonous waves that can turn so suddenly into evil monsters determined to drag me down to the bottom of the sea, to become a fishes’ feast.

Yes, I’ve come so far, and survived many perils, and now, unconscious of any danger, I sleep soundly on the beach, lulled by the slipping solidity of sand, as the waves sneak relentlessly closer to me.

— Please wake up. Don’t sleep. Please.

They’re intent on stealing me away. See how they swell, snapping at my flaccid ankles. A huge breaker approaches, building in size and strength as it comes closer. Like a giant claw, it curls above my body, crashes over the whole of me, drags me toward it, shifting the fine sand, before losing its grip. In an instant I’m back inside myself. I wake as my spirit returns to that hidden place within me.

Salt water stings my eyes and burns my throat, making me retch. An urgent scrabble, on hands and knees, conveys me up the beach.

From the safety of a sand dune. I watch the ocean carry away the broken remnants of my boat.

Written for Michelle’s Photo Fiction #98.

©Jane Paterson Basil

The Symphony of Life


The sea whispers in the distance, its waves telling tales of where it has been, all it has seen; our history crowding its every note.

Listen as the waves hiss toward the shore, each one inching forward a little more before crashing with a shoosh, raising a subtle rustle as sand shifts and smashed specks of shell swoop and rollick in salt water, sinking to silence as stillness momentarily descends, ready for the next wave to skiffle them again.

Seagulls circle, searching for fish, their racket rising to a crescendo, then calming from screech to squawk when they spot a shoal.

Listen to the Beach balls bounce as mothers squirt and slather sunscreen. Small feet splash in little land-locked lakes, young throats vibrate with laughter and high-pitched screams until ice cream time arrives, accompanied yummy hums and dripping, slurpy licks.

Listen to the beach orchestra as it plays its holiday symphony.

Somewhere, in a far away forest, cheeky breezes tickle tunes from the leaves of trees; a startled stag crashes through bracken; small creatures scratch and creep; rain taps on all it can reach; branches creak; a distant storm rumbles and cracks, but this equally complex piece can be replayed some other day.


Written for The Daily Post #Symphony

©Jane Paterson Basil

Another Beer

He swallows another beer as he wallows in loss of a broken doll that he never wished to repair; to mend it would be to lose it forever, and to forego his fun.

He opens another can as he drunkenly hunts for a plan to win her back.

A hundred pounds should seal the deal. The doll will feel a dash of guilt or greed. He’ll sow the seed in her account and it is bound to yield. She’ll buy a bag and run to heel. It cannot fail. By next weekend he’ll possess her again.

But what is this? It’s all going wrong. She told her she’s happy where she is. She doesn’t want the hundred quid and doesn’t want to hear from him.

He drinks another beer and has another think. Another hundred quid should do it. He knows her sort, they’re no better than they aught to be, and that’s why they keep him warm in bed. They’ll do anything for some squid to buy a day’s escape from pain.

She reminds him it’s over, that he doesn’t know her, he only remembers an addict he thought he could buy, and though she can’t recall the sordid details, and can’t recognise the person she was now she’s found a different life, he should know she was only for hire, and the lease has expired. Her body is her own private property, as are her mind and her soul. None of her form, functions or faculties have any connection with him.

He feels frustrated so he takes a break, and has another drink.

Now he is angry, and soon, so is she. Another hundred unsolicited smackers in her bank account, yet still she won’t listen. She should have crumbled and spent it on gear. He’ll speak to her mother; he’s convinced he has tricked her, she thinks he’s a charmer, with his grammar school twang and his good education. She will believe him when he spins his tale.

So he’s texting her mother to say that if she doesn’t help him, she’s not the mother that she should be. He writes that he is in love with her daughter, and adds “You should send her to me.”

His mother succinctly explains (most politely) that he is a git and a pervert also, and that she’s always known it, but had to go slowly and retain his trust, ’til she got her daughter out of his clutches. She’s pleased she’s succeeded, and says that she hopes he will leave well alone. She mentions his age and compares it to daughter’s, she points out the difference of thirty three years, says she’s aware of his filthy intentions, wishes him well and she puts down the phone.

So he necks another beer.

His left arm possessively clutches a bucket of fine filmy dust while his right hand hurls mouldering tatters of insults and sick psycho tricks which harmlessly sink through the rug at their feet. He shouts and he swears and spits evil invective. He threatens to stab them and shoot them and send out police to arrest them…

Pardon me, could you repeat that last piece?

Stab them and shoot them and send out police?

What, all three?

And how will he find them? He has no address.

They were very upset, but now they are laughing. Three months of plotting and drunken scheming and now he is screaming arid threats. Can he do no better than that?

Somewhere in a lonely town, he chokes on his beer…

and the brave phoenix extracts a heap of cash from the bank, slaps it into the hand of a representative of a cherished charity. She modestly waves away the receipt, and whispers “A stranger gave it to me. He thought I looked a bit like someone he knew. He refused to take it back. There was nothing I could do.”

She turns to leave, but briefly turns back. Smiling, she says “Free.”

At last she is free.


Quid:- one pound sterling.
Squid:- same as quid.
Gear:- heroin.

©Jane Paterson Basil

A Flurry of Dust


This is all that is familiar; this prison and its skeletons, the barren garden, and the gate; the gate, its frame aggressively clinging to walls too high to climb, its peeled paint drawing the shape of a threatening grin, its rusty padlock keeping her in, and the knothole in the middle, like a single eye, watching her as she plots.

She makes scattered plans that she doesn’t believe in; she’ll scale the wall too high to climb, smash the locked gate, eradicate its seeing eye.

Her brain is distracted by the ticking of a long gone grandfather clock.

Yellow macs and matching hats
and days when rain brought indoor games
and laughter shaped her every day
and noses pressed upon the panes,
breathing misty, steamy shapes,
fingers doodling crude cartoons,
dismissing hints of stormy gloom,
while mother in another room
cooked a meal and baked up treats,
and weekends seemed to last all week
and freedom was a word she heard,
and she believed that it referred
to prisoners set free,
but now she knows that it describes
the way life used to be.

She shakes away the memories, looks through her glazed prison window, scrabbling for the gist of her plan. Like all others, it has crumbled, or it lurks in the towering wall, somewhere in the cracks where dusky shadows imitate the faces of those she has known.

But no, the past cannot free her now.

Staying inside where she feels safe, she studies the gate, muddied by splashing rain. She longs for escape, but has no faith in her capabilities, so she waits for something to change; for the hinges to give, the padlock to rot away, the timber to splinter and break; meanwhile occupying her spare time with dreams of what has been.

Years go by. Time paints the grime of existence on her window pane. Spiders weave their webs and hide in wait for flies. Bit by bit, her view of the gate is obliterated . Coming to terms with the increasing murk,  she gives up on the window.

Drips from yesterday’s deluge leave a fading patch on the floor. Above it, bright canary coats and hats hang against the door. Scribbles appear in the glazed mist, brightened by a backdrop of trees rinsed clean by a summer shower. She holds a tea party for plastic people with vintage wear and poseable limbs, plays tic-tac-toe with her sister, giggles in teetering shoes and grown-up clothes. She revels in the sound of laughter; feels it teasing her throat. She inhales the scent of vanilla. Her  mother calls from the pantry, and she follows the aroma of freshly baked cakes.

Beside the gate, a dandelion breaks through arid land; its brave petals opening to embrace life. The gate swings wide, and the world waits outside for one whose sentence was self imposed. The bolt had not been shot. The gate had not been locked.

Yet, free at last, her spirit eats cake, savouring every last crumb, while in the lonely room, her body slumps, to be welcomed by a flurry of dust motes which briefly float free, and with soft caress, come to rest on her cooling flesh.

The Daily Post #Gate

©Jane Paterson Basil


Some homes boast a TV in every room, some have three or four, others have just two. A few have but one.

I have none.

I watch a shapeshifting cloud, while low in the sky, the golden sun sinks.

Hiding behind a hill, it sends its rays to paint the horizon a soft shade of peach, lightly touched with lilac streaks.

The cloud changes shape from a cute pup into a hand held up in a farewell salute, but though it dissipates with the dusk, the show is not over.

The streaks have darkened to mauve; they eat the peach, their gases swelling, and as they grow, they meet to become a deepening sheet across the sky.

On the road, cars flash by, their headlights lighting up the leaves on the trees.

It is night, and reflections make complex patterns on my window; glassy imprints of my interior merge with the sleepy town and the midnight sky.

I revel in the eclectic shapes of my world, and the pictures which change as I move about the room.

Some folks feel the need for four TVs, or three, or two, or only one.

As for me, I need none.


Photo taken from my window at night – not a clear depiction; it was taken with my Samsung Galaxy, so the balance the reflection and the outside world is very diferent to what I see, and far less interesting.

The Daily Post #None

©Jane Paterson Basil

Leaving home

leaving home

Whenwe  left the smog of the city to live in this backwater place, I lay curled in my mother’s womb. Although my family was looked upon as foreign by the rural folk, this is the only home I’ve ever known. As the popoulation grew, attracting those from distant towns and counties, I rose from my outsider status to become a local. My roots struggled to find a way through the stony soil, and tenaciously they clung. My four children came into being, and were raised here; seeds of the next generation which now thrives. All of my descendants save for one – my grandson, currently at University – are within this ancient burrough, within easy reach of me.

My daughter is at the graveside of her beloved, saying goodbye. Her bags are packed. I put them in the car, to save having to slog later. I come back to the flat and switch on my laptop. It’s slow to warm up, so I go to the bedroom to apply some hand lotion, and see the gap where her possessions had been.

With a jolt similar to a jagged bolt of electricity, it hits me. Aged thirty-one, my little girl  is leaving home.

Written for The Daily Post #Jolt

©Jane Paterson Basil

Free love


They called it free love,
as if it was a store giveaway – a sample to get our juices flowing,
tempting us to pay an exhorbitant price
for the full package.

They called it free,
like there’d never be a debt to pay.
For some there may not have been,
but others paid
in shame, discomfort, and broken dreams.

They called it love;
that intimate act used for the purpose of reproduction or fun,
which hitherto had been a dangerous occupation
for those who didn’t want children.
The pill made it an everyday game
to be played with whoever was available, vaguely hygienic
and sporting a twinkle.

They called it free,
but some of us felt obliged to give it away
to prove we weren’t frigid,
or afraid to rail against the aging status-quo,
or gay –
as if it mattered anyway.

They called it love,
even as they flailed, naked and indifferent,
between questionable sheets or by the gritty evening shore,
questioning whether this was the best they’d ever feel,
making fake orgasmic noises to conceal a failure
to be as they ought – or maybe that was just me.
There was no ecstasy in what I gave away.
I sweated unwillingly;
my aped eagerness a brave or cowardly act.

They called it love,
and fearing loneliness or disdain,
I partook at every disappointing opportunity,
but my heart was always loyal to yours.

They called it free love.
It’s true I was free with my body,
but you were the only one for me, the only man
who loved me enough
to wait until I wished to give myself freely,
even if that day never came.

Only you
recognised and soothed
the broken child
inside me.

Your love was truly free.


©Jane Paterson Basil