Tag Archives: adolescence

Distant Island


Beautiful she was,
though not
in a classic way; her eyes
might have been wider, her chin
was out of scale, her skin sprayed
with bigger freckles than her face
might have wished,
and she was shy,
yet those choked silences
foreshadowed mad acts of bravado
that tricked the eye.

We perceived a mystery
whose unpinned list of incongruities
expressed a vast forest
breathing beneath an ocean of leaves.

Boys reached, stretching
to scale the trees they envisaged,
thinking to straddle her misconceived branches,
to examine her seasons and keep count
of her rings.
They touched thin air
that felt like sun-kissed silk
which leads one into warm caress,
then melts and shrinks
and burns the flesh.

Girls snubbed her;
unnerved by the contest,
puzzled by her unerring and erstwhile
unwanted conquests,
they would have preferred to drag
her roots
from the earth.

Watching the confusion,
she sighed, knowing the sea was too deep.
She was a distant island; though waves
may lap at her slipping shore,
they rarely landed
at her core.


Word of the Day Challenge: Bravado

©Jane Paterson Basil



I’m fascinated by the small details of nature:

The way the fronds of a feather lock into place – a technique that we crudely imitate in the production of zips.

The fragile beauty of a leaf skeleton after the body has fallen away.
It’s like the complex criss-cross of lines on my youngest daughter’s hand. A palmist would have field day with Laura’s reading.

The freshly fallen fruit of the horse-chestnut tree – the spiky outer layer, the whorled pattern on the conker as it vacates its soft, fleshy womb.

Tiny green shoots emerging from the ground, illustrating the complexity of life and the miracle of survival.

When it snows, I hold my hand out and watch the soft flakes melt, although it leaves me with a fleeting feeling of sadness, like when icicles drip away to nothing.

I watch bees collecting pollen, butterflies enjoying a midsummer dance, ants pushing clods of food toward their nest, flowers breaking out of their buds, the varying species of seaweed on the seashore, seashells, and even the smallest chunks of worn-away glass and driftwood.

I am riveted by giant forces of nature, too:

The shapes and colours in the sky, at sunrise, sunset, noon and night. Each season and every mood of weather brings its own interest.

Storms excite and revitalise me. I like to be outside, with the rain pelting down, and the lightening throwing brief, dramatic images across the landscape.

Wild seas draw my attention; the sight of waves as they break, splash and crash, the music in the sound the ocean makes.

But trees are the most fascinating of all; those gentle plants with their beauty and variety, the abundance of flora and fauna they harmoniously support and live alongside, while they help to hold the planet together, clean the air and make it safe for us to breathe.

Finally, I used to get a kick out of casually observing the clumsy art of adolescent flirtation, amused by how subtle they considered themselves. For example:

A small group of girls encounters a small clutch of boys. Without warning, the girls crank their voices up a couple of notches. The boys ignore them, so the girls get louder. They say things like.

“Oh no! It’s them. I hope they haven’t seen us.”

“I don’t think so. We’d better get out of here before they do.”

If that doesn’t work, they switch to high-pitched, giggly, theatrical chatter about make-up, or they might bitch about the latest victim of spots or bad hair. Eventually the boys notice them. There’s a flicker of interest. Time to repeat “Oh no! I hope they haven’t seen us”, et al, and flounce off, weaving around a bit so that it’s easier for the boys to catch them up. Half-an-hour later, they all reappear as a single group. The girls are insulting the boys. The boys are lapping it up, although  their carefully practised lazy gait is distracting them somewhat. The girls are flapping their arms about, energetically twisting and turning. 

Job done!

It’s all changed. The progressively smutty lure of time has stolen their innocence. I prefer to close my ears to the obscenity. I’ve heard eleven year old girls claiming to have been party to sexual experiments that I have never dabbled in, and wouldn’t wish to.

Trees are sticklers for tradition. Unlike young teens, they are always discreet.

Written for Calen’s Sandbox Challenge, Exercise 10.

©Jane Paterson Basil

The Author of my Being. Part 4


…The continuing story of the trauma that threaded its way into my life when I reached puberty. Click on the links to read Part 1, Part two and Part 3.


I recently turned eleven. Thanks to my mother’s gentle tact, I’ve bathed by myself since the start of pubescence. Now both my sister and I have more space to splash.

I lock the door against invaders,
but the peace of security evades me.
I imagine prying eyes, spying through the frosted window,
dribbling at my prematurely curved body.
I hide my breasts and genitals beneath clean flannels
that my she-devil nipples and the wilful triangle of hair
are concealed from peeping-toms,
and also from me.

I could soak and scrub all day,
but it won’t change the way I’ve become.
It won’t make me clean.
I can never be Me again.
It’s a cruel error,
this forced, false femininity;
this stealing of self.
It’s the end of everything.
Please Lord, if indeed God you be,
let me be a boy.
Let me be me.

I want to wake up free from this monstrous body, throw off my vest and run in the fields
unencumbered by the trials of Eve, but I don’t know how to strike a deal. In my panic, it doesn’t occur to me that a boy must eventually morph into a man. Recent events have made me less sure than ever of whether I like men.

Smashing up against all of this angst and agony, is the worst secret of all, one that often creeps up on me when I see my father’s photographs, and whenever I am alone in the bath. It’s a  humiliation that I try to press down, but I can’t. It thrums in time to the pulsing of my blood, a tantalising tickle way below the belt, lurking low in the belly, beneath budding flesh.

A flimsy flannel may cover up the sight of that rebellious part of me, but it cannot desensitise the site.

The beat is taking me, strumming deep inside,
I try to block advice from some devilish guide
plagueing me with vile and wicked temptation
to stroke and to probe the inner inflammation.
Apalling visions are swishing in my head
of naked women kissing in a sweat soaked bed.
I abhor the excitement which billows within,
insisting that I execute a dark, exquisite sin.

The thrills explode, but as the water grows chill,
I’m chagrined and angered by my weak lack of will.
I wallow in disgrace and I’m sure of one fact
It can’t be normal to commit such an act.
I’ve a nasty suspicion that I’m to blame,
For my father’s iniquitous act of shame,
and not only that, but the juvenile attack
is starting to feel like an earned comeback.

More ignominy awaits. My mother, with her kind sensitivity, has left it as long as is practicable, but one evening she brings the subject up, in as casual a manner as she can muster:

“When we go to town tomorrow, I’ll buy you a couple of bras.”

Heat presses against me, insinuating itself beneath my skin. My heart is hammering. I taste metal, a flavour that’s becoming familiar to me. I knew there could be no remission, but this feels like proof; the final nail, hammering into the coffin of childhood..

“I don’t… I can’t… I… All right,” I reply.

Her eyes slide in my direction, assessing the situation, then look quickly away. She knows I’ll shut shut down or hide my agony behind a mask of anger if she shows too much kindness or empathy. A brief sentence is all I’ll allow. I deal with unpleasantness in my own way. I don’t like soppy stuff, it’s for weedy girls, who burst into tears and let mum cuddle them and make it all better. My problem can’t be resolved, and expecially not in that way. I mustn’t show weakness.

If I was a weedy girl, I would probably be pleased to have reached this landmark. I no longer know what I am, but I’m not like the sissies in the village nearby, with their busty Barbies, frilly skirts, and pink hairslides.

“You’ll be more comfortable in a bra,” she murmers.

It’s evening, so I can’t run off to my world at the bottom of the field below my house, but when I go to bed I can plan how my first conversation with Paul will go. I see him, sprinting through the field towards me, his hair bouncing. In a moment I’ll reveal myself…

The next day, mum and I go into a low-key shop, a shop that’s not brazen about its bra display. I can’t look at the bras. To me, choosing one would be like selecting which type of lethal poison to take when you have no wish to kill yourself. Mum rummages around, then picks one up and asks me if I like it. I’m several feet away, trying not to look like someone who’s being bought a bra, so I mutter that it’s fine. I’m too embarrassed to try it on, so she guesses the size, gets two, and says that if they don’t fit she’ll bring them back and get a different size.

At home, I obediently go to my bedroom and try on one of the bras. It’s a horrible white pointy thing – this is 1966, and horrible white pointy things are fashionable. It feels uncomfortable, but I was expecting that. I can’t bear to look at myself, so I don’t know whether or not it fits. I take it off. I only plan to wear it for school. I go downstairs, where mum is trying to look indifferent.
“Do they fit?” she asks.

“Yeah, thanks mum, they’re lovely” I say, attempting to sound keen.

As it turns out, they don’t fit. Anywhere. I endure months of increasing itching and chafing before mum risks suggesting that I may have grown out of my first bras. We go through a slightly different routine, with a marginally less painful result. My mother, without fail, does her best for her strange, repressed boy-daughter. She has many difficulties in her life, and, however it may seem, I do my best not to be one of them, perhaps with less success than I would hope. Wanting to please me, she asks me if I like the style of my current bras. I don’t want to her to feel she’s failed in any way, so I say yes, thereby precipitating the purchase of exactly the same ugly, uncomfortable style. The fit is little better. I come to the conclusion that the mistake of my birth is worse than I thought. Not only have I inadvertantly been made into a girl, but my shape has been inaccurately designed.

Still, I think, at least this time I didn’t have to go through the discomfiture of being present when my mum bought the bras.

My father has taken to covering up his disgrace with fake jollity, adopting a hail-fellow-well-met attitude whenever I’m present. This is an in-between time in our relationship; it could go either way. He could apologise, and make whatever dumb excuse he may please. All my life he’s been a hero to me, so I’d be eager to forgive him, but in addition to being sexually driven, he is proud, arrogant, and selfish, so there’s little hope for real repair, and anyway, maybe I’m in the wrong, too. I’m the one who’s turning into a filthy monster. What he did could be partly my fault.

©Jane Paterson Basil



I’m thirteen,
dreaming in bottle green box pleats, rolled at the waist,
to display my knees and a hint of sleek, wicked thigh,
a sly pretence at womanhood, and 1968’s fashion statement
for rebellious school-time teens.
I’ve dabbled in suggestive games played with eyes and shy, but sneaky smiles,
but these days I look askance at boys who would try to dance
a horizontal jig with me.

I’m thirteen,
dreaming in bottle green box pleats,
in lessons two and three on Tuesday.
While our biology teacher speaks of sexual reproduction in plants,
I shrink and blush, thinking of
kind of
the thing that men and women do.
The act that my parents must have undertaken at least five times, as that’s how many children they had, and I’m sure my mum only did it because she wanted us, but I’m not so certain about my dad, as men have needs which I don’t want to think about; I don’t want to, but I can’t help it. There are pictures in my head and I want to dispel them; my poor mum, having to do that; my poor mum, and I know I will never be able to do that – that- that thing again. I didn’t want to the last time, but I was held down, and he was stronger than me. Nobody had been stronger than me before, but I didn’t have the strength to fight and there was so much blood I could smell it like iron up my nose and someone was screaming crying for mum and the sounds came from my mouth and it hurt and I was scared and I struggled but he was gripping my arms against my sides and my mouth his tongue his tongue I didn’t bite it I was too frightened at what he’d do what he was doing and everything was wet even before I felt the gush and then it stopped but somewhere inside me it never stopped it never stopped and a few days later I was told about the blood in the back of the car and somebody laughed not knowing it was mine and weaving through all the pain I felt shame that my violation my disgusting secret had somehow become a dirty joke and on top of knowing that I must be to blameI must be to blame I couldn’t tell anyone because of the oh-so-hilarious seepage on the leather car seat I couldn’t let them know it was me they were laughing about me who had been ravaged unravelled my petals screwed up screwed up screwed sinking away with my mind and why do I speak in metaphors when the word is something harsh which rhymes with:

tape, tape that adheres to my secret places, filthy tape from which there is no escape,

ape, ape that takes what he wants, then ambles away, sated,

grape, grapes which you pluck from the vine and bite and chew spitting out the pips spitting wet dribbling things it plays out in my head taking me back taking me back where I hear a baby crying mummee mummee and the baby is me being born into hell.

The bell rings.
We troop out, an unruly crew speckled with the better kids;
the studious boys with shiny shoes,
the plain and pretty budding little ladies, pigtails swinging
and no rolled-up bulk beneath their waist,
too well-behaved to be raped by a neighbour,
too cool to mistake him for a friend.

In English I make a mental list
of things that wouldn’t melt in their sensible mouths,
and when coughs and shuffles ruffle the silent air
I practice sighing my mantra so quietly
that none but me can hear.
My top teeth touch and and release my lower lip,
followed by a curl of the tongue, a breathing aah,
another tongue-trick, this time hitting my palate,
rolling a little, and releasing
a final, subtle, “key” sound.

I am thirteen,
dreaming in bottle green box pleats.
I should be reading,
but each word brings me back to you and my dilemma.
It’s not that you won’t understand,
more that it’s embarrassing to have to explain.
Maybe I’ll wait until I’m sixteen
and we’re engaged and making wedding plans.

You’ll understand, I know you will.

I’ll say I can’t do the thing that other couples do between the sheets, the thing that squeezes suffering children through bruised tubes; the thing they call normal. Some say it’s fun. I know that’s not true, unless you’re a man, forcing his way in, invading you. I knew that before he made me do it. I knew the moment I heard the dirty words whispered in the schoolyard.

You’ll understand I can’t do it, I know you will.

You’re above such base desires and you’re one of the only two people I told about what he did to me, although I never described the searing pain the bruising the limp that I had to cover up for shame or the sting or the itch that doesn’t go away and maybe nobody told you how funny it was that there was blood on the grubby upholstery the grubby upholstery that had been flattened by so many arses before my bare skin got crushed against its greasy surface.

You’ll understand that we can’t have children. I know you will. You don’t have those base desires, and even if you do, you will crush them because you love me so much.

I am thirteen,
dreaming in bottle green box pleats,
and I love you so much that it hurts to be anywhere but by your side.
I don’t understand, as I refuse to believe the world
is the way they say it is.

I am thirteen,
and though you are the best thing I can see,
a romance which will play out endlessly in my memory
and you will forever be the beginning
and the meaning of love for me,
I am dreaming a fantasy.

©Jane Paterson Basil



Seen through your eyes you appear flawed; pimples
swell to fill the face
and the nose distorts to an odd shape,
unlike those pert sculptures deftly displayed by your friends.

Yesterday, the top looked just like
the pricey one you circled in a magazine.
Now all you see is a cheap copy,
but a little better than everything else you possess
so you throw a coat over it,
hoping last week’s indelible makeup stain doesn’t show;
fearing that boys may notice your flabby roll,

and out you go,
wishing you were anybody but yourself,
or at least that you were beautiful.

You don’t see anything but what the mirror shows you,
as you walk down the road
practicing and failing at invisibility,
you miss the group of boys whose eyes
silently admire your countenance.
You don’t even see the one you dream of
as he steps out in your direction
then falters, convinced that you will turn away in disdain.

When Mrs Jones says you look pretty
you believe she speaks out of pity.

The old lady at number eight lives alone.
Since her sister died she keeps her mind busy
watching the street from her window.

She sees the boys kicking the pavement
flicking tissue balls to relieve their boredom,
talking small,
she senses the quiet breeze,
feels it whip out a concentrated whirlwind
exciting young masculinity,
and turns, catching the cause,
taking in your hair, your faraway expression,
your convincing indifference,
as you look her way.

You mistake an old lady’s wistful glance
for one of dislike;
while she remembers tea dances
wrecked by a stammer, a stumbling gait,
ugly plum coloured blushes that curtailed romance
and wishes she
had recognised and capitalised on her youth
as you seem to,

but after all, she thinks,
you are beautiful.

Written for The Daily Post Prompt #Youth

©Jane Paterson Basil



They remember
marveling at their child of light
stirring beneath quilt and blanket,
perking up to see them,
wakening each day
with a perfect smile.

Without a sound,
the chill,
like a stir in the air,

A  shower gel smell,
steamy fresh,
wafts from the bathroom,
trails through his bedroom into the kitchen,
collides and is swallowed
with the coffee.

He rifles through the closet,
argues about which shirt,
which pants.
There is no coaxing him.
He takes to debating when
the T.V. anchorman
tells his news.

he punctuates every need,
before he goes
to the basement,

a fresh little rebel
waiting in his lair, poised
to march forward

and away.


I took Calen’s lovely poem, Mornings,  and cruelly twisted into another shape. Thank you Calen, for inviting me to corrupt your words.

©Jane Paterson Basil