Tag Archives: childhood

The Day of the Beech

beech leaves

The neighbourly beech rests dormant
in the Christmas chill, its fermenting finery
forming a crisp blanket at its feet.
Before the weather heats, brave buds
proceed to labour from the tips of twigs; determined spikes
stretch narrowly as if toward a pin-prick sun.
Emerging like wind-burnt field workers wizened by the years,
they peel back their tough leathern tan
revealing tender infancy
as Spring tiptoes in.

The tree
silently breathes
in tune with the racing beat of my childish heart.
I have built a host of annual rituals, without which, my year
would be incomplete. Nature dictates
the day that each one takes place.
Fingers, sticky with Easter chocolate, itch.
I know today is the day;
the day of the beech.

Familiar with its generosity, I’m confident
the tree does not resent
my Easter treat.
Reaching up, I pluck
an opening bud.
Later, these unfurling hands
will make complete the beech’s shady canopy of verdant green
to keep both sheep and cattle cool in mid-day heat;
all too soon, the adult leaves
will be too tough for me to eat.

Gazing skywards at the abundance
within my childish reach, I feel the sweetness
of young leaves between my teeth, and taste
the honeyed birth of Spring.

As I age, I recall:
the fine filigree of a skeleton leaf, emblazoned with a frosty frill,
the seashore smell I toted home, tucked inside a cowrie’s gummy grin,
courageous early snowdrops, rising through a frozen throw,
an orphan feather’s windswept pirouette, its slow descent its frail defeat,
the flavour of a beech bud…
and I remember
the elation that came with every found treasure,
the fascination, the sense that I must not fail
to savour
each
moment
since every single speck of being
is unique.


I marvelled at the beauty of every detail of my childhood world of nature. My life felt vast, bottomless, without beginning. I tried to bring to mind the time that it started for me; the moment when sentience began, hoping that once I got there, I could take another step back, thereby entering into the instant before my conscious existence. I couldn’t imagine how it was possible not to BE. Perversely, I wanted to know how if felt not to feel. At the time, I didn’t know how many fundamental laws I would have been cheating, had my unattainable ambition been a success. 🙂

Recently, for the first time, I saw the faded spark of consciousness leave a body before death, and I heard a final breath as it made its defeated escape. It helped me to understand, on an emotional level, that one day, those who knew me will retain memories of what they knew of me, but I will have no memories of my own; all my unique memories will be gone. No-one will ever know exactly how it felt for me to eat a mellow beech bud beneath a special tree, on a warm Easter day, just as I am unable to taste the precise flavour of your experiences and memories. We come and we go. We are replaced by new life. That’s fine by me.

©Jane Paterson Basil

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I Shall be Still

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In exercise 3 of The Sandbox Writing Challenge, Calen asks “What prevents you from being still?”

This is the answer that came to me:

As a child,
I exercised a wild kind of control —
play-fighting with nature,
playing my countryside games
as I schemed to fly,
dreaming of coasting over open fields and shady lanes.

Wings on my heels, working with the wind,
sometimes leaning into it to see if it would hold me,
rebelling, balancing precariously above a precipice
while a mild gale tried to blow me over.

Leaping from tuft to tuft of green, knowing
where the sucking bog lurked, unseen,
keeping clear of the mud,
feeling high.

Climbing trees, elated, safe
from skinned knees and careless slips,
sure of myself as my hair tangled in the breeze.
and I breathed greedy helpings of summer sky.

Marching upstream,
kicking feet, splashing sprays of liquid diamonds
that sparkled on freshly freckled flesh.

Laughter bellowing from my belly.

Building dams of rocks and clay,
only to smash them –
revelling in the battle against water,
and in the sudden rush of feigned defeat.

Swimming against the flow, making the water go
where I chose.

Over time, your stubborn cross-flow builds momentum.
Torrents flow and banks are broken,
Whirlpools form as if from nowhere.
It takes a while to know that you are sinking,
and longer still to find your loved ones
swirling in a deeper hole,
drowning in the distance.

Dragged down
by so many years of weak decisions.

Not a warrior after all —
I had lost control.

Buffeted by the results of a vast range
of calamitous actions, meandering ways and artist’s haze —
of all those lost and loping days,
I clamber to the shore
and struggle to put the river back on course.

I cannot rest until
I have corrected its direction.

Soon, my children will all be well,
and I shall be still —
at least for a spell.

.

©Jane Paterson Basil

A Silvered Shadow

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.

Night follows day,
giving way to night, then day, then night again.
Weeks pass, months speed away, swift as driving rain.
My mind drifts along yesterday’s empty plan
as I trip through the weight of today.

Gone are those fast forever summer games
we played around ponderously ticking clocks;
their tocks now sprint to fling each moment into history.
Ice cream dreams will me to childhood archives,
pulling out threads of longing that stretch,
yet fail to breach the barrier of years.

I see sparks of sunlight dancing on the river,
yet cannot feel a floury hand of love upon my back.
I see drowning pups beneath the water,
but cannot reach to pull them from the sack.
A silvered shadow flitters through the meadow
to stand beneath a wide-branched tree.
The shadow climbs as I stand watching
an airy ghost of who I used to be.

I see her every day, this little wraith;
spinning down her emerald path toward the tree,
and for minutes every day, I try to feel the grazing bark upon my knee,
to feel her heart beat, be a part of her, just as she’s a part of me,
and to ascertain that she’s as free
as she and I pretend to be.

As I trip through the weight of today,
my mind drifts along yesterday’s empty plan.
Weeks pass, months speed away, swift as driving rain,
night follows day, giving in to night, then day,
then night descends again.

<> <> <>

©Jane Paterson Basil

The Author of my Being. Part 1

MY DAD. By Jane Basil, aged 8 years and 7 months

My dad’s the best. He can do anything. He can draw and paint, make sculptures and pots,build walls and shelves, and fit doors and window frames. He can answer any question and tell you whatever you want to know. He’s the cleverest dad there is.

My dad’s quite famous and is sometimes on TV. People want to meet him, and talk to him about art. I think he likes the women that come to see him best. They come a lot. 

My dad treats me well and tells me I can do whatever I like with my life. He says the only limit is my ambition. He knows I’m a girl, because everyone says that when I was born he was thrilled to have a daughter, but he lets me do the same things as him. I can help to mix concrete, and put up a course of bricks. I can knock nails in straight almost every time. Yesterday I carried tiles up a ladder, and handed them to him, so he could mend the roof, but today I’m helping my mum in the kitchen.

Dad’s in the studio side of his workroom doing stuff I can’t help him with.

My mum’s lovely and ever so kind, and cooking’s all right, but it’s for girls. I’m certain there’s been a mistake; I was meant to be a boy.

>

I’m ten years old.
Naked women crowd our living space,
their painted shapes pressed against framed glass,
or shaped in oak and in clay, arranged just so, on every flat space.
Shelves bend beneath the weight of fat albums
brimming with glossy breasts and hips, captured in Kodak Bromide.

In the workshop, chippings curl beside finest chisels.
Deep within an oaken block, another naked form
waits patiently to be unpeeled by her master’s eager hand.
No more than a coy shoulder is yet revealed.
Her eyes have not been created, and cannot see the devan,
where a lady lies, and the camera clicks.

My mother speaks gently of the aesthetic beauty of the fleshy curve,
making no mention of lascivious urges.
I see no trace of bitterness on her face,
or guess at any untold ache.

I’m too young to think of lipsticked kisses,
of tangled tongues or stolen intimacies.
Too young to place the scent of my father’s sins.
I think he’s the best; I bask in his praise
and revel in every task he sets me.
He seems to silently accept that I need to be a boy.
Maybe he sees that it’s better this way,
as girls are prettier than me

To my shame, my body is changing.
I can’t stem the growth, or the flow of blood and time.
All the same, I feel proud when my father suggests photographs;
he’s taken no pictures of me since I was three years old,
and even then his act was unwilling.

I choose a bulky jumper to cover up my determined bumps.

After a couple of clicks, he wants me to take it off.

He’s my father, so where’s the harm?

(A lifetime later, I still blush when I see what he has done to me. My blouse is a shiny sky blue, and he has made me pull at the hem, exposing the shape of my breasts, and look down, as if I am admiring them.)

Next, he wants me to remove my top. I love this man;
if it were possible,
I would stand naked for him, but I can’t.
I’m embarrassed, but there is something else,
something very wrong.
I try to grab it it, to find a diagnose,
but I feel dizzy.
My ears ring, making me stutter as I utter my refusal.

I’m hot, and something is dying. I can feel it in the air.

His game lost, he selects his consolation prize.
He chooses disgusting French kisses, and a grinding grope.
I see his eyelids droop as he considers the ultimate crime,
but he crushes the idea.

With a sneer he says
“I think you enjoy being kissed like that.
I think it makes you feel good,
but you’d prefer it with someone younger.”

I can’t speak for horror and lack of oxygen.
I feel nausea rising.
Grasping the door handle, I stagger
out into the fresh air and spit.
I spit and spit,
but the taste of my father’s iniquity has spread
to my gut. It has filled my lungs
and is making its way to my heart.

I

am

ten

years

old.

Without warning, war has begun.

There will be retribution for my denial of his will.

There will be revenge that he dare not steal his filthy thrill.

He will bend my childish spirit and redesign my mind.

>

I chose not to include images, as none would be appropriate, except the photos he took of me, and my scanner won’t let me upload them – perhaps it’s concerned for my modesty.

to be continued…

©Jane Paterson Basil

Autumn’s cruel joke

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Beyond my window,
Autumn beckons with false promise.
Bare branches bend their beckoning fingers
before the blue beyond where cottonwool clouds meander.
Baby breeze murmers at fall’s command;
“See the beauty,” it seems to say,
“I’ve mended the weather.
Come to me and I will fill your dreams;
Let you live one remembered childhood Sunday.
Come outside, come outside, and breathe my carefree air;
run with me, prance with me,
spin and dip and dance with me.
Be a child again.”

But I hide behind my door where I am safe
from those autumnal lies which taunt me so cruelly;
I know if I trust them, the spell will evade me.

A trick of the light will lead me to wander
in search of the joy of yesteryear’s freedom.

The brow of the hill will pull me toward it,
and when I arrive the goal will be yonder,
down in the valley, then on to the river,
and still my yearned-for destination;
those faraway trees and lush green meadows,
will be around many corners,
long miles beyond me.

A storm will steal up.
Thunder will crack,
and darkness will cover
the land all around me.
Rain will pelt me,
and flood will drown me.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Dear childhood self

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sweet little start of me
through ancient mist I see you
aping our mother’s daily routine
washing yesterday’s dollies dresses
while she scrubs the sheets
concentration creasing your cute face
as you rinse and squeeze the tiny pieces
your fingers bleached and shrivelled by the task

and later
you mix a cake
grinning in vanilla-kissed contentment
while she cooks dinner
for your father, your brothers and your sister

a ginger cat curls round young calves
his tail tickling your giggly knees
his unpredictability tripping your feet

I see you
distant as as the stony stream
flowing around the stones
in the crook of our childhood valley
silent as a graveyard angel
frozen in the photographs of my imagination

I tried to keep you near
but you sank away
clinging to what you thought you could keep forever
instead of growing with me

I miss you
and what I expected to be

©Jane Paterson Basil

A scrap of green curtain

a scrap of green curtain,
its pattern faded, its fabric worn,
kept throughout my time on this earth,
to remind me of the scent of Sunday mornings
when it was always summer outside;
in the springtime of my life.

a scrap of green curtain
folded in the bottom of a box;
its leafy design
forever imprinted on my mind.

once in a while
I hold it against my face,
inhale its musty age
and reach back toward those days
when I was awakened by the chiming of church bells
from across the hills.

inhaling the clean air,
I watched the fabric dance in time
to the jangling call
their leaves kissing, then separating,
preparing to kiss again.
with a palm on my chest
I could feel the sleepy rhythm of my breathing,
as from beneath the blankets, I made vague plans
for a new day of freedom;
I would swim in the stream, run through the fields,
play our latest and most dangerous game,
climb trees,
throw back my head, and sing like Julie Felix.

when the bells ceased their call to the faithful,
my mother came into the room;
a song from some favourite opera clean on lips
that smiled to see me awake.
later, her chestnut hair would be fragrant with vanilla
and the smell of freshly baked bread;
but not yet.

a scrap of green curtain
takes me back to when, just for a few minutes,
I would listen
to the silence of my world,
before the laughter and play began.

The Daily Post #Silence

©Jane Paterson Basil