Tag Archives: free verse

Bus Driver

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Dear driver, you
don’t know me;

Maybe you dislike
your job and your wife,
you might even hate your life, but that
is no excuse for the fuming stare which says
“I despise you.”

You block my smile, your expression suggesting that you consider me a minor criminal. If you think this is not a designated bus stop just say so, or check with your boss. You’ll find you are wrong, while to continue in ignorance is an unwise mistake to make.

Meanwhile, why not try a compromise;
stop treating passengers like undesirable wasps
to be stomped on by your
callous eyes.

Don’t you know
that very day you make the world a little colder
for yourself, as well as for others?

Do you like being a lonely island?

Friendliness should be high on the list of priorities when hiring bus drivers. At the very least, it could be part of their training.

I used to insinuate myself
between the bars of barbed little fences such as yours,
persuading snickering scorpions to be
more amicable, but recently,
I’ve run out of energy.

It’s time for folks like you
to get wise to your public duty
and treat passengers more like friends.
.

©Jane Paterson Basil

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No Place to Go

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When he enters,
his animal scent clears out the buyers and browsers
and the assistant exits in haste.

I wonder if other charity shops blocked him.
Few operate like Oxfam.

Smiling like he’s a friend,
I take shallow breaths though the nose,
keeping my mouth closed except to speak.

He tells me he got a twenty quid drop and needs to buy jeans.
I ask for his size, and pick out two pairs.

“I’m just a drunk,” he slurs, his eyes
clutching at mine as if to defy me to deny
a universal truth.

I refuse to be intimidated.
“Not just a drunk,” I reply. “At your core, you are who you have always been. You have your history, your memories, your moments of reflection. Once you played in the street, or climbed trees. Once, you laughed at your own antics and believed
you were free.”

“Don’t be pedantic,” he growls,
“and tell me where I can have a shower.
I shit my trousers and I need to get clean.”

He’s been waved away away by every hand I recommend.
Then I remember the leisure centre.
We both pretend to believe that he might receive help there.

As he staggers off along the street,
sleek and limber legs reject his presence. Even the pavement
hardens itself against his weaving feet.

From her place in the past, my mother looks askance.
Tears skitter in the sky as I speak to the breeze.

“I treated him like a human being.”

My mother agrees. That is true, at least.

“If I lived somewhere different,
I would have invited him back.”

My mother silently absorbs the lie;
her kindness inhibits her from lecturing me.

.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Limitations

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Listening to the eulogy
I am reminded that one man can be a plethera of unique characters
depending on the angle of sight

Each if us sees him from our separate space, our spectacles constructed of smooth shapes and shards which glint in varying shades,
each piece tinted by a disparate need, a belief or desire
each reflecting its own shade and hue
or casting dark shadows that blind the sight or tell the truth

Often, the light changes the closer we venture
though some folks see no more than he wants us to see,
as he covers his flesh in clean monk’s habit
or dons pure white angel wings

They have no way of knowing that later he might crack the distorting lenses
and give us a glimpse of the truth

Gazing at the blown-up photos of the handsome man as he smiles in his prime
I’m reminded of my sense of surprise as he regaled me with his impish light, his unusual humour
his silverfish image of one who was kind

The eulogy tells of memories held
of stories birthed long before I beheld him –
tales of a father who nurtured his children
who never gave in to anger or sulking, who played no games of manipulation;
to a father and a man who was good and true.

This isn’t the time to pick holes in the rosebud input of those who hold honeyed visions close
It’s a moment to reflect and remember the man – his innocent efforts, great strengths and rare skills
and to remind ourselves that all of us have our own limitations
and there’s no way of telling how we’d react
to the exact set of circumstances he experienced
from the day he was born
to the second his last breath softly informed us
that the moment of death and peace had come.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Balance

Swaying like
a drunk weaving his way home,
I veer between the level pavement of truth
and the deep ditch of kindly
hypocrisy.

Mud on my left shoe,
a clean shine on the right,
my soul freed, only to be stifled
and freed again, while I stagger –
hanging on to what matters
as I balance the colours
of motherly love.

.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Hidden Layers

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.

Lately, times and dates become smudged.
I only know it was a cold October.
My mother was taking a break away from home.
She meandered along the embankment, noting
how her beloved London had changed.
Wrapped in a warm coat, snuggled into gloves and scarf,
she shivered as the chill
crept through.

She’d looked forward to this ambling trip down memory lane, but now
she missed the warm house, safe from wintry elements,
where a friend from  agile dancing days awaited her return.

She envisaged strong coffee, cosy conversation,
intelligent debate, heartfelt agreements.

Later would come supper, wine, a welcoming bed.

Wine, with its layers of taste
Wine, gulped down, leaving a wide smile, and no visible stain.

She stepped up her pace at the place
where the ground beyond the wall on her left
began to dip.

Glancing that way, she spotted the shock
of cardboard city; the place that street-sleepers might wryly call
their safety zone, where they laughed and cried and fought,
where few found love and many raged in anger and frustration,
where most drank themselves into a stupor to escape racking pain and loneliness,
where flattened boxes raised chilled, aching bodies from
hard, ungiving
concrete.

That night she wrote it in a poem – her hopeless, hollow, agonised desire
to make it right;

to take it all away,
to save, to save… to wash and shave them, change their clothes,
dress their sores, pour a healing salve onto their brains,
to feed and shelter them;
to make them well again.

She described her sense of helplessness for these broken lives.

She said it felt like a punch
between the eyes. Her shoulders curled in, her legs
threatened to buckle.

-<-<-@

“Dear God,” she wrote,
“dear God.”

-<-<-@

When she came home, she showed me the poem.
Though something in me preened in the reflected glory of her elite literacy,
I cried for the plight of the homeless, and for an elusive secret
tucked between the lines;
a message I couldn’t quite read.

Still weeping, I typed her words onto a clean sheet of paper.
This I gave to her, together with the original.

I kept no copy for myself.

Maybe it was down to the drink, but
for whatever reason, the poem was spirited away,
probably thrown out by mistake –
along with other significant documents.

My mother’s words, gone forever.

Those precious words shared the secret her misplaced shame
could never speak, yet they remained unheard.
Years later, a mystery illness revealed the weakness hidden in her genes.
My father pulled out green and amber bottles
concealed beneath the bed, behind her clothes,
inside cupboards and closets.
I smelled the amber liquid as it glugged into the sink,

a picture forming in my mind –
I’m twelve years old, delving through a pile of rags,
discovering empties underneath,
my mother’s brief irritation, her evasion, when I questioned her,
and how, when she found an excuse,
I couldn’t dispel the feeling of unease and confusion.

Did I never guess, or did I refuse to know?

Twenty years on, the clue was there, in the last lines of her poem,
the only lines which have not been – and will  never be – erased from my mind:

-<-<-@

Dear God, dear God,
there but for thy grace,
go I.

-<-<-@

This poem – like many others I have written – honours my mother, who had more positive qualities than any other woman I have ever known. She was plagued for many years by alcoholism, but her love and strength were such that her family had no idea until she started to experience frightening catatonic spells, and was admitted to hospital. Addiction is a tragic disease that often runs in families. She warned me against it, and I took heed. I know I carry the disease, and I owe it to her that I have not allowed myself to become lost in it.

Were she alive today, she would be 102 years old on 14th February.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Winter’s Chill

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The keen wind
is too sly to be seen,
too stubborn to be warmed.
It claws around corners and fast-closed doors,
slips through cracks behind the skirting board,
clambering at my knee caps as never before,
grabbing my bones in its freezing hands,
creeping up my nose,
nipping my toes,
burrowing
deep into my marrow.

I’m looking for  a loophole
in nature’s laws,
a me-sized loophole
through which I can crawl
away from the misery of Winter’s chill
and into the dawning of a glorious Spring.

.

©Jane Paterson Basil

The Fabric of a Life

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What size is a life?
Laid out flat how many miles
would all the thoughts, desires and acts,
the books you read, the things you said,
the mental images in your head
stretch across the sky?

Would missed opportunities leave gaps
through which the stars would shine at night?

And when your time has come to die,
does this fabric that you made
slowly crumble day-to-day
as those who knew you forge ahead,
and memories slowly fade away,
till loved ones join you with the dead?

Or does it stay forever fresh,
existence caught within a mesh,
never seen but ever present,
evoking all you represent.

For good or evil are you there,
invisible and unaware,
your history weaving in the air
amid the billions gone before,
in age and infancy, peace and war?

And if the atmosphere retains
all those thoughts in all those brains
eternally, to never leave,
are you in the air we breathe?

Do all the joys and all the pains,
all the losses, all the gains,
all the errors, all the wisdom,
all the strengths and inhibitions
invoke a change in our decisions?

.

©Jane Paterson Basil