Nobody told me you say: no-one explained; it seems at each road you pay a toll. Where crossroad meet, signposts scribe lies, or mud smudges each destination, you claim. You've lost control: you never know where the next path will lead. Looks like a dead-end street. Your hands shake, shame numbs your brain. So many mistakes. Nobody told you, you say, then you heap blame on those who are blinded like you. Loved ones tried, their words blurred by your need, your potential curdled by wild hurtle into dim thrill of needle and sleep. Deep sleep just short of eternal. Mornings bring cravings, day follows day filled with theft and sale, theft and sale to pay for your sleazy escape again and again. Always the same peppered with desperate efforts and creasing failures and cramping pain and careless mistakes and fleecing arrests and imprisoning cells while your head forever screams to be clean, while your need to appease the clamouring beast that clamps your frame and grabs your guts and clings to your skin and kidnaps your mind and steals your very being rejects the thought. ... How times change: these days you clean my home, cook my meal. We share expenses and I marvel at your strength of will. I ask you: what was the defining moment that inspired you to strive for the light? This is how you reply: I gazed at the signpost ahead and as I wiped the mud which had blinded my eyes, I read where each of three roads led. the first was a dire, familiar trail, the second pointed to sudden death. I chose the third road, the hard road, the right road, the sane road, the safe road, the stuttering shock. It was a toll I had to pay: that searing act of cleansing agony. I'm glad I grappled through the pain which led me back to hope and health. ©Jane Paterson Basil
Just lemme fly, I’ll death defy.
I miss the bliss, regrets and lies.
I wished for this, I’ll testify to dish Death’s kiss
and let me die…
A change of plan please if I can.
I’ve spanned and scanned of all lands and sands,
and stand a brand new, handsome man,
with standing, standards and a clan.
I cannot stand those scams I ran,
I danced and sang, while ranting slang,
I sang my sting to land it in.
It’s branded in, I planned to win.
There’s more to this than meets the eye,
ignore the shit, the streets passed by,
the struggle and the drugs,
I’ve tumbled into humble love.
©Paul David Ward
Since the lockdown, I have strayed further than ever from my blog. My normal activities have been replaced by gardening; sowing seeds, watering them, pricking them out, and clearing space in a disorganised communal garden that had to be cleared of masses of montbretia, ivy, creeping buttercup, dock, dandelions, bindweed, wild garlic, three-cornered leak (often mistaken for wold garlic, but even more invasive and less useful in the kitchen) and several kinds of annual weeds. I’ve been moving – or dispensing with – ill-placed plants and pruning untidy or overgrown shrubs.
I am exhausted from the time I roll out of bed until I crawl back in. My back and my legs constantly ache. My emotions are released: I cry at the drop of a hat.
And… I am happy, filled with a joy that is far less tinged with fear than could be expected during this pandemic. My son and I are rebuilding our relationship
When I took out the restraining order on my son, I knew the risks and they terrified me, but I also knew that the risk of not doing so was greater. For years I had been losing the bright, funny son that I loved so much. I had watched him turn into a sick, drug raddled, destructive stranger. He had to strike out on his own; to do or die – perhaps literally. I had known for a long time that I couldn’t help him to survive.
He didn’t die. He suffered, and that terrible suffering brought him back to the fold. We have not yet spoken since there is a danger that my voice could be a trigger for him, so the only contact I have with him is through text messaging. He sends me his poems and tells me what he’s been doing (deep cleaning and decorating his flat, drawing… and writing, of course), what he would like to do (he’s looking for voluntary aid work, but his record could go against him).
The blood of the phoenix runs through his veins. In addition to having cut out drugs and alcohol, he’s also in recovery from an abusive relationship with a very damaged young woman. He says his poetry helps him to work through his issues. He’s agreed to me posting some of his poems, and I am honoured to do so.
When I consider
the frazzled reams of verse, written
when sinews simmered with rage,
when organs ached with dread and grief
when dams burst and words tried to drown sorrow
when fires failed to singe the fighting remains.
I picked through ashes even as the flames blistered my skin,
and still, he drove his bloodied psyche
between my ribs, piercing
the heart of me
from those emotions
feels like a marathon masquerade of misery that I
mistook for reality, holing myself up
in the host’s attic, beneath
an old crate of broken memorabilia,
away from friends who might have explained
that the gates of hell
were paper mache stage props
and the pit was the cracked lens
of a reclaimed camera obscura.
When I single out a poem, I revoke details;
the nature of conflicts and pain inflicted,
but from a
as if I’m watching a documentary
or reading a book featuring the anguish of other families
skewered by other offsprings’ addiction,
Empathy for the innocents
seeps into me, yet when I read a verse
from this strangling chapter, I realise it was my life.
my heart contracts and my toes
instinctively curl away from a mud slide
that has safely flaked and dried.
At such times, I summon your voice –
your voice, with its warm Northern edge –
sharing your mantra,
gifting me the truth that calmed you
whenever the mud of the morass
threatened to engulf your chest;
“This too shall pass.”
“This too shall pass.”
breaks through decay,
willing the frayed remnants of pain to dissipate.
I take a breath of clean air
in the mellow texture of grass
tickling my feet.
Dedicated to my friend Mary Beer. Mary, you are an Amazon whose whose words gave me courage, whose friendship made me feel less alone from the start, and whose strength continues to inspire me. When I was at my lowest ebb, it was the echo of your voice which ran through my mind: this too shall pass.
I posted this on my other blog a few months ago. I’ve edited it a little and added it to this blog so that you might read it, Mary xxx
You see this flesh
and you want to possess me.
Since you are terminally thick
you misconstrue my jests as reality.
Even my insults are erogenous to you
since you don’t understand simple sentences.
and though I slap away your feeble grip
still you think you can heal me
by hiding your pricked-up mess
in the opening between my thighs.
You speak of love
as if it’s a gift which cannot but hold my interest;
a treat that must surely fascinate
*(She said “Love? Lord above,
now you’re tryin’ to put me in love.”)
Looks like you’re too late, mate.
Better men have tried,
but worse men got there first.
You missed the train by miles.
If you’d been there with your fists fifty years since,
you could have licked the rapist and changed my history,
but you were busy with some silly missus,
making your own mistakes, shouting down deaf alleys,
cursing, boozing, losing at pool,
the two of you taking turns to screw up your kids,
and I wouldn’t have looked twice even then.
*Lyric from Free; All Right Now.
©Jane Paterson Basil
The anthology, We Will Not Be Silenced – the brainchild of women’s collective Whisper and the Roar – is now available from Amazon. I am honoured to have two of my poems represented in the book, an offer my sincere congratulations to everyone who has been involved, on its successful arrival into the world.
Profits from sales of the book will be ploughed into assistance for the survivors of abuse.
You can read more about the book HERE.
If you haven’t yet purchased a copy, you can do so HERE.
shape sinuous words,
but only silence reaches my ears
as he confronts
my still psyche.
This might be
a final goodbye,
yet I let the question
float on the horizon.
that threats and lies
can be so easily dumbed
by a medicated sky.
All around him,
childhood trinkets and toys
rain around his untouchable frame.
They sink, lost forever
beneath the blind sea.
I recline on sturdy rock;
hazily trusting it will hold me.
If I am strong,
will not drown me.
Should the message
be his final goodbye,
might bring solemn women or men
whose warning uniforms
and gentle breath
will lower me
into the wild vale of grief.
If this is to be,
I’ll reshape the vision,
paint flowers at his feet,
add a balloon, fill it
with five fathoms of words
describing all the love
he ever felt for me,
but for now
the air caresses me,
and I sleep.
Written for Word of the Day Challenge: Fathom
This is the fear that the loved ones of addicts face every day. We learn to push it to the back of our minds, but it’s always there, waiting until the addict has a wobble. That’s when the fear goes into full attack mode.
©Jane Paterson Basil
Waking on the cusp of clarity I clamour
to catch receding images,
following the trail back to the entrails.
walls splattered with rusty shapes
that smell metallic, battened-down cells
where good and evil creatures scream,
baying for release.
I smash through timber walls
making gaps through which puppies crawl,
splintering ceilings that rain crumbs and flakes,
flinching as shape-shifting grotesques fall,
freeing beasts and all
in my quest to release the innocents.
Dogs frolic, begging rubbed tummies,
gnashing teeth set in fools and demons faces
fix false, cheating grins,
scampering to hide behind close-knit hills,
where they simper,
giggling into their sleeves.
I think: although limited,
there has been a victory.
While puppies sleep and mad dogs creep
I forge forward,
banging heads with faceless strangers
who might be foes or friends,
letting them plot the next step
while I hope for the best.
I sense wickedness,
the tang of a plan to rob a bank,
yet like a shy child, I ask no questions,
instead running with the gang.
Vacating the cracked castle
we part ways, while I memorise my instructions,
but I don’t understand the details
or the intended result.
Out in the street, the town floods,
water rising from an invisible place;
I suspect a connection to our game.
I’m thinking my finger has been dipped in fowl play
when a police constable
lifts me safely over the tide
to a leafy glade, that leads me
toward the first door
and with a friendly wave,
I wait while footsteps fade,
clutch the handle, smirking as it turns,
wondering at the trust of bland key-holders;
do they think the door
is too hidden for me to see?
A corridor leads to more
I creep through empty rooms
to one containing chairs,
a table, a litter of toys.
I pause, a query tasted on my lips, but dismissed
as I go through the next door.
Like a dream within a dream
my first-born daughter is beside me.
Now each succeeding room is scattered
with trinkets and symbolic artefacts,
so silently, arriving singly,
each member of my family joins me;
all of my descendants
save my son.
a cramped space ravaged by the stains of age,
to find myself alone again.
No door before me.
Behind me, the entrance
Pushing against ungiving walls,
fingernails scrabbling in trickster cracks.
Fear, breaking through my skin,
soaking my clothes.
Make no noise
lest the enemy is near.
Don’t panic, don’t curl in a corner.
Escape. Make no noise.
Smother the fear.
Pull out my phone,
call a friend.
The wind picks up at the other end.
“All will be well,”
I press the surface of a recess
too narrow to fit a door, and feel it give,
no more than a deceptive sheet of paper,
I rip it aside to reveal
a day-lit room, plush with sofas,
footstools, cushions. Voices trill nearby,
accompanied by the clink of dining.
Like a novice burglar, I shrink, nervous
to think I have broken into a private home,
but my son,
my son, my last-born, troubled child,
my son, my first-born man,
appears beside me.
“It’s OK, this is a hotel,” he tells me.
He shows the way through French windows onto a veranda
which skirts a calm sea,
where the rest of my family wait for me
Behind gleaming glass,
the diners raise their toast and applaud.
Fresh blood sings in my veins
to the rhythm of the waves
that caress the shushing sands of the shore.
I throw my store of hopes and fears to the horizon;
I cannot control its changes,
and I gaze into my children’s eyes
where this moment of safety lies.
I should offer a medal to the determined souls who managed to read to the end of my dream.
Floods, crumbling buildings, empty rooms, childhood mementoes and being trapped and in danger are all recurring themes in my dreams.
A lot of my dreams make immediate sense to me, being clearly marked ‘insecurity’, while others are a jumble. I half-understood last night’s dream, and built a poem around it to give me more clarity. It told me no more than I already know about the difficulties I’ve experienced in life, and of my opposing feelings of invincibility and weakness, of the power of my muscle and its inevitable collapse, of my confidence and my paranoia.
I can’t resist this – it goes back to the days when British record producers were little tin Gods, and many UK musicians had to bow down to them, rather than choosing their own theme and style. Those who wished to be a bit more raunchy had their knuckles rapped, and smoochy ballads thrust into their hands.
aww… such a sweet boy…
©Jane Paterson Basil
A few years ago, my niece and I spent a summer season working as wardens at a holiday campsite. Unbeknownst to the owner of the campsite who employed us, we were both useless at lighting fires. We had to become experts pretty quickly, as we relied on our campfire for our meals and hot drinks, and we often had to light our guests’ fires for them. In no time at all I could throw a few sticks together any old how, strike a match, and get a roaring fire going with very little effort.
I already knew that in order for a fire to ignite, fuel, oxygen and heat are required, but I learnt something new that summer – in order to ensure the fire succeeds, there is a fourth, labour-saving ingredient you can use:
utter faith in the ability of the flame to spread.
A Glimmer of Hope
When it arrived
it was no bigger than a fly;
a tiny hope like so many before
which had briefly glowed,
only to stutter and die.
Previously, I’d tried
to make the flickering fire grow,
mothering her, smothering her with my need
to steal her from the hellish end
that looked like her destiny
trust walked by my side.
Believing she had the strength and desire
to heal herself, I breathed this certainty,
and she inhaled my faith.
A glimmer of hope
radiated to become a shining light
which obliterated all darkness,
making her whole.
©Jane Paterson Basil
You hustled a one-way ticket to hell,
hopping heavily aboard the chugging train,
smutty snow dripping down shrinking lanes,
tripping its way into cellular recesses
sifting your sight and your senses like sand.
Love and ribboned opportunities
jumbled up with rusty maybe-memories,
stuttered on the hollow horizon.
Blinded by the back end of a telescope,
all you perceived were burning trees.
You regretted the leathery ticket to hell,
and bravely you leaped from the trickety train.
Bruised by boulders and freed from near-misses,
the broken pieces were soldered with kisses
and you bathed in the cleansing rain.
This video is visually poor, but I like the sound. Beatlemania was a weird phenomenon – the fans made so much noise that they drowned out what they had paid to hear…
©Jane Paterson Basil
This is part two of my response to Reena’s Exploration Challenge Week 11. You can find part 1 HERE.
The first part of my post covers the first question – although it doesn’t do so until you reach almost to the end of the poem. 🙂 Now for my answer to the second question:
I described my daughter as an angry fox. I chose the metaphor to match her hair; some of you will know it has a lovely red glow to it. Also, owing to my surname and the colour of my own hair (which has since faded to a lighter colour) I used to go by the nickname of Basil Brush. Basil Brush was a fictional fox in the form of a puppet that starred in a popular children’s comedy TV show in the ’70s.
It wasn’t the best metaphor I could have chosen, but once I started, I decided to run with it. The most accurate thing about my story is its ending. The night my youngest daughter came to me, broken and bleeding after a violent attack, from a man who tried but failed to break her neck (the memory of which still makes me cry), I knew there had been a change in her perspective, and if she could hold onto it for long enough to make that change a reality, I knew it would change my life.
Has my perspective changed? Yes, it has. Laura has risen far above my highest expectations. She’s made me more proud than I ever thought possible, and more than that, she’s been instrumental in my son’s recovery from addiction. Paul’s journey has been hard; he’s undertaking his recovery in his home town, learning to avoid the triggers which must pop up daily. Even the staircase to my flat is a trigger. I don’t often speak about Paul; his addiction stripped him of all compassion, leading him to hurt me deeply throughout those torturous years. The wounds are slow to heal, but we’re making good progress. He switched to a vegan diet a while ago, so lot of his attention is concentrated on food. He and his girlfriend have offered to cook me a meal next week. I look forward to it with relish. He’s a good cook, but more than that, it will be another step towards healing.
Now it is time to turn my mind to the rest of my family. My two elder daughters have suffered too, but through their suffering, I have always known I can count on their support. My oldest grandson has been witness to things he should never have seen, but he’s come through like the champion he is. It’s been difficult to maintain close relationships with my four younger grandsons, so I have a lot of ground to make up.
(Life is not always easy for the siblings of prodigal children. I must tell them that my pride is not limited to those who have recently returned to the fold. I must let them know that they are magnificent.)
Looking back at my life, I can see how my strength has increased, along with the increasing difficulties I’ve faced. It’s a bit like weight lifting – as the weights get heavier, your muscles split and heal continuously. My mental health has suffered, but I do my best to keep on top of it, constantly reviewing and learning.
I’m stronger than I ever thought I could be, and happier than I had come to expect.
Yes, yes, yes; my perspective has changed, but only for the better.
©Jane Paterson Basil