Tag Archives: shame

Kensington, Philadelphia

They stutter and creep along filth-ridden streets, 
tattered sleeves hiding the blood as it seeps,
far from the arms of mothers who weep.

Turn away, 
cover your eyes, 
blind to the shame of the crimes you perceive
as you hurry away from the flesh-eating streets.

They wade through the scud of society's greed,  
shuffling their feet, hungry for succour 
then numbed by fulfilment of lethal need.

Turn away
pretend you don't see,
blind to the shame of the streets of pain
or blaming the victim for all our mistakes.  

They're slipping through cracks between fleshly paving;
our brothers and sisters struggle and bleed 
and end on those streets.
Who finds the dead and where are they buried?
Do we really not notice? 
How can we not care?
How can we not weep as they slip between 
the cracks created from selfish greed.

Few of us focus and few of us see
that there but for fortune or luck of the genes 
go him and her and you and me.
There but for fortune  
go we.

©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



you shower
slough off the day’s smells
the smoke from someone’s cigarette
the tang of fried breakfast
the ghost of your daily skin routine
an uninvited whiff of aftershave, picked up
from an over-friendly neighbour
and your own stale sweat

you slough off every
clinging hint of yesterday
wash your hair
and rinse the dirt and soap away

emerging like a squeaky babe
you dry yourself and stand naked

there it is again
freed from the weight of imported smells
your polished surface emits a reek
that no scrub can erase
you search to find its cause; its core
but you search in vain
the smell escapes, mutates
changing from pig to stale milk to rotting eggs
every day, the same transmuting stench
invades your self-esteem

you spread your flesh with fragrant cream
laying a foundation for exterior smells to build on

layer by layer they adhere
the smoky haze, the greasy spoon,
the aftershave lifted from the neighbours hand
giving you a list of excuses
for your redolence

©Jane Paterson Basil




*Crystal is a ‘legal high’ drug that is considered by many to be more lethal than heroin.

Sally thought that her troubles were ending
When Beth’s long-term boyfriend had died.
Her daughter just stopped using crystal,*
As she wept and she wailed and she cried
With her spoon, vit-e and some needles
Which she couldn’t be bothered to hide.

The irony was not lost on Sally.
When she thought about all of the years
Full of shame, frustration and anger
Disgust and horror and tears;
Of the bags of brown powder that made her
Unable to smother her fears.

It had seemed that the worst thing had happened
When she’d learnt that her damaged girl
Was locked in the jaws of addiction
To a drug that made her soul curl
And powdery sand filled the cavities
Of her beautiful priceless pearl.

For years Beth had fought her addiction
And sometimes for months she was clean
It would often appear to be in the past
Or as if it never had been
But always the golden brown monster
Was lurking beside her, unseen.

Sally didn’t know quite when it started,
But the rumour, once out, didn’t stop
That a cure for this awful addiction
Could be found in the ‘legal high’ shop,
And addicts were shooting up crystal
Til their brains were starting to pop.

Now all of Beth’s friends were suggesting
It may help her a lot if she tried
This marvelous new medication
So she finally joined their side
And six months later her boyfriend
Was found the day after he died.

With his arm rolled up to his shoulder
As he kneeled on the floor as in prayer
With a bag of smack in his pocket
Quite blameles (as if it would care)
And the name of the thing that had killed him
The coroner shortly will share.

But the word on the lips of insiders
Is that crystal took him away
Because if he hadn’t done crystal
He would be walking and talking today
And no-one admits that they’re guilty
And no-one is going to pay

Although legal hits are for humans
As a cheap way of getting high
A disclaimer is put on the label
So if you should happen to die
It ”wasn’t the fault of the seller”
But a stupid thing to try.

So Beth had been crystal-crazy
Since summer had brought the heat
Her body was wasted to nothing
Because she had ceased to eat
She had cut herself all over;
On her legs and her arms and her feet.

She shouted of numbers and patterns
Of rapists that called while she slept
Of people who tracked all her movements
And knew all of the secrets she kept
And no matter what you may tell her
The facts she could not accept.

But Richie now lay on a cold metal slab
And Beth was starting to see
Amidst the pain and confusion
Just where she wanted to be;
Not under the ground ina coffin
But at home with her family.

Yet no sooner had her mother
Recovered her cautious smile
Than Beth wrapped herself around crystal again
Reverting to behaviour so vile
That Sally was left with no option
But to turn from her anger and bile.

She couldn’t take any more insults
She couldn’t take any more pain
She had reached out her hand and turned her cheek
Then she’d done it all over again
And she felt if Beth stayed another hour
It would only drive her insane.

She told her to go, to walk out the door.
To leave her, to go away
Yet no matter how she begged her
It seemed she was going to stay.
She said she was going, but stood by the door
She said she had more to say.

And the nonsense that can from her mouth
Was cutting and cruel and untrue
So Beth felt she had no option
And the only thing she could do
Was to push her outside quite gently
And not to let her back through.

As she leant on the door she was weeping
And her daughter went mumbling away.
She prayed for intervention
She prayed that she’d see the day
When her family was whole and well again
And whole and well they’d stay

And then with a smile she remembered
Her beautiful son safe and well
Putting his life back together
As he sat in his prison cell
And she thought how only a year ago
Jail seemed like a living hell.

But these last twelve months had changed him
He’d worked and he’d thought and he’d tried
He was clean from drugs and lies and theft,
And praying he wouldn’t slide
And every time she thought of him
Her heart was full of pride.

So even when life seems darkest
And there’s evil at every turn
There still may be opportunities
To grow and to heal and to learn
So maybe before Sally knows it
The Beth whom she loves will return.

© Jane Paterson Basil



He is seventeen. As he stands upon the chair the rope around his neck mocks him, listing the things he will never have:

The shy girl whose hazel eyes flashed with helpless compassion while towering boys pushed and punched him, shrinking him into unbearable shame.

She will grow into womanhood never having been wrapped in these arms that will soon become limp, or kissed by lips that will cease to speak.

Their unborn children will weep as their never-to-be father takes a deep breath and kicks the chair away, thrashes in mid-air, and vacates his life.

Behind them, four designated grandchilden will stare in horror to learn that futures can be disposed of in such a final way.

His future friends will never meet this beautiful caring soul. The love he has earned will never return to him a hundred fold.

His final breath will not be a glorious farewell to a life kindly lived, but a tragic end to one cut short by his inability to realise that he was worthy, and that he was loved.

He thinks he hears a manic giggle as the rope gets ready to stretch and tighten, as it pictures the triumphant moment when his parents enter the room to find their son’s body dangling, purple faced and absent of soul. He feels the knot itching to hear the music of their grief.

He smiles as he releases himself from his bonds, carefully untying the rope and removing its accompanying hook from the ceiling. Later he will fill the hole that it made, rendering these last hours invisible.

He will go downstairs and hug both of his parents. Tomorrow he will stand tall and look the bullies in the eye, and then he will find words to say to the shy girl with the hazel eyes.

© Jane Paterson Basil