Tag Archives: tribute

Crossing the Street

crossingthestreet

“I’m sorry, I don’t carry change.”

That’s what I always say, though sometimes
it’s a lie.

From Goa to Mumbai
it is considered unwise to give to children who beg on the streets;
better to donate to charities that protect them from their tormentors.
I live by that principle on my forays through this English town
where the victims are adult, their tormentors
are chemicals to be melted on a spoon and injected,
and their habit can kill.

These days I rarely engage with them;
they don’t require sandwiches, pasties or practical advice
and I can’t give them a bed for the night, so I can do nothing to assist,
yet those eyes kidnapped me as she begged beside Tesco Metro.

“I’m sorry – I don’t carry change,” I said.

It was the eyes that detained me;
eyes that sang in the storm of cause and effect,
in the chaos what was and what might have been;
eyes that could not be silenced, that trilled above the din,
calmly revealing what she would have liked to conceal,
colouring in the thrill of travel, the regret
of roughened hands which once caressed,
rising to a crescendo to describe the hurricane
that threw her up, and flung her
in the gutter,

and as her eyes glistened,
I listened to the howling wind
as it echoed her dirge of the death
of a wolf of the Steppes,

If we are not all equal, as some believe,
she was much more than many I meet. When we parted,
I flirted with my purse, knowing my money would bring her
a pin-prick of relief, but I crushed the brief temptation,
since it could purchase her doom.

Her eyes watched me while I wrote,
and while I ate and read and slept. When I woke
I thought of her.

Spying from my hallowed side of the street,
finding third parties to relate her trials and treats,
I kept my distance to evade the pain of intimacy,

Just once, I fell again
into those eyes that had swum the skies
before sinking into the blood-flecked mud.
I asked her a question and watched her eyes
while they lied to me.

Her tongue was too noble to verbalise an untruth,
yet her eyes suggested a lie;
thereby giving me fake justification
for my evasion.

Yet I had openly lied to her when I had said
“I’m sorry, I don’t carry change.”

I can’t say I knew her, or that she knew me,
but she affected me.
It seems she touched everyone she met.
I wanted her to find peace, but not like this.

I’m on nodding terms with the other side of the street,
so the news has already reached me:
last night, her spectacular eyes
closed for the final time.

Today, two bodies lie in the morgue,
the tiny one tightly curled in the womb of its mother,
and I try not to weep for the multiple tragedy
of mindless heroin’s dumb victory.

Rest In Peace, Diane

Word of the Day Challenge: Spying.

When I feel inspired, I write a poem before checking out the word of the day. I usually find that it fits. Today is no exception.

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©Jane Paterson Basil

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For Eric

First morning of Autumn term.
I’m in the crush-hall, slouching with Bett and Marion,
stuttering into “business as usual” mentality,
shrinking from school-house stink,
bitterly regretting the absence of a time-machine
to take me to last week and drop me in a tree,

when

a cacophany of cat calls;
a confusion of piercing wolf-whistles
rudely explode from 3C’s nuisance crew –
led by Bill, with noisy aid from sidekick Dick and the usual losers.

A wit who is in on the obscure joke
yells “Blossom!”

Clutches of kids spin
away from crude authors to their protagonist;
a casually-dressed grotesque strolling toward us
by way of the students entrance.
Nobody but schoolkids use that door; the teachers
flatten their own, hallowed lane.

 The man  is setting a precedent
which he alone will follow for as long as he can tolerate
hypocrites and foolish heads of schools.

Later, he’ll be known by all as Eric,
sports coach by day,
youth leader in evenings and weekends,
heroic defender of child-friendly themes even while he sleeps.
A man who accepts our weaknesses
as natural or pained stages toward our individual choices  
of growth or decay.
He’ll never trill the truths we know,
instead planting daisies on the paths we scrape,
to illuminate the better way,

In his presence, my self-disgust will shrink,
and forever, memories of his generosity will boost me.
In latter years we will meet by happy accident and chat in the street.
I’ll reminisce, while he will weave his wise philosophy
like an invisible thread, darning the holes in my head.
He’ll speak of his yesterday’s hockey game,
of next week’s holiday in Thailand,
where he’ll visit his adopted son.
He’ll promise me saffron when he returns.
I’ll want to detain him, that I may bask
longer in his company.

In morbid moments I will think of his age, and imagine
that the sky will collapse, the planets collide
the moment he dies.

The Saffron will never arrive; instead a final announcement;
“The well known hockey coach, Eric Gale, after a brief illness…”
for an instant, I will hallucinate;
see the planets crashing to earth, the sun dying,
then his voice will come to me.
saying that life is about giving; in death,
he will never take away.
Grief and abiding gratitude will engulf me.

but today,
I only hear a nickname, “Blossom”,
whose background will remain a mystery.

As he passes through the hall, the bravest rebels repeat:
“Whoa, blossom; drop ’em, blossom,”
yet he smiles benignly, nodding and hello-ing as if
his tormentors are friends.

My friends and I shake our heads,
disgusted by the hecklers,
fascinated even as we are repulsed
by this track-suited, rucksack hugging man whose face
resembles a mismatched collection of unkind jokes
crafted by a demented plastic surgeon.

We do not yet recognise his glory.

Eric passes by,
his smile open, my eyes averted.
I glance at Bill’s elated crew
for a trace of shame,
but that will only come later.

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Written in haste for yesterday and today’s Word of the Day Challenges: Blossom and Abiding

©Jane Paterson Basil

Without Prejudice. Finale

I throw out these scraps as if it’s all there is to tell, but these are mere highlights in my tale of our police. I could write a book, and on every page I’d describe some small or major kindness; the type of generosity of spirit that is too rarely commented upon; far too meanly treated, especially when meted out by the police. 

However, I expect this chapter to be the last, and it tells a story which ended on Thursda, with me weeping from gratitude, even though I had faith that it would happen. It concerns a WPS; S, who had a special interest in my daughter’s plight. She specialises in abuse cases, and she was involved with Laura for a while. During this time we met a few times, and had several phone conversations.. During this period, Laura was particularly unwell. She knew my deepest fear, and she shared it. Rather than pretending that she reckoned everything would be fine, she owned up to the truth; that my daughter was unlikely to survive much longer, and that no professional who was working with her, could understand how she’d stayed alive. She added that in the best case scenario, Laura would be involved in a serious accident which neither killed nor permanently maimed her, but took her off the streets for a few months, where her only choice would be drug recovery. Looking back, I expect she knew, as I did, that Laura had a reputation for running across and back in the path of moving cars. Even with this information and more, hard as they tried – along with the local drugs services, they couldn’t get her sectioned, as they have no authority over the NHS. Three doctors carry out an interview on the patient, and they have to agree that she is putting her life, or the life of someone else, at risk. People in psychosis are often remarkably sly, and more aware than you may expect. They frequently slip through the net. Sometimes they die as a result.  

Coming back to the subject at hand, S’s remarks may sound harsh, but she only told me what I knew to be true, and followed it up with my own secret wish. She was deeply intuitive; she knew that I had no desire to hide from the truth, and thanks to her being open, I felt less alone in the sustained terror of my daughter’s death. It’s true to say that the end of our talk I felt strangely relieved, to the extent that I began to hope that the grizzly miracle might happen, taking Laura’s recovery out of her hands and placing it firmly in the lap of the unwilling, underfunded, oversubscribed NHS., and giving her a chance of a future. If she ended up with a steel shaft in her leg, so be it. Better metal than graveyard mould. That’s how desperate I was to avoid what we all thought was a foregone conclusion until my WP friends gave me hope. 

Laura had not committed any crime; rather, she was chief witness (otherwise known as the victim) to a filthy batch of them. Perhaps due to limited court time (Rule Britannia, Britanna blah blah blah, Britain never, never, never shall be sane), only three were being brought against the abuser, but they were serious. Contact with S ceased to have any professional relevance when Laura proved herself to be too unwell to appear in court. The judge had no choice but to abort the trial in the interests of her mental health – not that it helped; at that point nothing helped. Laura continued to spin in a jerky trajectory that seemed to have only one possible destination. S continued to be privately concerned about Laura’s precarious lifestyle.

As many of you know, in Spring, Laura fulfilled my highest hopes by going into determined recovery, with the support of a kind friend of mine who has since become more to her, leaving all who truly know her dazed, while the addicts of this town continue to be cynical about the changes she’s made.

They haven’t seen her.

I got a thrill when I reflected upon how much better her life is now than mine has ever been – I still do – but one thing was bothering me. The police had not been told, and they deserved to know. On the day I called them to complain about the monstrous man who threatened me with death, the guy who took my call was so accommodating that I explained my quandary. Immediately – even eagerly – he asked me for a name that he could send a message to, pointing out that the police rarely hear the happy endings, no matter how they care and wish to know. I gave the name of my favourite WPS, and although he was in a call centre forty-eight miles from here, in a straight line, he was as good as his word.

On Thursday afternoon, as I worked in the back room of the Oxfam shop, I got a call from a private number, and before I touched the phone, I knew who the caller would be.

She sounded the same as always; warm and friendly. I gave her all the details of Laura’s current life – within reason; I didn’t mention her new clothes or finicky things like that, but she got my drift, and I heard the relief and pleasure in her tone. She told me how many times she had thought about Laura, and dreaded the expected final report on her desk, and it suddenly occurred to me that if the worst had happened, she would have been almost certain to have requested or chosen to be the one to visit me, if she’d been at work.

I could so easily have been soaking her clothes with my tears.

I held myself in check while she asked me to send Laura her warmest regards, and wish her the very best for her future. I kept it together while she said she hoped she would see my daughter in Barnstaple some day, and have the opportunity to speak to her now that her tragic mask of killing addiction has been flung onto the motorway that leads to her home in the city, and crushed by a million cars; now that he had finally silenced the wild cacophony inside her head, and returned to health – except that she didn’t word it quite so colourfully.

I said goodbye to S, who had once considered applying for a transfer to the City, where the would be more promise of promotion, but changed her mind when she realised that city police have less sense of community; she’d have less opportunity to apply the personal touch, and to work in a close-knit way with her colleagues who were less friendly than those in this country town. That’s why she stayed.

I put down the phone, and cried tears of joy. I knew how much her wishes would mean to Laura, and they meant a great deal to me.

The complex mix of emotions that rose as I was writing this post have exhausted me like no other I can remember.

I’m so tired that I can hardly stand. Maybe I’ll sleep on my sofa tonight.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Without Prejudice. Part 2

Last week I made a statement to the police.
For some reason, the man who tried to break my daughter’s neck
and left her in a pool of blood,
is threatening to kill me.

Of all the cheek!

Unlike the attack on Laura, it’s no big deal – no more than
an interesting story to add to my literary CV.

Although he has
twenty four convictions for violence in his history,
lives round the corner from me
and I believe him to have a terminal disease
(which slims down his reason to fear reprisals
if he should carry out the deed),
he’s too solid to intimidate me. Lately,
only phantoms can succeed in that department.

They seem to rise out of
the coffee pot along with the steam or
strike you while you’re kicking through flotsam on the beach
but you know there is no escape since they
are holed-up deep deep deep
beneath your skin …

But this story is not about me.
More importantly, I wanted the police to know that although
she cannot prevent that psychopath
from carrying out a different, but related crime,
I wished to report that he also warned a physically weak addict
to expect a visit from him,
when he would beat her mercilessly;
I’ll name her Emma, to protect her anonymity.

The sergeant looked concerned, and shaking her head, she said
“Oh, no, not poor Emma.”
Her gaze shifted to the wall, and a grey haze
flitted across her face as she entered a place where
empathy raises the question;
“How can I help?”
Sadness and despair emanated from her slender frame.
It was with an attitude of failure that she
returned her gaze to me.

(An aside: Unfortunately, Emma probably envisages this woman as her enemy).

I mentioned the policewoman’s reaction
to an acquaintance whose brother happens
to be a recovering addict.
When I said Emma was under threat, she murmured
“I know her. She probably deserves it.”
I asked why, and she replied
“Bloody junkie. All those bloody junkies. I see her in Church Lane…”
as if that explained her remark.

Church Lane is an old walkway in the centre of town.
It contains two benches, one of which is often occupied by addicts,
while other addicts stand around and chat. They
don’t snatch handbags, and if they are in the way
they move aside and politely apologise,
and while their their language is often over-ripe,
its content is less offensive than that of many
teens who swagger down the streets loudly shouting details of
sexual intentions and conquests, but the addicts are deemed to be
threatening in some unaccountable way.

I refrained from asking if my daughter also deserved it,
instead simply telling her that Emma matters to me.
Ignoring her own vulnerability, she defended and supported
my daughter when she most needed it, thereby
putting herself at risk of reprisal,
and now she is suffering for her act of solidarity.

I thought of those who try to keep
us safe, of their patient efforts on behalf
of our victimised neighbours,
our disenfranchised kin.

With these humble words, I salute
their depth of understanding and empathy, and I wish
we were all more like them.

This town has been
either careful or lucky
in its selection
of police.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Without Prejudice.

They were the ones who were licensed to carry guns, but I didn’t know that, the first time they rang my bell. I opened the door to a pair of bulky uniforms, sharp sharp fabric, fussy buttons, oppressive numbers that shone and those fluorescent waistcoats that go over the clothes, making policemen look twice their size.

In front of the two men, Laura jerked and sagged, jerked and sagged, her recently pristine  jeans reduced to rags as if she’d shredded them with a blunt knife. Vertically sliced ribbons of denim danced wildly in the keen wind, batting at a few fallen leaves that flew over our low wall. Even in the thin street light I could see her knees and thighs were mottled reddish blue. She should have been freezing, but the cold must have melted before it reached the heat of her seething mind.

At this hour of the night the street was empty, but had anybody seen my calm reaction to the presence of the police, they may have been surprised. While addiction is booming, yet few people’s lives are like mine. My children had unique ways to include me in the details of their strife, and, traumatic as these incidents were, I had learnt to maintain a calm facade. This wasn’t the fist time the police had brought her home in a dislocated state, but this time they asked to come in, and Laura falteringly led the way.

We sat at the kitchen table, while the policemen introduced themselves by name, and gently said my daughter was not in trouble, but if didn’t mind, they’d like to talk to her until she felt calm, and I didn’t need to stay, by which they meant they wanted privacy, so I went through to the sitting room.

I never discovered what had happened to her. She couldn’t remember – a familiar scenario.

I never asked what they discussed, although the police gave me a those details which they knew Laura would not mind them sharing.

After that, they brought her home on several occasions. I wasn’t informed of the details of her escapades, these two policemen were discreet and kind; it was enough for me to know they had both her best interests and mine, at the forefront of their minds.

The second time they came, they explained that they were the rapid response team, so they were constantly armed, but since guns are rarely required around these parts, they worked with the regular team. I admit I was surprised; I would never have expected that such compassionate men would choose to bear arms, but thinking about it afterwards it occurred to me that they were a sensible choice; they’d be unlikely to use their skills without due care.

Her psychosis was hard to deal with, and sometimes when they brought her home in a dishevelled and confused state one or the other of them would join me in the living room for a breather, before returning to the fray.

Often, after these events, she would return to a sensible frame for a while, but sometimes nothing could change her manic state, and she would run up and down the stairs all night, laughing, weeping, screaming, demanding that I urgently find whatever item sprang to mind; a half-remembered ornament or a different roll of tape to that which she was using to wrap around a dress or a dislocated rhyme about a false memory. At 4am, broken from trauma and exhaustion, tears may be streaming from my eyes, but still she would scream at me, until, suddenly laughing with glee, she’d run out of the door, and I’d be torn between hoping that the police would bring her home, and dreading it.

One time they concluded that she needed to speak to an addict in recovery. In order to facilitate a helpful chat, they phoned a few relevant organisations, but none of them could help, so in desperation, knowing it was against the rules, they called up a woman who had “helped them with their inquiries” a few days before, and she had a long talk with Laura, after which she was in a better frame of mind.

Sometimes she was in such a bad way that those two policemen would take her to A and E, to try and get her assessed for psychiatric care. They’d wait with her, and attempt to persuade the team to see her, but she’d be refused, since psychiatrists won’t see people who are under the influence of drugs.

The police have no official authority over hospital decisions, but just once, they succeeded in talking a doctor into admitting her into a ward, using a trumped-up diagnosis, in the hope that a psychiatrist would see her the nest day. They let me know she was safe, and showed up at her bedside the next morning with a pot of her favourite yogurt. She was still refused y the mental health team, so the police brought her home to me. She was thrilled by her adventure, and for a few days life became easier.

These policemen, and others in our town, went above and beyond the call of duty for my ill, addicted daughter, at the same time giving the impression that it was all in a day’s work. There are many stories I could tell; many examples I could give of their kindness, patience, and generosity to both my son and my youngest daughter. Despite the difficulties my children wrought, rather than treating them like criminals, they recognised what they were; victims of a disease – a disease which invades our culture, and eats our children from the inside. It’s a tragedy that the mental health practitioners don’t see it this way, or perhaps they can’t afford to, since mental health is a massive issue and too little is spent on it.

Whole we hear of the rare mistakes and acts of police corruption, caring acts like these are too rarely mentioned. The majority of individuals who join the police force do so to be of service to the oppressed, and many of them recognise the disguised colours of oppression – a job which is becoming increasingly difficult since their budget was cut by a government that doesn’t lift a finger to help the dispossessed.

Seen through eyes that hold no prejudice, our local police shine.

©Jane Paterson Basil

The Words

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I don’t have the words
to describe how he saved me; how many times he
untied me, his voice cradling me, his
words raising me to a place where I could see the
raised, grey veins feeding the leaves, the
infinite gaps between the atoms, the
perfection of profanity, the
surprised depth of my tenacity, the
secret sinews that stretched for me,
the verdigris beauty
of our cracked
humanity;

I don’t have the words
to say what he was to me.
If he crept inside my head, he
could write my truth for me.

He, and only he
whose honest bricks were
shaped from human frailty and faults;
from love and hate and pain and ecstasy,
from hope and desperation, and finally, from peace,
who showed us places we could almost reach,
who raised his turgid alter high
and humbly gifted it to us.

I don’t claim exclusivity,
my keening sigh is echoed
by a million souls with feeling,
but when he ceased breathing,
I wept for unsung songs
that were destined to be digested and dispersed
in the dank earth by cemetery worms,
and while I believe he was ready

we weren’t.

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Dedicated, with friendship and gratitude to Ivor, who, in conjunction with Leonard Cohen, inspired this poem.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Addiction,Recovery, Relapse

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Addiction, recovery, relapse; it’s a loop which grips you like a noose. That first step to recovery is painful and frightening. Many addicts are in two minds about it when they take the first step, so it comes to nothing; in no time they are back on the street scoring. It’s claimed that you have to hit rock bottom before you’re ready for recovery, but rock bottom can be an awfully long way down, with untold dangers on the way.

It’s unusual for an addict to go into permanent recovery at the first attempt. They often get into that familiar pattern: addiction, recovery, relapse, addiction, recovery, relapse. This is traumatising for everyone who cares. Each time the addict relapses they are at high risk of overdose, as their tolerance for the drug has gone down. Family and friends often give up on the addict, but they need to know that with every attempt, there is more chance of success, just as every time a learner driver takes a driving test, they are more likely to pass.

So, addiction, recovery, relapse is a loop which grips you like a noose, but a noose can be untied. The circle can be broken, placing the addict in permanent recovery, though only time can tell if this has occurred.

Addicts get clean every day, and stay clean for the rest of their lives. Some of them go on to work tirelessly to support other addicts through recovery, though their hearts may be torn over and over again. I have great admiration for all recovering addicts.

Today, I pay tribute to recovered addicts everywhere; in particular, two brave young women who will remain nameless (it’s enough that they know who they are); a local man called Jimmy, who has become an inspiration to many in this town; Adam, at the Bideford Lighthouse project, and, of course, my daughter Laura.

I live in hope that I may add my son’s name to this list at some point.

With Grateful thanks to Sumyanna, whose thoughtful suggestion has given me new hope, and who may be pleased to learn that she inspired this post.

The Daily Post #Loop

©Jane Paterson Basil