How Is It Possible To Ever Say Goodbye?

 

Having never had her and watched her always never

Having herself, when she died, I wanted to keep her for ever.

To confound the burial men I filled her coffin with stones

And a dead sheep to keep the stones still.

 

Then I scrubbed her all over with bleach.

Remembering my biology I eviscerated her.

I fed the guts and organs to the pigs and hens.

Through her nostrils I pulled her brains with a bent skewer

She'd used each Christmas on the turkey rump.

The brain was spongy and grey and I looked at it,

Wondering if I was in there somewhere. Just in case

I preserved it in a marmalade jar I found in the cellar.

I rolled her up, having first extracted the bones

Taking instruction from a cookery book. 'How to Bone'.

(The bones presented a grave problem; in the end I burnt them

Over and over, crushing them once they were brittle.

O they were a gift for the old apple trees whose fruit had

Filled her pies for all the years of my childhood. I

Raked the grey grit between them.) My mother now

Fitted neatly into a suitcase and we went on a journey.

 

North, the winds are dry and cold. I rented a lonely house by the sea

And hung my empty mother on the washing line, two pegs

For each shoulder as she'd taught me. Her breasts hung down. 

Try as I might, I could not remember drinking from them.

All night I watched her hanging in the salty air like a frozen sheet.

Boneless feet pointing downwards, her yellowed toes just

Tipping the ground. She was a dead dancer.

Daytimes, I unpegged her and kept her rolled up, out of sight.

Nights drying and days rolled up, my mother became soft, like kidskin.

After one month, I packed her back into my travelling case.

Between, some mementos of my stay, local whisky, honey and shortbread.

We went home, my soft new mother and I. To the south again.

She lies now, behind the spare blankets in the mahogany linen press

Which once witnessed my conception, my birth. 

 ['How Is It Possible To Ever Say Goodbye?' Third Prize winner, Arvon International Poetry Competition, Aldgate Press, 2010]

 

 

 

 

Mary Arden's Soliloquy

 

To marry John, or not: that is the question:

whether there's a better man who'd offer

those tender touchings that're now my fortune,

and take my arm against my mother's worries,

and by opposing end them. To refuse him; to say

no more; yet by refusing would I end

the heart-ache, and the thousand questions

I am hammered by? Well now, that's a consummation

I could wish for. To stop all this;

to think again: even to dream; yes, there it is;

for in that dreaming what other options show,

where I could stop the niggling talk of sheets and silver.

Let me just pause! there's the wearing down I see

that makes calamity of any marriage. . . .

how will I bear the years, the trials of time,

the rank stench of leather on his body, his 

weighty ponderings on stitches, the dyer's delay,

the addings of sums, and the worry

that takes away all merit of a man,

when 'he' himself might be a nobler man?

My mother says, he's a good man, John,

it's not all grunt and sweat and a weary life.

But my dread of life after wedlock, the seeming

undiscovered country from whose prison

no woman can return, erodes my will,

then makes me rather bear the thought a good man

than fly to another that I know nothing of.

My conscience says: too cowardly, Mary;

now be condemned to what you know; be 

strong, suppress all wild thoughts.

So as my dreamings and my longings

disturb my soul I cry, I know

I must be content with contentment.

['Mary Arden's Soliloquy',  Beautiful Dragons Press, 2017]

       

 

 

The Song of the Woad Gatherer

woad: a spinach like plant which when crushed

and boiled in urine yields a blue dye; used since Roman

times in Europe and the Middle East. In the first year

the young leaves are picked and in the second year the

plant produces tall flowering stems.

There was a woman once. I was young, 

not yet a man, some might say a boy,

but I think I brought her comfort, 

not the comfort she sought, but still, 

some small respite.

 

I’d been up since dawn, gathering 

the first new woad leaves, bright and green

as spinach, my nostrils full of a rank 

bitter stench that the wind carried 

from the boiling dye vats. My hands sore, 

my back bent, I ached; the broken stems 

left behind me like small white bones 

scattered across the field.

 

She was walking in the next field 

amongst the seed woad, reaching up 

with a slow hand and plucking

 at the ripe black seeds between 

the yellow flowers, her face wracked 

with such grief I could see it from 

a distance. The seeds she counted 

unseeingly from one hand to the other 

she let drop, trampled by her feet into the dirt.

She was heedless, harshly muttering, 

my son, my son, my son

 

the words desolate, demented.

 

She came very near to me, her woad dyed 

faded blue gown blowing open in the dry wind, 

the slow wind, the little wind I welcomed 

each day. Dark on her crimson under dress, 

I saw rusty stains. I thought it’s blood, 

she’s lost her child, some accident, 

a mule, a cart. Some violent act.

 

As she passed she turned and in that moment 

she saw me there in the hot haze of the field, 

stripped bare to my loins, around my head 

twisted rags and loops of fibre against the sun. 

She cried out then, her voice pierced my ears, 

her hands shot out as if she feared to fall, 

some small black seeds dropping stiffly 

towards the ground. She came to me, but 

seeing I was not the one she’d been looking for, 

and thinking of her comfort I took her arm 

and led her to a place, like a small cave, 

where we, the woad gatherers, took our break

midday. I’d thought she’d rest, but her hands 

tore at me. She pulled me fiercely, wordlessly

down. I was not the one she had lost but 

I wonder now if what we did there in the dirt, 

toiling on the gritty floor of the cave, if that 

strange act comforted in some way, 

but she never said a word all the time 

and her eyes scoured my face unseeingly.

 

After we’d finished I stood outside I remember, 

and saw across the fields of green the dyeing place,

the great loops of linen blowing, each a piece of sky.

['Song of the Woadgatherer', Prize winner, Limnisa Bluethumbnail  Competition 2010]  

 

 

 

 

 

The Edge of Land

 

Will you walk over the hill with me?
We'll go west, towards the evening
and the little blond boats coming in
with the brash fishermen tired of the sea.
We'll walk on the path, the wide
line of chalk that rises and falls
on the hill that rises and falls to
end at the sea in a crumbled mass
of stones and yellow gorse. 

 

I will imagine for us a house, there,
on the stones, under the hill,
and we sitting, talking,
our worn legs by a fire, the music
of the sea beating and creeping
on the stones, the wind in the stiff gorse,
and the odd perfume of the yellow flowers 

that's so un-English, filling our heads 

as the evening comes.

['The Edge of Land ' , Frogmore Papers Number 94, October 2019]

 

 

 

A Postcard to My Mother

Dear Mum,

            What's it like up there?

Have you got a room of your own,

is it all to your liking? Is He

what you expected?   I hope so, 

I hope they made you welcome.

I hope they let you rest in peace, and

spread a table for you.   I hope there's 

not too many clashing cymbals

 and sounding trumpets to 

disturb the peace.   Missing you, 

wish you were here. Hope this finds 

you well x                 

PS. Hope the  weather’s nice.