The Pact

At a poetry workshop, the facilitator asked us to choose a postcard of famous art works she’d brought in.  This is my response to Egon Schiele’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ .

 

The Pact

That postcard of ‘The Kiss’

you stuck on my wall

really pissed me off.

The shape was wrong –

oblong not square –

and the paper glossy, not gilded.

Then you kissed me.

It should have been a clue

but I was new to the scene.

‘I could steal your soul,’ you joked,

‘If only you’d let me.’

I was a fool to agree to pose, legs akimbo,

holding the darkest red rose.

‘Dead blooms keep their mouths closed,’ you said.

It was then I knew just what I’d sold.

What could I do but grow bold?

 

Later, as I lay in your arms,

you told me who you really were.

I misheard, I thought you said ‘toad’.

Turnip Soup for Blue Fire: A Fable

A long time ago, when I was living in Essex, a few of us were sat in a lovely old pub somewhere along the Thames Estuary, talking about how powerful tiny stories were. One especially dear friend gave me the barebones for the following fable:

Turnip Soup for Blue Fire: A Fable

Somewhere a blue fire is burning. The Blue Man is reading it. He reads cut glass and colossal castles. He reads of natural and human-made disasters, mountains reaching up to endless skies, gold dust falling in never ending rays and rivers drowning everything. He reads good food because he loves to eat. He reads dark things and deep fires and at last he becomes sleepy.

The Blue Man’s fire can be seen from the Red Woman’s hut. Her life is charred wood and rusting pots, many crying and laughing children and turnip soup for supper. The Red Woman is tired but she cannot sleep, and so she daydreams about the blue fire.

One day the Red Woman decides to steal the blue fire.

She kisses all her crying and laughing children goodbye, some of them more than once because she loves them. She takes some bread and water and makes her way towards the blue fire belonging to the Blue Man.

The Blue Man sleeps. He dreams about feeling happy, and about feeling afraid. His blue fire gives him warmth but also marks of burning.

The Red Woman makes her way along the Blue Man’s road. She sees the yellow sun painting cornfields around her. She hears birdsong high in the trees. She remembers the first kiss from her husband and tries to forget the last.

The Red Woman meets an overworked donkey and a battered dog. They keep her company. She feeds them crusts of dry bread and gives them the water to drink. It is a long way to the blue fire of the Blue Man.

The Blue Man wishes to share. He wishes to share the gift of dreams but knows that they can’t fill anyone’s stomach. Everything he wishes to share fills his days and nights. He is seeking emptiness once in a while.

The Red Woman is thirsting for the yellow around her. The overworked donkey and the battered dog follow close behind. During the day she can’t see the blue fire and the road grows long, dusty and dry.

So somewhere is the Blue Man wishing to be free from the warmth and sorrow of plenty.

And somewhere is the Red Woman plodding along for a taste of both: turnip soup for blue fire.

Only the donkey and the dog have simple lives.

 

The decision of the Flower

A couple of years ago, I attended a weekend workshop in Bristol on writing and therapy. One of the exercises was to write a poem based on an actual memory and using repetition techniques within the writing.

The Decision of the Flower (written June, 2015)

 

Drought summer:

a girl in a purple dress

sits by a dried-up river

picking petals from a daisy.

It’s the oldest game. He loves me…

 

Sitting by a dried-up river

listening to the click-click of crickets.

It’s the oldest game.

He loves me…

Or not.   The decision is the flower’s.

 

Listening to the click-click of crickets,

bees humming above cow parsley

the decision is the flower’s,

or not

until the game is done.

 

Bees hum above cow parsley.

She picks petals from a daisy

until the game is done.

Drought summer:

a girl in a purple dress.

 

 

 

I married Mr Benn

At a Creative Writing class just before Easter break, we were asked to write – in any style –  one A4 page on the topic of “congeries”, a difficult word that has the appearance of being a plural but which is, in fact, very singular! Here is mine:

My brother used to cry when Mr Benn came on television. Or he’d peep out from behind the sofa and watch it, his little face aghast. Then, when the programme had finished, he would play Mr Benn in that way children do: “let’s pretend”. He would have me be the shopkeeper passing him an invisible outfit, go into the pantry and come out as a fireman, or a deep-sea diver, or whatever the disguise had been on that particular day and have an adventure… and then everything would be all right again, until the next time.

It’s only recently that I’ve made the connection. It’s dawned on me, that after ten years of marriage, I still don’t know who my husband is when he dons his suit and goes into the city. He becomes a stranger: distant, efficient and inflexible. Someone who, if I do have to phone him during his working hours, talks to me as though I’m a client, or an irritant, which might be the same thing. I’ve never seen him with a client so it’s hard to know how he behaves. If truth were told, I’m too afraid to see him with one. It might lead to divorce. Or worse: what if he’s happier than when he’s with me? What I do know is, had I met him in his professional setting, we would never have married.

I get the same feeling of “who the hell are you?” when he dons his cycling gear, or golfing gear, or one of the many guises he has for his numerous pursuits. He has to have an outfit – and the right outfit – for every occasion. When he walks into the closet in our bedroom, he always closes the door behind him. If it is earlier morning, I lie in bed drinking coffee, wondering which one he will choose among his congeries of characters. I listen to the suit bags rustling, the hangers swishing. And then he comes out as this someone else, just as Mr Benn did, just as my brother did, all those years ago. To me, it is more than an outward change; it is a total transformation, of body and soul, every time. He is someone I just don’t know.

When I add it up – even when he is dressed in casual, about-the-house clothing – there aren’t many hours in the week when he is simply himself. I see how kind he is with my mother, how polite he is with strangers, how he opens doors for women, how he always walks on the outside of the pavement when we’re shopping. But what does any of this mean? Is this the real him? Is there a real him? Or is he playing one continuous game of “let’s pretend”?

My husband knows least of all. Because when I try to explain, he wears a complete lack of comprehension on his face, and refuses to talk about it.

The only time he shows emotion is when he drinks too much wine. Then, he cries, sings and plays the piano, always in that order, before arguing with me and flouncing off to the spare room.

As for my brother, he became an actor.

 

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In a creative writing class, the challenge was to write a play in poetic form on the theme of siblings. Here is my effort.

Sibling Rivalry

1.

Two sisters sit in the kitchen.

Each conceals a knife.

The younger one’s is made of paper.

She doesn’t want to fight.

She wants to share tea, toast and jam, as they used to.

They talk about the man.

2.

A knife flies through the air

catching the younger one on her chin.

She calls the Police.

The elder sister flees.

3.

Water floods the kitchen.

The younger sister cleans beneath the sink.

The elder one mops the floor.

 

4.

The younger sister attends the bride.

They are dressed alike, as Snow-White:

puffed sleeves, black waistcoats, flouncing skirts.

But the younger cries;

she has no satin slippers.

5.

They wait at the altar

for the man who fails to show.

The Chosen One

In an end-of-term creative writing class in 2016, students were asked to write on the theme: ‘Twelve Bears have 12 dreams of 12 bears dreaming’. We were permitted only one side of A4 paper but could write in any style – as long as it wasn’t our usual style. I thought I’d share mine with you. This was inspired by a visit to Hamleys, where a basket full of bears on the floor was overlooked by a special bear on a shelf high above.

Every bear dreams of being claimed by a smiling child: girl or boy, it doesn’t matter. He just wants to be taken home and named, taken home and cuddled.

In a toy box in the darkest corner of Hamleys, twelve bears sleep in an exhausted heap after another night of sharing their dreams. They live on dreams. Each bear dreams the same dream, day after day. He wants to be the chosen one.

Chosen Bear stands proud, his head almost reaching the cloud. He is daydreaming, as usual, that today will be his day. Today, after so many endless days since cub-hood, some loving child will reach up for him and give him that very special hug. Today, he will leave behind the monotony of the bear pit on the ground far below and be given his very own name.

From his high perch, Chosen Bear hasn’t realised that no one takes the bear from the top shelf. He can’t see the activity going on below him: that every day, at least one of the sleeping bears from the pit will wake up to find himself in a child’s bed. While another dream-making bear will take his place and dream away until it is his turn.

Old Saw: A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is a reality.