Goodbye, dearest Jane;
it’s time, you have to leave.
I wish it were possible to explain,
or say something that you can believe.
But who could comprehend
this unilateral Flood,
the sudden corrosion of mind –
clear cliffs dissolved to mud?
We never had things out. The fault
was surely mine, unable to wound you.
We were both scared and appalled
and you lied you were not brave, my only clue.
I don’t think I am throwing you away,
as you hit home with a few months ago.
The world is trashing both of us, I’d say,
though people claim I still have places to go.
It’s an abolition, negative sum with choice denied:
you get my intermittent, pain-full blur,
I get your shadow to endure beside.
Neither, the little that we made or were.
But perhaps it serves some justice upon me
that according to one persuasive theory
even this halting poem cannot be
because there is no one left to hear it.
Do Not Disturb
Some days I switch off telephones, the iPad,
radio, the ubiquitous TV,
muffle the doorbell too, block out the jangling
voices of all who wish to get at me,
and ring you up, tell you (my lips just moving)
the family news. Although the real phone’s dead
and someone else has got your number, I can
still activate the line inside my head.
Another old friend gone. And two got married.
The words are mouthed. If you were here, you’d know.
The baby was a girl. No doubt, some people
would think me mad. I tell you, even so.
S. M. Finch
I have my dreams
but I’m caught
in this cranial sphere
and it’s stuffy in there.
I need physical forms
Sudden (for every child lost)
And then the light just goes,
blinks out. Nothing except
a sense of North, the sheer bulk
of black, the lost hum of things.
An unfamiliar house folds
into a dwindling retinal map;
home ghosted by stairs, and
unfamiliar doors. Arms reach
for nothing. No star to steer by.
The day before, by Annan Water
and the Culdee Tower, a wedding
party, veils and kilts twitched
by naughty air. Dunblane’s bells,
confetti snow, and belles.
In the Cathedral Wynd
just standing, a solitary man,
a father once, and now
a blanket of cold upon him.
Like this the light just leaves.
His eyes emptied where
they are pressed by night.
Despite the arches and the carving;
all those magnificent angels,
here he stands, suspended,
in a corridor of dark, just staring,
with nobody’s hand to hold.
Her eye still sure, she reads cloud furrows,
the sky’s face like a friend, knows the bees’ and
plants’ portents under the leaf roof.
She is for no-one now, and content, though
no-one notices (calling, when they do) a back
less straight, ears less keen for chatter. Charity
fills the kettle, arms full of bustle, makes eddies
in the dust, troubles the cats by the fire, rattles
the medicine bundles and seeds stored in dry pods.
She hands out eggs and wild honey, but her quiet
still awaits for her behind her eyes. Her sorrows
lie at rest beneath the cairn; she has loosed hope
into the blue lap of air, and set out her hives,
her rows of silver herbs, her steady silences.
Days she will stand listening into the sun, where
the distant running deepens, nears. She will go
out soon, scattering skep, cane and pruning hook,
quick feet stirring the dry track. Her white hair will
flash like a wing, or water at dawn light. She’ll climb
to the brow, bend to the saddle bow, and laugh
with the riders over the dunes to the wide sea.
Arnold Blacker (school child, aged 10)
Loneliness is the one that will make your life dark and miserable.
Loneliness is love just not found.
Loneliness is the one that will knock you down.
Loneliness is the one that will make you fade into the darkness.
There is a lot of talk these days about black holes. Strangely enough, over 60 years ago at age 17, losing both my parents within a day felt like ‘falling into a black hole’.
Home from boarding school for Christmas, I knew my mother was expected to die very soon. Though 20 years older and ill the previous summer, my father was looking much better. Then he sustained a massive stroke and died three weeks later, just a few hours before my mother. As both parents and my brother had been ill for a good part of my life since I was 13, I was not equipped to cope with this tragedy.
My brother and I hardly knew each other, being at different schools. The house was fairly new to our parents and did not feel much like home to either of us. But for two teenagers to tackle selling up was daunting. My mother was an American and my father had no relatives able to help. Now I had not only to find a home but also change school.
Being so alone was very frightening. Strange to say, I had no legal guardian and sadly the only creature that I loved was my terrier. But out of the woodwork three people emerged who ‘saved my life’. The local vicar and his wife gave me a home (but did not have room for my brother). A previous headmistress got in touch somehow and pointed me toward University and then social work training. I hadn’t a clue then what social workers did! We had enough money to survive on and our local bank manager helped me to save. I will never forget these three people. ‘The kindness of strangers.’
But people were frightened of getting too involved. I only cried years later when a friend asked what I had felt about losing my parents. Nowadays counselling would be suggested but in those days a ‘stiff upper lip’ was expected. Rather than counselling, what I did need was a few hugs and an appreciation of this massive change in my life. I did not get that.
I learnt by default the importance of friends. Meeting up in our twenties, my brother and I have become the best of friends. What it must be like to be a refugee I cannot imagine. I at least spoke English and had my own country.
There is something to be said for having troubles early, if you survive them. I could be more understanding of others’ difficulties. I just missed out on a few years of being happy. Since my husband died last March, I live alone but have had more hugs and attention from friends and step-family than ever before in my life. I no longer feel alone. Nothing, so far, has been as bad as what happened when I was 17.
A small formica table, two chairs
On vinyl tiles.
One fork, one knife, one spoon –
Each prong a piercing
Each cut a slice
Each scoop a hollow.
The living room
Is carpeted. Her ornaments
Line the mantelpiece.
A disused dining table.
Two vacant fireside chairs
Stare at a dark hearth.
Only the bed offers
A semblance of sanctuary.
An electric blanket
Is poor company
But better than
Space to Live
I air-kiss your picture at night, darling.
I say Hallo while shoe-horning
Myself into each new morning.
I miss the chat, the hugs, the caress
Our meals and Mozart.
But I’ve found a way
Forward with sun shining
On my spade, birds at the feeders,
Meals with friends
And profound silence
In which I search for words
To say the unsayable.
What is loneliness
Where the air is thin. Paper-cut birth of the mind’s blues. An evening’s reminder to retreat from the bustle of hungry places. The calm company of the private sea. Realization of the distance in time, a recollection of its motions stirring gently but out of sync, behind and ahead of you. The nausea of separation. The loud million first days of school. Seasickness in the city. Plastic words in transit and the intimate knowledge of cigarette smoke. The pulse filling up with nonsense.
To Be Held
I want to sink into the softness
of beauty – a yearning to be held
there, to be held. To be
a bright orange pollen grain
that rests in the quiet fort
of thick-walled white tulip petals.
Held there, swollen with music,
to one day erupt into the expanse,
to become new beauty.
I want to cleanse my world
by sinking into beauty, being held
there, and creating
more beauty, more life.
Rather than cover darkness,
I want to uncover light; rather
than tear down tents of weeds,
I want to build towers of tulips,
places of beauty, of rest.
But for now, all I want, is to sink
into the softness of beauty,
to be held there, to be held.
Oh Rosie, how I miss you so
It wasn’t time for you to go.
Your bed is empty, your toys lie still
No food or water bowls now to fill.
No clinking collar, that familiar sound
The house is so quiet without you around.
Your patch is dug over, unused and bare
The garden seems empty without you there.
But I cannot continue to feel so sad
There is much to remember that makes me feel glad.
You brought so much sunshine into our lives
And, as is normal when somebody dies,
My mind and heart are filled with wonderful thoughts
The likes of which can never be bought.
Puppy days with sharp little teeth,
Your love of music asleep at my feet.
Playful tussles and bouncing balls,
Naughty times – I forgive them all.
Daily walks through fields and lanes,
In snow and hail, wind and rain.
Paddling in pools and lakes and streams,
More food on offer? In your dreams!
Bath time bubbles brought laughter and fun,
Oh, how quickly you tried to run.
The wagging tail and warm welcome home,
Car journeys with you, wherever I roamed.
Quiet and patient, as good as gold
Those brown, soulful eyes – a story they told.
Your soft, gentle touch or movement of paw,
Stroking, caressing- you always wanted more.
Those quiet kitchen cuddles at the end of each day,
What more is left for me to say?
I am lonely without you, my faithful friend,
The best of companions right to the end.
- The room I’m thinking about
Is fill of chrystals and dimonds
Which hang from the celing
Glisting and showing beautifill
Colours as the sun shines on them
- The room I’m thinking about
I filled to the celing
With roll of carpet
Blue, red, green, white
Foral are sometime seen
Which give most delight
- The room I’m thinking about
Is empty at this moment
Until things are placed all around
Curtains hung at windows
Covering and shading everything
- Chairs and tables put in place
Cuboards filling empty space
Carpets covering all the floors
Everything put tidy away in draws
Children shouting and screaming
This is where it all begone.
Last week, I learned a new word
I was all set with the usual stress
Nothing more than a curled-up mess.
No more force, none for the sake
Of walking, reading, and stopping to shake.
And then it came, an afterthought;
Most of all a lucky guess
You know, it was – togetherness.
Mollymae Loose (aged 9)
In the deep, dark, gloomy corner of the dull playground
standing hunched over, alone. Feeling like a dog left
behind in a dirty, small boot of a broken down car.
Loneliness hears your cracking heart breaking in two.
In the cold, empty house sat on a broken chair, feeling
like the trodden-on ashes of a burnt down house.
Loneliness is what I look at in the mirror every day.
Feeling like a blank piece of paper no one wants to write on.
Loneliness is a heart breaker that shreds you into tiny
pieces no one can rebuild you.
Blank walls crowd him, the tap drips a slow march,
so he unrumples his old suit, slips on his,
more-scraped than polished, black shoes.
Slams his warped door in spasm of a curse, then
sets off into town, at a remembered business-pace.
A welcome swamp of noise lifts his face,
there are eyes to be met, nods to be occasioned
and if he could harvest few smiles to glow later
in remembered scraps, that would be a special treat.
Crossing the road is not recommended; black-tinted
road-snarlers have sworn never to give way.
Traffic lights pulsate a few second’s dash.
Why risk the nothing he has, in a pointless rush?
He mumbles at Malls that scour your credit,
bundle you out with too much – best before trash.
Recalls trading over teak counters –
goods wrapped for rung-up cash.
His dangling bag is now a rarely filled sack, except
for bruised fruit found round the back.
He slows to a dodge, edging pavement huddles,
The scrums stay tight until loosened by selfies.
Arm-sweeps from posers totter him to the edge.
Time for him to return to his album of snaps.
His grocery list for one reads:
lover, wife, mother, best pal
for more than sixty-years.
Reaching for their address book,
a home from home they said,
this is her home,
he wanted to scream.
Slowly he inks over the pencilled number,
knowing soon, one of these ember days,
after the leaves have come crashing down,
after the black crows have been and gone,
after unpacking the groceries,
comforted by the silence of plums,
he’ll need to put a line through the number.
There was a ceremony of course; a polite queue,
honed nods , smiles deserving crafted replies, but
words just crossed the street.
Finally a finger buffet; something to tipsy memories,
crumb-spit togetherness, handed round plates emptied
until all that remained – a dry curl of bread.
The Better Version of Myself
My journey into the unknown – questions, bottled up frustrations, angry explosions and uncontrollable tears, waves of sadness and all engulfing loneliness. Some three frustrating and at the same time rewarding years, I have been learning the ropes and how to be an advocate for my daughter – an accelerated, much tougher take of growing up.
Her birth bore no resemblance to my birth plan but medical staff very soon declared her healthy and she lay in the crook of my bruised arm. I was feeling on top of the world and my unconditional love for this amazing pink and purple human being that we had created took me by surprise. The memory of a sea of medical professionals opening doors to us en route to the recovery room will stay with me forever.
A developmental disability became apparent to us when she was aged around 20 months. Accepting the diagnosis of autism came very slowly and painfully – months rather than weeks. It was a big unknown for us, and the unknown can be twice as scary.
As first time parents, we had joked that our baby girl would one day be President of the USA. But people develop in different ways and my daughter will reach different milestones and face different challenges and successes (big or small) along the way, and we have learnt to adjust our expectations and to celebrate every step forward in her learning, social and communication skills.
In my darkest hours, I imagined my much-loved daughter as a delicate, fragile, yet broken vase, and I struggled to grasp that autism would be in our lives forever. No super glue will fix her, nothing could undo our history and start again. Waves of love would rescue me when I was feeling down. And the next day, it would start all over again.
Everyday life still mixes ordinary yet glorious milestones (putting on her own socks, first try on a scooter) with unexpected, unforgiving meltdowns (rigid routines and one-sided conversations, even though I know every word is sinking in.) A raw, exhausting and sometimes frustrating private universe. Some may turn away in an attempt to keep their lives uncluttered and uncomplicated. But our life is authentic and the ties that saved me are love and the realisation that there are other families like us out there. It brought redemption from a myriad challenges and disappointments in our lives. Soulmates’ love and parents’ love for our wonderful little girl, the icing on the cake of our marriage. Love for our new friends who have become our growing family in autism.
Our family is all about loving each other the way we are. We are incredibly lucky to have our daughter in our lives, in all her uniqueness. I am grateful that time gave me the much needed perspective to grow, reconcile myself with life and help my daughter to grow. And it makes me strive to create a better version of myself every day. For us. For her.
Why am I still standing here
In this lonely place,
Hidden between the mirrors
Of an unknown face?
The room is cold and empty
Littered with lost dust
Echoes of a long lost time
Whisper through the dusk.
I hear the stirring footsteps
Of memories that pass
And hold my breath while hoping still
This memory won’t last.
I Will Keep Walking
Clouds will come, dark clouds, but I,
I will keep looking, keep looking
to the sun for light, for warmth, and I,
I will keep walking.
And when, even the sun is drowned
in melancholy and smothered by
the darkest clouds, I, I will find light
and warmth, the brightest light
and most embracing warmth,
And it will lift me, back to my feet,
back to my mountaintop; it will lift me
so high that even the clouds will find joy
and shed their darkness, to reveal
This is my vow, though clouds come, I,
I will keep walking.
Cos I'm lonely too
I distract myself when I’m feeling alone
by checking and then rechecking my phone
to read the endless comments by people I don’t actually know
about things that don’t matter
to me and never will,
it’s just mindless chatter
like the constant patter
of rain, this online buzz draws me
like a moth to the flame.
You see I’ve got lots of friends
but I still get lonely
and I’ve started wondering if I’m the only
one with this chasm
who feels so isolated
cos nobody’s talking.
We’re all suffocated
by the rules of society
that take priority
and dictate that we’ve got to be a solitary majority.
Let’s keep it simple, let’s just have a chat.
It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that.
And maybe when we start talking
we’ll both feel the surprise
that the empty place inside where the loneliness was
has been filled by the warmth of a stranger.
Once we embark
and step out of the dark
there’s a light.
I know that you don’t know me and I don’t know you
but let’s talk to each other
cos I’m lonely too.