Mat Leave

Watering can, little shoes,

April sun, baby blues,

Wet socks, soggy flowers,

Tired eyes, long hours.

 

Chubby cheeks, half-formed words,

Drone of cars, songs of birds,

Deepest love, smothered rage,

Silent protest, mother’s cage,

 

Eager eyes, sticky hugs,

New to nature, eating bugs,

Scraped knees, mummy kiss it,

‘When it’s gone,’ they say, ‘you’ll miss it.’

 

In fresh air, short of breath,

Should he nap? What if: cot death?

Filled nappy, teatime tears,

Guilt, resentment, shameful fears.

 

Fences, hedges, walls divide

So many of us trapped inside,

Feeling we are not enough,

Scared to say we find it tough.

 

I find it hard. How do you find it?

Do you ever wish you could unwind it?

Do you cry on cold baked beans

And plug your babies into screens?

 

Join the club. Come and share.

There’s others like us everywhere.

When we hide our fear and pain,

Depression smugly smiles again.

Troy

We saw humanity itself,

Cut into flesh and bone,

Of young and old:

 

That love and love’s self-righteous fire

Ignite the icy flame

Of hatred cold;

 

That cowardice and bravery

Alike can end in tears,

Or beauty hold;

 

That jealous rage and parents’ love

Are sibling seeds to sow

The end of days.

 

Competing vanity of gods,

Like clouds in still water:

Our mirrored ways.

 

The tide is changed by whim, or turned

By heartfelt quest for truth,

But wet it stays.

 

In Homer, just as now, we live for show,

And miss the mad adventure as we go.

The richness and the poverty of all

Is in the savage beauty of her fall.

Helpless

Fierce garish horses trotting

Up and down with groundhog rage;

Paint chipped and reins long-handled,

Chasing nothing in their cage.

 

There’s something in the chiming

Tinny clatter of the songs

That speaks of childhood toys and

Rocks like parents’ well-loved wrongs.

 

And so she rides again, enduring

Sickness all the while,

Because it isn’t home without

That raw nostalgic bile.

 

There’s no use telling her to

Change the route of her old horse

Because she’s bound, with it, to

Take the same old dizzy course.

 

If only we could stop it:

Take her arm as she stepped down

And show her all the other ways

To play in this wide town.

 

If only we could stop it:

Take her gently by the hand

And show her she could live a

Life much sweeter than she planned.

 

A life that feels so strange at first

Without the seasick dance,

But one where love and happiness

Will grow with half a chance.

 

Now in the nightmare lights

We just slide by in coloured streams.

She slips from rescue reach,

Like whispered words from fading dreams.

Separation

In the falling dust:

A baby cries her mother’s tears,

Cradled in soft sheets,

Haunted by her mother’s fears.

 

In the dewy grass:

Curling toes that clench each blade

Totter to the slide,

Climb the ladder, unafraid.

 

In the classroom roar:

Unsure where to go from here,

Scared to run and play.

Taut hands holding Mummy near.

 

Kiss me once and go!

Give me back my fears at last.

They are not for now.

Let us leave them in the past.

 

Kiss me once and go!

Time we both found our own way,

Chase our own bright dreams.

We’ll feel smaller if we stay.

 

Kiss me once and go!

You have your own path to tread.

But you must come home.

We’ll share stories before bed.

 

In the friendly gloom:

Plan adventures, wild and free.

Cradled in soft sheets;

You are you and I am me.

Dear Sultan

If you woke up, still you, but gay,

You’d be the same in every way.

No less rich or strong or bright,

No more wrong and no more right.

You’d still feel joy, excitement, fear;

You’d still grow older every year.

You’d still know love, and cherish those

Who wiped your tears and kissed your nose.

You’d still have interests, hobbies, jobs.

You’d still feel grief’s chest ache wrench sobs.

The only difference might well be

In who you love: the they, she, he.

And yet you, Sultan, have declared

That those, who only love have shared,

Deserve to die.

And when they do, they must feel pain:

Bone-breaking, cracking, smashing rain

Of stone that flies until you fall.

Until there’s no love left at all.

I see you; but I do not see

Your heart and your humanity.

Rescue

In the crunch tight

Heat creep of my fear

I sway to ill face,

No space, breathless.

 

You, the faceless,

Walk past, wondering,

Not wondering, in

Your high-ground flow

 

Of real life; no

Knife, no need to feel

Pain to stay sane, too

Busy to hurt.

 

You and your friend

Chat, laughing with red

Cheeks, dogs tasting run

Joy, chase toy, free.

 

I ache with wild

Eyes, mute cries, searching

A parched place, stumbling

And sand blind, lost.

 

Patter of fur paws,

Small claws, follow my

Right side. Our two worlds

Collide, changing

 

My mind tide. You,

Just a small dog, look

With your brown eyes, see

Through my disguise.

 

Water for dry

Lips, first drips, beat skips,

Knowing that you know:

Feel, care, somehow.

 

Just a few short

Steps, with you at my

Side, then, sharp, a shriek,

Call, throw ball. Gone.

 

Walk on, still in

A dark land: sounds grand,

But it’s a crass shop.

Sharp drop, tools that

 

Are missold: too

Old, broken and tacky.

Bright paint and cheap glue

Making them seem

 

New. But now your

Brown eyes, steady and

Soul kind, pierce through my

Heart rind: unwind the

Pain bind. I have a

Friend.

Something Rotten

Smug in the trappings; wisdom and time,

Smile like a child’s plastic jewel.

You finger our lives.

 

Gilded treatment hides the reaching rot,

Leaving only musty cloying

Damp to warn us off.

 

Smile and smile and still be a villain:

Hidden in clothes of congruence.

Wolf walks in wax wool.

 

Delicate footwork skates thin ice.

Mask slips; screech within

And fall into the pain of unloved skin.

A Good Day

Today we made a green robot.

It had cardigan buttons

For cheerful eyes

And glitter on its chest;

An old black thing

To press and beep.

It was done: without doubt the best.

 

Today we took out your skateboard

And had a go on the path.

We laughed and clung

To each other with fear.

Step up with one,

Push with the other,

Then fall with aplomb on your rear.

 

Today we hunted for nature;

You had a takeaway box

And filled it with

Flowers, acorns and leaves.

Red in the face,

Hair everywhere,

All sorts of damp bits up your sleeves.

 

Today we created three masks

For superhero figures.

Each had its own

Logo: complex and small.

Card to cut out,

Paper to stick,

And a place on each bedroom wall.

 

Today we went to the fun pool:

The one with the slide and jets.

I was the beast

For seeking and hiding;

You swam away

Squealing with glee.

I was the whale for riding.

 

At bedtime, cuddled on my lap,

You smelt all lovely and warm.

We read a book

About life’s rights and wrongs.

You brushed your teeth,

Not without fuss.

You slept whilst I finished your songs.

 

And now you’re in bed and I’m tired,

But I’m not stressed out this time.

I leave the mess,

Admire the cat’s repose.

I have to take

These little wins

And hold them close.

Depression

I just forget it’s you that pulls me down.

I sometimes think it’s me, that I am bad:

A useless mother, weird, a waste of space,

A coward: lazy, pointless, going mad.

 

I just forget that you wait in the wings

For your first chance to sing about my faults;

You wait with sweaty palms and gritted teeth

To mock me, shamed, before the real adults.

 

Then, suddenly, you speak your words in flames,

They dash across the blank grief of my mind.

Your drawl, smooth and familiar, shrinks my spine:

And fondled, touched, my memories unwind.

 

With glee, you fling my laughter to the dogs;

Achievements, skills are torn, mocked and defaced.

You hop and dance and kick salt in old wounds;

You push away the ones I once embraced.

 

So under this internal, cruel abuse,

I cower, cringing, knocking my scarred knees

And, jeering, spitting, come your playground friends:

A crowd of puffed-up bullies. Angry bees.

 

The first is Shame, who laughing, climbs my back

And, forceful, presses down my thumping head.

She covers my white eyes with rancid claws

And calls to Guilt, who comes with heavy tread.

 

Before them, I am naked and alone.

I search blind for a person I once knew.

But, sickly sweet, it’s Suicide who comes:

Seductive, painting death in a new hue.

 

So sudden is the onslaught, I am lost.

Her subtle voice, that slides beneath my skin

Is leaking poison, spreading, gaining ground.

It wants the very root of Self within.

 

I stop. That core is fragile but it’s mine.

To build it I’ve worked hard on self-reflection.

It’s taken years of honesty and pain

And anxious re-starts when I lost direction.

 

I will not give it up, despite your taunts,

Although you’ll hide it from me for a time.

For I have grown within a seed of hope:

And from it springs a ladder I can climb.

 

You told me I was making their lives worse.

You told me just to leave the life we shared.

But now I’ve found the friend within myself.

We will outgrow you. Soon you will run scared.

Hook

No I could never wash myself enough.

I do not wish to be a British girl

And yet I’ve had the good of empire wealth

Hard won by others’ hands and others’ health.

So in complicit luxury I kneel

And kiss the feet of those we used to steal.

 

In sweaty filthy dark we chained you down

In service to our tastebuds and our crown.

We trod you underfoot with polished heel

And gave you numbers so as not to feel.

 

No ‘sorry’ now could ever bring to life

Your children or your grandpa or your wife.

No ‘sorry’ now could ever make you feel

The way you did before he made you kneel.

No ‘sorry’ now could ever bring back days,

Or clothes, or food, now lost to British ways.

No ‘sorry’ now could take back words that stole

Your childhood; spray paint insults take their toll.

No shame, or guilt, or ‘sorry’ now could clean

Our monied hands of their blood-sugar sheen.

 

And even now I sit in candied bliss,

In clothes that maybe felt the slaver’s kiss

And drink my tea and wonder where it grew

And if the one who grew it got paid too.

We tend to think of slaves as those who died

Long long ago, brought here by whip and tide.

But slaves are kept in farms and brothels here

They live today in pain, exhaustion, fear.

 

No I could never wash myself enough.

I do not wish to be a British girl.

And yet, if I’m to take rich empire gains,

Then I must wear its rancid greedy stains.

It is not much to pay for what we took,

So I will hope to hang from history’s hook.

 

I do not wish to be a British girl,

Great Britishness: it makes my white toes curl.

School days

Through the smudged window

The snow falls.

A small wet sort:

Inconsequential, unsettling.

 

Smeary handprints:

A glimpse of fun and mischief.

A reminder of

What’s to come.

 

This last bit

Afternoon Nomansland

Where I wait for you,

Is tense and still.

 

Tendrils of anxious

Electricity creep down my arms

Up my throat.

How will we be today?

 

The Cat knows.

He is expectant,

Ears pricked ready

For the onslaught.

 

He is like me.

He loves you with every

Fibre of his being.

But the rough noise

 

And reckless motion

Send him, tail low, ears back

Dashing from the room.

Very sensible, the Cat.

 

But I will stay.

I must. To endure

My own inadequacy

My joy, my fear, my pride

 

Your love, your hate,

Your tears, your exquisite

Delicate miraculous

Humanity and daily grind mundanity

 

Because I am mum.

So I’ll stroke you now, the Cat

And later, we’ll meet again

And cuddle with the sleepy

 

Babes, rosy-cheeked,

Books-read and pegs-brushed,

Wondering why we ever

Were anywhere else.

 

Very sensible, the Cat.

Poem: Am I mother?

Some days are made of coloured paint.

I can follow you to your world.

I am light and made of stars

And it is warm and smells of

Gran: pavlova, sugar aprons.

 

You look like you should,

With flying hair, eyes dancing

And the fiery

Strand between us

Glows and holds.

 

On other days, the silence

Cloys and rings against

Your clamour. How to hear

Your world through all the

Jangle of my own.

 

I feel so far from you:

Lost in my loud breath.

I ache under my ribs

To know the glow again.

I knew you then.

 

When I am lost and broken,

Don’t you wait.

Go off and play, please,

Dance and sing

And I will find you soon.

 

Then I will hold you close

And wait in fear.

For it will come again

And take all I hold dear.

Poem: Teddies and Pigtails

On Tuesdays it is film night

And you sit there, pink cheeks,

All snuggled with your fizzy drink:

A grown up treat,

Only on Tuesdays.

 

On Tuesdays we don’t need to talk;

Our heads rest and our hearts meet.

Fluffy blankets hold

Our worries:

Only on Tuesdays.

 

On Tuesdays we conspire and eat

Delicious lollies from the

Ice crunch garage freezer

With cold hands:

Only on Tuesdays.

 

On Tuesdays, when the film ends

And the credits rise, we dance

And laugh and fling it all

Away, silly and giggling:

Only on Tuesdays.

 

And when it’s time for bed, we crawl

Upstairs, dancedrunk and exhausted.

Reading to you, I fall asleep

Surrounded by your teddies

And pigtails.

Only on Tuesdays.

Poem: Loud

My child is the loudest child in all our blue-green world.

He shouts out with his chin up and his ten tight fingers curled.

He calls with every neck vein taut and both his arms up high.

We ask him to be quiet but he can’t see why.

 

Why would he say it softly when it’s such fun to make noise?

To stomp around and crash about is one of life’s great joys.

Why would he hum it quietly when roaring sounds much better?

Why tiptoe in the shallow end, when splashing makes you wetter?

 

Yes my child is the loudest one in all the Milky Way.

Just when you think he’s finished, you find he has more to say.

He sings with great aplomb and smacks the beat against his thigh.

We ask him to be quiet but he can’t see why.

 

Why build a castle carefully when you could bash it down

Or read a book to daddy when you could tell half the town?

Why leave a person sleeping, when you could wake them up?

Imagine all the fun they’d have, if they’d just give sleep up!

 

Yes my child is the loudest child in all the universe

And when you try to silence him, it only makes it worse.

We tried and tried but we gave up because we were so stressed

So we decided to join in and set a noisy test.

 

We got up well before my son with saucepan lids and spoons,

We wore gold bells and whistles and we played some jolly tunes.

We borrowed Grandad’s tuba and some strings from Alf next door,

We got Aunt’s Edith’s double bass, some timps, some flutes and more.

 

Aunt Anna sent eight speakers, which she used for punk rock gigs,

And Grandma brought her cockerel, seven donkeys and the pigs.

The massive engine came from Godfrey: he likes mending jet planes

And Clive our builder joined us with a band of all terrain cranes.

 

That day we made a splendid racket all before the sun rose.

We sang and played and drove around and stomped away our woes.

It wasn’t long before my son was begging us to go.

He promised he would always whisper, if we’d stop the show.

 

But something strange had happened. The music had a hold.

Our limbs felt fast and flighty. Our hearts beat brave and bold.

So one after another, we took off down the street,

A strange, eclectic carnival of hooves and wheels and feet.

 

Astride his growling engine, bearded Godfrey crooned melodious

Behind him frolicked Grandma and the pigs, thick-skinned and odious.

Atop Clive’s cranes, the tuba blared the tune both strong and wrong

And seven donkeys eed and oord a descant to our song.

 

But, suddenly, we saw ahead a child we knew before,

Who stood in train pyjamas with a frown by our front door.

Once loud, now mute, his downturned mouth appeared to still be saying:

It was time to stop our noise and end our early morning playing.

 

‘I’m sorry, son,’ I mumbled from behind my saucepan lid.

‘I never knew how to have fun but it’s clear that you did.

You’ve shown me how to discard all my stressed-out adult ways.’

You’ve taught me how to smile again and dance through all my days.’

 

At that, my loud son found his voice from somewhere deep inside,

Addressing all the people who had come from far and wide.

He said that he was sorry for the past din he had made

But that it thrilled him to the core to see our odd parade.

 

The whole town hugged and sang aloud a new and hopeful song

And, arm-in-arm, my son and I skipped happily along.

Now, two weeks on, the mayor says every grown-up has to spend

Six hours a day with children, being driven round the bend.

 

In these mad hours, the children choose the games, the toys, the volume.

At their command the stairs will be a handmade duvet log-flume

And when the little darlings want to make a glitter carpet,

Create slug-slime, form a rock band or bet on the stock market

 

That’s just what they shall do and not one person can say no!

For that half-day, the grown-ups have to let their rule-books go.

But for the other half a day, each child will learn to play

In quiet ways, or reading books or making things from clay.

 

If mummy wants to meditate or daddy wants to write,

Each child will let them do it, with no shout or whine or fight.

If granny wants to water-ski and grandad wants to bake,

Each child will watch in silence eating cake around the lake.

 

And so I’ve learnt to party, to cavort and jive and caper.

Then afterwards I sit in blissful peace and read the paper.

Back when we thought in black and white we couldn’t see each other.

But now we think in happy grey: a loud son and proud mother.

Family Christmas

Seems so strange: the way we all

Expect perfection once a year.

Resist change: stay neat and small.

No self-reflection welcome here.

 

Play the game by the same rules,

Your place set in our house of cards.

Do the same: frogs to home pools,

Tricked by the past’s power. Bauble shards

 

Mirror us in distortion.

New angles to shine: double light.

If only we had their truth:

Their way to sparkle: broken, bright.

 

No need to fit the old mould.

Rather build beauty in new skin.

We can find warmth in the cold

If we allow our real selves in.

 

To find love we must accept

Ourselves and others in true form.

Do not fear to be different.

For that is how babes all are born.