By the Gate

I saw him hang his head again today,

So as to keep his face from those around.

As usual, he had nothing much to say;

Such words as he might think can ride no sound.

If only he had had a taste of trust,

Perhaps he wouldn’t build up such a wall.

For thoughts as dark as he’s been keeping must

Be kept out of the consciousness of all.

He lives by rules that hint at hidden strength,

So arbitrary, few could second guess

How much he’d fight to keep them; to what length

He’d go to keep his promise, nothing less.

I saw him by the gate again tonight;

One foot in either world, one troubled mind,

Still struggling, still putting up a fight;

Unravelling as fast as he can wind.

Nobody’s favourite

Row upon row:
Ordinary people,
Destined to be the last choice.
Nobody’s favourite,
Nobody’s prize.
Struggling to find their own voice.

One at a time:
Ordinary people,
Coming to terms with what’s real.
Nobody’s favourite,
Nobody’s prize.
Almost too frightened to feel.

Day upon day:
Ordinary people,
Never achieve what they should.
Nobody’s favourite,
Nobody’s prize.
They’d love to speak out if they could.

Sat at the back:
Ordinary people,
Afraid to step into the light.
Nobody’s favourite,
Nobody’s prize.
Just not equipped for the fight.

Never too late:
Ordinary people,
To show what you know you can do.
Be your own favourite,
Be your own prize.
The saviour you need can be you.

Getting lost

Somebody told me, today, that I’m the image of my mother; apparently, they think he’ll be out of the cast by March. Don’t judge me! Unless your mother is Angelina Jolie or Charlize Theron, it’s not what a woman wants to hear. It’s not the first time I’ve heard that and I have to grudgingly admit that it’s true. I have her blonde hair and her blue eyes; I should give them back really – she’s scaring the kids. We do look alike, though, and I’ve inherited other things from her: a love of reading, a memory that seems hardwired to store poetry, dates, useless facts and phone numbers, a virtual addiction to olives and big feet.

It’s harder to say what I’ve inherited from my dad. Perhaps when all my hair drops out, it’ll be easier to spot any resemblance but, looks-wise, it’s difficult to see any similarities. My squidgy nose is nothing like his Roman one and in spite of his brown eyes, a recessive blue-eyed gene obviously allowed me to take after Mammy. I also have excessively long femurs as opposed to his tiny ones that meant I’d have to push the car seat back a foot if I drove his car.

Looks aren’t everything though and I take after him in other ways: I don’t like to spend money unnecessarily, so I’ll have the washing machine in pieces year after year rather than buy another; I love a good detective programme and have shared many a happy hour with him, watching Columbo or the Rockford Files, and I have one of the most appalling senses of direction ever seen in a person who hasn’t been blindfolded and spun for an hour on the Waltzers. My brother-in-law nicknamed my dad ‘Pathfinder’ and it wasn’t a tribute. All who have ever had a lift from him have come to dread the tell-tale signs that a ‘short-cut’ was imminent: the turn down an apparently innocuous side road, the inevitable three-point turn when we would meet the dead end, followed by the attempt to retrace some or all of the turns that had led to us being hopelessly lost and, often, irretrievably late for an appointment. Similarly, I have been known to get lost in my own work building – although I must point out that this was before I worked from home – and after a drive through Aintree, I caused hilarity in the office by asking the question “What racecourse?” Yes, truly, I am ‘Daughter of Pathfinder’.

So, I know that I am in some way ‘a chip off the old block’ and this is a comfort because, earlier this month, he died. At the age of 91, after a lifetime of working hard and being daft and funny when it was right to be daft and funny and being serious when it was right to be serious and being the western world’s foremost advocate for the eating of bananas, he collapsed in the house with my mum, for whom he had long been a carer, and there was nothing anybody could do for him. After being lost with my dad or on my own so often, in many ways now, I think I’ll always be lost.


And so, she sat and watched the world

Crawling by.

On every face a flag unfurled,

Declaring an inner state;

Making liars of Donne.

They hover,

Protecting their bubble,

But not knowing why.

In place of stillness

Dark feelings lie, coiled

But reluctant.

Above their heads a hundred windows glint

But not reflecting.

At the top of the hill

Every man is an island.

Climbing the Hill

Pushing the pram,

The wheel a honking goose,

She climbs the hill.

Beyond the soot-black church

A view, unmatched from all the city’s peaks,


But she looks down,

Her cargo, all her life

Contained in bags,

Her only thought.

Fine clothes that once had been

The envy of all who saw them.

Brought low by time,

Brought low by use,

Brought low by lack of care

Upon the wheel of fortune.

Happy Birthday, Liam

This is for you, a birthday gift,

It’s all I have to send.

A smile, a thought, a poem.

My brother and my friend.

No birthday card, no wrapping,

No singing and no cake.

I decorate my tree today

All for your memory’s sake.

I read your books now that you can’t,

Play songs for you to hear.

I hold you in my head and heart

And wish that you were near.

To shoot the breeze and have a laugh

To listen and to talk.

To wander down those roads once more,

Where in the past we’d walk.

But there’s a place tucked in my head

Where you’re a call away.

And I can just retreat to there

To celebrate the day.

So, happy birthday Liam,

I give my words and tears.

Although I’ll always miss you

I’m glad we had those years.

This is for my big brother, who is now my little brother.

O, Christmas Tree!

I looked out of the window at the empty street.  It seemed as though I had been sitting here for days and days.  For a while, I’d dozed off but not for long, I’m sure.  Nothing in the street had changed.  Glancing back at the room, I could barely comprehend that this was my home; it looked so different with all this adornment.  The tree in the corner, the shining, glimmering strings draped on every wall.  When he was home, the lights on the tree would flash, calling and repelling me at one and the same time as the fragile trinkets reflected the tree’s distress signals.   When he left, he would turn the lights off and warn me to leave the tree alone.  What exactly did he expect me to do to it?

It was decorated to his taste and his alone!  Although I’d tried really hard to help, he simply couldn’t share the task, criticising everything I did, until he actually got angry and I took myself out of his way.  In my head, I could imagine how it would look with my ideas as well as his: instead of his, even.  The decorative birds were all clustered at the top, too close together instead of spread around with some in the middle or near the bottom.  It made no sense!  He’d placed festive chocolates all over it and then changed his mind and removed them, leaving it looking quite bare in patches.

Decorating the tree was one of the many ways in which he would let his desire to control everything slip through.  He decided what and when we ate, what time we went to bed, when I could go out.  It had been so long since I had made a decision beyond when to pee that I wasn’t even sure whether I could fend for myself now and I didn’t expect I’d get a chance to find out anytime soon.

The street was still empty and rivulets of rain were racing to the bottom of the window pane as I leaned on the glass and sighed.  My breath misted up a little oval on the window and my nose cleared a streak of it as I shifted slightly.  I looked back at the tree.  I wondered how much he would notice if I just spaced out a few things to hide some bare patches.  He hadn’t taken a picture of it, had he?  Would he really pay that much attention to the exact layout of the odds and ends that were spread over it?

Walking towards the tree, I studied the patterns made by the strings, the lights, the balls, the branches.  The tree was really tall, though.  Too tall for me to reach all of it, but I could make a few adjustments here and there.  I reached out and felt the smooth surface of a golden-coloured metallic bell and it jingled sending a simultaneous chill and thrill right through me.  For some reason, I felt as though he had heard and considered the dire consequences of messing with his ordered life.  Backing away from the tree, I sat once more and just looked.

I wished the lights were on; the tree looked so other-worldly when it was lit up, but the trouble with living with somebody who doesn’t count you as an equal is that they never feel the need to let you know when to expect them back.  He could be home in a minute, he could be home in an hour or it could be more.  It was still light outside though and he often came back after dark so as I looked at the tree that had already caused so much trouble between us it was just too great a temptation to resist.

The switch for the lights was behind the tree so I slipped carefully around the side.   Turning it on wasn’t as easy as I had expected and I pushed at it twice, three times with no effect.  What was the matter?  He didn’t seem to have any trouble doing it, so why should I!  I struggled in a little closer, but something brushed my ear and, without thinking, I lashed out.  I felt a wire catch on my foot and tried to jump sideways but a branch scraped my back.  In a panic, I struck at every moving part that came near me and heard my own cries as I swiped at the cascade of items that seemed to be coming at me from every side.

With a slam and a shattering of glass, the tree stretched across the room.  As a lone bauble bounced onto the wooden floor and rolled toward the door, it opened and I looked up into his eyes.  There was a moment of silence before he yelled “I knew you’d do something like this, you stupid bloody moggy!”

After Byron

She doesn’t walk in beauty like the night,

But in the path of menace as it sways,

Around her, to her left and to her right,

It bars her progress in a thousand ways.

And nothing good that’s either dark or bright

Meets in her clouded aspect or her eyes,

For she can only step across the light

And cut the branch from where the moonray lies.


Though words had always posed as though a friend,

They pick their moments, laughing as they go

To cover her and drag her to the end

Of somewhere that she can’t begin to know.

These moments never were her time to spend

And so she feels as though she were a thief

Creating fractures nobody can mend

That tear a canyon through her self-belief.