How Far?

How far must I go

Before I know it’s too far

And I can’t return?

 

So far that your voice

No longer reaches my ear

For all your shouting?

 

So far that your face

Is invisible to me

For all its brightness?

 

So far that your life

Ceases to have a meaning

That I understand?

 

How far can I go

Without severing the thread

That joins me to you?

Break Up

Shall we drag up the past tonight, give it an airing?

Talk about who was the first to stop caring?

Pick at the bones of us, bring them to light?

Or perhaps put it off for tonight?

 

Shall we kick up a stink tonight?  Who should go first?

Should we pick at the wound till the stitches just burst?

Do we pussyfoot round all the years of pretence?

Or perhaps that’d be too intense?

 

Shall we cut to the chase tonight, stop all the lying?

Admit we’ve long since ceased to bother with trying?

Is it time to stop dancing this dance out of fear?

Or is that just a dreadful idea?

 

Shall we lay out our cards tonight, show what we’re playing?

Stop putting a spin on the things that we’re saying?

When removing the plaster has dragged on and on,

Time to rip it off fast and get gone.

A Busy Life

When people ask me what I do, I silently judge them for their nosiness before telling them I’m a copywriter.  I then explain what a copywriter is, unless they’re fans of ‘Madmen’, in which case I explain what a copywriter isn’t.  But I don’t really have the time for writing at the moment.  Just the creation of that sentence has guaranteed that the bathroom I should be cleaning will, at best, be left with a smeared mirror, while the sentence explaining about the smeared mirror has probably ensured I won’t have time to mop the floor.  If I don’t stop explaining stuff, the bathroom will be a no-go area for all those not in possession of hazmat gear.  As usual.  But the heart wants what it wants and a writer writes and meta crap like that, so I’m neglecting the list of jobs that are mounting up in order to write this.  I’m sure my expected visitors will at least be polite enough to pretend they can’t see the mess as long as they’re here and will only comment on my inadequacy once I’m out of earshot.

There are always things I should do, but don’t.  Find more work, sleep more, get more exercise, wash a dish now and then, train one of the cats to switch the kettle on … important stuff like that.  And there’s also the other list; the things I shouldn’t be doing, or shouldn’t be doing as much: eat less sugar, tweet less, yell less at political programmes, write fewer lists …  But, at the risk of accidentally plagiarising Hallmark’s output for the last century, the thing I should be concentrating on, should have always been concentrating on, is appreciating the things I have while I have them instead of worrying about what I used to have, think I should have had or wish I could get in the future.

Shortly after my dad died at the end of 2014, my mum went into a care home.  Her dementia had left her with short-term memory problems and some confusion, so visits immediately took on a Groundhog Day ambience, only on a 5-minute loop instead of a 24-hour one, and we struggled to have a conversation.  However, a life spent playing board games and doing quizzes had burnt those processes into her brain, so we could still enjoy some quality time together with the Trivial Pursuit or Ludo and little flashes of the intelligence beneath the fog would surface even as she was asking which colour pieces were hers each time it was her turn.  I’d leave when it was time for her to have dinner or for me to go and do mum things instead of daughter things and it’d be just another little interlude in a busy life.

So, when she had an accident last month and went to hospital, we lost those games and had nothing left but Groundhog Day and it was hard to take.  We were all looking forward to the day when we could get her back to the home and slip back into the routine that would let her be herself again, in some small way.  Sadly, that didn’t and won’t happen as she died in the early hours of Wednesday.  Comfortable, clean, sleeping, not alone.  We could all do a lot worse.  Since then, I’ve been cleaning, decorating, making more phone calls than I usually make in a year, eating fast food because I have no time to cook, writing when I shouldn’t be writing and, as ever, not appreciating what I have while I have it.  From now on, when people ask what I do, I’ll give them the honest answer; I fiddle while Rome burns.

A Sonnet for Liam

It’s now 16 years since my brother, Liam, died from complications connected to his MS.  He was as dark as I am fair, with brown eyes that I always envied and a wiry strength that stood him in good stead as he carried out his gardening work.  He was my big brother, yet now I’m older than him and that’s not something I can quite wrap my head around.  So this poem is for my little big brother.

 

We never looked alike in any way,

Our hair and eyes as different as could be.

But when together, we had much to say,

With common int’rests binding you and me.

The music that we liked, the books we read

Were oftentimes the same or close in style.

We’d talk of these, and many things you said

Would paint upon my face a cheerful smile.

Now that you’ve gone, a chasm stretches wide

Between contentedness and lonely strife.

An unexpected, unwelcome divide

Has brought a core of sorrow to my life.

I never could replace you with another,

My one and only missed and cherished brother.

 

Big

Everything’s smaller,

Everything’s duller,

Everything’s closer

Now that I’m big.

 

Nothing’s as bright,

Nothing’s as light,

Nothing’s as right

Now that I’m big.

 

Why are the days so long?

Why am I not as strong?

Why am I always wrong

Now that I’m big?

 

Don’t let despair break through!

Don’t drag me down with you!

Don’t tell me what to do

Now that I’m big.

The Cat Under the Stairs

He’d not long turned four when he first mentioned the cat under the stairs.  He’d taken to playing in the space, in spite of how dark it was and the fact that there always seemed to be a pile of coats that littered the floor because they wouldn’t stay on their hooks.  It was a rainy afternoon during the autumn half term, so all the children were in the house and the noise level was reaching critical mass.

I’d taken the fresh laundry from the dryer and as I stood holding the warm bundle in the kitchen, even above the childish din, I heard an almighty yell from upstairs; dropping everything, I ran!  In the room shared by the two younger girls was a horrible mess caused by what looked like paint but smelled like soap.  “He’s ruined everything!” wailed one, “On purpose!” chimed in another!  And I had to agree; quite a few things were definitely ruined!  Their carefully constructed Lego models and a beautiful lamp were now covered in purplish-blue gunk, which was running across the shelf and falling onto the books and toys on the shelves below.  He was standing in the corner of the room, still holding the dripping bucket that usually only saw the light of day during trips to the beach; his hands, T-shirt and some of his hair bearing the tell-tale signs of his guilt but his face the picture of innocence.  “The cat said I should do it!” he stated, quietly and unphased by the commotion still raging.  “We don’t have a cat!” I replied, baffled.  “We do!” he insisted!  “The cat under the stairs.”

Almost without fail, from that day, every misdemeanour, every indiscretion he committed – and there were very many – was blamed on the cat.  He never gave it a name, as many do with imaginary friends, nor could he describe it, even when pressed, yet referred to it as ‘he’ in conversation.  He refused to accept that the cat wasn’t real, although we reasoned with him, emptied the space so he could see there was no cat and did everything in our power to distract him and find him real human friends to play with.

On his eighth birthday, we bought a kitten; a tiny tabby speck with a sweet nature and soft fur.  He refused to name it or have anything to do with its care, claiming that the cat under the stairs didn’t like it and wanted it to go.  Indeed, the kitten seemed to take great pains to avoid the area under the stairs, walking a curious path whenever it neared the space.  Occasionally, she would hiss and bristle at the staircase.  It was unnerving, to say the least.  After only two months, the kitten slipped out unnoticed and, in spite of circulating posters, she was never returned to us.  We decided not to buy another pet.

As the years passed, the imaginary cat remained part of our lives, to the point that he would insist on adding ‘and the cat’ to cards and gift tags and we could see the knowing glances that would pass between relatives at gatherings.  He’d vanish under the stairs, from where we could hear low muttering and long pauses.  We took him to see a child psychologist, who suggested that being a lone boy among several sisters may be behind his wish to have a male companion to himself, even an imaginary one.  It seemed unlikely to me but with no other explanation forthcoming and no other real behavioural problems that couldn’t be accounted for by being the spoilt youngest child, we didn’t pursue the matter.  We simply waited for him to grow out of it.

When he was fourteen, we began to feel very squashed in the house that had been fine for two adults and five children but was less accommodating for seven adult-sized people.  As soon as we began to look for another house, he became almost inconsolable; he barely slept, he spent more and more time under the stairs, even doing homework in there, albeit of very poor quality.  We reassured him that we were only looking locally, that he would still go to the same school and see the same school friends, not that he had many.  He didn’t care; he just wanted to stay with the cat under the stairs.

Before too long, we managed to find somewhere bigger and within our price range so, after a couple of frantic months, we were standing in the new house, surrounded by boxes.  I saw him looking toward the door that formed a cupboard of the space under the stairs; I watched him as he tentatively opened the door, flicked on the light and looked inside.  A strange look passed over his face: relief?  “Is there space for your cat?” I joked, trying to lighten the mood.  “There never was a cat.” He said, looking very, very young, all of a sudden.  I felt my breath catch in my chest at this long-awaited admission.   “But he said you’d worry if I told you he was a goat.”

 

Divide

Can I build a bridge from here to there?

Piling regrets, missed chances into an arch,

Filling the gaps with careless words or deeds.

How strong would such a structure be?

 

Can I send a scout from here to there?

Testing the ground for soundness under foot,

Laying a trail where I might follow on.

How safe would such a mission be?

 

Can I send my voice from here to there?

Saying the words that hesitation stole,

Seeking an ear wherein they’ll tell their tale.

How clear would such oration be?

 

Can I call you back from there to here?

Just for a day, an hour, like those we had,

Filling the time with laughter and with love.

How sweet would such an instant be?

Leaving

Don’t see me as I turn my face.
Don’t miss my voice,
Don’t need my touch.
Don’t see me as I turn my face away.

Don’t see me turn my face away.
Don’t watch me fail,
Don’t hear me cry.
Don’t see me turn my face away from you.

Don’t see me turn away from you.
Don’t feel the pain,
Don’t sense the loss.
Don’t see me turn away from you tonight.

Don’t see me turn away tonight.
Don’t make me stop,
Don’t hold me back.
Don’t see me turn away tonight for good.

In the Fog

Everything looks cleaner in the fog.
The grime you know is there is painted out.
A silken veil adorns the tidy world,
In the fog.

Everything sounds softer in the fog.
The harshness and the shrillness are dispelled.
Inconstant hands are cupped about your ears,
In the fog.

Everything feels closer in the fog.
You sense you could reach out and brush the moon.
Its cotton wool connections fill the space,
In the fog.

Everything’s unreal in the fog.
Unclean, unquiet, disconnected world.
Yet many choose a path of self-deceit,
In the fog.

Churlish Night

I came to resent the night

For its mystery, its beauty, its perfect peace.

While I, carrying my turmoil like a bundle of my worldly goods,

Had none of those things

And never would.

But, in the ping of the raindrops and the screech of the wind,

I saw the night’s eyes blink

And realised she’d trade in a heartbeat,

Yet had no heartbeat to trade.

Two losers caught in a forced embrace:

The churlish night … and me.