In death, you are something of a thief, for you steal

the moment I watched you from a balcony in 2003

when you caught sight of the blonde wife of my boss

and gave her just a slightly extended glance

You steal my childhood memory of the coronation

Drizzling rain, a golden coach and sandwiches

in front of Uncle Jimmy’s television

that he got free because he worked for Pye

You steal the times that I got cross with you

for speaking out of turn

though I could never have done your job

without speaking out of turn

But you do not only steal from me

Your steadfast step is stolen from your wife

who knows how we must be prepared for anything

but can never be ready

You are a gallant, handsome old school thief,

for you have also stolen

memories of my mother, another staunch modernist

So this is my Duke of Edinburgh award to you

The Patient’s Name is AnnaMae – One A Week 2020

The Patient’s Name is Anna-Mae

The Midwest’s a big place and we was little fish
but a deputy’s a big man in a small town
and they called me The Deputy’s Wife

Nobody ever called me Anna-Mae before
Where is my husband?
Can I go downtown this afternoon? When did I eat?
I’m still here and I’m not stupid. The nurses are kind

My mother called me Dizzybelle
She told me there’s a boy out there, he’ll take your heart
She held me close as long as she could
My Dizzybelle, she’d say, you are the prettiest thing
You watch out for them boys down by the creek
This county’s full of no goods

Mother was glad I married a sheriff’s man
He and I had girl-children and they called me Mama
When they was cheeky and thirteen they called me Mama-darlin
Every livelong day I held them close, protected them
from creek boys and boys on bridges and boys in beat-up cars
Boys with golden promises in their mouths

Nobody ever called me Anna-Mae before
Where is my husband?
Can I go downtown this afternoon? When did I eat?
I’m still here and I’m not stupid. The nurses are kind

If they could take a look inside my head
they’d see a dozen hats trimmed with flowers for the church parade
and my daughters’ sweet small hands at prayer
and my husband’s shirts, ironed smooth as water in the creek
and endless love

Nobody ever called me Anna-Mae before
Where is my husband?
Can I go downtown this afternoon? When did I eat?
I’m still here and I’m not stupid. The nurses are kind

My husband called me honey, sometimes honey-child
and we was married young, you know
I’ve been wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend
A deputy’s a big man in a town and I married the deputy

Nobody ever called me Anna-Mae before
Where is my husband?
Can I go downtown this afternoon? When did I eat?
I’m still here and I’m not stupid. The nurses are kind

The Natural Habits of the Summer-born Child

In autumn I hunch and hesitate like an un-nectared bee
What will I do when winter comes and it all turns dark
and my once lusty part-time love withers
to a bunch of sticks scented with decay?

I’ll find a piece of silk, stitch it and hang it at my window
A lined blind of fragile, turquoise gauze covering to the sill
A kind of substitute for stained-glass wings
and high-summer crawlers, armoured like jewelled knights

I’ll borrow a sheepskin and share it with my sofa,
light candles, burn logs, succumb to Christmas
I’ll ignore whatever creeps in from my cooling compost
to skate and skitter in the warmth of my roof space

I’ll forget my love is sleeping under the slate grey sky
There’ll be comfort and Shiraz inside my pagan nest
But soon enough, a push to rebirth will begin to repaint the hard plain
and I’ll do what I do every year –

slipper-tread outside at icy six a.m.
to stroke the camellia’s firm and frosted leaves
until they drip, drip, drip in cool perfection,
like a pretty thing, for sale in a garden centre

The Marriage Song of the Land Girl – One A Week 2020

This is another poem written and displayed at the exhibition to commemorate the closure of the Bordon Barracks, in Hampshire, England. I have since set it to music and it has been arranged as a duet by my partner in The Ariel Band, Pete Stephens.

With my long hair loose I wore Jenny’s khaki shoes
and that brooch you found in a puddle by the Ouse
My threads were khaki too but my ribbons powder blue
I got wed in my working dress the day I married you

We were married in a place where the wild hares race
We made our vows at an altar of grey hay
Honey-makers sang on the way to their hives
Pollen-stained confetti blessed our lives
and our bridesmaids were a cuckoo and a jay

Our vows were sealed in a soft-scented field
Corn husks hymned to the yellowing day
A warbler called from the sparkling brook
silky rhythmic notes with a big band hook
and a scarecrow caught my bouquet

With my long hair loose I wore Jenny’s khaki shoes
and that brooch you found in a puddle by the Ouse
My gown was nearly new–I was back at work by two
I went to work in my wedding dress the day I married you

You’re ‘Avin a Risus, Mate – One A Week 2020

Image result for image of poppy flower

Inspired by the news that garden centres are dumbing down plant names

Please do not dumb down my acer grisum
It is not just a common garden dame
And expert tutors prudent, trained each horticulture student
to call each plant its correct Latin name

So, take care to prune the hamamelis mollis
Show respect for all magnolia cambellii
Give thanks for thick and glorious hedera helixa
and ensure tagetes patula does not die

Papaver’s still our emblem, in its Latin
and glorious it blooms and issues seed
Parodia formosa? Safe, but don’t come closer
This lonely species might well make you bleed

Which brings us to the sultry one called vanda
Get her name right when you sit her on your sill
And though naysayers say, no more flores on the way
With a bit of care, I think you’ll find she will

And don’t even think about messing with my vaccinium myrtillus

Our Daughter The Street Artist

100 words for Friday Fictioneers
Photo prompt © Roger Bultot and thank you to Rochelle Wisoff-Fields for hosting the party every week

Next I know, I come back from Big Ben’s Burger Bar and Chuck’s up to his eyes on the computer and our little Mylie’s taken the opportunity to drag the highchair all the way downstairs and out onto the street. At least she didn’t throw nothing out the window this time. Last month she took her cot to pieces, and the headboard with the teddy bear  on it hit a traffic cop. The cop got away with a bruise.

She’s a prodigy, I told him, with a natural sense of what makes eye-catching street art.

We got away with a warning.

What Remains of The Empire Club – One A Week 2020

Dedicated to the closure of the barracks in Bordon, Hampshire, England 2015, this poem was displayed in the Bordon Reflections Exhibition in July 2015

Opened as a soldiers’ club the building contained a large concert hall with stage and dressing room and a sprung dance floor. It also contained a supper room and bar, a sergeants’ room, a general room, a tea room, a billiard room and seven baths. Later a new ballroom was added and the old theatre became the cinema. A fire of unknown cause completely destroyed the Empire Club in 1987. Plans were originally made to rebuild it as an arts centre using the insurance money but this never materialised and the remains of the building disappeared under the Pinewood Village housing estate.

What remains of the Empire
is under the houses,
beneath the foundations,
its last embers grown stone cold so long ago
The earth and dust hold endless stories,
buried deep, like grandma’s memories
we wish we’d asked about when there was still time
Under the houses in Pinewood Village
Bette Davis smoked a cigarette
Veronica Lake peeped through her silky hair
Gene Autry saddled up his horse
Charlie Chaplin got the girl
The Beatles had a hard day’s night
Our Gracie stole the nation’s heart–again
and Bogart navigated Hepburn
around The African Queen
Below the houses and above the ground
myriad memories lie in perpetuity
and we’re reminded without doubt
the future is the present, then the past
but the punters, being people, never change
Just ask Shakespeare about that
Technology dominates us now
but people, they still fall in love,
get happy, angry, hungry,
care for their children, buy stuff, sell stuff
then they fade like Bette
and Bogart and the rest,
Like all the punters at The Empire
after the last note of the last song
after the anthem and the credits
as someone
dimmed the lights

Charles Trenet Version

100 words for Friday Fictioneers

Good morning, Friday Fictioneers, (right now it’s ten a.m. in Hampshire, England), such a pleasure to be back and posting again – having completed what I call a solid first draft of my book, working title “If You Want To Know A Secret”. I am now attempting a disciplined edit of two chapters a day – I am just two chapters in so far. There is still plenty of work to do but I love it, and the way it is means I can get on to Friday Fictioneers today. So thank you, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields for still being there and doing your great work. Last evening I watched a TV documentary about three girls who were kidnapped from their mother in Wales, and taken to Yemen, twenty-plus years ago. Their ordeal, and that of their mother, inspired this story.

100 words for Friday Fictioneers

Photoprompt ©C E Ayr

I know I saw my sister. Vernon told me I imagined her, of course. But he and I were on the street, the little winding part with the candy store, and when I looked up at the window, my sister was there and I read our code. “I’m playing Beyond the Sea,” she mouthed. “Charles Trenet version.” She never went for Bobby Darin so chose Charles Trenet as our “Love you” message. Vernon held my arm tight. Said the windows weren’t really there. The whole place was fake. But that moment was real. Everything else is just a bad dream.

Lucky Star

All down the stairs you held my hand, you balanced me, you helped me land
and on the ground you were still there, still smiling
and as my two left feet went south I heard the words come out my mouth,
just spilling out, like not scared of the feeling

Wait – stop – don’t – think – I don’t want another drink
I just want to be alone with you
I thought the songs had all been sung and love was only for the young
Now I’m thinking I don’t think that’s true

When you turned around that night I saw what I think they call the light
Some stars are made for wishing, some for keeping
Ole blue eyes and old blue jeans, come to life from in my dreams
This heart of mine was not quite dead, just sleeping

You saw me as I climbed the stairs, you took my hand, I said my prayers.
For once someone was there to stop me falling,
and through the rain and through the pain I put my heart in drive again
For so long now my soul had just been stalling.

Wait – stop – don’t – think – I don’t want another drink
I just want to be alone with you
I thought the songs had all been sung and love was only for the young
But now I’ve realised that’s just not true

Don’t care what’s underneath my feet if you’ll be here to make this sweet,
Not caught in thought the songs had all been sung
I thought that love was history, for other people, but not me
I thought that love was only for the young

Wait – stop – don’t – think – I don’t want another drink
I looked at you and then I saw the sign
I thought the songs, the stars, the fun, had all been said, had all been done
But a lucky star just found me, just in time

The Way They Were – One A Week 2020

Playing catch up on my mission to post 52 poems this year, here is The Way They Were, which was published in the Chichester Festival open mic collection “All That Jazz”, in 2015

Mother’s mantra: don’t come home pregnant
Mothers were like that then
Mine was a perfect sketch on a dress pattern sleeve,
cinched waist, smartly starched, Simplicity and Vogue
Each afternoon she took the bus from Oatlands Drive
to Sainsbury’s, for haslet, sweet dip fancies and loose tea
When I did come home expecting
she became a message on a greetings card
The best grandmother in the world

Peggy and Chips

Blurry black and white picture of my parents Peggy and “Chips” at Pagham, West Sussex in Summer 1947. The head full of curls, in the lower left corner, is me. The marriage between my intelligent, anxious mother and my free-spirited playful father, was never going to work but many years later, long after their final separation, he said “Never had a shirt needing a button when I was with your mother”. I like to think it was his way of saying he loved her. I recall their marriage in my book “Other People’s Stories”. While I was writing the book, I felt I got to know my late father, understood him better and forgave him for not being the ideal husband for my mother. She used to tell me she’d have liked to be a vicar’s wife. I think she would have made a very good one, since the job is pretty steady and a vicar tends to do as his boss demands.

I am posting The Way They Were on the anniversary of my parents’ marriage ceremony, seventy-nine years ago. I still have the certificate, which is littered with crossings out and corrections by the Registrar, which has always made me see it as symbolic.