Poems for you

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The Old Donkey Jacket

“You’re not wearing that old thing. It’s her 21st. Absolutely not!”  

Her husband looks down at the old tattered coat. 

“I can’t get it clean. The buttons are odd, …”

He feels for the hem, a flash of fear, but no, it’s still there, stuck in the lining,

And no matter how I try, I can’t get that lump out.”

Fingers tracing its shape, he’s transported back to a wind-bitten beach, five-year old daughter, barely visible beneath layers of wool. She releases his hand to stoop, lifting her precious find aloft, she beams:

“Look Daddy, treasure!”

He kneels, opens his pocket, taps it closed:

“Safe there forever”

Was the promise made, which tonight, he needs to prove, is still kept.

“It’ll be fine,” he smiles.

A Moving Tale

December 2021

  You’re doing what? Why? But poor Husband? He is that house: Huge mistake. 

  Hubby in response, lowers his gaze. Voice breaking admits: “It's a traumatic break I’d much rather wait.”

  How can you? No. I know I spent years yelling how much I hated the place, but the town’s so much nicer; all my stuff, my anchor point, this is my home; I have too much going on. Why can’t you wait?

Family warn: “It’ll never sell: That house without a garden, or a place for car-washing, For Hubby to do woodwork, Child to stomp the beach. 

14 years you’ve wanted escape, what’s the haste? You really must wait.”

I cannot wait, I cannot breathe The burden of this building crushes my chest. Relentless anxiety wakes me each night Even at leisure, I’m never at rest.

In a dark rebellious corner of my soul, Sparked a rare act of self-preservation, I stuck out my chin, doubled down, Growled a refusal to budge, Slapped signed papers on the solicitor’s desk, Proclaimed: “We are doing this.”

I cannot wait, I need to go to a house that’s simple Where kingfishers play along the riverbank, Above flashes of salmon, trout and grayling, Hidden beneath the white-ruffled surface, By flakes of rusty-gold-Autumn beech leaves, As they float downstream, past the ancient stone bridge.

I cannot wait, I will not wait I’ll lash the pair of them to the sofa Tow rope over my shoulder, Haul them up Tempest Road bank, Casters rumbling, bumping the path.

 I pray though, as they crest Newlands Hill, Beholding dawn-sparkled reservoir waters, Lapwings calling as they dip and swoop, Returning to a home that’s safe, warm, quiet, Maybe then, anguished denials will slip to comfort-ease.

14 years rattling gilded cage-bars, hope risked on freedom, for me.

Time Slows

The car is parked: “Back in a sec” announces his departure. Patting empty phone pocket, my heart thumps a panicked beat, until I think: “Don’t be daft. it won’t kill me.”

Awash with a gut-deep pang of longing, I imagine my mobile, charging, safe at home: and berate such forgetful stupidity,

My screen-free-eyes meanwhile, drift across the winter-grey street: vicious March-winds scratch at pedestrians, tree branches bend, bowing to evade its blows.

A disposable coffee-cup, scooped into a moment of joyful dancing, abruptly drops, lifeless, as the gust abandons its plaything. I look at the clock: 

Three minutes.

Restless, I examine my surroundings to discover: A parcel receipt, three scrumpled tissues, broken pencil, half a pen, gold sweet-wrapper (thankfully empty, sticky none-the-less). Spying a bin, items disposed of, I return to my seat, wondering: Now what?

Minute 4.

With a wave of anxiety at productive-opportunities-lost, I cast around. The building opposite is of solid construction: 

Should I count the bricks?


Nineteenth-Twenty First August, 1986

Three pieces of paper, the combination of which catapulted me out of safety, into a new existence:

  • A Level results sheet - inscribed with disappointment
  • A family planning page - inscribed with doom
  • A parental letter - inscribed with my status of homelessness: it says: “we warned her…”

The housing officer looks up, sympathy etched into the corners of eyes that have seen it all before. Glancing down at the letter, up at me, across to the child, she pauses, staring once more at her desk. Orange-nail-polished fingers flip through well thumbed, annotated, colour-coded lists, secured top-left by one loose staple. The paper is as weary as she is. Pages stop turning, the officer marks one line in the margin with an asterisk.

“This is the best I’ve got…” With a gesture of kindness, she returns from rummaging in a drawer, hands me a key. “1 Exeter Place” inked on a creased brown-card label, tied with skinny, grubby string. 

Nineteen years of age  

Cursed with terror-induced, rigid sleeplessness. Sounds of marauding teenagers, wild with glee, crash along concrete landings, unstoppable in disenfranchised fury. I’m anticipating a molotov cocktail, rammed through my letterbox. Like someone else, just last week. No escape route from this flimsy flat. I dare not sleep. Polyester pillowcase, raspy against my cheek, is wet with salt-snot-tears. 

Stuck in a prison of night-black, impoverished-single-parenthood, my ears strain for all movement across this nocturnal habitat. Deals are struck in quiet corners, through car windows, between cones of lamplight where shadows rule. Two doors down a girl’s screams slash across the syrup-thick darkness; pimp boyfriend demonstrates his displeasure through fists. Her pleas stoke rage. Purple bruises repeatedly fail to teach the value of impotent silence.

Four doors down, Social Services due again tomorrow. The latest of five, will be wrested from her arms, into their sensible work-car. So, she’s out on the lash, littlies caring for themselves, as best they can.

Low-income, female resourcefulness - cowering beneath violence, cutting corners, making ends meet. Eternal optimism doesn’t fill plates. Survival of the fittest, it isn’t. Survival despite brutality: of the state; of our fellow inmates; of the disparity between affluence and those dumped as the effluent of society.

Nineteen Eighty Nine

Bare station platform. All we possess: one small case wedged in the seat of a dilapidated buggy. Lopsided, seat ripped, rickety wheels. Two plastic bags, one hung tentatively on each handle: a calculated risk of necessity vs collapse.  Child on hip, I gaze down. She  grins up at me, pats my back contentedly with one hand, encircling beloved “Tiger” with the other. I hug her close.

The interview panel seemed kind, understanding. Crummy grades are good enough for an undervalued profession. I’ll fight, I’ll crawl, I’ll scrap, I’ll starve. I’ll get us out any way I can.

“Dear Julie,

We are delighted to inform you that you have been accepted onto Exfield University’s Teacher Training Course. The enclosed leaflets explain…”


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