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“Why did you melt your waxen man
          Sister Helen?
To-day is the third since you began.”
“The time was long, yet the time ran,
          Little brother.”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
Three days to-day, between Hell and Heaven!)

“But if you have done your work aright,
          Sister Helen,
You’ll let me play, for you said I might.”
“Be very still in your play to-night,
          Little brother.”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
Third night, to-night, between Hell and Heaven!)

“You said it must melt ere vesper-bell,
          Sister Helen;
If now it be molten, all is well.”
“Even so,—nay, peace! you cannot tell,
          Little brother.”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
O what is this, between Hell and Heaven?)

“Oh the waxen knave was plump to-day,
          Sister Helen;
How like dead folk he has dropp’d away!”
“Nay now, of the dead what can you say,
          Little brother?”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
What of the dead, between Hell and Heaven?)

“See, see, the sunken pile of wood,
          Sister Helen,
Shines through the thinn’d wax red as blood!”
“Nay now, when look’d you yet on blood,
          Little brother?”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
How pale she is, between Hell and Heaven!)

“Now close your eyes, for they’re sick and sore,
          Sister Helen,
And I’ll play without the gallery door.”
“Aye, let me rest,—I’ll lie on the floor,
          Little brother.”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
What rest to-night, between Hell and Heaven?)

“Here high up in the balcony,
          Sister Helen,
The moon flies face to face with me.”
“Aye, look and say whatever you see,
          Little brother.”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
What sight to-night, between Hell and Heaven?)

“Outside it’s merry in the wind’s wake,
          Sister Helen;
In the shaken trees the chill stars shake.”
“Hush, heard you a horse-tread as you spake,
          Little brother?”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
What sound to-night, between Hell and Heaven?)

“I hear a horse-tread, and I see,
          Sister Helen,
Three horsemen that ride terribly.”
“Little brother, whence come the three,
          Little brother?”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
Whence should they come, between Hell and Heaven?)

“They come by the hill-verge from Boyne Bar,
          Sister Helen,
And one draws nigh, but two are afar.”
“Look, look, do you know them who they are,
          Little brother?”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
Who should they be, between Hell and Heaven?)

“Oh, it’s Keith of Eastholm rides so fast,
          Sister Helen,
For I know the white mane on the blast.”
“The hour has come, has come at last,
          Little brother!”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
Her hour at last, between Hell and Heaven!)

“He has made a sign and called Halloo!
          Sister Helen,
And he says that he would speak with you.”
“Oh tell him I fear the frozen dew,
          Little brother.”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
Why laughs she thus, between Hell and Heaven?)

“The wind is loud, but I hear him cry,
          Sister Helen,
That Keith of Ewern’s like to die.”
“And he and thou, and thou and I,
          Little brother.”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
And they and we, between Hell and Heaven!)

“Three days ago, on his marriage-morn,
          Sister Helen,
He sicken’d, and lies since then forlorn.”
“For bridegroom’s side is the bride a thorn,
          Little brother?”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
Cold bridal cheer, between Hell and Heaven!)

“Three days and nights he has lain abed,
          Sister Helen,
And he prays in torment to be dead.”
“The thing may chance, if he have pray’d,
          Little brother!”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
If he have pray’d, between Hell and Heaven!)

“But he has not ceas’d to cry to-day,
          Sister Helen,
That you should take your curse away.”
“My prayer was heard,—he need but pray,
          Little brother!”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
Shall God not hear, between Hell and Heaven?)

“But he says, till you take back your ban,
          Sister Helen,
His soul would pass, yet never can.”
“Nay then, shall I slay a living man,
          Little brother?”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
A living soul, between Hell and Heaven!)

“But he calls for ever on your name,
          Sister Helen,
And says that he melts before a flame.”
“My heart for his pleasure far’d the same,
          Little brother.”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
Fire at the heart, between Hell and Heaven!)

“Here’s Keith of Westholm riding fast,
          Sister Helen,
For I know the white plume on the blast.”
“The hour, the sweet hour I forecast,
          Little brother!”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
Is the hour sweet, between Hell and Heaven?)

“He stops to speak, and he stills his horse,
          Sister Helen;
But his words are drown’d in the wind’s course.”
“Nay hear, nay hear, you must hear perforce,
          Little brother!”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
What word now heard, between Hell and Heaven?)

“Oh he says that Keith of Ewern’s cry,
          Sister Helen,
Is ever to see you ere he die.”
“In all that his soul sees, there am I
          Little brother!”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
The soul’s one sight, between Hell and Heaven!)

“He sends a ring and a broken coin,
          Sister Helen,
And bids you mind the banks of Boyne.”
“What else he broke will he ever join,
          Little brother?”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
No, never join’d, between Hell and Heaven!)

“He yields you these and craves full fain,
          Sister Helen,
You pardon him in his mortal pain.”
“What else he took will he give again,
          Little brother?”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
Not twice to give, between Hell and Heaven!)

“He calls your name in an agony,
          Sister Helen,
That even dead Love must weep to see.”
“Hate, born of Love, is blind as he,
          Little brother!”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
Love turn’d to hate, between Hell and Heaven!)

“Oh it’s Keith of Keith now that rides fast,
          Sister Helen,
For I know the white hair on the blast.”
“The short short hour will soon be past,
          Little brother!”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
Will soon be past, between Hell and Heaven!)

“He looks at me and he tries to speak,
          Sister Helen,
But oh! his voice is sad and weak!”
“What here should the mighty Baron seek,
          Little brother?”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
Is this the end, between Hell and Heaven?)

“Oh his son still cries, if you forgive,
          Sister Helen,
The body dies but the soul shall live.”
“Fire shall forgive me as I forgive,
          Little brother!”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
As she forgives, between Hell and Heaven!)

“Oh he prays you, as his heart would rive,
          Sister Helen,
To save his dear son’s soul alive.”
“Fire cannot slay it, it shall thrive,
          Little brother!”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
Alas, alas, between Hell and Heaven!)

“He cries to you, kneeling in the road,
          Sister Helen,
To go with him for the love of God!”
“The way is long to his son’s abode,
          Little brother.”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
The way is long, between Hell and Heaven!)

“A lady’s here, by a dark steed brought,
          Sister Helen,
So darkly clad, I saw her not.”
“See her now or never see aught,
          Little brother!”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
What more to see, between Hell and Heaven?)

“Her hood falls back, and the moon shines fair,
          Sister Helen,
On the Lady of Ewern’s golden hair.”
“Blest hour of my power and her despair,
          Little brother!”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
Hour blest and bann’d, between Hell and Heaven!)

“Pale, pale her cheeks, that in pride did glow,
          Sister Helen,
’Neath the bridal-wreath three days ago.”
“One morn for pride and three days for woe,
          Little brother!”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
Three days, three nights, between Hell and Heaven!)

“Her clasp’d hands stretch from her bending head,
          Sister Helen;
With the loud wind’s wail her sobs are wed.”
“What wedding-strains hath her bridal-bed,
          Little brother?”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
What strain but death’s, between Hell and Heaven?)

“She may not speak, she sinks in a swoon,
          Sister Helen,—
She lifts her lips and gasps on the moon.”
“Oh! might I but hear her soul’s blithe tune,
          Little brother!”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
Her woe’s dumb cry, between Hell and Heaven!)

“They’ve caught her to Westholm’s saddle-bow,
          Sister Helen,
And her moonlit hair gleams white in its flow.”
“Let it turn whiter than winter snow,
          Little brother!”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
Woe-wither’d gold, between Hell and Heaven!)

“O Sister Helen, you heard the bell,
          Sister Helen!
More loud than the vesper-chime it fell.”
“No vesper-chime, but a dying knell,
          Little brother!”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
His dying knell, between Hell and Heaven!)

“Alas! but I fear the heavy sound,
          Sister Helen;
Is it in the sky or in the ground?”
“Say, have they turn’d their horses round,
          Little brother?”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
What would she more, between Hell and Heaven?)

“They have rais’d the old man from his knee,
          Sister Helen,
And they ride in silence hastily.”
“More fast the naked soul doth flee,
          Little brother!”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
The naked soul, between Hell and Heaven!)

“Flank to flank are the three steeds gone,
          Sister Helen,
But the lady’s dark steed goes alone.”
“And lonely her bridegroom’s soul hath flown,
          Little brother.”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
The lonely ghost, between Hell and Heaven!)

“Oh the wind is sad in the iron chill,
          Sister Helen,
And weary sad they look by the hill.”
“But he and I are sadder still,
          Little brother!”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
Most sad of all, between Hell and Heaven!)

“See, see, the wax has dropp’d from its place,
          Sister Helen,
And the flames are winning up apace!”
“Yet here they burn but for a space,
          Little brother! ”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
Here for a space, between Hell and Heaven!)

“Ah! what white thing at the door has cross’d,
          Sister Helen?
Ah! what is this that sighs in the frost?”
“A soul that’s lost as mine is lost,
          Little brother!”
     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
Lost, lost, all lost, between Hell and Heaven!)
Hilda Nov 2012
You must wake and call me early, call me early, mother dear;
To-morrow 'ill be the happiest time of all the glad New-year;
Of all the glad New-year, mother, the maddest merriest day;
For I'm to be Queen o' the May, mother, I'm to be Queen o' the May.

There's many a black, black eye, they say, but none so bright as mine;
There's Margaret and Mary, there's Kate and Caroline:
But none so fair as little Alice in all the land they say,
So I'm to be Queen o' the May, mother, I'm to be Queen o' the May.

I sleep so sound all night, mother, that I shall never wake,
If you do not call me loud when the day begins to break:
But I must gather knots of flowers, and buds and garlands gay,
For I'm to be Queen o' the May, mother, I'm to be Queen o' the May.

As I came up the valley whom think ye should I see,
But Robin leaning on the bridge beneath the hazel-tree?
He thought of that sharp look, mother, I gave him yesterday,--
But I'm to be Queen o' the May, mother, I'm to be Queen o' the May.

He thought I was a ghost, mother, for I was all in white,
And I ran by him without speaking, like a flash of light.
They call me cruel-hearted, but I care not what they say,
For I'm to be Queen o' the May, mother, I'm to be Queen o' the May.

They say he's dying all for love, but that can never be:
They say his heart is breaking, mother--what is that to me?
There's many a bolder lad 'ill woo me any summer day,
And I'm to be Queen o' the May, mother, I'm to be Queen o' the May.

Little Effie shall go with me to-morrow to the green,
And you'll be there, too, mother, to see me made the Queen;
For the shepherd lads on every side 'ill come from far away,
And I'm to be Queen o' the May, mother, I'm to be Queen o' the May.

The honeysuckle round the porch has wov'n its wavy bowers,
And by the meadow-trenches blow the faint sweet cuckoo-flowers;
And the wild marsh-marigold shines like fire in swamps and hollows gray,
And I'm to be Queen o' the May, mother, I'm to be Queen o' the May.

The night-winds come and go, mother, upon the meadow-grass,
And the happy stars above them seem to brighten as they pass;
There will not be a drop of rain the whole of the live-long day,
And I'm to be Queen o' the May, mother, I'm to be Queen o' the May.

All the valley, mother, 'ill be fresh and green and still,
And the cowslip and the crowfoot are over all the hill,
And the rivulet in the flowery dale 'ill merrily glance and play,
For I'm to be Queen o' the May, mother, I'm to be Queen o' the May.

So you must wake and call me early, call me early, mother dear,
To-morrow 'ill be the happiest time of all the glad New-year:
To-morrow 'ill be of all the year the maddest merriest day,
For I'm to be Queen o' the May, mother, I'm to be Queen o' the May.

New Year's Eve

If you're waking, call me early, call me early, mother dear,
For I would see the sun rise upon the glad new-year.
It is the last new-year that I shall ever see,—
Then you may lay me low i' the mold, and think no more of me.

To-night I saw the sun set,—he set and left behind
The good old year, the dear old time, and all my peace of mind;
And the new-year's coming, mother; but I shall never see
The blossom on the blackthorn, the leaf upon the tree.

Last May we made a crown of flowers; we had a merry day,—
Beneath the hawthorn on the green they made me Queen of May;
And we danced about the May-pole and in the hazel copse,
Till Charles's Wain came out above the tall white chimney-tops.

There's not a flower on all the hills,—the frost is on the pane;
I only wish to live till the snowdrops come again.
I wish wish the snow would melt and the sun come out on high,—
I long to see a flower so before the day I die.

The building-rook'll caw from the windy tall elm-tree,
And the tufted plover pipe along the fallow lea,
And the swallow'll come back again with summer o'er wave,
But I shall lie alone, mother, within the mouldering grave.

Upon the chancel casement, and upon that grave of mine,
In the early morning the summer sun'll shine,
Before the red **** crows from the farm upon the hill,—
When you are warm-asleep, mother, and all the world is still.

When the flowers come again, mother, beneath the waning light
You'll never see me more in the long grey fields at night;
When from the dry dark wold the summer airs blow cool
On the oat-grass and the sword-grass, and the bullrush in the pool.

You'll bury me, my mother, just beneath the hawthorn shade,
And you'll come sometimes and see me where I am lowly laid.
I shall not forget you, mother; I shall hear you when you pass,
With your feet above my head in the long and pleasant grass.

I have been wild and wayward, but you'll forgive me now;
You'll kiss me, my own mother, upon my cheek and brow;
Nay, nay, you must no weep, nor let your grief be wild;
You should not fret for me, mother—you have another child.

If I can, I'll come again, mother, from out my resting-place;
Though you'll not see me, mother, I shall look upon your face;
Though I cannot speak a word, I shall harken what you say,
And be often, often with you when you think I'm far away.

Good night! good night! when I have said good night forevermore,
And you see me carried out from the threshold of the door,
Don't let Effie come to see me till my grave be growing green,—
She'll be a better child to you then ever I have been.

She'll find my garden tools upon the granary floor.
Let her take 'em—they are hers; I shall never garden more.
But tell her, when I'm gone, to train the rosebush that I set
About the parlour window and box of mignonette.

Good night, sweet-mother! Call me before the day is born.
All night I lie awake, but I fall asleep at morn;
But I would see the sun rise upon the glad new-year,—
So, if you're waking, call me, call me early, mother dear.


I thought to pass away before, and yet alive I am;
And in the fields all around I hear the bleating of the lamb.
How sadly, I remember, rose the morning of the year!
To die before the snowdrop came, and now the violet's here.

O, sweet is the new violet, that comes beneath the skies;
And sweeter is the young lamb's voice to me that cannot rise;
And sweet is all the land about, and all the flowers that blow;
And sweeter far is death than life, to me that long to go.

I seemed so hard at first, mother, to leave the blessed sun,
And now it seems as hard to stay; and yet, His will be done!
But still I think it can't be long before I find release;
And that good man, the clergyman, has told me words of peace.

O, blessings on his kindly voice, and on his silver hair,
And blessings on his whole life long, until he meet me there!
O, blessings on his kindly heart and on his silver head!
A thousand times I blest him, as he knelt beside my bed.

He taught me all the mercy for he showed me all the sin;
Now, though my lamp was lighted late, there's One will let me in.
Nor would I now be well, mother, again, if that could be;
For my desire is but to pass to Him that died for me.

I did not hear the dog howl, mother, or the death-watch beat,—
There came a sweeter token when the night and morning meet;
But sit beside my bed, mother, and put your hand in mine,
And Effie on the other side, and I will tell the sign.

All in the wild March-morning I heard the angels call,—
It was when the moon was setting, and the dark was over all;
The trees began to whisper, and the wind began to roll,
And in the wild March-morning I heard them call my soul.

For, lying broad awake, I thought of you and Effie dear;
I saw you sitting in the house, and I no longer here;
With all my strength I prayed for both—and so I felt resigned,
And up the valley came a swell of music on the wind.

I thought that is was fancy, and I listened in my bed;
And then did something speak to me,—I know not what was said;
For great delight and shuddering took hold of all my mind,
And up the valley came again the music on the wind.

But you were sleeping; and I said, "It's not for them,—it's mine;"
And if it comes three times, I thought, I take it for a sign.
And once again it came, and close beside the window-bars;
Then seemed to go right up to heaven and die among the stars.

So now I think my time is near; I trust it is. I know
The blessèd music went that way my soul will have to go.
And for myself, indeed, I care not if I go to-day;
But Effie, you must comfort her when I am past away.

And say to Robin a kind word, and tell him not to fret;
There's many a worthier than I, would make him happy yet.
If I had lived—I cannot tell—I might have been his wife;
But all these things have ceased to be, with my desire of life.

O, look! the sun begins to rise! the heavens are in a glow;
He shines upon a hundred fields, and all of them I know.
And there I move no longer now, and there his light may shine,—
Wild flowers in the valley for other hands than mine.

O, sweet and strange it seems to me, that ere this day is done
The voice that now is speaking may be beyond the sun,—
Forever and forever with those just souls and true,—
And what is life, that we should moan? why make we such ado?

Forever and forever, all in a blessèd home,—
And there to wait a little while till you and Effie come,—
To lie within light of God, as I lie upon your breast,—
And the wicked cease from troubling, and weary are at rest.

**~By Alfred Lord Tennyson 1809—1892~
A ***** bread.
It took a lot of conquering and mutilation,
to get to where I am right now,


My son, you will one day grow and die,
your soul will move on to the next host in life.
You know the past, you see everything as if you were time.
FUTURE has no boundaries, others create barriers.
You simply create future times and they fail not.
Of Tetley's and V-2's
(or, “Why Not to Bomb the Brits”)
by Michael R. Burch

The English are very hospitable,
but tea-less, alas, they grow pitiable ...
or pitiless, rather,
and quite in a lather!
O bother, they're more than formidable!

Keywords/Tags: limerick, light verse, nonsense verse, humor, humorous, England, English, Tetley, tea, milk, crumpets, scones, war, bomb, bombs, V-2, rocket, missile, missiles, formidable, Britain, Brits, defense, military, mrbtet, mrbtetley

This World's Joy
(anonymous Middle English lyric)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Winter awakens all my care
as leafless trees grow bare.
For now my sighs are fraught
when it enters my thought:
regarding this world's joy,
how everything comes to naught.

Elegy for a little girl, lost
by Michael R. Burch

. . . qui laetificat juventutem meam . . .
She was the joy of my youth,
and now she is gone.
. . . requiescat in pace . . .
May she rest in peace.
. . . amen . . .

I was touched by this Latin prayer, which I discovered in a novel I read as a teenager. I later decided to incorporate it into a poem. From what I now understand, “ad deum qui laetificat juventutem meam” means “to the God who gives joy to my youth,” but I am sticking with my original interpretation: a lament for a little girl at her funeral. The phrase can be traced back to Saint Jerome's translation of Psalm 42 in the Vulgate Latin Bible (circa 385 AD).

How Long the Night
anonymous Middle English lyric, circa early 13th century AD
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

It is pleasant, indeed, while the summer lasts
with the mild pheasants' song ...
but now I feel the northern wind's blast,
its severe weather strong.
Alas! Alas! This night seems so long!
And I, because of my momentous wrong
now grieve, mourn and fast.

Fowles in the Frith
anonymous Middle English lyric, circa 13th-14th century AD
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The fowls in the forest,
the fishes in the flood
and I must go mad:
such sorrow I've had
for beasts of bone and blood!

Sounds like an early animal rights activist! The use of "and" is intriguing ... is the poet saying that his walks in the wood drive him mad because he is also a "beast of bone and blood," facing a similar fate?

I am of Ireland
anonymous Medieval Irish lyric, circa 13th-14th century AD
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I am of Ireland,
and of the holy realm of Ireland.
Gentlefolk, I pray thee:
for the sake of saintly charity,
come dance with me
in Ireland!

Whan the turuf is thy tour
(anonymous Middle English lyric, circa the 13th century AD)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

When the turf is your tower
and the pit is your bower,
your pale white skin and throat
shall be sullen worms’ to note.
What help to you, then,
was all your worldly hope?

When the turf is your tower
and the grave is your bower,
your pale white throat and skin
worm-eaten from within ...
what hope of my help then?

NOTE: The second translation leans more to the "lover's complaint" and carpe diem genres, with the poet pointing out to his prospective lover that by denying him her favors she make take her virtue to the grave where worms will end her virginity in macabre fashion. This poem may be an ancient precursor of poems like Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress."

Ech day me comëth tydinges thre
anonymous Middle English lyric, circa the 13th to 14th century AD
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Each day I’m plagued by three doles,
These gargantuan weights on my soul:
First, that I must somehow exit this fen.
Second, that I cannot know when.
And yet it’s the third that torments me so,
Because I don't know where the hell I will go!

Ich have y-don al myn youth
anonymous Middle English lyric, circa the 13th to 14th century AD
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I have done it all my youth:
Often, often, and often!
I have loved long and yearned zealously ...
And oh what grief it has brought me!

I Sing of a Maiden
anonymous Medieval English Lyric, circa early 15th century AD
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I sing of a maiden
That is matchless.
The King of all Kings
For her son she chose.
He came also as still
To his mother's breast
As April dew
Falling on the grass.
He came also as still
To his mother's bower
As April dew
Falling on the flower.
He came also as still
To where his mother lay
As April dew
Falling on the spray.
Mother and maiden?
Never one, but she!
Well may such a lady
God's mother be!

by Michael R. Burch

O, terrible angel,
bright lover and avenger,
full of whimsical light
and vile anger;
wild stranger,
seeking the solace of night,
or the danger;
pale foreigner,
alien to man, or savior ...

Who are you,
seeking consolation and passion
in the same breath,
screaming for pleasure, bereft
of all articles of faith,
finding life
harsher than death?

Grieving angel,
giving more than taking,
how lucky the man
who has found in your love,
this, our reclamation;

fallen wren,
you must strive to fly
though your heart is shaken;

weary pilgrim,
you must not give up
though your feet are aching;

lonely child,
lie here still in my arms;
you must soon be waking.

by Michael R. Burch

Memories flood the sand’s unfolding scroll;
they pour in with the long, cursive tides of night.

Memories of revenant blue eyes and wild lips
moist and frantic against my own.

Memories of ghostly white limbs ...
of soft sighs
heard once again in the surf’s strangled moans.

We meet in the scarred, fissured caves of old dreams,
green waves of algae billowing about you,
becoming your hair.

Suspended there,
where pale sunset discolors the sea,
I see all that you are
and all that you have become to me.

Your love is a sea,
and I am its trawler—
harbored in dreams,
I ride out night’s storms.

Unanchored, I drift through the hours before morning,
dreaming the solace of your warm *******,
pondering your riddles, savoring the feel
of the explosions of your hot, saline breath.

And I rise sometimes
from the tropical darkness
to gaze once again out over the sea ...
You watch in the moonlight
that brushes the water;

bright waves throw back your reflection at me.

This is one of my more surreal poems, as the sea and lover become one. I believe I wrote this one at age 19. It has been published by Penny Dreadful, Romantics Quarterly, Boston Poetry Magazine and Poetry Life & Times. The poem may have had a different title when it was originally published, but it escapes me ... ah, yes, "Entanglements."

by Michael R. Burch

It was early in the morning of the forming of my soul,
in the dawning of desire, with passion at first bloom,
with lightning splitting heaven to thunder's blasting roll
and a sense of welling fire and, perhaps, impending doom—

that I cried out through the tumult of the raging storm on high
for shelter from the chaos of the restless, driving rain ...
and the voice I heard replying from a rift of bleeding sky
was mine, I'm sure, and, furthermore, was certainly insane.

The Sky Was Turning Blue
by Michael R. Burch

Yesterday I saw you
as the snow flurries died,
spent winds becalmed.
When I saw your solemn face
alone in the crowd,
I felt my heart, so long embalmed,
begin to beat aloud.

Was it another winter,
another day like this?
Was it so long ago?
Where you the rose-cheeked girl
who slapped my face, then stole a kiss?
Was the sky this gray with snow,
my heart so all a-whirl?

How is it in one moment
it was twenty years ago,
lost worlds remade anew?
When your eyes met mine, I knew
you felt it too, as though
we heard the robin's song
and the sky was turning blue.

The Children of Gaza

Nine of my poems have been set to music by the composer Eduard de Boer and have been performed in Europe by the Palestinian soprano Dima Bawab. My poems that became “The Children of Gaza” were written from the perspective of Palestinian children and their mothers. On this page the poems come first, followed by the song lyrics, which have been adapted in places to fit the music …

Epitaph for a Child of Gaza
by Michael R. Burch

I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.

Frail Envelope of Flesh
by Michael R. Burch

for the mothers and children of Gaza

Frail envelope of flesh,
lying cold on the surgeon’s table
with anguished eyes
like your mother’s eyes
and a heartbeat weak, unstable ...

Frail crucible of dust,
brief flower come to this―
your tiny hand
in your mother’s hand
for a last bewildered kiss ...

Brief mayfly of a child,
to live two artless years!
Now your mother’s lips
seal up your lips
from the Deluge of her tears ...

For a Child of Gaza, with Butterflies
by Michael R. Burch

Where does the butterfly go
when lightning rails
when thunder howls
when hailstones scream
while winter scowls
and nights compound dark frosts with snow?

Where does the butterfly go?

Where does the rose hide its bloom
when night descends oblique and chill
beyond the capacity of moonlight to fill?
When the only relief's a banked fire's glow,
where does the butterfly go?

And where shall the spirit flee
when life is harsh, too harsh to face,
and hope is lost without a trace?
Oh, when the light of life runs low,
where does the butterfly go?

I Pray Tonight
by Michael R. Burch

for the children of Gaza and their mothers

I pray tonight
the starry Light
surround you.

I pray
by day
that, come what may,
no dark thing confound you.

I pray ere tomorrow
an end to your sorrow.
May angels' white chorales
sing, and astound you.

by Michael R. Burch

for the mothers and children of Gaza

Something inescapable is lost―
lost like a pale vapor curling up into shafts of moonlight,
vanishing in a gust of wind toward an expanse of stars
immeasurable and void.

Something uncapturable is gone―
gone with the spent leaves and illuminations of autumn,
scattered into a haze with the faint rustle of parched grass
and remembrance.

Something unforgettable is past―
blown from a glimmer into nothingness, or less,
and finality has swept into a corner where it lies
in dust and cobwebs and silence.

Mother’s Smile
by Michael R. Burch

for the mothers of Gaza and their children

There never was a fonder smile
than mother’s smile, no softer touch
than mother’s touch. So sleep awhile
and know she loves you more than “much.”

So more than “much,” much more than “all.”
Though tender words, these do not speak
of love at all, nor how we fall
and mother’s there, nor how we reach
from nightmares in the ticking night
and she is there to hold us tight.

There never was a stronger back
than father’s back, that held our weight
and lifted us, when we were small,
and bore us till we reached the gate,

then held our hands that first bright mile
till we could run, and did, and flew.
But, oh, a mother’s tender smile
will leap and follow after you!

Such Tenderness
by Michael R. Burch

for the mothers of Gaza

There was, in your touch, such tenderness―as
only the dove on her mildest day has,
when she shelters downed fledglings beneath a warm wing
and coos to them softly, unable to sing.

What songs long forgotten occur to you now―
a babe at each breast? What terrible vow
ripped from your throat like the thunder that day
can never hold severing lightnings at bay?

Time taught you tenderness―time, oh, and love.
But love in the end is seldom enough ...
and time?―insufficient to life’s brief task.
I can only admire, unable to ask―

what is the source, whence comes the desire
of a woman to love as no God may require?

who, US?
by Michael R. Burch

jesus was born
a palestinian child
where there’s no Room
for the meek and the mild

... and in bethlehem still
to this day, lambs are born
to cries of “no Room!”
and Puritanical scorn ...

under Herod, Trump, Bibi
their fates are the same―
the slouching Beast mauls them
and WE have no shame:

“who’s to blame?”

My nightmare ...

I had a dream of Jesus!
Mama, his eyes were so kind!
But behind him I saw a billion Christians
hissing "You're nothing!," so blind.
―The Child Poets of Gaza (written by Michael R. Burch for the children of Gaza)

I, too, have a dream ...

I, too, have a dream ...
that one day Jews and Christians
will see me as I am:
a small child, lonely and afraid,
staring down the barrels of their big bazookas,
knowing I did nothing
to deserve their enmity.
―The Child Poets of Gaza (written by Michael R. Burch for the children of Gaza)

Suffer the Little Children
by Nakba

I saw the carnage . . . saw girls' dreaming heads
blown to red atoms, and their dreams with them . . .

saw babies liquefied in burning beds
as, horrified, I heard their murderers’ phlegm . . .

I saw my mother stitch my shroud’s black hem,
for in that moment I was one of them . . .

I saw our Father’s eyes grow hard and bleak
to see frail roses severed at the stem . . .

How could I fail to speak?
―Nakba is an alias of Michael R. Burch

Here We Shall Remain
by Tawfiq Zayyad
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Like twenty impossibilities
in Lydda, Ramla and Galilee ...
here we shall remain.

Like brick walls braced against your chests;
lodged in your throats
like shards of glass
or prickly cactus thorns;
clouding your eyes
like sandstorms.

Here we shall remain,
like brick walls obstructing your chests,
washing dishes in your boisterous bars,
serving drinks to our overlords,
scouring your kitchens' filthy floors
in order to ****** morsels for our children
from between your poisonous fangs.

Here we shall remain,
like brick walls deflating your chests
as we face our deprivation clad in rags,
singing our defiant songs,
chanting our rebellious poems,
then swarming out into your unjust streets
to fill dungeons with our dignity.

Like twenty impossibilities
in Lydda, Ramla and Galilee,
here we shall remain,
guarding the shade of the fig and olive trees,
fermenting rebellion in our children
like yeast in dough.

Here we wring the rocks to relieve our thirst;
here we stave off starvation with dust;
but here we remain and shall not depart;
here we spill our expensive blood
and do not hoard it.

For here we have both a past and a future;
here we remain, the Unconquerable;
so strike fast, penetrate deep,
O, my roots!

Enough for Me
by Fadwa Tuqan
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Enough for me to lie in the earth,
to be buried in her,
to sink meltingly into her fecund soil, to vanish ...
only to spring forth like a flower
brightening the play of my countrymen's children.

Enough for me to remain
in my native soil's embrace,
to be as close as a handful of dirt,
a sprig of grass,
a wildflower.

by Mahmoud Darwish
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

This land gives us
all that makes life worthwhile:
April's blushing advances,
the aroma of bread warming at dawn,
a woman haranguing men,
the poetry of Aeschylus,
love's trembling beginnings,
a boulder covered with moss,
mothers who dance to the flute's sighs,
and the invaders' fear of memories.

This land gives us
all that makes life worthwhile:
September's rustling end,
a woman leaving forty behind, still full of grace, still blossoming,
an hour of sunlight in prison,
clouds taking the shapes of unusual creatures,
the people's applause for those who mock their assassins,
and the tyrant's fear of songs.

This land gives us
all that makes life worthwhile:
Lady Earth, mother of all beginnings and endings!
In the past she was called Palestine
and tomorrow she will still be called Palestine.
My Lady, because you are my Lady, I deserve life!

Distant light
by Walid Khazindar
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Bitterly cold,
winter clings to the naked trees.
If only you would free
the bright sparrows
from the tips of your fingers
and release a smile—that shy, tentative smile—
from the imprisoned anguish I see.
Sing! Can we not sing
as if we were warm, hand-in-hand,
shielded by shade from a glaring sun?
Can you not always remain this way,
stoking the fire, more beautiful than necessary, and silent?
Darkness increases; we must remain vigilant
and this distant light is our only consolation—
this imperiled flame, which from the beginning
has been flickering,
in danger of going out.
Come to me, closer and closer.
I don't want to be able to tell my hand from yours.
And let's stay awake, lest the snow smother us.

Walid Khazindar was born in 1950 in Gaza City. He is considered one of the best Palestinian poets; his poetry has been said to be "characterized by metaphoric originality and a novel thematic approach unprecedented in Arabic poetry." He was awarded the first Palestine Prize for Poetry in 1997.

Excerpt from “Speech of the Red Indian”
by Mahmoud Darwish
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Let's give the earth sufficient time to recite
the whole truth ...
The whole truth about us.
The whole truth about you.

In tombs you build
the dead lie sleeping.
Over bridges you *****
file the newly slain.

There are spirits who light up the night like fireflies.
There are spirits who come at dawn to sip tea with you,
as peaceful as the day your guns mowed them down.

O, you who are guests in our land,
please leave a few chairs empty
for your hosts to sit and ponder
the conditions for peace
in your treaty with the dead.

by Fadwa Tuqan
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

In my solitary life, I was a lost question;
in the encompassing darkness,
my answer lay concealed.

You were a bright new star
revealed by fate,
radiating light from the fathomless darkness.

The other stars rotated around you
—once, twice —
until I perceived
your unique radiance.

Then the bleak blackness broke
and in the twin tremors
of our entwined hands
I had found my missing answer.

Oh you! Oh you intimate, yet distant!
Don't you remember the coalescence
Of our spirits in the flames?
Of my universe with yours?
Of the two poets?
Despite our great distance,
Existence unites us.

Nothing Remains
by Fadwa Tuqan
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Tonight, we’re together,
but tomorrow you'll be hidden from me again,
thanks to life’s cruelty.

The seas will separate us ...
Oh!—Oh!—If I could only see you!
But I'll never know ...
where your steps led you,
which routes you took,
or to what unknown destinations
your feet were compelled.

You will depart and the thief of hearts,
the denier of beauty,
will rob us of all that's dear to us,
will steal our happiness,
leaving our hands empty.

Tomorrow at dawn you'll vanish like a phantom,
dissipating into a delicate mist
dissolving quickly in the summer sun.

Your scent—your scent!—contains the essence of life,
filling my heart
as the earth absorbs the lifegiving rain.

I will miss you like the fragrance of trees
when you leave tomorrow,
and nothing remains.

Just as everything beautiful and all that's dear to us
is lost—lost!—when nothing remains.

Identity Card
by Mahmoud Darwish
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I am an Arab!
And my identity card is number fifty thousand.
I have eight children;
the ninth arrives this autumn.
Will you be furious?

I am an Arab!
Employed at the quarry,
I have eight children.
I provide them with bread,
clothes and books
from the bare rocks.
I do not supplicate charity at your gates,
nor do I demean myself at your chambers' doors.
Will you be furious?

I am an Arab!
I have a name without a title.
I am patient in a country
where people are easily enraged.
My roots
were established long before the onset of time,
before the unfolding of the flora and fauna,
before the pines and the olive trees,
before the first grass grew.
My father descended from plowmen,
not from the privileged classes.
My grandfather was a lowly farmer
neither well-bred, nor well-born!
Still, they taught me the pride of the sun
before teaching me how to read;
now my house is a watchman's hut
made of branches and cane.
Are you satisfied with my status?
I have a name, but no title!

I am an Arab!
You have stolen my ancestors' orchards
and the land I cultivated
along with my children.
You left us nothing
but these bare rocks.
Now will the State claim them
as it has been declared?

Record on the first page:
I do not hate people
nor do I encroach,
but if I become hungry
I will feast on the usurper's flesh!
Beware my hunger
and my anger!

NOTE: Darwish was married twice, but had no children. In the poem above, he is apparently speaking for his people, not for himself personally.

by Mahmoud Darwish
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

They left me unrecognizable in the shadows
that bled all colors from this passport.
To them, my wounds were novelties—
curious photos for tourists to collect.
They failed to recognize me. No, don't leave
the palm of my hand bereft of sun
when all the trees recognize me
and every song of the rain honors me.
Don't set a wan moon over me!

All the birds that flocked to my welcoming wave
as far as the distant airport gates,
all the wheatfields,
all the prisons,
all the albescent tombstones,
all the barbwired boundaries,
all the fluttering handkerchiefs,
all the eyes—
they all accompanied me.
But they were stricken from my passport
shredding my identity!

How was I stripped of my name and identity
on soil I tended with my own hands?
Today, Job's lamentations
re-filled the heavens:
Don't make an example of me, not again!
Prophets! Gentlemen!—
Don't require the trees to name themselves!
Don't ask the valleys who mothered them!
My forehead glistens with lancing light.
From my hand the riverwater springs.
My identity can be found in my people's hearts,
so invalidate this passport!

Autumn Conundrum
by Michael R. Burch

for the mothers and children of Gaza

It's not that every leaf must finally fall,
it's just that we can never catch them all.

Piercing the Shell

for the mothers and children of Gaza

If we strip away all the accouterments of war,
perhaps we'll discover what the heart is for.

Children of Gaza Lyrics

(adapted in places to the music by Michael R. Burch and Eduard de Boer)

World premiere, April 22, 2017, in the Oosterkerk in the Dutch town of Hoorn. Dima Bawab, soprano; Eduard de Boer, piano.

I. Prologue:

Where does the Butterfly go?
I'd love to sing about things of beauty,
like a butterfly, fluttering amid flowers,
but I can't, I can't …

Where does the butterfly go
when lightning rails
when thunder howls
when hailstones scream
while winter scowls
and nights compound dark frosts with snow,
where does the butterfly go?

Where does the rose hide its bloom
when night descends oblique and chill
beyond the power of moonlight to fill?
When the only relief's a banked fire's glow,
where does the butterfly go?

Where does the butterfly go
when mothers cry
while children die
and politicians lie, politicians lie?

When the darkness of grief blots out all that we know:
when love and life are running low,
where does the butterfly go?

And how shall the spirit take wing
when life is harsh, too harsh to face,
and hope is flown without a trace?

Oh, when the light of life runs low,
where does the butterfly go,
where does the butterfly go?

II. The Raid

When the soldiers came to our house,
I was quiet, quiet as a mouse…

But when they beat down our door with a battering ram,
and I heard their machine guns go "Blam! Blam! Blam!"
I ran! I ran! I ran!

First I ran to the cupboard and crept inside;
then I fled to my bed and crawled under, to hide.

I could hear my mother shushing my sister…
How I hoped and prayed that the bullets missed her!
My sister! My sister! My sister!

Then I ran next door, to my uncle's house,
still quiet, quiet as a mouse...

Young as I am,
I did understand
that they had come to take our land!
Our land! Our land! Our land!
They've come to take our land!

They shot my father, they shot my mother,
they shot my dear sister, and my big brother!
They shot down my hopes, they shot down my dreams!
I still hear their screams! Their screams! Their screams!

Now I am here: small, and sad, and still ...
no mother, no father, no family, no will.

They took everything I ever had.
Now how can I live, with no mom and no dad?
How can I live, with no mom and no dad?
How can I live? How can I live?

III. For God’s Sake, I'm only a Child

For God’s sake, ah, for God's sake, I’m only a child―
and all you’ve allowed me to learn are these tears scalding my cheeks,
this ache in my gut at the sight of so many corpses, so much horrifying blood!

For God’s sake, I’m only a child―
you talk about your need for “security,”
but what about my right to play in streets
not piled with dead bodies still smoking with white phosphorous!

Ah, for God’s sake, I’m only a child―
for me there's no beauty in the world
and peace has become an impossible dream;
destruction is all I know because of your deceptions.

For God’s sake, I’m only a child―
fear and terror surround me stealing my breath
as I lie shaking like a windblown leaf.

For God’s sake, for God's sake, I'm only a child,
I'm only a child, I'm only a child.

IV. King of the World

If I were King of the World,
I would make every child free, for my people’s sake.
And once I had freed them, they’d all run and scream
straight to my palace, for free ice cream!
[Directly to the audience, spoken:]
Why are you laughing? Can’t a young king dream?

If I were King of the World, I would banish
hatred and war, and make mean men vanish.
Then, in their place, I’d bring in a circus
with lions and tigers (but they’d never hurt us!)

If I were King of the World, I would teach
the preachers to always do as they preach;
and so they could practice being of good cheer,
we’d have Christmas ―and sweets―each day of the year!

[Directly to the audience, spoken:]
Why are you laughing? Some dreams do appear!

If I were King of the World, I would send
my couns'lors of peace to the wide world’s end ...
[spoken:] But all this hard dreaming is making me thirsty!
I proclaim lemonade; please [spoken] bring it in a hurry!

If I were King of the World, I would fire
racists and bigots, with their message so dire.
And we wouldn’t build walls, to shut people out.
I would build amusement parks, have no doubt!

If I were King of the World, I would make
every child blessed, for my people’s sake,
and every child safe, and every child free,
and every child happy, especially me!
[Directly to the audience, spoken:]
Why are you laughing? Appoint me and see!

V. Mother’s Smile

There never was a fonder smile
than mother's smile, no softer touch
than mother's touch. So sleep awhile
and know she loves you more than "much".

So more than "much", much more than "all".
Though tender words, these do not speak
of love at all, nor how we fall
and mother's there, nor how we reach
from nightmares in the ticking night
and she is there to hold us tight.

There never was a stronger back
than father's back, that held our weight
and lifted us, when we were small,
and bore us till we reached the gate,
then held our hands that first bright mile
till we could run, and did, and flew.
But, oh, a mother's tender smile
will leap and follow after you ...

VI. In the Shelter

Hush my darling, please don’t cry.
The bombs will stop dropping, by and by.
Hush, I'll sing you a lullaby…

Mama, I know that I’m safe in your arms.
Your sweet love protects me from all harms,
but still I fear the sirens’ alarms!

Hush now my darling, don’t say a word.
My love will protect you, whatever you heard.
Hush now…

But what about pappa, you loved him too.

Mother: My love will protect you.
My love will protect you!

I know that you love me, but pappa is gone!

Your pappa’s in heaven, where nothing goes wrong.
Come, rest at my breast and I’ll sing you a song.

But pappa was strong, and now he’s not here.

He’s where he must be, and yet ever-near.
Now we both must be strong; there's nothing to fear.

The bombs are still falling! Will this night never end?

The deep darkness hides us; the night is our friend.
Hush, I'll sing you a lullaby.

Yes, mama, I'm sure you are right.
We will be safe under cover of night.
[spoken] But what is that sound?
[screamed] Mama! I am fri(ghtened)….!

VII. Frail Envelope of Flesh

Frail envelope of flesh,
lying on the surgeon's table
with anguished eyes like your mother's eyes
and a heartbeat weak, unstable…

Frail crucible of dust,
brief flower come to this―
your tiny hand in your mother's hand
for a last bewildered kiss…

Brief mayfly of a child,
to live five artless years…
Now your mother's lips seal up your lips
from the Deluge of her tears…

VIII. Among the Angels

There is peace where I am now,
I reside in a heavenly land
that rests safe in the palm
of a loving Being’s hand;
where the butterfly finds shelter
and the white dove glides to rest
in the bright and shining sands
of those shores all men call Blessed.

My darling, how I long to touch your face,
to see your smile, to hear your laughter’s grace.
Great Allah, hear my plea.
Return my child to me.

My darling mother, here beyond the stars
where I now live,
I see and feel your tears,
but here is peace and joy, and no more pain.
Here is where I will remain.

My darling, do not leave me here alone!
Come back to me!
Why did you turn to stone?
Great Allah, hear my plea.
Please send my child back to me...

Dear mother, to your wonderful love I bow.
But I can't return...
I am among the Angels now.
Do not worry about me.
Here is where I long to be.

My darling, it is as if I hear your voice consoling me.
Oh, can this be your choice?
Great Allah, hear my plea.
Impart wisdom to me.

Dear mother, I was born of your great love,
a gentle spirit...
I died a slaughtered dove,
that I might bring this message from the stars:
it is time to end earth’s wars.

Remember―in both Bible and Koran
how many times each precious word is used―
“Mercy. Compassion. Justice.”
Let each man, each woman live by the Law
that rules both below and above:
reject all hate and embrace Love.

IX. Epilogue: I have a dream

I have a dream...
that one day all the world
will see me as I am:
a small child, lonely and afraid,
a small child, lonely and afraid.

Look at me... I am flesh...
I laugh, I bleed, I cry.
Look at me; I dare you
to look me in the eye
and tell me and my mother
how I deserve to die.

I only ask to live
in a world where things are fair;
I only ask for love
in a world where people share,
I only ask for love
in a world where people share.

Oh, I have a dream...
that one day all the world
will see me as I am:
a small child, lonely and afraid,
a small child, lonely and afraid.

hey pete
by Michael R. Burch

for Pete Rose

hey pete,
it's baseball season
and the sun ascends the sky,
encouraging a schoolboy's dreams
of winter whizzing by;
go out, go out and catch it,
put it in a jar,
set it on a shelf
and then you'll be a Superstar.

When I was a boy, Pete Rose was my favorite baseball player; this poem is not a slam at him, but rather an ironic jab at the term "superstar."

Reflections on the Loss of Vision
by Michael R. Burch

The sparrow that cries from the shelter of an ancient oak tree and the squirrels
that dash in delight through the treetops as the first snow glistens and swirls,
remind me so much of my childhood and how the world seemed to me then,
that it seems if I tried
and just closed my eyes,
I could once again be nine or ten.

The rabbits that hide in the bushes where the snowflakes collect as they fall,
hunch there, I know, in the flurrying snow, yet now I can't see them at all.
For time slowly weakened my vision; while the patterns seem almost as clear,
some things that I saw
when I was a boy,
are lost to me now in my advancing years.

The chipmunk who seeks out his burrow and the geese in their unseen reprieve
are there as they were, and yet they are not; and though it seems childish to grieve,
who would condemn a blind man for bemoaning the vision he lost?
Well, in a small way,
through the passage of days,
I have learned some of his loss.

As a keen-eyed young lad I endeavored to see things most adults could not―
the camouflaged nests of the hoot owls, the woodpecker’s favorite haunts.
But now I no longer can find them, nor understand how I once could,
and it seems such a waste
of those far-sighted days,
to end up near blind in this wood.

by Michael R. Burch

He comes to me out of the shadows, acknowledging
my presence with a tip of his hat, always the gentleman,
and his eyes are on my eyes like a snake’s on a bird’s—
quizzical, mesmerizing.

He ***** his head as though something he heard intrigues him
(although I hear nothing) and he smiles, amusing himself at my expense;
his words are full of desire and loathing, and although I hear,
he says nothing that I understand.

The moon shines—maniacal, queer—as he takes my hand and whispers
"Our time has come!" ... and so we stroll together along the docks
where the sea sends things that wriggle and crawl
scurrying under rocks and boards.

Moonlight in great floods washes his pale face as he stares unseeing
into my eyes. He sighs, and the sound crawls slithering down my spine,
and my blood seems to pause at his touch as he caresses my face.
He unfastens my dress till the white lace shows, and my neck is bared.

His teeth are long, yellow and hard. His face is bearded and haggard.
A wolf howls in the distance. There are no wolves in New York. I gasp.
My blood is a trickle his wet tongue embraces. My heart races madly.
He likes it like that.

Published by Dowton Abbey, Aesthetically Pleasing Vampires, Into the Unknown, Since Halloween is Coming, and Poetry Life & Times

by Michael R. Burch

for Nadia Anjuman

Within its starkwhite ribcage, how the heart
must flutter wildly, O, and always sing
against the pressing darkness: all it knows
until at last it feels the numbing sting
of death. Then life's brief vision swiftly passes,
imposing night on one who clearly saw.
Death held your bright heart tightly, till its maw–
envenomed, fanged–could swallow, whole, your Awe.
And yet it was not death so much as you
who sealed your doom; you could not help but sing
and not be silenced. Here, behold your tomb's
white alabaster cage: pale, wretched thing!
But you'll not be imprisoned here, wise wren!
Your words soar free; rise, sing, fly, live again.

A poet like Nadia Anjuman can be likened to a caged bird, deprived of flight, who somehow finds it within herself to sing of love and beauty. But when the world robs her of both flight and song, what is left for her but to leave, bereaving it and us of herself and her song?

Southern Icarus
by Michael R. Burch

Windborne, lover of heights,
unspooled from the truck’s wildly lurching embrace,
you climb, skittish kite . . .

What do you know of the world’s despair,
gliding in vast  solitariness  there,
so that all that remains is to

Only a little longer the wind invests its sighs;
spread-eagled, as the canvas snaps
and *****
its white rebellious wings,
and all
the houses watch with baffled eyes.

Published by Poetry Porch and The Chained Muse

To the boy Elis
by Georg Trakl
translation by Michael R. Burch

Elis, when the blackbird cries from the black forest,
it announces your downfall.
Your lips sip the rock-spring's blue coolness.

Your brow sweats blood
recalling ancient myths
and dark interpretations of birds' flight.

Yet you enter the night with soft footfalls;
the ripe purple grapes hang suspended
as you wave your arms more beautifully in the blueness.

A thornbush crackles;
where now are your moonlike eyes?
How long, oh Elis, have you been dead?

A monk dips waxed fingers
into your body's hyacinth;
Our silence is a black abyss

from which sometimes a docile animal emerges
slowly lowering its heavy lids.
A black dew drips from your temples:

the lost gold of vanished stars.

TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: I believe that in the second stanza the blood on Elis's forehead may be a reference to the apprehensive ****** sweat of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. If my interpretation is correct, Elis hears the blackbird's cries, anticipates the danger represented by a harbinger of death, but elects to continue rather than turn back. From what I have been able to gather, the color blue had a special significance for Georg Trakl: it symbolized longing and perhaps a longing for death. The colors blue, purple and black may represent a progression toward death in the poem.

Published as the collection "Of Tetley's and V-2's"
Terry Collett May 2017
Judith stares out at the grim morning with its grey skies and dampness clinging to the windowpane. There is something about the day she knows is going to be unpleasant; she can sense it in her *****. She pushes her fingers through her auburn hair and parts the curtains a little more for a clearer view of the street.

You watch your sister, see her move the curtain, see her auburn hair touch the collar of her grey dress, the dress Mother bought her some years back. Your father is downstairs; you can hear him coughing and sounding more and more like a sea lion each time. Your mother is in the garden hanging out washing, wondering no doubt where Judith is, why she isn’t helping, what with your mother’s bad back and all.

I suppose you’ll be wanting some dinner? Judith says to you, letting the curtain close.
I’m not worried about food, you reply, searching Judith’s features for some sign of happiness, but see none.

Randal’s letter is on the mantel shelf if you want to read it, Judith says. He doesn’t say where he is. Says Tommy Fisher’s dead; nasty business this war.

You wonder if your brother will survive the war. He thinks his luck will hold out. You wonder how many thought that before they were killed. Your eyes follow Judith as she leaves the room, see the slightly bent back, the grim face, the certain virginity that permeates through her whole body like some cancer that she half wants and half fears, but have sought to retain, while you yourself lost yours at sixteen with that Mardy boy. She hesitates at the door, turns and gazes at you.

How long are you back for, Esther? she asks stiffly.

Can’t say, you remark. Secret to all but those who need to know.

I’m your sister, not some spy, Judith says, turning her back on you and stomping down the stairs.

If she knew what I’ve seen or have done she’d be different, you muse, standing up from the chair by the fireplace and going to the window. Being back is hard. Knowing how to relax is like remembering how to walk after some accident; it takes time. The street is the same; no bombs here; not like London. You remember your first dead body. The face was gone; the hands were spread outwards as if in some gesture of the Crucified. Indecent how some bodies are left. You close your mind off from it all, stare at Mrs Frown walking up from the shops, puffing and blowing, getting what she can with the coupons. Her Eric was killed at Dunkirk, poor soul. You move away from the window and glance about the room. Used to be your room once. Judith has it now; you can smell her presence here with your eyes closed. You sigh at the ghosts that linger here. Uncle Geoffrey died in this room before you were born: T.B. your mother said, as she wiped tears from her eyes. Long ago. Long, long ago.

Judith is in the kitchen with your mother. Your father is out in the garden pottering about in the vegetable patch. You stand by the back door staring at him puffing on his roll up, his back curved, his hands fiddling with something you can’t make out.

Judith says you’re on secret work, your mother says mixing something in a large bowl.

Yes, you reply. I have been told to tell no one, not even relatives.

Aren’t we to be trusted, now? your mother says sarcastically, staring at you under her dark brows as she did when you were a child before she smacked you. What with Randal writing home bland letters and now you with your secret work. Makes me wonder what all the fighting's about, she moans.

Judith at the sink, says nothing, but you can see her shoulders rise and tense. You remember her going tense many times. Being the eldest, she was often the first one to be chastised for wrongdoing as mother put it. Judith would raise her shoulders and tense herself even before your mother’s hand touched her.

Your father was not involved in such matters as he was at work most of the time and too tired when he came home for such doings as he referred to it.

Blame the Government not me, you say. I just obey orders.

Your mother stares at you with her dark brows lower still. She mixes faster, noisily and sighs loudly. There is hardness at the core of your mother, which even now has not softened, not with all the years and suffering.  If I spoke to my parents like that I’d have my father’s hand across my face, she says looking away from you, now, letting her head turn to Judith at the sink.

You turn and stare at your father rising from the ground with his roll-up nearing its end, hanging from his lip. He gives a small wave. You wave back with a child-like wave from years ago. He smiles and then lowers himself down again.

Your mother is still moaning, but you have not heard what she has said so cannot reply, but stare at her blankly as if you were deaf and wanted some explanation of what is being said.

You remember a year back being deaf for a day or so when a bomb had gone off near by and it had left you numb and momentarily deafened.

It doesn’t do you upset, Mum, Judith says looking at you from the sink. Your mother has gone off to the pantry and your sister finds time for her own words. It makes her nerves bad.

I’ve said nothing, you reply.

Secret work is meaningless to her if she’s not to be trusted. And you so rude, Judith says. Her eyes darken and her lips pull tight across her mouth, as they did when we were children and she wanted her own way and didn’t get it.

I have not been rude, you inform. Merely stating facts.

Judith turns away from you as your mother returns to the kitchen. Your mother thumps down the flour on the table and takes a deep intake of breath. How long are you back for? she asks.

As far as I know a month, you lie to make for peace.

You could stay here if you wanted; you could have Randal’s room, he won’t be back for sometime, your mother says.

I’ve got to get back to London tomorrow. But I’d like to stay the night if I may, you say, your voice softer now, less hostile.

Of course you can, your mother says, her brows rising, and her eyes gazing at you in that way of hers when she wants something or wants to say sorry without actually speaking. You nod and smile. That’s settled then. Judith and you can have a good old chat; she’s in need of someone else to speak with apart from me and your father.

Judith looks at you from the sink, her head turned like an owl. Yes, it will be nice, she says.

The kitchen mellows. The day brightens. You can hear your father coughing from the garden. And the dead face of a child staring up at you from the pavement, her arms missing, rises from your memory and settles itself by the table where your mother mixes again and the eyes are blank as white paper.

Judith has gone to work on the farm, her part for the war effort. You and your mother go down to the shops, leaving your father to potter in the garden if his cough will let him for much longer.

Judith wanted to join up, but I told her I needed her near in case your father is taken bad, your mother says, lifting her eyes up briefly from the ground where they had been gazing. His cough’s getting no better. He can barely potter about in the garden without his coughing going off.

Must be hard to be left at home with this war on and so much seems to be going on and feeling left out of it all, you say.

That’s as may be, but I’d not cope with him if he was taken bad, your mother says glancing at you with her brows lowered. There’s many that can do war work on ships and such, but there’s work to be done here to feed us all and keep the country going while the men are away.

You feel a sense of being trapped in a dark room. Your mother’s voice rambling on, but you are far away, where none of your mother’s worries seem to weigh in the balance. Max Elton went weeks without saying a thing of importance, but then after so much torture even he gave way and then they shot him. Dark rooms are your one fear. On your last mission Max had been quite close to you, had stressed that being a woman wouldn’t save you from anything once you were caught. Then he was captured and you never saw him again, never saw his bright eyes and curly dark hair on your pillow as you had before.

You are so quiet these days, Esther, that I wonder what’s been going on in your life with all that secret work, your mother says, stopping on the kerb for a bus to pass by.

Not that you’d tell me if you could. You always were a secret little madam when you were young, keeping a still tongue in your head, your mother drones on, her eyes sweeping over you as if something could be found of your life on the features of your face.

Nothing happens much where I am, you say looking past your mother at the hills far off to your left. Secret work in an office. Not much to write home about, you say coolly, remembering the hills and the place where you and the Mardy boy lay and made love.

Randal’s not much for letting on where he is; says it’s all hush-hush. As if I’m going to blab my mouth off to ****** himself or any of his cronies, your mother says stiffly, pausing to look at her shopping-list and take out her coupons.

She moves on and starts to speak again, but you have left her behind in your mind and are wandering the hills with Tommy Mardy with his big blue eyes, red cheeks, and his hand holding yours.

What happened to Tommy Mardy? you ask suddenly cutting through your mother’s conversation.

Your mother hesitates and searches your face as if she were seeking clues for the question. He wasn’t fit for the services so he works on his father farm, she replies. Funny heart, she adds.

You nod and look away from her. Nothing wrong with his heart that afternoon, you muse, hiding a smile inside you, almost feeling Tommy entering you once more in that clumsy way of his. Then there had been Max. Our love a secret between the bed and us. Nothing clumsy about Max except being caught that night. Nothing clumsy. Nothing. Nothing.

Your father is sitting on an old wooden seat at the end of the garden, his eyes gazing up at the sky. There is something old about him although he is only fifty. His cough wears him down and his hair has turned prematurely grey. He muses on the coming spring, vegetables, and flowers that will grow. The dull clouds do not dishearten him; he looks beyond the obvious, looks to the future.

When he hears you approaching, he lowers his eyes and takes in your dark hair and deep blue eyes and the widening smile you always have for him.

Come to see your old dad, then? your father says.

Of course, you say. What would a home visit be without a talk with my dad.

He moves to the end of the seat to make room for you. Sitting down you realise how thin he has become, how drawn about the eyes. His fingers have nicotine stains on them and his nails are bitten down.

They don't know about war, he says nodding towards the house. I’ve seen what war does to people. And I guess so have you, he says searching your deep blue eyes.

Yes, you reply, it isn't something one wants to talk about.

Too right, your father says looking away from you and staring at the grass by his feet. Your Mother doesn’t mean anything personal with her going ons. She hates things that disturb her routine. This ****** war does that.

Things seem so unreal at home, you say quietly. It’s like looking through the eyes of a child at some far off memory.

That’s what I found in 1918 when I came back from the Front. Things that seemed important before seemed so ****** trivial after what I'd seen, your father says in a far off voice as if he was in a trance. His hands wrestle against each other and then he pulls them in to some prayer-like gesture and lets them sit on his knees like well-behaved children. You place your hand on his arm.

I know you understand how I feel. I cannot talk about my work. I wish I could, it would help me with the burden, but I can't, you say softly. He nods, turns, and looks at you. His once bright eyes are dull now, as if the life and colour had fled from them.

Judith’s none too happy. She was hoping to get away and join up, but your mother persuaded her to work on the land, your father informs.

Has she had a man friend since I've been away? you ask.

She hasn't been out much apart from the farm. She doesn’t seem interested, he says. Now our Randal he left behind a few girls crying after him. He writes now and then, but don't say much, your father says, looking back at the grass.

What do you think is going on with regards to the war? you ask quietly.

Something big is in the air, your father says. The Second Front it seems to me. He sighs and his eyes close. There are many deaths to come. More than your mother and such realise.

I may not make it back, you whisper. That’s why I came home for a quick visit.

I guessed as much, your father says gently. I’m proud of you, Esther. He then becomes quiet, taps your hand and walks up the garden towards the house, his head lowered and his back slightly bent, as if he carried some invisible cross over the green grass towards a hidden crucifixion.

You watch him until he disappears inside the house. A lump grows in your throat and you want to cry, but you don’t. It would only make leaving harder. You close your eyes and imagine yourself a child again playing with Judith and Randal in the garden. The swing has gone now. The voices have become silent, but Randal’s playful kiss still sits on your cheek wet and warm like an Indian summer.

Judith watches you all through dinner, her eyes surreptitiously studying your movements, your features and your lips moving as you speak.

It has been a hard day on the farm. The land girls she works with are far more outspoken than she is and their conversations make her blush with the deeds and thoughts they describe. She wonders what you know and if you and those you work with speak about such things.

You’re quiet, Judith, your mother says. You’ve not said a word since you've been home.

Judith's eyes leave you and move over to your mother. Her face is momentarily expressionless as if all emotions and thoughts had left her. Then she speaks and her features come alive again. She puts down her knife and fork and her hands move in expressive movements as if her words were in need of their assistance.

You listen to her and let her words sink into you. Whatever had been troubling her seems now to be laid before you all. Land girls and their lack of morality; their language and the things they talk about in front of her flows from her lips. And as she speaks, her eyes settle on you as if maybe you were like them. You wonder what it is about Judith that makes her so frigid and so unbending with regards other people's morals.

People are like that in London, your mother says, her eyes glancing at you momentarily. It’s what comes from living so packed together. It isn't natural to live in such crowded conditions.

You say nothing. Your deep blue eyes gaze past Judith opposite you and settle on the photograph on the wall. It shows you all together ten years before in 1934. Your father and mother sitting stiff and upright with Randal on the right and Judith on the left and you in the centre with your eyes peering mischievously at the camera. You were thirteen then. Judith was fifteen and Randal eleven. You stare at the expression on Judith's face in the photograph. Then she seemed more alive and possessed a hint of sensualness in the way she gazes out at you and your memory of her physical touches and embraces. Gone now all that. She seems now as if she had buried herself and any sensuality that she may have possessed.

Girls are like that all over the world, your father says, not just those in the big cities. It's just the way some girls are when they're thrown together.

You would know, I suppose, what with those French girls you knew in the last war, your mother says stiffly, peering at your father with her brows lowered. At least our girls have been brought up to be respectful. Such carrying-ons and with a war on too. Her eyes move to you and seem to flow over you like a cold tide.

You are aware of her gaze now. The photograph contains a captured glimpse of what has gone. Its dullness portrays that very fact. Your mother's gaze leaves you and flows to Judith who is sitting stiff-backed and stern-faced.

Can we go for a walk after dinner? you ask Judith.

Yes, I suppose so, Judith replies.

Not m
He Said She Said Dec 2013
Mother oh Mother. Why?
I find myself
Between two lives

Mother, oh Mother,
My future self and my past strife
They battle
As I watch with wide eyes

Mother oh Mother,
My head pounds
As my heart
Is pulled two ways
Splitting down the middle
Like the poems I wrote in the beginning of high school

Mother oh Mother,
They were ripped to shreds
And tossed in the trash compactor,

Mother oh Mother,
My heart can't take the same fate
As my first love letter.
Laughed at and ignored,
Set aside when it became a bore.

Mother oh Mother,
you once told me
Don't ever grow up
Well that was a sore mistake
Considering I grew up
Far too quickly
In order to make up
For your ****** up faith
In that ******* bottle

Mother oh Mother,
Do you remember the night
That you shattered it against the wall
(you had missed my head)

Mother oh Mother,
it made for a pretty metaphor
My life after you
Facing demons
Was best done
With a little help
From your friends
Jack, Jose and Morgan.

Mother oh Mother,
They never had any right
To take over our lives
Just like him
An invader
Nothing like kin.
No matter how much you insist
There's no problem,
Not even you,
Can begin to understand
What they've cost you.

Mother oh Mother
The memory is clear
As the night you wept,
"Don't grow up to be like me"
You whispered it quietly
Just past midnight
While you sipped on your wine.
Out of  that diluted cracked glass,
Sleeping pills in hand.

Mother oh Mother
Do you remember how I sighed?
Closed my eyes.
Hid my tears,
It never did me well to cry
Not with you.

Mother oh Mother,
That night stands clear in my mind.
I took you to bed,
Tucked you in, kissing your forehead.
Setting yet another glass of clear water, two advil down
This night was repeated far too many times.

Mother oh Mother,
Do you even know?
Every single last day
I was screaming on the inside

Mother oh Mother,
Mother oh Mother,
Mother oh Mother,
CrowesMuse Aug 2013
Mother oh Mother. Why?
I find myself
Between two lives

Mother, oh Mother,
My future self and my past strife
They battle
As I watch with wide eyes

Mother oh Mother,
My head pounds
As my heart
Is pulled two ways
Splitting down the middle
Like the poems I wrote in the beginning of high school

Mother oh Mother,
They were ripped to shreds
And tossed in the trash compactor,

Mother oh Mother,
My heart can't take the same fate
As my first love letter.
Laughed at and ignored,
Set aside when it became a bore.

Mother oh Mother,
you once told me
Don't ever grow up
Well that was a sore mistake
Considering I grew up
Far too quickly
In order to make up
For your ****** up faith
In that ******* bottle

Mother oh Mother,
Do you remember the night
That you shattered it against the wall
(you had missed my head)

Mother oh Mother,
it made for a pretty metaphor
My life after you
Facing demons
Was best done
With a little help
From your friends
Jack, Jose and Morgan.

Mother oh Mother,
They never had any right
To take over our lives
Just like him
An invader
Nothing like kin.
No matter how much you insist
There's no problem,
Not even you,
Can begin to understand
What they've cost you.

Mother oh Mother
The memory is clear
As the night you wept,
"Don't grow up to be like me"
You whispered it quietly
Just past midnight
While you sipped on your wine.
Out of  that diluted cracked glass,
Sleeping pills in hand.

Mother oh Mother
Do you remember how I sighed?
Closed my eyes.
Hid my tears,
It never did me well to cry
Not with you.

Mother oh Mother,
That night stands clear in my mind.
I took you to bed,
Tucked you in, kissing your forehead.
Setting yet another glass of clear water, two advil down
This night was repeated far too many times.

Mother oh Mother,
Do you even know?
Every single last day
I was screaming on the inside

Mother oh Mother,
Mother oh Mother,
Mother oh Mother,
Deb Jones Sep 2017
I you would sing this song to us.
Que Sera, Sera. "When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother what will I be"

I loved that song. It was the song of our childhood with you. Your dreams and plans for us were always so grand. You never said "what will be, will be" You always had a plan. A grand, glorious plan. And we loved your versions of our futures the best.

Do you know what you really meant to us? How proud of you we were? How proud I was to be your daughter? How wonderful and special you made me feel? I wanted you to see, through my eyes, the woman I saw. The way I loved and admired you.
The way I strived to be so much like you.

Some of the things I remember about you and my childhood are too precious to share...even with you. They are so much a part of me. The me I am today.
These are just a few of the things I knew....

My Mother....
There are so many facets to my Mother. Some as clear as a cut and polished diamond....some as deep and mysterious as her birthstone, the Garnet. Like the red of the pomegranate seeds...the color is layered and looks darker as you peer past the lighter outer beauty and deep into the depth. I studied my Mother openly.
I studied her quietly. I wanted to know her. Understand her. Be like her. Look past the lighter beauty, and the masks she wore, and see the woman that was hidden.

I would watch her when she daydreamed. The first time I realized what a "dreamy" look was when I realized she was lost in herself, somewhere I wasn't.The first time I think I realized she was more than my mother. I remember the little bit of worried, hallow fear I felt. I was fascinated by the soft light in her eyes. And I wondered where she was, in her mind, and what she was dreaming of. I would try and perfect that dreamy softness. I used to practice her "look". When I was 5 or 6, she caught me in front of the mirror and laughed at me. I didn't tell her I was trying to mimic her expressions. From my Mother I learned the magic of masking. To hold on to parts of me that no one can hurt because they are safely stowed and only I have access. Or can grant access.

She loved singing and would sing alto to my childish soprano. I memorized her favorite songs and asked her to sing them to me over and over again. Before I was 6, I sang "You Aint Woman Enough" and "Harper Valley PTA" My Mother instilled in me a love of music. I shocked the playground in first grade by belting out "Knoxville Girl"
"He took her by her long dark hair and druuuug her round and round. Then threw her in the river that flows thru Knoxville tooooown" One girl cried and the teacher asked me to not sing it with such gusto. My mother was a neverending song in my heart of comfort and being. I may sometimes forget the words but I always remember the tune.

She taught me to play the piano by drawing symbols on the keys and then laboriously going through the songbooks and labeling each note with a symbol. I can't play today because I need the symbols to read music. She was a beautiful pianist and could play a song after hearing it a few times. I was so proud to be her daughter when she played the piano every Sunday at church. From watching my Mother play, with her eyes closed and head down, I learned that dedication to something you love is not a chore.

She could draw, paint and beautify anything. When people came to our home to talk to her about their portraits. I was so full of pride that they wanted to talk to MY Mother. To this day, portraits she painted or drew are in many homes in North Carolina. Sometimes the money she made fed us for a month.
Once, my second grade teacher took me home so she could talk to my Mother  about doing her portrait. We got there before the other kids came home on the bus. When we came in the back door there was my Mother all covered in flour making a scratch cake. Even though she didn't know my teacher was coming, I felt as if Mom had set the stage just for me. I wanted to hug her and tell her thank you, although I couldn't have explained to her why, way back then. She colored my world. She made the colors blend like the colorwheels she made for me.

I would draw for her, and ask her to show me what I could do to improve it. She spent countless hours drawing with me and for me. From her I got my love of all things artistic. It frustrates me to not be able to put on paper what's in my head. She drew with such ease and grace. My Mother drew her children sometimes. And she made me look beautiful. Once, I was lying down and noticed her busily sketching while looking my way, I thought she was drawing me again. So I held still, went to sleep after an hour of stiffness. The first thought I had when I awoke was the picture I knew she had been drawing of me. I still remember the disappointment I felt when I looked at her drawing pad and saw she had been sketching the cat that was behind me! And then how happy I was when I turned the page to see she had drawn me earlier in the evening when I was reading under the lamplight. I felt so loved. I do remember that the cat looked like it was smugly smiling in her drawing.

I would listen to her talk to others and try and remember how she said certain words so I could use them later. She gave me my greatest gift. A love of words. The feel of the words on my tongue and the resounding prose of them in my head. I started reading the novels she read when I was about 8. I struggled through them at first. Wow, did I struggle! I wanted to understand her better. Then I fell in love with the adventure of it and began to read for me. She would read passages to me from her books and explain what it meant. I loved her most for that. It was like a secret world that only she and I had keys to. I remember looking at one of my sisters with disdain or a 10 year old's version of contempt when she asked our Mother "what does that even mean?" Because I felt THAT sister would never be as privileged as me! The arrogance of me.

When I was hurt, when others hurt me...I protected her so she wouldn't be hurt too. That was a child's choice I made. I think all children that are hurt in that way will respond in a similiar manner. I never thought I was "bad" or "deserved it" or thought outright I was punishing her for hiding things. I just loved her and didn't want her to hurt too. What happened to me was not her fault. I know now I blamed her for not knowing. For just not knowing instinctively. That was my child's perspective and as an adult I can see the fallacy of that mindset. How ridiculous it is to expect that she would have known what I hid so well. So, I have let it go. My Mother would have given her life for me. To protect me. I know that. I would have done the same for my children. From my mother I learned survival and that the loving tide of protection flows both ways.

When we were hungry and had no money, we were somehow fed. I still think my Mother was one of the finest cooks I know. Not because she prepared the best dishes all the time. But because at our worst times, she made the finest feasts when cooking in a fireplace or over an open fire. She would cook magic. Using the little she had, she would make us a meal. I could see that she gave us her share too. I noticed that Mom. We all noticed. From my Mother I learned how to provide.

My Mother was not a toucher. She loved her babies but would not hug much unless she was hugged first. I understood this about her. Once in a while, she would brush back my hair in an absent-minded way. And I would hold still as long as she was doing it.

Everything was such a grand adventure. So many times she would start the journey by saying "Why don't you pretend....." or "Why don't you play like...." My friends loved her. They wanted a mother that would spend time with them and take them on day long swimming trips. And teach them how to build the best forts. How proud I was when they would say that. I would even ask them to compare mothers so they would see mine was better. Once, Mom built us a playhouse. It was wonderful. She spent all day hammering it together, making a door and windows. She covered it in stiff tar paper. The tar paper was painful to run your hand over or especially scrap against.
I think now that it must have been very painful to build that little black house for us. To this day I think of that playhouse when I smell a light rain on a warmed blacktop road. It was the same year she drew a huge fireplace, including a bright fire, on the wall with chalk, so we would have a mantle to hang stockings on at Christmas. I think it was also the same year she let some of us foster with wealthy families. So a few of us would have a Christmas. I didn't know then why she was so quiet when we came home after the holidays. I do remember her talking about what sharing meant. When she asked me to share my toys with a sister that was too "old" to foster. I think I was 7 then, and I cried that I couldnt keep the whole carload of toys for myself. One brother only got a wallet for Christmas. I think that was my first lesson in shame. I know that my mother's quietness was pride and pain.

She would draw cards because we couldn't afford board games. A whole deck of playing cards! And then spend hours playing cards with us. From her I got the love of competition. And changing the rules when they don't make sense. Or changing the rules to make the game better. Or just throwing out the rules altogether.

When she played...she made it magical and fun. During a time that was supposed to be magical and fun. Every child should be so lucky to have that when they need it the most.

When I talk about her to anyone that listens, I always say the same thing. My Mother is one of the smartest people I will ever know. I say it with the utmost confidence and sincerity. She amazed people with her talents. She amazed me then and amazes me still. She didn't know a little bit about a lot of things, like I do. She really did know a LOT about a lot of things. Any one of her talents was amazing and praise worthy. And she had so many to choose from.

From my Mother I learned the fine art of presentation. I don't think she had many moments of boredom the way some women of her generation did. I don't remember my Mother ever being bored. Fom a child's perspective.
When I was 10 or 11, Mom burnt her leg with a pan of hot water. The entire calve of her leg from knee down to ankle eventually scabbed with an ugly black thickness before healing. I stayed awake all night pouring cold water over her leg so she could sleep. I cried for her when she couldn't cry for herself and she would wake and tell me to "stop crying, it wasn't so bad. It didn't hurt much". But I heard her moaning in her fitful sleep. From my Mother, I learned courage.

I have only seen my Mother cry a few times. At my brother's funeral, when I was too heartsick to help her cope with the loss of her son. I bet she cried on the way home. After she dropped us off at the airport. I bet she cried all the way home. I know those were just a few of her darkest hours. And when her husband, her greatest love and best friend, for more than 10 years, died unexpectedly...and so tragically in his 30s. God, she was so strong. Even that night when I lay beside her in the bed she had shared with him I cried while she told me how much she loved him and carried him in her heart. I wish I could have been stronger for her then. I think she needed someone a lot stronger than me. So she could have been comforted too. While I slept with my arm around her. I still felt she was comforting me. From my mother, I learned that you are as strong as you need to be. She was my strength even at her weakest.

My Mother was the most important person in the world to me. And I was special to her. I was her confidante, co-conspirator, dream catcher. When I was 12, I promised I would take her to Spain someday. I promised I would be her companion in the adventures she wanted to have. I left her at 14. I never told her that being special to her was so special to me. That when she sent the others to bed, while allowing me to sneak back in to sit with her, was where I was the most content. Where I felt the most loved and wanted. Where my value was in what I thought and said and how I felt. Where I remember feeling that I was the me I was supposed to be. That feeling was more precious than I realized at the time.

I am still content to sit quietly at her side. I am my mother's daughter.

She made me and molded me. The person I am now is based on the child I was then. She gave me so many gifts.
Mom, If I could, I would take away all the pain and fear you have and bear it for you. You will do this once again with dignity and grace. I will cry for you all the tears you refuse to shed. I always have.

Que Sera, Sera. I loved that song. You have made me into a fine woman. I am strong and proud. Tempered by the trials that you prepared me for.

You never said "what will be will be" Your plans for me were glorious and grand. And possible.
Thank you Momma for not just letting me be.....

Que Sera, Sera
When I was just a little girl
I asked my mother, what will I be
Will I be pretty, will I be rich
Here's what she said to me.
Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
The future's not ours, to see
Que Sera, Sera
What will be, will be.
When I was young, I fell in love
I asked my sweetheart what lies ahead
Will we have rainbows, day after day
Here's what my sweetheart said.
Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
The future's not ours, to see
Que Sera, Sera
What will be, will be.
Now I have children of my own
They ask their mother, what will I be
Will I be handsome, will I be rich
I tell them tenderly.
Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
The future's not ours, to see
Que Sera, Sera
What will be, will be
I wrote this for my Mom when she was dying of a rare disease that wasn't treatable. It took me a few weeks of staying with her at the hospital to write this. I wanted her to know she was loved and that I really saw her. She died in April.

I know this isn't a traditional poem format. But I feel like it was a poem of love from me to her.  She died with dignity and grace. Just like she lived.
Terry Collett Mar 2016
Mother Josephine dead. It's hard to believe, Sister Teresa muses to herself as she leaves the church after Sext. So long ago now since I first saw her. Thirty years ago, yes, thirty years ago. And as she walks along the cloister towards the refectory, she thinks over the many years of their relationship. The sun shines into the cloister and warms the ground beneath her feet. She passes the bell rope hanging like a tail in the cloister outside the refectory door. It was here, she says to herself as she enters the refectory, it was here that Mother Josephine first spoke to me all those years ago. And entering the refectory she bows towards the crucifix on the wall above Mother Abbess's table and goes to the old table where the bread is laid out for the sisters. She cuts herself two slices of brown bread and takes her place at the table where she has sat for the last six months. Yes, here, she repeats to herself, it was here that Mother Josephine first spoke to me that late evening that I arrived on my first visit to the convent. She stands by the table and awaits the arrival of Mother Abbess through the door. It seems years now since that evening. Thirty years. God. How time has flown. And seeing Mother Abbess enter, Sister Teresa bows towards her and waits for the signal to begin the grace. Tap tap and the grace begins and she recites the grace that she has said so many times now, that it seems like an eternity since she first said it way back in 1968. That long ago? Yes, I suppose it is, she thinks, sitting down at her place as the grace ends. And Mother Josephine was even then like a mother hen towards me that late evening I arrived. What did I ask her? Hard to recall now. Something about what qualifications I might need to enter the community, I think. And Mother Josephine said, returning from the kitchen where she had been to fetch me some warm food, only your willingness to serve and love of God. And I felt her wanting me to be there so much. Sister Teresa waits for the food to be brought to the table by one of the younger nuns. She looks across at the table opposite and sees Sister Martha pick up a glass and fill it with water from a glass jug on the table. So many have left or died over the years, she sighs looking away from Sister Martha. She waits until one of the young ones places a tray of meat and vegetables on the table and then offers it to her sisters on the right and left of her. They help themselves and then she, indifferently, takes a portion of each onto her plate and begins to eat. Mother Josephine has died, Mother Abbess had said that morning after Mass in the chapter house. And the community had not been that surprised but it had shocked Sister Teresa. It seemed as if old Mother Josephine would last forever but of course she didn't. Silly to think she would. Not think so much as wished it probably, she muses eating a portion and looking at the window up above her opposite. And Lucia not long gone either. It seems so many have gone recently. Lucia so suddenly last year. Shocked me that did and pained me terribly, she muses darkly putting down her fork and pushing food around the plate. Mother Josephine dead. Just like that. No more to know her about the house as such. No more to see her enter the church for Lauds or Vespers and Mass as she did those final weeks with effort. I wonder if she ever knew about Lucia and me. She may I think. When Lucia went to Rome way back in 1971 and I had problems settling down she had me sent home for a few weeks to recover. Breakdown of sorts. But she knew about us I'm sure. She said nothing but knew. Kind and gentle. Different from some that were here. Sister Teresa sips from the glass of water in front of her and gazes across at Sister Maria who was eating slowly from her plate. And then she looks up towards Mother Abbess who waits for the reader to finish the given text of the day. She cleans her knife, fork and spoon with her napkins and puts it away beneath the table ready for the next meal. Mother Abbess has finally settled down, Sister Teresa muses to herself. So sudden after Lucia's death. And Mother Josephine was always there then to guide the new Abbess. The tap tap from the Abbess and the reader stops in mid-sentence. All rise and the grace after the meal begins. After the Abbess has departed, the other nuns depart in whatever fashion and Sister Teresa walks out from the refectory and along the cloister in the sunshine. So alone now, Sister Teresa thinks, since Lucia went. Now even more so. The young are unfamiliar. The old too locked in their own world. Thirty years since I entered, she says to herself, as she walks along the cloister looking into the garth surrounded by flowers. And she remembers the time Mother Josephine came to the common room when she stayed that time in 1968 and said, “Mother Abbess says you can enter in the autumn.” But in fact she had entered in December because of other commitments and hence the late evening arrival, she thinks walking down the steps that lead into the grounds. Cold that year. Never known it so. But it was all part of the sacrifice I thought then, she tells herself as she walks slowly down the path leading to the beach. Now I take things in my stride, she muses smiling to herself and letting the sunshine warm her face. Never use to walk alone so much as I do now, she sighs, placing her hands inside her habit, there were usually others to walk with: Martha, Lucia, and of course Mother Josephine. Sometimes Martha comes and we walk along here but it's not the same. Years have given us little to talk about apart from the rumours and gossip. Mother Josephine is eighty-seven you know; Martha had said a few weeks back, I remember, Sister Teresa informs herself. Been a professed nun for seventy years. That's some time, Martha had added as we conversed along the cloister during our recreation period. Seventy years. I thought my thirty years was good, Sister Teresa muses. She looks up at the bright warm sunlight filtering through the trees above her head. She stands still for a few minutes and looks up and then around her. We use to walk here during our recreation with Mother Josephine those early years as novices. Georgina, Geraldine, Young Sister Henry and I. Never did quite take to Sister Henry. Gone now. Left years ago and married. Georgina and Geraldine left also after a year or so. Many called, few chosen, so the saying goes. And Mother would take us along here and down onto the private beach. We never sunbathed of course or anything like that. Just sat on the beach and watched the tide come in and out and talked and talked and occasionally in our youthfulness threw stones along the water. And Mother would join in too. So long ago, Sister Teresa says just above a whisper, so long ago. And she walks down onto the beach and stands looking out to sea. Sometimes Sister Lucy and I would come down here and just stand here. Sometimes we would hold hands and walk along the whole private stretch of beach. Once we saw Mother and quickly dropped our hands. She may have seen us but she never said or mentioned it. She never even tried to keep us apart as some may have done had they seen us so much together. But she never did. I can see her now standing here, her warm friendly eyes through narrow-wired glasses looking at me. Sister Teresa walks along the beach and hides her hands in her habit. She feels the salt from the sea on her tongue and in her nose. She closes her eyes and stands still again. Only the sound of the waves and the cry of far off seagulls now. I remember that time I went to see her because I had a falling out with Sister Henry. Yes, even here one can have falling outs, though one tries to resolve things not let them fester or become difficult. That is part of the test, Teresa. We all have our funny ways that may annoy another. We are all human. We may find others not to our taste or not those whom we would choose as friends. But we are bound by our vows and love of Christ to see Christ in all our sisters not just those whom we like or love, Mother had said. She may have been hinting about Lucy and me but she never said anything about names or such. Try to make an effort to see Christ especially in Sister Henry, Mother added looking at me through her glasses. I said I'd try. I did try and it made a difference. But we never really liked each other deep down, Sister Henry and I. Don't know why. Strange. But can you love someone whom you don't like? Possibly. I mean you may not always like those whom you love but you love them all the same. And others you like but not necessarily love. Well so I thought. Now I'm not sure. Mother was wise. She, who had been a nun for seventy years, knew human nature better than I. Sister Teresa opens her eyes again and looks out to sea. Sometimes, I remember, Sister James would come along on our walks. She was our assistant novice-mistress. I liked her. She had a great sense of humour and could throw stones along the waves better than any of us way back then. She too has left now. Mother Josephine was indeed like a mother hen to us who came into her care. Once she had retired, she was allowed to take things easy but she rarely did. She hated to be unoccupied. I bet even now she's asking Our Lord for things to do. People to pray for. Rest in peace, Mother, Sister Teresa says over the incoming tide. Now a bell rings. Recreation is over. Better return to the house, she says to herself as she turns back along the beach. And as she enters the cloister she senses that maybe Mother isn't far away. Just there. Watching. Listening. Smiling.
Terry Collett Apr 2015
Milka sat on the grass outside the farmhouse. It was a warm day and insects buzzed the air. Benny had just gone off on his bike; she hadn't wanted him to go, but he had  to be some place else and he had ridden off. Her mother had arrived and was carrying bags of shopping from the boot of the car into the house. She gave Milka a look as if to say: You could help, but said nothing, hoping that a look would indicate the need, but Milka looked back at the road hoping Benny would return to her. Although they'd had *** in her bed-while her mother was out shopping- she felt she needed him still, as if the *** had not been enough, as if her appetite was bottomless. The mother disappeared inside the house, then came out again to the car for more bags. You could help rather than sit there looking into space, her mother said. Milka got up from the grass and made her way over to the boot of the car and picked out two of the lighter bags and carried them behind her mother into the house and placed them on the kitchen table. Anything else? Milka said. Her mother looked at her and saw the stance of her daughter and how reluctant she seemed to be of any real use and shook her head. No, wouldn't want to put you out in anyway, the mother said. I can help if you want me to, Milka said. Make me a drink of tea, then, her mother said. Milka filled the kettle with water and put it on the stove and lit up the stove with a match, then put three spoonfuls of tea into the teapot. She took two cups and saucers from the cupboard and laid them on the top. Her mother put away the groceries and then sat down at the table and  watched her daughter going about the task of tea making. What have you been doing while I’ve been shopping? Her mother asked, you were in bed when I left. Milka looked at her mother. The kettle began to boil. She said, got up and washed and dressed and ate breakfast. Her mother's eyes scanned her. That all? Her mother said. Had she seen Benny along the road? Had she passed him? She gazed at her mother for any clues or maybe a hint as if her mother was testing her. Benny came for a while, Milka said, he's just gone. I know, I saw him along the road riding his bike, her mother said, he waved. The two females looked at each other for a few moments in silence. What did you do? Her mother asked. Questions and questions. As if she suspected. She looked at her mother's face. Took in the eyes. I showed him the baby piglets, Milka said, he thinks they're cute. She had shown him the piglets just before he'd left. After the ***. After the *** and while she was still damp and yet still hungry for it. He's a good boy, her mother said, I like him. I know you do. If only you were younger. Milka nodded and looked at the kettle boiling and whistling away on the stove. She put the hot water in the teapot and stirred the tea-leaves around with a spoon. He'd make a good farm helper, her mother said, shame he's otherwise engaged in that nursery work. Milka poured two cup of tea and added milk and sugar. She took both cups in saucers to the table and sat down. He has worked on a farm he told me, Milka said, when he was thirteen helping out after school. Her mother smiled. And sipped her tea. It'd be good if he worked here, her mother said, on the farm. Yes, you'd like that wouldn't you, having him about the place so you could fuss over him, wishing you were younger, wishing you were a girl again. Ask him, Milka said, knowing he wouldn't, knowing he was happy where he was. I will next time I see him, her mother said. Milka sipped the tea. She still felt damp and sticky. She'd go up and wash down later. She watched her mother sipping tea, looking at the table, thinking. If only you knew what we did earlier, you'd not think him so good. She moved her bottom on the chair, to get comfortable. The image of Benny in her bed was still stuck there in her head. Her arms around his waist. He entering her. She sighed. Her mother looked up at her. What’s up with you? She asked, studying her daughter closely. Stomach pains, Milka said, the first thing that came up in her head. Her mother studied her. Can't believe you're that age, her mother said, don't seem long ago you were pushing a dolls pram around the place. I'm fifteen and have the week coming up, Milka said, pulling a face. When I was your age I’d started work, her mother said. I will when I leave school in July, Milka said, secretly rubbing herself below. Time flies, her mother said, draining her cup of tea, must get on with the housework. She stared at Milka. You can help by tidying your bed and your room, she said. The bed. She had tidied it a bit after the ****** acts, but it may need proper seeing to. Yes, I'll do it when I've drunk my tea, she said, hoping her mother wouldn't venture in her room before her, hoping she'd not see any signs. Make sure you do. I've never seen such an untidy room, her mother said. If she'd seen it earlier it was a right mess. Seen us. At it.  She blushed. Her mother had gone. She felt herself redden in the face. What if she had returned early? What if she had opened the door? Her heart missed a beat. It seemed too surreal to think about. Where was Benny now? Seventeen and at work for two years and she wants him here working? If she knew. She went to the window and peered out. It was warm out and the sky was a brighter blue.
Dorothy A Feb 2015
She yelled out her back porch and into the alley as if one calling home the hogs. “Johnny! Johnny! You get home for supper! John—nyyy! You spend all day in that godforsaken tree that you’re gonna grow branches! Johnny, get home now!”

Up in his friend’s tree house, Johnny slammed his card down from his good hand that he was planning to win from. “****! She always does that to me”, he complained. “Just when I’m right in the middle of—“

Zack laughed. “Your ma’s voice carries down the whole neighborhood—practically to China!”

Everyone laughed. Iris’s daughter, Violet, said to her mom. “Grandma and Dad always butted heads.” She loved when her mom told stories of her childhood, especially when it was amusing.  

Iris’s good friend and neighbor, Bree, asked Iris, “I bet you never thought in a million years that she’d eventually be your mother-in-law”

“No, I sure didn’t”, Iris answered. “I am just glad that she liked me!”

Everyone laughed. Telling that small tale took her back to 1961 when her and her twin brother Isaac—known as Zack to most everyone—would hang out together with his best friend, Johnny Lindstrom. Because Iris was like one of the boys, she fit perfectly in the mix. Zach and she were fifteen and were referred to in good humor by their father as “double trouble”. It was that summer that they lost their dear dad, Ray Collier, and memories of him became as precious as gold. If it wasn’t for her brother and his friend, Iris be lost. Hanging out all day—from dawn til dusk—with Zack and Johnny was her saving grace.  Her mother was glad to have them out of her hair, not enforcing their chores very much.

“I was a tomboy to the fullest”, Iris told everyone. “I had long, beautiful blonde hair that I put back in a pony tail, and the cutest bangs, but I didn’t want to be seen as girly. I wore rolled up jeans and boat shoes with bobby socks, tied the bottom of my boyish shirt in a knot—but I guess I could still get the boys to whistle at me. I think it was my blonde hair that did it.”

“Oh, Mom”, Violet said, “You were beautiful and you know it! Such a gorgeous face!” She’d seen plenty of pictures of her mother when she was younger. Both Iris and Zack were tall and blonde. Zack’s hair could almost turn white in the summertime.

“Were beautiful?” Iris asked, giving Violet a concerned look, her hands on her hips in a playful display of alarm at her daughter’s use of the past tense. She may have been an older woman now, but she didn’t think she has aged too badly.

“Are beautiful”, Violet corrected herself. She leaned over and kissed her mom on the cheek. Iris was nearly seventy, and she aged pretty gracefully, and she was content with herself.  

They all sat in the living room sipping wine or tea and eating finger food. It was a celebration, after all—or just an excuse to get together and have a ladies night out. Not only had Iris had invited her daughter and friend, she had her sister-in-law—Zach’s wife, Franci—and her daughter-in-law, Rowan, married to her youngest son, Adam.

“Weren’t you going to marry someone else?” Bree asked Iris.

“Yes”, Iris responded. “We all wouldn’t be sitting here right now if I did. My life would have been very different.”

“A guy named Frank”, Violet stated. “I used to joke that he was almost my dad.”

Iris said to Violet, “Ha…ha. You know it took both your father and I to make you you. Everyone laughed at how cute that this mother-daughter duo talked. Iris went on, “I actually went on a couple of dates with your dad when I was seventeen. I was starting to get used skirts and dresses and went out of my way to look really nice for guys, but it was just high school stuff. After I graduated, I met a guy named Frank Hautmann, and we were engaged within several months.”

“What happened to him?” Rowan asked.

Iris sipped her tea and seemed a bit melancholy. “We did love each other, but it just didn’t work out. I know he eventually married and moved out of state. I ran into John about two or three years later, and everything just clicked. His family moved several miles away once we all graduated, so being best friends with Zack kind of faded away for him. But once I saw him again, we were really into each other. We took off in our dating as if no time ever lapsed. Soon we were married, and that was that.” There was an expression of “aww” going around the room in unison.  

Bree stood up and raised her wine glass. She announced, “Here’s to true love!” Everyone lifted their glass or cup in response.

Franci stood up next to have her own toast. She said, “Here’s to my husband and father of my three, handsome sons being declared officially cancer free, to Violet’s little bun in the oven soon to be born and also to my *****-in-law, Iris, for finally finding that pink pearl necklace that she thought was hopelessly gone forever! Cheers!”

“Cheers” everyone echoed and sipped on their wine or tea. “That’s some toast and makes this get together even more meaningful”, Iris complemented Franci.

Almost eight months pregnant, Violet restricted her drinking to tea. Her mother was so thrilled that she found out Violet was having a girl. It was equally wonderful that Iris’s beloved brother had recovered from his prostrate cancer, for throat cancer had taken their father’s life when they were young. So really finding the necklace that her mother gave her many years ago—that was misplaced while moving seven years ago—was just the icing on the cake to all the other news.    

Iris said, “My brother being in good health and my daughter having her baby girl is music to my ears. It trumps finding that necklace that I never thought I’d ever see again—even though it was the most precious gift my mother ever gave me.”  

At age thirty-five, Violet had suffered two miscarriages, so having a full-term baby in her womb was such a relief. It would be the first child to her and her husband, Paul, and the first granddaughter to her parents. Iris had three children altogether. Ray was named after her father, and then there was Adam and Violet. Only Adam and Rowan had any children—two sons, Adam Jr. and Jimmy. Ray and his wife, Lorene, lived abroad in London because of his job, and they had never wanted any children.  

“What name have you decided on?” Rowan asked Violet.

All eyes were on Violet who had quite a full belly. “Paul and I have agreed on a few names, but we still aren’t sure.” She turned to her mom and said, “Sorry, Mom, we won’t be keeping up the tradition.”

Iris was puzzled. “What tradition?” she asked.

Violet smiled. “I know it’s not really a tradition”, she admitted, “but didn’t you realize that your mother, you and I all have flower names?”

Everyone laughed at that observation. “That’s hysterical!” Bree noted. “Flower names?”

“That’s news to me” Iris said, not getting it.

“Me, too”, Franci agreed.

“Okay”, Violet explained to her mother “Grandma was Aster, you are Iris and I am Violet. Get my drift?”

The others started laughing, but Iris never even thought of this connection. She responded, “Well, my dad’s nickname out of Aster for my mom was Star.  I never thought of her name as something flowery but more heavenly…I guess. And I never thought of Iris as the flower—more like the colored part of the eye comes to mind. And Violet was my favorite name for a girl and also my favorite color—purple—but you can’t really name your daughter, Purple.”

The others laughed again. Everyone began to get more to eat, mingling by the food.  The gathering lasted for almost two hours, and eventually lost its momentum. Meanwhile, everyone took turns passing around the strand of beautiful, light pink pearls that Iris displayed so proudly in its rediscovery. It was a wedding gift from her mother in 1971, and Iris was painstakingly careful with it, swearing she’d never lose it again. She’d make sure of it. She prized it above anything else she owned, for she had no other special possession from her mother. Her sister got all of their mother’s items of jewelry, for Aster always felt it was the oldest girl’s right to it and this other sister gladly agreed.  Aster was never flashy or showy, and didn’t desire much. Her mother’s wedding ring, silver pendant necklace and an antique emerald ring from generations ago in England was all she wanted. Anything else was up for the grabbing by her two younger sisters.  

Iris learned the hard way to be mindful and not careless about her jewelry. An occasional earring would fall off and be lost, but any other woman could say the same thing. There was only one other incident that happened when she was a teenager that she never shared with anyone other than Zack. If she would confide in anyone, it would be him. Not even her husband knew, and she wasn’t going to tell anyone now. It was too embarrassing to share in the group, especially after tale of the pink pearl necklace that went missing.  

Bree told her, “Keep that in a safe or a safety deposit box—somewhere you know it won’t form legs and walk away.”

“Oh, ha, ha”, Iris remarked, flatly. “I don’t know how it ended up boxed up in the attic with my wedding dress. I sewed that dress myself, by the way. I guess too many hands were involved packing up things, and I am sure I did not put it in that box. Tore this house apart while it was stuck in the attic. Tore that apart, too.”
“And yet you didn’t find it until now”, Rowan stated. “It is as if it was hiding on you”.

“Well, I wasn’t even really looking for it when I found it, Iris said. “I was just trying to gather things for my garage sale, and thought of storing my old dress back in the closet. Luck was on my side. It’s odd that I didn’t find it earlier… but it sure did a good job of hiding on me.”

“Like it had a mind of its own”, Franci said, winking, “and didn’t want to be found.”

“Yeah”, Iris agreed. “It was just pure torture for me thinking I may never lay eyes on it ever again. All I had were a few pictures of me wearing it. I was convinced it was gone. ”

After a while, Iris’s friend, sister-in-law and daughter-in-law left one by one, but Violet remained with her mom.  They went in her bedroom to put the necklace back in its original case and in a dresser drawer —or at least that is what Violet had thought.

Iris placed the necklace into the case and handed it to her daughter. She told her, “I’m sure you’ll take good care of it.”

Violet’s jaw dropped as she sat on her parent’s king-sized bed. “Oh, Mom—no!” she exclaimed. “You can’t do that! You just found it, so why? Grandma gave it to you!”

Iris sat down beside her daughter. “I can give it to you, and I just did”, she insisted. “Anyway, it is a tradition to pass down jewelry from a mother to her firstborn daughter. And since you’re my only one, it goes to you. Someday, it can go to your daughter.”

Violet had tears in her eyes. She opened the box and smoothed her fingers over the pearls.
“Mom, you won’t lose it again. I am sure you won’t!”

“Because I’m giving it to you, dear. I know I can see it again so don’t look so guilty!” Violet gave her mom a huge hug, her growing belly pressing against her. The deed was done, for Violet knew that she couldn’t talk her mother out of things once her mind was set.

Iris shared with her, “You know that when I was born—Uncle Zack, too—my parents thought they were done with having children. My sister and brother were about the same level to each other as me and Zack were. It was like two, different families.”

Iris’s sister, Miriam, known to everyone as Mimi, was fifteen years older than the twins, and Ray Jr. was almost thirteen years older. Being nearly grown, Mimi and Ray were out on their own in a few years after the twins were born. Mimi married at nineteen and had three sons and two daughters, very much content in her role as a homemaker. Ray went into the army and remained a bachelor for the rest of his life.

“I never knew I was any different from Mimi or Ray until I overheard my Aunt Gerty talking to my mother”, she told Violet. “I mean I knew they were much older, but that was normal to me.”

“What did she say?” Violet had wondered.

“Well”, Iris explained, “I was going into the kitchen when I stopped to listen to something I had a feeling that I shouldn’t be hearing.”

Her mother was washing dishes, and Aunt Gerty was drying them with a towel and putting them away. Gerty said in her judgmental tone, “You’ve ended up just like Mother. You entered your forties and got stuck with more children to care for. How you got yourself in this mess…well…nothing you can do about it now. Those children are going to wear you down!”

Gerty was two years younger than Aster, and considered the family old maid, never walking down the aisle, herself.  She prided having her own freedom, unrestricted from a husband’s demands or the constant needs of crying or whiny children.

Aster replied to her sister, with defensive sternness, “Yes, I’ve made my bed and I’m lying in it! Do you have to be so high and mighty about it?”

“I couldn’t even move”, Iris told Violet. “I was frozen in my tracks. Probably was about eight or nine—no older than ten. I heard it loud and clear. For the first time in my life, I felt unwanted. It just never occurred to me before that my mother ever felt this way. Now I heard her admit to it. She didn’t say to my aunt that she was dead wrong.”

Iris’s mother came from a big family—the third of eight children and the oldest daughter—so she saw her mother having to bring up children well into her forties and older, and it wasn’t very appealing. Her mother never acted burdened by it, but Aster probably viewed her mother as stuck.

“That’s terrible. I don’t have to ask if that hurt.  I can see how hurt you are just in telling me”, Violet told her with sadness and compassion. “I don’t remember Aunt Gerty. I barely remember Grandma. She wasn’t ever mean to me, but she seemed like a very strict, no-nonsense woman.”  

“Oh, she was, Iris admitted. “I don’t even know how her and my father ever connected—complete opposites. Unless she changed from a young, happy lady to hard, bitter one. I don’t know. You would have loved your grandfather, though, Violet. He liked to crack jokes and was fun to be around. My mother was so stern that she never knew how to tell a joke or a funny story. Dutiful—that’s how I’d describe her. She was dutiful in her role—she did her job right—but I began to realize that she wasn’t affectionate. Except for your Aunt Mimi—their bond was there and wished I had it. Mimi was more ladylike and more like a mother’s shadow. Their personalities suited each other, I suppose.”  

Iris pulled out an old photo album out of a drawer. There was a black and white, head and shoulders portrait of her mother in her most typical look in Iris’s childhood. She had a short, stiff 1950s style bob of silvery gray hair and wore cat eye glasses. Not a hint of a smile was upon her lips—like she never knew how.

“Do you really think Grandma resented you and Uncle Zack?” Violet asked.

Iris responded, “Well, I’m sure my mother preferred having one child of each and didn’t wake up one day and say, ‘I’d like to have twins now’. I mean, she had a perfect set and my mom liked perfection. That’s all it was going to be—at least she thought. Nobody waits over a dozen years to have more. If my mother really resented getting pregnant again, now she had to deal with two screaming babies instead of one.  Must have come as quite a shock and she was about to turn forty.”

“It’s a shame, but woman have children past that age”, Violet pointed out.

“Sure, and some wait to start families until they have done some of the things they always wanted to do. But if I was to ask my mother if she wanted children that time in her life—which I never dared to—I think she’d have wanted to say, ‘not at all.’”

“It’s a shame”, Violet repeated. “Grandma should never have treated you two any differently.” Iris wasn’t trying to knock her mother, but Violet felt the need to be very protective for her against this grandmother that she barely remembered. Aster has been dead since Violet was six-years-old, and she had a foggy memory of her in her coffin, cold to the touch and very matriarchal in her navy blue dress.

Iris admitted, “I knew Mimi was her favorite, and I was my father’s favorite because I was the youngest girl. Zack and I we
Terry Collett Jul 2015
Elaine cant believe that the boy John had come to the house had just turned up out of the blue and had sat in the lounge and on the brown settee where she sits now thinking about the visit and her mother out doing the washing and John had kissed her-Elaine not her mother-and her mother had been in the kitchen and he kissed so gently so warmly and she now feels panicky what if her mother had come in then how would she have explained that? she muses licking her lips where he had kissed and rubbing her palm over where he had sat her mother seemed suspicious as if Elaine had known he was coming as if theyd planed it and her mother on about not doing things what things? her mother never said just stared trying to wonder what Elaine was thinking when all Elaine was thinking was what did her mother mean by nothing and not to do it which was as her aunt saying boys were only after one thing and not saying what thing she licks the lips wondering if a bit of John was still there on her lips some small particle of him she sighs looks at the wall opposite wondering what he thought about her and her mother and her mothers questions to him and her mother saying he does know youre only fourteen I suppose? he was in her class at school so he was her age so he had to know and besides what difference did it make if she was only fourteen and he was fourteen and he did know a lot about birds and butterflies and there had been quite a few in the garden when she showed him around the garden for a while when he came she looks at her hands turns them over he had held her hand briefly in the garden she had not noticed so much at the time it was only when she thought her mother was peering at them through the net curtains that she let his hand go she smells her hands which hand had it been? right yes the right hand his thumb rubbing the back of her hand as they talked of seeing Blue **** and he said he knew their eggs well had her mother seen them holding hands or rather Johns hand holding hers? her nerves feel bad she hadnt expected him to come now her mother was suspicious and would go on about the visit for days and days and say things and youre just fourteen too young for boys her mother had said yet her sister who was younger talked of boys all the time and mother said nothing to her about it and what would her dad say? not much she supposes he would joke and say whod be interested in my Squat Hen? or such things smiling his smile which made her mother all the more angrier she walks out the room and goes out into the garden and stands where they had stood a little while ago and she can sense him still his presence in the garden as if part of of him was still there beside her his words on Sparrowhawks not seen much in big towns he said she doesnt know if they are or not she sits on the green garden bench and stares at the blue sky fancy turning up like that? her mother says beside her suddenly he ought to have asked first her mother says sitting beside her now sniffing the air I didnt know he was coming Elaine says so I cant say she looks at her mother at her mothers eyes my mother always said one can judge a person by their behaviour thoughtfulness is the key shed say Elaine stops listening she focuses on a butterfly fluttering nearby taking in how the wings move at the patterns and colours and wonders what John would say of it his lips on hers wet on wet his hands where had they been in the lounge where they had sat while her mother was in the kitchen getting tea? had he held her? touched? had she touched him? she cannot recall now as she muses and her mother talks on her words like buzzing bees do things? do nothing? her mother had puzzled her as much as her aunt had done when she talked of boys wanting just the one thing what thing? what was her aunt meaning? kissing? holding hands? thats a Red Admiral Elaine says pointing at the butterfly nearby what? her mother says what are you on about? the butterfly Elaine says is a Red Admiral her mother follows the butterfly with her critical eyes be careful her mother says (looking away from the butterfly)be careful of boys Elaine just frowns be careful? Elaine says yes careful what they may do her mother says eyeing her boys may do? Elaine says puzzled looking at her mother at her eyes on her he ought not just to have come her mother says again do what? Elaine asks boys I mean? her mother says nothing but stares at her and sighs and gets up and walks back towards the house had John touched her while sitting in the lounge and sitting on the brown settee? the kiss was gentle his lips on hers wet warm and his hands were where? where were her hands ? she closes her eyes and tries to think and recapture the moments the touching and holding but its a blur and a misty moment of lips and kisses and warm and wet she embraces herself holds herself close feels her hands about her body her fingers about her shoulders about her arms ringing bells sounding alarms
Doll Spaghetti Jan 2018
Once there was a little girl, called Little Red Riding Hood, for she wore always that red riding hood. Now her mother had made her a suit of clothing for her to wear, and this suit of clothing had been made completely out of metal. Her mother then went away to stay alone in a little cottage in the woods, and told the girl, “only when you have worn out this suit of clothing shall you come and visit me.” So the girl, nodding solemnly, bade her mother goodbye and set to work to wearing out her suit of metal clothing.

Every day, she rubbed herself against the walls of her home, so that the clothing would be worn out sooner. Every day, day-by-day, without fail she would rub herself against the walls, till her clothes became thinner, and thinner till she completely wore it out. Elated, she made some bread with butter and wheat cakes for her mother, intending them as gifts, and left her house for her mother’s cottage in the woods. Along the way, just as she was about to enter the woods, she encountered a wolf, which asked for some of her cakes and bread. She refused, for it was to be a gift to her mother. Unfazed, the wolf asked if she would be traveling via the road of pins or the road of needles. The young girl replied that she would be using the road of pins. Thus, the wolf ran quickly down the road of needles and knocked upon the door to the girl’s mother’s cottage.

“Who is it?” the girl’s mother asked.

“It is I, your daughter, come to bring you cakes and bread.”

And when the mother opened the door, the wolf killed her, eating most of her. Sometime later, the young girl finally arrived at her mother’s cottage. Knocking upon the door, she heard her mother call out in a strange voice, “who’s at the door?” “It is I, your daughter, come to bring you bread and cakes, for I have worn out my clothing of metal and now come to visit you.” “Come in my daughter, the door is not locked!” But the door was locked, and the little girl had to climb in through the little hole at the bottom of the door. Once inside, she noticed that her mother was in bed. After the long walk through the woods the girl was hungry, and said thus to her mother.

“Mother, I’m hungry, for I have traveled far and deep to this place.”

And so the reply was, “there is meat in the cupboard, that you may consume to sate your hunger.”

And as the little girl was about to eat the meat from the cupboard, suddenly a cat jumped onto the cupboard and told the girl, “do not eat this meat, for this is the meat of your mother, whom has been murdered most foul by the wolf that now sleeps in her bed!” Thus the little girl told her mother, “Mother, this cat says that it is your meat that I am about to eat!”And her mother told her, “Surely this cat is lying, for am I not alive and well, talking to you even now? So throw your stick at the cat and eat the meat to sate your hunger.”

So the girl obediently threw her stick at the cat, thus scaring it off before consuming the meat. When she had eaten her fill, she felt thirsty, and told her mother so.

“There is a bottle of wine above the fireplace child, drink it, and sate your thirst.” And as the girl went to the fireplace and picked up the bottle, a bird flew onto the fireplace and chirped, “little girl, do not drink this wine, for it is the blood of your mother that has been killed by the wolf whom now lies upon the bed.” And when the little girl said to her mother, “mother, there is a bird that says that this bottle of red wine that I am about to drink is your blood, and that you were killed by a wolf, whom now lies in your place!” And thus came the reply, “child, am I not alive and well? So is the bird lying. Throw your cloak at it, that you may then drink of the wine in peace, and vanquish your thirst.” Thus the girl did as she was told, and drank of the wine, till not a drop was left. Now when she had eaten and drank her fill, till hungry and thirsty she was not, suddenly the girl felt sleepy. Thus her mother said to her, “come child, and rest by my side. I would have you by me once more.” And the girl walked to her mother’s side and undressed. Putting her clothes of cotton and wool neatly by the side, she climbed into the sheets with mother, so as to rest. There she saw her mother, looking very strange. “Why mother,” She exclaimed, “what big ears you have!” “The better to hear you with, my child.”

Came the reply. “Why mother,” the girl continued, “what big eyes you have!”

“All the better to see you with, my child.” Came the reply. “But mother, what big paws you have!” The girl exclaimed.

“The better to hug you with.” Came the reply.

“Oh mother, what big, sharp teeth and terrible mouth you have!” The girl cried out.

“The better to eat you with!” The wolf said.

And at that, the wolf pounced upon the girl and devoured her, rending apart her flesh and bone, eating her alive, ignoring her screams.

And thus, the wolf ate the girl, sating its hunger.
jin-roh: wolf brigade
Still I yearn to find a name
A new name for my mother
A name that would give her more respect from her neighbors
A name that would give her dignity and purity
Struggle after struggle, pain after pain
Now that the British are gone, why is mother still having her old name?
She needs to move
Paces ahead
However, something still holds her back
Her capabilities will never be recognized
Because…she has not yet gotten a new identity
To lead her to prosperity
To give her a home to call home
And children to call children
Mother is still a developing country
Why? Why her?
Why has the likes of U.S.A defeated her once again?
Yet, something still tells me to cling to mama
Even when she clutches at the last straw
Love her, be with her,
She has constantly told me
“Worry not child, darkness shall surely give birth to the first break of dawn”
Mother gave birth to presidents and ‘leaders’
They failed; they did not kiss the noble sand of mother’s roots!
They brought in corruption and poverty
Poor management and misuse of power

She is still innocent
The sons brought about poor leadership, economic instability and unemployment
But the sons of my mother did not try their level best to give her a new name
Infact, they pushed her down
Forgot how much her dignity meant to her
Her eyes held craters just like the moon
Enough to make you write poetry in every crater she fell into
Her roots had soothing temperature and a great view
Not forgetting a whole pack of creatures that invite
Yes, invite, even the most prominent people around
To come take selfies and pictures that they take back to their lands
But mother, with all this blessings from Nyame or Juok or Otomankoma or even Nyasaye
Why is mother still crawling?
Will mother have a new name?
A new identity?
When will she possess angel wings that dance with her?
Is victory still oceans and oceans away from her?
I see a light, light at the end of tunnel
Light that I only see when I look at the youngest sons of mother
Yes, the youth!
They have seen unemployment, poverty, education and drugs
They have also seen industries, businesses, money and success
Why is the youth the beloved of mother?
The youth have hopes and visions
They have it in their minds the ability to give mother a new name
A name that she can honor forever
A name that suits her standards
They are not a ticking time bomb; they are the pride of mother!

However, mother needs to shape their success just like any other mother
Not with garlands or with kisses
But by programs that will help this sons secure jobs
By offering start-up finances for growing entrepreneurs
By promoting talent and innovation of her sons
Mother will get her identity through her own assistance in shaping this light!
Education has always made her neighbors defeat her
She needs to take care of her children’s’ education
Seek means to let all her sons go to school
Get empowered and be the faces of change.
The youth should be led to be leaders
And only mama’s elder sons can do so
The owners and teachers
Preachers and sisters
They can help the youth be leaders!
Poverty and hunger
A big catastrophe that always seems to hit mother’s Manyatta!
The youngest sons can cater for improvement in health care facilities
Water and sanitation, economic security and child participation
How will they manage?
The impossible can only be possible if they learn the ways of their land
If they train themselves to be leaders
If and only if, they really want to give mother a new name!
Mother has accepted the fact that the old sons could not do much for her
However, today, while I send you this message from her
She wants the elder sons to urge more investment in agriculture and tourism
Construction and businesses
Projects and activities that will favor the dearest sons of mother

By providing them with employment opportunities that will help them
Yes, help them create positive change for mother and us, the children.
60% of mother’s youngest sons are unemployed!
Mother yet has the largest number of the young generation
How will mother adjust to a new name?
The eldest sons need to stop whichever activities that hinder the growth of this household!
They need to realize that they are the eldest and they should lead the young by their actions!
The youngest sons have convinced me that even if mother is far from the sea’s view’
The night sky shall still carry them in it!
Today, as we await this new day that mother always craved for,
She remarks “I see a new name coming pretty soon”.
Terry Collett Apr 2016
Fay lay in the bed beside her mother it had been a long day from start to finish as she lay in the bed looking at the light on the ceiling from an outdoor light from some street she didnt know at a boarding house she had never been before she thought about the morning after her father had left for work and her brothers had been taken to school by her mother and her mother had left a scribbled letter to her father saying she had left him with Fay and the boys she had to leave behind(they would be with her sister until he could pick them up) and she had gone because she could not stay a day longer living with him and his ways and his ****** religion and spitefulness to Fay and her and he would never find them because no one would know where she and Fay had gone and they left the flat that morning once her mother had returned from dropping the boys off at school and came home and they got a train with the two bags her mother had packed hurriedly that morning and the train pulled out of the station and took them out of London out of the familiar out of the known and as Fay lay there she wondered what her father thought when he returned home from work and read the letter and went to her aunt to pick up his sons and puzzle where his wife had gone with her Fay and what he would try to do and would he ask neighbours if they knew(none would know Mother spoke to none about leaving) or Benny would he ask Benny? but Benny would say nothing because he didnt know either and she missed Benny not being there now with her so she could talk to him and be with him and say how she felt and she turned and faced her mothers back the snoring from her mother sleeping now and where would she go to school now? and where were they? how long would they stay where they were? it felt odd being away from London and the flat and Benny and her brothers and her father and her school friends and the nuns at the school and would she be in sin now she had left with her mother and would her mother be in sin because she had left as her father had said her mother would be if she left him a she had promised God she would be with him until death them did part and to break a promise to God was a sin and she would go to Hell and Fay didnt want that didnt want her mother to go to Hell and the nuns had described Hell in R.E. lessons and Sister Lucy had been quite descriptive in her details Fay tried to push such thoughts and details from her tired mind she smelt her mother just in front sleeping where was Benny now? she mused where is he? sleeping probably in the flat on the balcony below hers what would he say when he woke and heard she had gone with her mother? she thought of the last time she saw Benny and they had gone to the bomb site off Meadow Row and sat on a wall of a bombed out house and she told him she would be going soon with her mother away from London and he looked so sad and asked where she was going and she said she didnt know but would write as soon as she could but he wasnt to tell her father where they were and he said he wouldnt tell her old man anything and they sat there for a few minutes looking at the coal wharf where coal lorries were being loaded up with coal in black sacks and she had said to Benny when will you be thirteen? December he had said and she said she would send him a birthday card when are you thirteen? he had asked her soon she said and told him the month and he nodded and said will you be gone by then? probably she said and she had and now he was there and she was here in the bed with her mother a long way from London and Benny and her brothers and father that day on the bomb site she remembered she had moved next to Benny and had kissed his cheek and just in case I dont get a chance to kiss you she had said her mother stirred in the bed and murmured words in her sleep and Fay wanted her mother to wake up and say we are going home Fay going home but she knew her mother wouldnt say that Fay closed her eyes snuggled up close to her mother and in the darkness behind her eyes she saw the Hell the nuns described and whether her mother would go there and would she? she missed Benny and wanted him there to hear his voice and see his hazel eyes and brown hair and his quiff and to be with him on the bomb site again and to talk with him and kiss him again her mother turned and opened her eyes cant you sleep? her mother said Fay shook her head her mother held her close will you go to Hell? Fay said to her mother who told you that? her mother said Daddy said if you left him youd go to Hell Fay said that is just your fathers words not truth her mother said but the nuns at school said about Hell too Fay said just their belief Fay thats all we create our own heaven and hell by our choices and decisions and how we treat others and whatever we do willing and conscientiously her mother said now try and sleep and her mother kissed her forehead with soft warm lips and Fay thought of home and her brothers and her father and Benny and wondered what life held for her now and the next day and would she see them ever again and outside the window she heard the falling rain.
Meaghan G Sep 2012

you didn’t warn me about the boys who would take my body and claim it as theirs.

Mother, did I not hear you when you told me about boys who would put their bones on my bones and tell me that they owned me?


I must have missed it, must have turned my ear away

the day you told me about the darkness.


I have found it.

Mother, years ago I found it. Found that gaping hole in the air that ***** you right in, takes all your light away, takes all your good away.

I found that still sea air, the doldrums,

found that place where nothing moves,

but only shifts endlessly,

rocking back and forth, reminding you of

your wet solitude.

Mother, I know you try to shut the world out. I have seen the way your eyes glaze over


the stacks of magazines in the hallway,

my entire childhood in your bedroom.

I have found my dollhouses in the garage, the animal cages,

the rust.

I found the bell to my bicycle, I found the streamers.

Mother, I have watched you watch me and see something other than yourself. Mother, I know that you see me. How I watch the waves of possession overtake this house.

How money has given us too much,

how we shook our pockets to fill the void,

how we filled the barn with boxes.

Mother, I have watched you buy more boxes.

You have shut away

so much, you have heard me beg you to cut your hair,

to get rid of the dead,

to stop burying things that aren’t.

Mother, stop buying.

Mother, start seeing.

Mother, how many books can you read before you realize that you should just

write your own?

Mother, I have asked you to let me live and you have kept me close. I have asked you the questions that I already know the answers to. Mother I have watched you waste this house, cut holes in the walls and move from bed to bed like a withering animal,

I have watched you stack your clothes and still buy more,

I have watched you carve paths in the mountains of this home.

I have let you let the kitchen mold. I have watched you let the sink fill with a musk and a stench, I have let you fall in your own dust.

Mother, I am sorry.

Mother, we didn’t ask each other the questions that needed answering, we didn’t sail this wind at all. We only ever shifted, rocked and swayed in this house, let the gutters collect the trees, let the wasps inhabit the rafters. Mother, watch me build a new house. I will not let anyone in, I will not let them see how bare it gets when you have to keep moving. When you let your sails go and need to make yourself lighter and you

throw yourself out of that black hole.

Mother, watch me watch you as I try to do more than I can.

Mother, sell your books. You’ve already read them. Mother, eat the food in the kitchen. Your body is wasting away and your hair grows long. Mother,

do you see the way I have let my hair collect itself? How I have stopped cutting it? Did you hear me when I said I will comb it out and slice it off?

Mother, feel this rain. Feel how it is filling this dry earth, how it buries itself in the cracks of the dead silt, how it breathes, easy and weightless.

Feel this rain. It will swallow the ground, it will raise the sea and your sails will soak and I want to push you away. Mother,

find yourself an anchor, but don’t use it so often.

Mother, we need to start asking each other questions.

Mother, sail.
Catherine Flynn May 2017
Mother taught me everything that I know about love
Mother told me of the wildfires she once started
She said she used to love to watch it all burn down

She said, she never stuck around to see what happened afterward
She said she didn't want to know
She said, she learned not to light matches and spew fire
She said she learned it the hard way so that I didn't have to
Mother sacrificed her soul for me
She said unconditional love does not exist outside of family
For mother “unconditional love” did not exist outside of obligation

Mother had a lot to say-
for someone who always held her tongue when it mattered
Mother let herself be engulfed by a man
Mother let her flame-
I mean her soul-
I mean her flame
be put out by a man
Mother’s soul was swallowed by an ocean she called “love”
Mother allowed hate to swallow her whole

Mother does not know that I am not fire
Mother does not know that I am stone
Mother claims to see light where no one else can
Mother does not know what it means to be empty
Mother does not know what it means to be cold  
Mother did not mean to turn my heart into an icicle-
sharp from how slowly it melted and froze in this ice box they call "body"
The same one that killed all of the butterflies in my stomach-
froze them too like old memories that no longer have movement

I want to tear my torso in two
I want to cut out all of the desolate pieces
I want to show you my broken butterflies and missing memories
I want to prove that something used to live in here once
I know it did
I know it had to of
It couldn't have always been this hard to touch me
It couldn't have always been this hard to feel me
Why can’t anybody feel me
Why do they keep saying that my skin is burning them
Why don't they understand that it's frostbite

I have learned –
to make everyone sign a disclaimer
In big bold letters it reads:
Sign your name at the bottom if you’re willing

You see what mother did not see and I did not grasp
was how I watched father seethe-
spewing nothing but condemnation
No one to blame but his own boiling blood
That same blood coursing through my own veins
Father taught me hate
Father taught me lies
Father left the water running always
Mother never paid attention to what made the water run
Mother did not care that the water had a predetermined path unbeknownst to her

Mother would tell me to watch
Mother would tell me to wait
Mother would say things like
See, as they rise and fall at the feet of what stands against them
Mother does not know true love
Mother never learned to love herself
Mother does not notice that although the rock may stand-
day after day it is beaten mercilessly
Mother refuses to believe that the ocean-
that father-
will always come back stronger

I will teach mother empathy
I will teach mother that you can be cold and still know warmth
I will teach father forgiveness    
I will teach father that you can’t burn others without getting scarred
I will teach myself resilience
I will teach myself how to hold love without getting burned
I have heard-
that when two stones are struck together
at the right angle, under the right conditions
They can create a spark
Alexander K Opicho
(Eldoret, Kenya;

Here is a toast for valentine
Valentine in all seasons perennial
Where angst of money for love  
Cradled utopian capitalism,
It is once again in the city of Omurate
In the south most parts of Ethiopia
On the borders of Kenya and Ethiopia
Where actually the river Ormo enters Lake Turkana,
There lived a pair of lovers
With overt compassion for one another
The male lover was an origin of Nyangtom,
A cattle rustling Nilotic kingdom
While the female lover was a descendant of King Solomon
The Jewish children which King Solomon aborted
Because their mother was an Ethiopian African
They now form substantial part of the Ethiopian population
Their clan is known as Amharic, they speak subverted Yiddish,
These lovers were good to one another
Sharing secrets and all other stuffs that go with love.

Both the lovers were fatherless
They had lost their fathers through early death
They only had the mothers, who were again sickly
Their mothers coughed a whole night with whoops
And when in the wee of the night, when temperatures go low
The mothers breathe with wheezing sound
Like peasant music from African violin,
They didn’t eat with good appetite
They always left irritating chunks on the plates,
But they all puked mucus from their mouths
And of course with a very sickening regularity.

The menace of sick mothers intervened with love freedom
Among the inter-compassionate lovers
They did not have time for real active love
I will not mention recurrent missing of ceremonies
Fetes that are bound to go with valentine day
The lovers were bored to their teeth
They don’t knew when gods will come to unyoke them.

Especially the male lover, was most perturbed
His mother looked sorriest
With a scrofulous look on her old aged African face
She looked like a forlorn erstwhile cattle rustler
She ever whined in pain like a trapped hyena
Her son the male lover even began apologizing
To the female lover for such environmental upsets
Hence an African proverb that;
No love is possible with impaired judgment.

One day in the wee of the night
With no electricity nor any source of light
Darkness engulfing each and every aspect of the city
Confirming the hinterland of Africa
The female lover woke up from the sleep
And she never heard the usual wheezing breathes
That her mother often made in such hours,
Feat of suspicion gripped her
She jumped out of her bed to where her mother was
On feeling her, she found her dead, cold like a black member
She was already past the rigor mortis stage of death process
African chilliness had frozen her like a poikilothermic creature.

She wept but not in the uproarious groan
In that instinctive Jewish shrewdness
She did not announce nor inform her lover of her mother’s death
She only washed and groomed the cadaver of her mother
She made a headscarf around the head of dead mother
She even placed reading glasses on her face
On her mother’s dead torso she wrapped a dress
The most expensive of all bought from Egypt,
In the same wee of the night
She carried cadaver of her mother on her shoulders
The way a poor Nigerian farmer would carry a stem of banana
And walked slowly by slowly for a distance of a hundred kilometers
Down ***** into Kenya towards the city of Todanyang in Turkana County
Todanyang was a busy city, but silent and minus people in the night
The king of this city was called Lapur the son of Turkanai
And the law that Lapur passed in this city was archaic
It was; an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a Jew for a Jew
A pokot for a pokot, a samburu for a samburu
It was simply the law with nothing else
Other than clauses of measure for measure
And clauses of *** for tat instantaneously administered,
On reaching the market she placed her mother standing
Being supported on a sign post at the bus stage
In pose similar to that of an early morning traveler,
She sat a side like a prowling spider awaiting foolish fly
They way an African ***** exposes its red ****
And when the hen comes to peck
It traps and closes the head of the hen
Deeper into its ****,
At that bus stage there was a hotel
Owned by a Rwandese refugee
From the foolish clan of the Hutu
He had ran away from the genocide
In his country, he was also the perpetrator
And thus he was a runaway from the law *** hotelier
His name was Chapuchapu, meaning the quick one,
When Chapuchapu opened the hotel for the early customers
The female lover walked into the hotel
With innocence on her face like all the Jews
She placed an order for two mugs of coffee
And two pieces of bread
When Chapuchapu had placed food on the table
The female lover shrewdly instructed Chapuchapu
To go and hold the hand of the woman standing at the sign post
To bring her into the hotel for morning tea,
Chapuchapu in his unsuspecting charisma
With a mad drive to make money that morning
He dashed out as instructed with his foolish notion
That the customer is the queen, which is not
He grapped the standing cadaver with force
On pulling her to come along
The cadaver tumbled down like a marionette
Everything falling away; headscarf and glasses
Chapuchapu was overtaken by awe
The female lover was watching
Like the big brother in the Orwellian satire, 1984.
When the cadaver of her mother fell
She came out of the hotel
Screaming like a hundred vehicles
Of St John Ambulance
And two hundred Kenyan vehicles of fire brigade
And three hundred Kenyan cash transfer vehicles,
She was accusing Chapuchapu for being careless
Careless in his work that he had killed her mother,
Swam of armed humanity in Turkana loinclothes
Began pouring in like waters of Nile into Mediterranean
Female lover improved the scale of her screaming
Chapuchapu like a heavyweight idiot was dumbfounded
Armed people came in their infinite
Finally king Lapur arrived on his royal donkey
That his foot soldiers had only rustled
From Samburu land a fortnight ago,
The presence of the king quelled the hullabaloo
The king asked to find out what had happened
Amid sops the female lover narrated how
Chapuchapu the hotelier had killed her mother
Through his careless helter skelter behaviour
The king sighed and shouted the judgment
To the mad crowd; an eye for a……….!?
The crowd responded back to the King
In a feat of amok value;
For an eye you mighty Lapur son  ofTurkanai,
The stones, kicks, jabs began rainning
In volleys on an innocent Chapuchapu
Amid shouts that **** him, he came here to **** people
The way he killed a thousand fold in Rwanda.

The sopping female lover requested the king
That his people wait a bit before they continue
Then the king waved to the people to stop
Chapuchapu was on the ground writhing in pain
When the King asked the female lover what was the concern
She requested for pay from Chapuchapu not people to **** him
Chapuchapu accepted to pay whatever the price that will be put
Female lover asked for everything in hundreds;
Carmel, money, Birr, sheep, goats, donkeys, cows
Name them all they were in hundreds
Chapuchapu and his family were saying yes to every demand
And they rushed to bring whatever was said
The payments exhausted Chapuchapu back to square zero
The female lover carried everything away
The cadaver of her mother on her shoulder
She disappeared into the forest
and buried her mother there.

When she arrived home she found the male lover
He looked at her overnight change in fortune in stupefaction
He didn’t believe his eyes, it was a dream
Sweetheart, where have you gotten all these?
Questioned the male lover
Sweetie darling there is market for dead women
At Todanyang in the Turkana County of Kenya
I killed my sickly mother and carried her cadaver
As a trade ware to Todanyang
Whatever I have that you are looking at is the proceed,
Can my mother fetch the same? Asked the male lover
Of course yes, even more
Given the Africanness of your mother
African cadavers fetch more than the Jewish ones
At Todanyang market,
The male lover was now overtaken
By strong urge for quick riches
Was not seeing it getting evening
That day for him was as long as a whole century
He was anxious and restless more tired of a sickly mother
When evening fell he was already ready with the butcherer’s tools
He didn’t have nerves to wait till the wee of the night
As early as eleven in the evening he axed his mother’s head
Into two chunks of human skull spilling the brains in stark horror
Blood streaming like a rivulet all over the house
The male lover was nonchalant to all these
He was in the full feat of determination
To **** and sell his mother to  get the proceeds
With which he could foot the bills of valentine day.

He stuffed the headless blood soaked torso
Of his mothers cadaver in the sisal bag
He threw it to his bag
And began going to Todanyang
The market for human dead bodies
He went half running and half walking
With regular whistling of his favourite poem;
Ode to my Jewish lover
He reached Todanyang in the wee of the night
No human being was in sight
All people had gone as it was late in the night
He then slept in the open with dead body of his mother
Stuffed in the sisal bag beside him
Wandering night dogs regularly disturbed him
As they came to bite at smelling curdled blood
But he always scared them away.
As per the male lover he overslept till five in the morning
But when he woke up he unhesitatingly began to shout
Advertising his ware of trade in foolish version;
Am selling, the body of my mother, I have killed,
I killed her myself, it is still fresh, come and buy,
I will give you’re a bargain price,

When the morning came
People began crowding around him
As he kept on shouting his advertisement
Also Lapur the king came
He was surprised with the situation,
He asked the male lover to confirm
Whatever he was shouting
The male lover vehemently confirmed,
Then the law of an eye for an eye
Effortlessly took its course
Lapur  ordered his people, in a glorious royal decree
To stone the male lover to death
And bury him away without ceremony
Along with his mother in the sisal bag
In the wasted cemetery of villains
The same way Pablo Neruda
Had to bury his dead dog behind the house,

On hearing the tidings
About what had befallen her lover
The female lover had to send out a long giggle
Coming deep from her heart with maximum joy
She took over the estate of the male lover
Combined with hers,
All the animals and everything she took,
She made her son the manager
The son whom she immaculately conceived
Without any nuptial experience in the usual Jewish style
And their wealth multiplied to vastness
And hence toxic valentine gave birth to capitalism
Terry Collett Apr 2015
You must practice, Yochana's mother says, you need to have the Schubert off better. Yochana moves her thin fingers over the keyboard, eyeing the music-sheet on the piano stand. Her mother walks behind her, eyes on her fingers' movement. Angela said some boy pays you attention, the mother says, focusing on the fingers, how they seem too stiff. What boy? Yochana says, pausing her playing, please to stop, eyeing her mother, thinking on the boy Benedict, the kiss he gave her on the cheek. Angela spoke of some boy at school in your class, the mother says, and play on, your fingers are stiff while playing. There is no boy, Yochana says, lying, but trying to do a professional job at it, but not that good as her eyes give her away, proceeding to get her fingers playing over the keyboard once again, bring the Schubert back to life. Then Angela is either mistaken or lying are you saying? Her mother says. Yochana says nothing, wondering how much Angela had said, and how much pressure Mother put her on the poor girl. I've told you about boys, you have no time yet for boys, not while at school at any rate, and it then needs to be the right boy, and I cannot see there being that kind of boy at that school, the mother says slowly, but with emphasis on the word -right boy-, and still the firmness in the way of speech. Yochana comes to the end of the Schubert piece and puts her hands in her lap. She sits stiff. She hears her mother breathing, pacing behind her. Still too stiff in playing, she says, and this boy and I assume there is a boy or Angela would not have mentioned one and I do hope you are not taking to the art of deception, Yochana, as you do not have that skill to any great degree. Yochana turns and looks at her mother. Just a boy in class and it's nothing, she says, never going to mention the kiss on the cheek, she thinks, eyeing her mother's eyes. And what is he up to, this boy? Nothing, just a boy in class who stare sat me. And why does he stare at you? Have you been encouraging the boy to stare? Yochana shakes her head. Her dark hair moves from side to side. Of course not, she says, seeing Benedict near her in her mind. So why does he stare? the mother asks, leaning over Yochana, her hands each side of the piano-stall on which Yochana sits. Maybe he likes to stare at me. Don't be flippant, the mother says, Angela says he seems too friendly with you. Too friendly? Yochana senses herself blush and tries to add distraction by turning and playing a few bars of Beethoven, he's just a boy who stares and jokes. Then discourage him, the mother says firmly, or I will write to the Head and complain. I do discourage him as best I can, she lies, bringing the Beethoven along fiercely. A slap drives her hands from the keyboard and into her lap where she digs them deep between her thin thighs. Don't try and distract me my girl or you will  be pushing me to my limits and you know what that means, the mother says. Yochana looks down at the keyboard, senses the sting of pain on her hands. She nods. I will ask Angela to keep an eye on this boy and you it seems. Angela and her big mouth, Yochana muses, looking at the motionless keyboard, black and white keys. She sees Benedict kissing her again on her cheek just out of the blue that day. It was sudden. Smack on the cheek. Damp, warm. He standing there smiling. She stirred up, but pretending not to be. Understand me? Her mother says, turning Yochana around to face her, gazing into her daughters eyes, through the thin wired framed glasses. Yes, I understand, she says, trying not to look at her mother, attempting to hide her tears coming, the sting of hands. Then go to your room and focus on the English work, otherwise you will get behind with that and you will need that if you are to make anything of yourself at that school, her mother says, standing back allowing room for her daughter to rise up from the piano stall and move. Yochana walks away from the piano looking away from her mother, her eyes watery. And remember, girl, you are only fourteen not twenty one, still a child, the mother says at her daughter disappearing back. Yochana says nothing, but walks out of the music room and up the stairs, one foot climbing after the other in a slow determined fashion. She knows what her mother is implying. She remembers how strict her mother can be. She walks to her room, opens the door and enters, closing the door behind her and leans against it. Tears fill her eyes. Angela's big mouth. No doubt innocently said. Mother pushing it. Squeezing all she could out of the dim girl until it had all she needed. I'll see Angela and have a word. Keep it quiet. Mouth shut. Or I'm for it, I'll tell her, Yochana  says to herself, moving away from the door and picking up the English grammar and lies on the bed. That sort of boy. That kind of school. Was Benedict that kind of boy? What kind was he? She didn't know. Not her mother's idea of a right type of boy. Kiss on the cheek. She felt her cheek where she recalls he kissed her. Fingers feel there. The sting in her hand is still there as she moves her fingers. She puts the English grammar book beside her on the bed and closes her eyes, pushing out tears. She places a hand to her cheek. Rubs it. Takes the fingers from her cheek and puts the fingertips to her lips and kisses, then slowly blows the invisible kisses towards the window, hoping to God her mother doesn't see the invisible kisses flyby and go.
Ericka Mar 29
you didn’t warn me about the boys who would take my body and claim it as theirs.

Mother, did I not hear you when you told me about boys who would put their bones on my bones and tell me that they owned me?


I must have missed it, must have turned my ear away

the day you told me about the darkness.


I have found it.

Mother, years ago I found it. Found that gaping hole in the air that ***** you right in, takes all your light away, takes all your good away.

I found that still sea air, the doldrums,

found that place where nothing moves,

but only shifts endlessly,

rocking back and forth, reminding you of

your wet solitude.

Mother, I know you try to shut the world out. I have seen the way your eyes glaze over


the stacks of magazines in the hallway,

my entire childhood in your bedroom.

I have found my dollhouses in the garage, the animal cages,

the rust.

I found the bell to my bicycle, I found the streamers.

Mother, I have watched you watch me and see something other than yourself. Mother, I know that you see me. How I watch the waves of possession overtake this house.

How money has given us too much,

how we shook our pockets to fill the void,

how we filled the barn with boxes.

Mother, I have watched you buy more boxes.

You have shut away

so much, you have heard me beg you to cut your hair,

to get rid of the dead,

to stop burying things that aren’t.

Mother, stop buying.

Mother, start seeing.

Mother, how many books can you read before you realize that you should just

write your own?

Mother, I have asked you to let me live and you have kept me close. I have asked you the questions that I already know the answers to. Mother I have watched you waste this house, cut holes in the walls and move from bed to bed like a withering animal,

I have watched you stack your clothes and still buy more,

I have watched you carve paths in the mountains of this home.

I have let you let the kitchen mold. I have watched you let the sink fill with a musk and a stench, I have let you fall in your own dust.

Mother, I am sorry.

Mother, we didn’t ask each other the questions that needed answering, we didn’t sail this wind at all. We only ever shifted, rocked and swayed in this house, let the gutters collect the trees, let the wasps inhabit the rafters. Mother, watch me build a new house. I will not let anyone in, I will not let them see how bare it gets when you have to keep moving. When you let your sails go and need to make yourself lighter and you

throw yourself out of that black hole.

Mother, watch me watch you as I try to do more than I can.

Mother, sell your books. You’ve already read them. Mother, eat the food in the kitchen. Your body is wasting away and your hair grows long. Mother,

do you see the way I have let my hair collect itself? How I have stopped cutting it? Did you hear me when I said I will comb it out and slice it off?

Mother, feel this rain. Feel how it is filling this dry earth, how it buries itself in the cracks of the dead silt, how it breathes, easy and weightless.

Feel this rain. It will swallow the ground, it will raise the sea and your sails will soak and I want to push you away. Mother,

find yourself an anchor, but don’t use it so often.

Mother, we need to start asking each other questions.

Mother, sail.
Mymai Yuan Sep 2010
It’s been a decade and a half that I haven’t returned back to my little home in that far away magical place. Fifteen years- exploring and travelling through the world. It was always my dream, ever since I was a young boy. Living this life is lonely. No one ever belongs to me, nor do I ever belong to anyone. Seeing a million things is marvelous, but it could be twice as marvelous with a companion to express the feelings over instead of my usual, battered black log book that never talked back but was filled with entries from all over the world. One day, I’ll publish it.

I guess the fact that I was always alone was the reason why the little home and my little mother that I use to take for granted became more and more part of me as I stayed away. The land, the gently curving hills and glassy lake grew clearer and clearer in my mind until sometimes, it was all I could see when I shut my eyes at night after a long day of work. Sometimes I would smell the soap on mothers’ skin acutely and played her voice in my head like a radio.
A blur of bright brown eyes.

I’ve been to almost every country in this world: Japan, France, America, Denmark, China and all the different continents… almost a hundred different countries. Each country held such a different (but slightly similar if they were in the same continent) flavor in the air and never failed to teach me one new thing. They all held such distinct character. Beholding the stunning sights and noticing the heart-wrenching small details of a new place was my passion. It captivated me, but the calm, steady love of my heart remained still.
Nothing touched me like the memory of home and my mother. Not the women who flickered through the chapter of my life, appearing in explosions of lust and never meaning more than ***, though some begged me to stay. My loneliness would sway my path of thinking for a short one or two week before I realized it wasn’t what I truly wanted.  
My lovers reminded me of cookie crumbs fallen from my mouth down onto my shirt- there for a brief, brief moment- sometimes picked up to nibble on or brushed away and forgotten.

Oh Love; Love never found me. Perhaps all the travel I did made it harder for Her to find me. I was never at a place for long. Perhaps She, Love, grew tired of trying to catch up with me as I crossed the seas and vast lands. Maybe She got lost one day in an Indian market with the exotic, fat fruits and glittering bangles- fading off into the air with the aroma of powerfully rich local dishes.
Or maybe I travelled away from Her, and She got left behind.

2 a.m.- On a train: the train is brand new and the metal is still yet glossy and innocent from hard rains, thick snow or fiery heat as the Southern part of my homeland is so prone to. The window is surprisingly see-through, unlike all the muddy windows covered in dust, grime, bird droppings and smashed insects (especially squished mosquitoes) I have looked out of in the past fifteen years. I think I’ll read a few chapters of that book about Cambodian culture to distract my impatient mind: sitting on this cold train that will take me home is all I can possibly think about. Hurry, you ******* train, hurry!
There is something about a train that calms me down and makes me feel all starry-eyed. It is the memory of the only girl I ever loved. A little girl I grew up with. Such thick dark brown hair, big round bright chocolate eyes and the loudest, most obnoxiously boyish laugh I have ever heard from a girl. Hmm, I recalled the small rounded chest and bottom.
We lived so far deep in the country side and one day, on an overnight school trip, the school we attended at took all hundred students on a trip to see the city for just a day. Flashes of her eating a creamy white ice cream sprinkled with tiny candies of the rainbow and standing in awe of the huge library made me smile to myself.
How when everyone was tired that night back on the train, even the teachers exhausted after an early morning and keeping a hundred thirteen-year-olds under control for a whole day, fell asleep. My eyelids were just drooping when she appeared- I smelled her first, sweet like honey with a tinge of something sour like orange or lemon peels. My senses have always been sensitive- especially sight and smell. She carefully peeled back the curtains around the bed, crept into my bunk and cuddled with me, curling her tough plump legs.
My mind flew in many wild ways- for as I said, my senses were sensitive and the curiosity and thrill of an inexperienced young boy did not help to make them any paler- and try as I might to quiet the thoughts, they leapt at her every movement.
I suppose it was her way of telling me she had fallen in love with me. Her cold monkey-feet pressed against me and whispering the night away: her tousled head as she kept sitting up to look out the window on the side to look at the stars. I sat up with her and held her against my chest. I remember wondering how my heart wasn’t bursting from the enormous love I felt for this creature in my lap, watching the dark silhouettes of trees rushing by and the black swaying fingers of rice patties illuminated by needle-point stars and a full, silver moon. The beautiful creature turned around, placed her icy finger tips on my hot neck, and gave a little sigh of relief before leaning in and kissing me.

My skin was covered in goose bumps.

Oranges are my favorite fruit.
I left her, my little home and mother at nineteen. The darling was mine till then. I wrote to her, but when she got around to replying I had already moved. And there my love became my once-loved.
The heart ache didn’t last too long. There was too much to see, I was young and full of cravings and impossible to satisfy hunger despite the countless number of women. I lived in the moment, the fiery moment of passion and life, and the memory of her were blown to wisps.
A ray of pink sunlight broke me from my thoughts and as I rushed back from the past to its future, I wondered in a haze whether she had married or not.

Five a.m. – the sun was up. The sky had streaks of dark blue, so dark it was almost black. A ****** red of a newly-cut wound ran through the sky, arm in arm with royal purple and a pink the color of a child’s lips.

Six a.m. - twenty-two or so students milled into the train chattering. The younger ones have neatly combed hair, slicked down with mousse and parted so aggressively the comb lines are visible cutting the hair in hard chunks with a paper-white hairline slicing through the scalp. The smallest one would be around thirteen and the oldest at eighteen. The oldest-looking one is very pretty with slanted gray eyes and chestnut hair- very matured for her age. A puff of powder to conceal any imperfection of her skin, and the first two buttons on her school blouse unbuttoned to hint at a cleavage of well-developed large *******. Her gaze darts over me frequently. She looks like a lover I had in Holland. I give her a small smile and she returns it, batting her lids to reveal matted dark lashes and shimmery pale blue eyelids like the wings of a butterfly. No child, only if I was much, much younger and had just left home as you will so soon.
A stench of too much perfume emits from the girl beside her. So much that I am momentarily diverted and glance up at her from my log book. I will be relieved when they leave. If there’s one thing I find extremely unattractive in a woman is an overload of perfume- it becomes a stench that is a reminder of gaudy prostitutes.

Six-thirty a.m. -  The train jolts to yet another stop and they clatter out but not before I heard the words, “That man on the train near us was rather handsome, wasn’t he?” I cannot help but chuckle.

Seven a.m. – the train has stopped at least five more stations. This is going to be a long trip. Rummaging in my packed bag for a pair of dark sunglasses I push them on, waiting for the fact that I haven’t slept all two weeks in excitement (and travelling at the speed of light half way around the world at the same time) to kick in and hit me unconscious with sleep.

Two p.m. - the dark glasses cannot block the glaring sunlight of the sunshiny afternoon. We have almost finished passing the city. The rows of buildings, large houses, one-story apartments are narrowing and shrinking in size. I know the railroad tracks have remained unchanged in destination and twenty-so years ago I took this exact same ride but everywhere is unrecognizable.  
I check my wristwatch once again even though I know the time: around nine more hours to go before it reaches the very end possible station and I take the long walk back to my little home.

Six p.m. - I talk amiably to passengers on the train. It is beautiful to hear my home dialect again. The words I speak have grown quite clumsy and my accent is rough. No matter, in two weeks time I’ll be fluent and chirping along with the same fluid accent as the old man beside me is.

Eleven-thirty p.m. – I am all alone on the train. The old man just got off at the station before. He shared a portion of his sandwich with me and a swig of beer from his water bottle (naughty old man), seeing as in my anticipation I forgot to buy any food for the day. A very interesting old man who was delighted to know I travelled just as he use to in his earlier days- quote to remember from him: “Too many people go on about this ******* of a ‘fixed’ home: Home isn’t where you live, son, it’s where they understand you. I’m telling you, that’s something so special in this crazy world.”
It is horrible to be sitting here alone counting down the minutes without a distraction but after all, it is near the last of stations and no one ever comes here anyways. There’s nothing here that could attract visitors. If I were a traveler nothing about this place would excite me very much. Yet for this first time in fifteen years, I’m not an outsider and this land promises me much. My hand shakes from fatigue- but mostly from eagerness. Little home, darling little home, I am coming!
It is a chilly, chilly winter night. My breath pants out in short white puffs. I wrap my scarf more securely around my neck, capturing the warmth as I step out from the warm train into the cold air outside. I can barely notice my environment on the way home except the path has remained unchanged. It is as if I am travelling back into time itself. After a while, the coldness turning the tip of my ears and nose pink is forgotten. All I know is each step is taking me closer and closer to home.

I finally see it. The small little house with a small brown door standing quietly alone next to other identical houses comes into my view. The little homes are clustered on the edge of a river bank, surrounding by dark green trees. The crisp rustling of the leaves in the winter breeze brings a melancholy happiness so great it makes my chest throb. I cup a tiny bit of snow from the ground in my mitten and taste it: oh the same sharp iciness on my tongue.

I wonder if she still lives in that one with the indented steps, the stairs worn out by the thundering saunter of her and her five brothers. They still haven’t bought a new flight of stairs?

The river’s surface is smooth and serene, its surface looking like molten silver rippling in the slight breeze. I remembered in the summer when we, the children, danced; splashing in the water and the elders watched lovingly.

Mother’s carefully watching eyes on me as I swam to and fro, my laughter mingling with everyone else’s. She was especially careful after that near-fateful day when I was six and foolishly went swimming in August without telling mother as she made us her special clear chicken broth. I had inhaled gallons of water before she fished me out, both of us soaking and sobbing. How wonderful it was to hold onto something warm and solid: something breathing, full of life, and I clutched onto her and she clutched onto me and my life.
Up the wooden steps… how surprised mother will be. The ghosts of memories come running to me, pounding their way towards me to greet me first as I open the wooden door with the key slung around my neck as always: mother with her hair curled in soft mocha *****, mother making an ice lollipop in the hot summers in her flower-printed summer dresses, mother swishing around the house cleaning in her blue apron, the hot fire with hot chocolate as we told stories, all the different cats we had purring in a soothing melody… Amalie and her laughing figure spread over the sofa chattering away, Amalie’s quick, hidden kisses in the corners when mother was out of the room or pretending not to look, Amalie’s long hands creeping towards mine… Amalie and mother gossiping together and mother declaring Amalie was the daughter she never had and mother eyeing me knowingly, expecting me to settle my ways and marry Amalie…

Oh little home, I am back, I am home.

I shall go lie on my feathery bed and in the morning I’ll wake up and have no idea where I am before the thought comes back to me that this morning- no, I am not somewhere around half the world away- but in my little hometown.
As sure as the sun will rise, Mother will wake up at her usual eight o’clock and I’ll be downstairs in our sunny-tiled kitchen making a bowl of porridge for her and me.
After her tears and hugs, we’ll sit down by the fire with hot chocolate despite it being early morning and the skies aren’t yet jet-black. I see in my mind’s eyes her dark eyes huge as I unravel my colorful carpet of stories and treasure box of tokens from all around the world.
Maybe after that I’ll ask her whatever became of Amalie…
I hear the tread of footsteps on the stair case. They are heavy sounds. Has mother gained much weight in her old age? She was always a lithe little woman when I was here.
A burly shape appears in the shadows.
For one ******* blindingly stupid moment I think it is mother much fattened in a fluffy night gown, her hair curled up in soft ***** yet again. Perhaps I saw what I wanted to believe despite my senses and instinct suddenly prickling up in one jolt through the spine.
And the shape emerges holding a bat and the outlines gains focus to become a bear-like man with dark brows furrowed and a mass of curls. He starts yelling at me and slashing his bat dangerously.
I raise my arms up in defense and the world swirls around me. From far away I hear my voice shaking in fear and fury, “Where is my mother!” I yell her name and I yell my name to let her know I am here. I am insane with fear for the safety of my mother. No, it cannot be that I come home on the day a demon decides to rob the house of a frail gentle angel. If he has killed her, I will- “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO HER?!”
“What?” he asks in a tone quiet from extreme bewilderment, his grip on the bat loosens and I am quick to see this and take advantage of it.
With an explosion of violent swears I leap onto him to throttle him to death. “MOTHER?! MOTHER! WHAT HAVE YOU ******* DONE TO MY MOTHER?! I’M GOING TO ******* **** YOU, YOU *******!”
A fast pattering of feet sound down the stairs and my mind registers them to be female before I am wrenched of the man and we are separated. I am about to clutch this woman safe from the hulking beast before I notice the skin on the hands pushing my panting chest away from killing the beast are too young to be mothers’. Her hair is a dark mahogany brown, not mild coffee like mothers’.
I stare at her, silent in shock. All the fight drains out of me.
Those eyes that were once so chocolate-brown and bright have lost their sparkle in her tiredness and appear almost… dull as she turns to me.
She says my name three times before I can reply. “Sit down here.”
It is strange that she has ordered me to sit down on my own sofa in my living room. Her frosty hands guide me. “Amalie… where is mother?” I manage to stutter, all the time keeping an eye on the monster of a man.
“Listen to me” she took a few shuddering breaths, “I’m sorry to tell you this way, I wished I could’ve told you any other way but this… your mother is dead. She died five years ago.”
She watched me with an exhausted expression, “In her will she left this house to you and me because she assumed one day-” she shot a cautious glance at the man who towered in the shadows next to her, nursing
Alexander Klein Dec 2015
once, there were two fish, because i needed them to be happy. but because of their happiness i had to make a change, for happiness cannot last forever. perhaps her little child is lost. it is a boy child maybe. she loves him, whomever he is. i love him too and i dont even know who he is or why i have just now accidentally made him. the mother fish swims through the underworld of the sea searching for the fish baby. maybe she will find him or maybe she never will, she has no way of knowing just like no one will ever read these words. it is ok though, because i have written them. maybe. the mother keeps the story going because she misses her lost little fish. there is an anenome, maybe. no, my mistake, it seems there was not. in a forest of kelp waved some fins that reminded the mother fish of her lonely boy: these treasures are important in the cold depths of the sea. maybe a memory is more important than the flesh, she thinks. she is lonely. once there was happiness. the memory of happiness floats aimless in the sea like her. she has made poor choices in her lonely life but it is important to endure these mistakes, for they showed the poor fish mother (not me) who she really was. i only wrote some words distract myself but now it has become an ocean and fish and the fish are sad though i wanted them to be happy. it is difficult being a fish. and then the fish think 'why am i sad,' and that ‘why’ causes even greater grief and that goes on forever, like the ocean. it is good that i am writing about something big enough to be written about. there i go again making poor choices: this story is supposed to be about the poor little mother fish but i have made a big mess of things by talking about my own problems, so let's not get more distracted here. that is the kind of mistake i will have to live with. 'find my fish,' she says now to someone or to me, so let us all return to that. i would not want to be a mother without her fish. she is mad at me because she thinks i have hidden her fish. i am sorry, i did not mean to hide your fish, but you looked so unhappy being happy and i love you. distractions are the nature of the ocean, any thing can shift at a moment’s notice which makes it difficult to find things that may or may not be lost. there was always a small son at the mother's breast, because love is in the heart. but the mother fish swims on right past her own heart for now, because that should remain the last place she looks. the son must be somewhere. the ocean is vast but every sorrow must somehow come to an end. where can her poor fish be, for he is lost (as i would be) and lonely (as i am). the sea hides her dangers with her beauties so that any might meet a beautiful end if they wish. the mother’s madness might drive her to a beautiful end. she thinks i am not helping her fish, and she thinks i have forgotten her. i’ve discovered that it’s not easy making fish who love each other. there is a so much ocean to traverse. you know what the ocean is like. maybe you are even there now. are you now breathing air or water, or had you forgotten? see how easy it is to become lost? did the mother fish have a son? is there meaning in the search for him, or only when he is found? will i just pick and choose my letters until i am dead? here in the ocean i accidently made i have tried to stay honest, and maintain an honest ocean. the mother is the ocean, and she is searching for herself. is something like that considered an important detail? you might ask me ‘will she find herself?’ and i might reply ‘will you?’ it seems i couldn’t control the flood and now we’re surrounded by these waves that are every question, every answer. when will i be you? when will the fish be found? the mother needs some hope if she is to continue her journey. another memory, maybe, compells her behind a blooming reef. but the memory of her son was not her son. she has so many memories, is one of them her son? has she even lost something, or is she wandering these lonely depths insane? are these words i wrote a shipwreck under which she looms? she knows she had a son, for she knows she has something missing, just as i do. maybe the mother will find her thing, and maybe i will too. the thing is temporary but the maybe is forever and gradually permeates so fully that it is no longer possible to perceive. you are the child of my dreams, if ever you live to read this shallow tidepool. if it has helped you i will be happy, or try. the mother should find her fish, i think. that would make me happy. i have not forgotten that once, long before memory, the mother and her son were one. you and i are one, if you even exist. the ocean is wide to search so at least the mother is keeping busy, but when she has explored it all where else can she look? what else can she try that she has not tried? perhaps she found the answer once and had not recognized it. maybe she will try everything again. or maybe i have lost my way and she has not. she understands her task; what do i know? i only made them. you saw how easy it was. should i never have made them? would they be happier unmade? ‘maybe some fish are happier somewhere, than this lost mother.’ my sister said that and i like to think she is right: far away there are happy fish. i like to think that where they are the notion of hardship is laughable. some of these things that i am making happen to you are not even happening, that is why this is so hard to read, but such are the tribulations of being at the mercy of the tide. it helps me to be a mother fish searching for her fish because i am searching for something to search for. have i found it? curse you neptune for being so perilous! jk though because we are friends. i feel bad when i procrastinate, as if i am keeping the mother from her son. i hope she finds him. am i even able to help her? if i were to say '****, here is your son,' would she be happy? if i prolong her misery, perhaps i can prolong her joy. it's the fricton she craves, i think, for that is what i crave. would it be terrible if i got carried away by my own universe? would the fish find happiness if existence did not exist? i could be evil and take it all away if they would enjoy that nonexistence. i nearly typed their destruction just now, but deleted because the mother fish might have liked it less. would she be happy if i finish this story, or is she happier now with something to search for? when i began i did not know the depths to which my fish might suffer. i am sorry i am not working to find your fish. maybe she thinks i have found him already and i am hiding him from her. maybe she thinks i am unable, even, to complete the simple task of returning her beloved son. just because she went and lost him it is as if i have stolen him from her. her confusion is as wide as the ocean. i’ll trade ‘should the mother find her son’ for a better riddle: should i care if she does? because i do, if only because by making those fish i doomed them to unhappiness. but does the mother care how to spell unhappiness? will extra letters help her understand my meaning? i think i’ll allow her son to be discovered somewhere foolish where she should sooner have thought to look, because if i were to withhold my mother’s son from her she might hate me, i imagine, as i too might hate my author from the reverse position.
Terry Collett Mar 2015
Do steam trains go from Kings Cross to Scotland? Lydia asks. Her father sober smiles. Are you eloping with the Benny boy of yours? He says. Big eyes staring; blue  large marble like. Whats eloping? She asks, frowning. Running off to be married secretly, the daddy says. No, Benedict and I are only nine, so how would we be eloping? Practice run? No no, she says. Nibbles her buttered toast her mother gave. You be mindful, busy that place; crowds are there. He sips his tea. She nibbles more toast, staring at him. How are you getting there; too far to walk? Dont know; Benedictll know; he knows these things. Underground trains best, the daddy suggests. But how to get the money for fare? He asks; his eyes narrow on to her. Dont know, she says, looking at the tablecloth, patterned, birds. Has your Benny boy the money? Sober, good humoured, he smiles. Expect so, she says, doubtful. See your mother, ask her, he suggests, smiling, as if. Well, must be off, work calls, he says. Where are you today? She asks. Train driving to Bristol. Is that near Scotland? He smiles, shakes the head. No, Bristols west, Scotlands north; do you not know your geography? The daddy says. She shrugs. Sober he shakes the head. Well, Im off. See your mother about the fares. She nods; he goes taking a last sip of tea. She eats the buttered toast, cold, limp. She sits and gazes out the window. Sunny, warm looking. The birds on the grass; the bomb shelter still there. Wonders if the mother will. Money for fares. Knock at the front door. Her daddy answers. Opens up. Your Bennys here, Princess, he mocks. See you mind her, Benny boy, shes my precious, the daddy says out the door and away. Lydia goes to the door. Benny is standing there looking at her daddy walking through the Square. Her mother comes to the door wiping her hands on an apron, hair in rollers, cigarette hanging from her lip corner. Whats all this? her mother asks. Lydia looks at Benny. He gazes at the mother. Kings Cross, he says. Is he? The mother says. Train station, Benny adds unsmiling. So? We thought wed go there, Lydia says, shyly, looking at her mother. How do you think of getting there? Underground train, Daddy said. Did he? And did he offer the money? No, said to ask you. Did he? The mother pulls a face, stares at Lydia and Benny. Am I to pay his fare, too? She says, staring at Benny. No, Ive me own, he says, offering out a handful of coins. Just as well. If your daddyd not been sober youd got ****** all permission to go to the end of the road, her mother says, sharp, bee-sting words. Wait here, she says, goes off, puffing like a small, thin, locomotive. Benny stands on the red tiled step. Your dad was sober? She nods, smiles. Rubs hands together, thin, small hands. How are you? Fine, excited if we go, she says, eyeing him, taking in his quiff of hair and hazel eyes; the red and grey sleeveless jumper and white skirt, blue jeans. He looks beyond her; sees the dull brown paint on the walls; a smell of onions or cabbage. Looks past her head at the single light bulb with no light shade. Looks at her standing there nervous, shy. Brown sandals, grey socks, the often worn dress of blue flowers on white, a cardigan blue as cornflowers. They wait. Hows your mother? Ok, he replies. Your dad? Hes ok, he says. They hear her mother cursing along the passage. He says ask for this, but he never dips in his pocket I see, except for the beer and spirit, and o then it out by the handfuls. She opens her black purse. How much? Dont know. The mother eyes the boy. How much? Two bob should do. Two bob? Sure, shell give you change after, Benny says. Eye to eye. Thin line of the mothers mouth. Takes the money from her purse. Shoves in Lydias palm. Be careful. Mind the roads. Lydia looks at her mother, big eyes. Shyly nods. You, the mother points at the boy. Take care of her. Of course. Beware of strange men. I will. Stares at Benny. Hes my Ivanhoe, Lydia says. Is that so. Go then, before I change my mind. Thin lips. Large eyes, cigarette smoking. Take a coat. Lydia goes for her coat. Hows your mother? The mother asks, looks tired when I see her. Shes ok, gets tired, Benny says, looking past the mothers head for Lydia. Not surprised with you being her son. Benny smiles; she doesnt. He looks back into the Square. The baker goes by with his horse drawn bread wagon. Hemmy on the pram sheds with other kids. What you doing making the fecking coat? The mother says over her thin shoulder. Just coming, Lydia replies. Shes there coat in hand. The mother scans her. Mind you behave or youll feel my hand. Lydia nods, looks at Benny, back at the mother. Mind the trains; dont be an **** and fall on the track, the mother says, eyeing Benny, then Lydia. Shes safe with me, Benny says. Ill keep her with me at all times. Youd better. I will. Eye to eye stare. And eat something or youll faint. Ill get us something, the boy says. The mother sighs and walks back into the kitchen, a line of cigarette smoke following her. Ok? She nods. They go out the front door and Lydia closes it gently behind her, hoping the mother wont rush it open and change her mind. They run off across the Square and down the *****. Are we eloping? She asks. What? Us are we eloping? No, train watching. Why? The daddy says. Joking. Sober. Benny smiles, takes in her shy eyes. Whats eloping? He asks. Running off to marry, Daddy says. Too young. Practice run. Daddy said. Not today, Benny says, smiling, crossing a road. Looking both ways. Not now, not in our young days.
lex Mar 2019
The last time I spoke to my mother
it was hot and sunny and sticky
and I do not remember the date,
But it was hot and sunny and sticky
as sweat trickled down my back,
and I noticed that before my tears,
the last time I spoke to my mother.

The last time I spoke to my mother
I don't even remember what I said anymore,
but I know I was angry and confused and twelve
the last time I spoke to my mother.

The last time I spoke to my mother
she told me she didn't know how to love me now,
and I asked if she ever had
while I held my breath and prayed to a god I did not believe in
that she would tell me she’d try to relearn,
but that was
the last time I spoke to my mother.

The last time I spoke to my mother
her voice was laced with hate that used to be reserved
for people who were not me.
I suppose I should have guessed that I'd be the recipient eventually,
but I was naive and she hated most people -
cashiers, old friends, waitresses, teachers, my father,
and I added myself to the list
the last time I spoke to my mother.

The last time I spoke to my mother
she ripped pages out of her bible and handed them to me,
like maybe if I poured my blood onto them in repentance
it’d save me from burning eternally,
but I tore them up and told her that I'd rather be in hell
than with Christians who preach love and practice hate
The last time I spoke to my mother.

The last time I spoke to my mother
she asked me if she'd done something wrong,
as if my existence being “wrong” was a given,
but I replied she hadn’t until now,
asked how she separated humanity from me
the last time I spoke to my mother.

The last time I spoke to my mother
I didn't know how to drive yet,
but her words cut deeper than any blade I’d known
and I preferred the stinging sun
to verbiage that blistered in silhouette
her words of protest and disdain hung in the heavy summer air
as I began walking without destination,
but I told her if I'm destined for eternal hellfire,
I might as well practice burning
the last time I spoke to my mother.

The last time I spoke to my mother
was so long ago I only remember it in my nightmares,
and I wake up sweating as much as I did that day.
Sometimes she asks my sisters if I've changed,
I guess that sentiment means she doesn’t care if I’m okay
the last time I spoke to my mother.

The last time I spoke to my mother
I can’t say I knew it was the last,
but of all the things I'd done,
I thought walking away from her would be the hardest.
I was wrong
the last time I spoke to my mother.

The last time I spoke to my mother
I didn't think I'd ever be able to move on,
physically walking away was not the hardest thing I had to do,
even more difficult was learning to forgive
someone who wasn't sorry
The last time I spoke to my mother.

The last time I spoke to my mother
my mind was filled with disbelief,
my mouth was filled with bile and hatred
but I have learned to forgive both myself and her,
and releasing that resentment
has been my greatest liberation
the last time I spoke to my mother.
Terry Collett Aug 2015
Shoshana waits by the bus stop shed told her mother she was going to the village shop and her mother said to get a small list of items which were not too heavy but as she was going there she might as well get them now she has to go to the shop and buy the items and get back to the bus stop in time to see if Naaman actually does turn up as he said he would at school the previous day the bus stop is by the village green where in summer cricket matches are played and in winter football is played between local teams Shoshana isnt over happy that Naaman is coming to the village to see her not because she doesnt want to see him because she does but because of the smallness of the village where everyone knows each others business or tried to do and she knew that if she was seen with a boy around the village it would be reported back to her mother before the sunset but she didnt want to put Naaman off coming in case he thought she didnt want to see him when she did and she didnt want to try and explain about the nosiness of the village as it may have appeared as small-mindedness- she stands at the bus stop with the small bag of items at her feet looking in the direction the bus will come Mrs Crabshaw was waiting there too her thin features and narrow eyes made her witch-like despite the fact that her husband Mr Crabshaw is the church warden Shoshana looks away from her and stares in the direction of the hill where the bus will come going into town? Mrs Crabshaw asks her no Im waiting for someone Shoshana says o I see Mrs Crabshaw says a relative? no Shoshana says a friend of mine o thats good it is good to have friends Mrs Crabshaw says the bus comes over the hill and Shoshana is glad but also nervous as she will be seeing Naaman alone on her own ground not at school not surrounded by other kids the bus draws up at the stop and a few people get off the last one is Naaman who is dressed in a blue tee shirt and blue jeans and black battered shoes hi Shoshana he says she nods and smiles unsure what to say watching Mrs Crabshaws beady eyes staring at Naaman as she got on the bus the bus drives off and Mrs Crabshaw was gazing out of the back window of the bus so this is your village Naaman says small and quaint isnt it she watches the bus go out of sight yes it is a bit she says turning her gaze to Naaman he is smiling that Elvis smile(other girls had told her at school) is there a coffee bar we can go to? he asks no not a coffee shop but there is a tea shop over the green but its a bit old fashion she says I see he says looking around him I best take you home with me she says otherwise it will be all around the village before  my mum knows Ive been seeing you ok if thats ok with you he says is she expecting me? not exactly but Im sure shell be pleased to see you Shoshana  says uncertain if her mother will but knowing she must show him and explain or it will be worse if her mother finds out by gossip they walk along a narrow road off from the village green and she is silent not sure what to say he walks beside her taking in the scenery you didnt mind me coming here did you? he asks out of the blue no of course not its just that I havent mentioned you yet to my parents and Im not sure quite what to say she says  o I see he says Im sure it will be ok parents are only concerned about their childrens friends and welfare I guess so she says  they come to the cottages the left hand side where she lives with her parents and she opens the gate and he follows her in and they come to the front door and she opens up and go into the passageway Im back Shoshana says and I have brought a friend with me she adds looking along the passage hoping her mother will come out from the kitchen there is silence maybe shes out Naaman says no she was here a while ago Shoshana says Naaman looks around the passageway the door at the end opens and her mother comes in from the garden o youre back then her mother says and who is this? Shoshana blushes Im Naaman a friend of your daughter Naaman says nodding and smiling o I see her mother says eyeing Naaman carefully then at her daughter a school friend Shoshana says hes a boy her mother says yes he is Shoshana says youve not mentioned a boy before her mother says not known each other long Naaman says we share an interest in birds and butterflies and such o I see Shoshanas mother says Shoshana feels ill at ease I got the items from the shop you wanted she says put them in the kitchen then her mother says eyeing her daughter you best come into the kitchen Naaman her mother says cant have you standing in the passageway all the time can we o no right Naaman says I like the colour of the walls compared to the doors they have a good link to the eyes do they? the mother says yes Naaman says have a homely feel relaxing kind of thing the mother stares at her daughter I see the mother says tea? do you drink tea? walking into the kitchen Shoshana puts the items on a sideboard and sits at the table and Naaman sits opposite her I drink tea he says but without sugar he adds looking at the mother and smiling Shoshana feels unsure of how things are going but it is nice that at last Naaman is there with her and only a few inches away from and now her mother knows and that is just the beginning of matters after Naaman has gone the interrogation will begin the questions will be asked and needed to be answered and she knows her mother will tell her father and they will say to her you are just a young girl of fourteen too soon to be thinking of boys and why did he come here? now it will be all around the village and you know how people will talk and so on and so the mother makes tea in a teapot putting the items away in cupboards with her back to them Naaman reaches across the table and holds her hand in his then lifts her hand to his lips and kisses it gently and she blushes and smiles and feels an opening up inside her and a new world begin expand sensing the kiss on the back of her hand.
Terry Collett Jul 2016
Lizbeth comes home
from school
(a wet day so didn't
see Benny),
and walks past her mother
in the kitchen.

Did you take
that *** book back
to that girl?
Her mother asks.

Lizbeth looks at her:
of course(she hadn't
she had hid it
elsewhere in her room),
read it anyway,
didn't need it

Her mother eyes her sternly:
don't bring
a disgusting book
like that home again,
her mother says.

Lizbeth sighs:
is that it?
Can I go
to my room now?

No, I want to
talk to you,
her mother says.

Talk to me
or with me?
Lizbeth says
gazing at her mother.

May I remind you,
my girl, you are
just 13 not 23,
and I will not
have you speak to me
in that fashion,
her mother says.

Lizbeth looks away;
the curtains are open,
letting in light
from a dull day.

If I spoke to my mother
like that I would
have had a good hiding,
her mother says firmly.

Lizbeth wants to get
to her room,
she is *******
not seeing Benny
and hanging round
is making her more

Sorry I shouldn't
talk like that,
Lizbeth says,
putting on her
little girl sorry

Sit down,
the mother says.

Lizbeth sits down
on a tall stall
by the kitchen table.

Her mother
sits opposite.

Why would you want
such a book?
Her mother asks,
and why did she
give such a book to you?

Lizbeth looks
at her mother's
strained features:
the hair tidy,
but greying slightly.

I wanted to know
about ***,
and she had
a book about it,
Lizbeth says.

Why did you want
a book about ***?
her mother says,
the word ***.

To learn about it,
Lizbeth says.

Why learn,
why now?
Her mother says.

Lizbeth wishes
she had seen Benny
at school,
but the rain
had prevented it.

I need to learn
or I won't know
what to do,
and I'm getting
to an age when
I am inquisitive.

Her mother
stares at her:
the red hair,
the eyes,
the way she sits
on the stool,
the school skirt
drawn up well
above the knees.

You are too young
for that kind of thing yet,
so do not bring
that book home again;
if you want
to know anything
ask me,
her mother says.

Lizbeth holds in
the desire to laugh;
the thought of her mother
telling her anything
about *** was laughable.

I will ask,
Lizbeth says,
straining to keep
a straight face;
putting on her
innocent girl face.

Well off you go,
and change,
and keep your room tidy,
her mother says.

Lizbeth goes out
of the kitchen,
and up the stairs,
sighing for the delay,
wishing her mother's
words of wisdom
would go away.
Rangzeb Hussain Mar 2010
Long ago in shadows when the world was in magic robed,
Thus begins this tragic tale from times old,
A Mother and a bright girl did have a cottage near a hill,
On the edge of a creeping forest did they live.

Poor they were yet happy too with songs at dawn,
Nor did their stomachs in hunger churn or yawn,
Life was hard but they got by with chickens hatching hatching,
Eyes in the night always watching watching.

The Mother did always caution her delightful daughter,
“Freia, don’t be a lamb to the slaughter,
Wrap your apple blossom face from the dead eyes of dogs,
Beware the men who haunt the forest fog.”

The bright days were dreamed away in peace and solitude,
No neighbours did intrude,
Time slipped away over the misty mountains and innocent lambs,
The years ran on, so silently they ran.

One day in late autumn when Freia had maidenhood reached,
She was asked to gather wood for heat,
The days were getting shorter and the spiked nights were colder,
Shadows scratched by their door.

“Give me my red scarf quick for I want to be a girl good!
For you I will get sticks of tinder wood!”
But before she let go her dancing daughter dear
The Mother did speak of fear.

“Freia, hush and listen! Return quickly for I am in fear soaking,
Watch out for the wet croaking Water-Goblin
Who reigns and dines beneath the river and hides in woodbine,
Take heed, Lady Night upon the sky shows her signs.”

“Never fear, dear Mother wise of mine,” said Freia,
“Blind Mistress Night, ha!
She will never ever catch or lay her black claws upon me,
Just wait and see! Back I will be.”

Freia skipped and slipped into the forest loud with sound,
She was collecting wood from the ground
When an idea came darting and burrowed into her curious mind,
“There’s no Water-Goblin! It’s a tale to scare and blind.”

And to prove her Mother wrong about tales tall and long
She went to the riverbank to sing a song,
The place was dark and no bird sang in the gloomy twilight,
Bright bones upon the bank caught her sight.

A frosty wind licked her and goose-pimples did appear,
Her spine chilled and shivered,
She tried to brush off the terror in which she was crippled,
Upon the river her eyes spied a ripple.

Something was swimming and straight to her heading!
Her legs grew heavy and she stopped humming,
She stayed rooted as up her legs crawled spidery lice,
She stood like a statue carved out of ice.

Bubbles were breaking above the tar-like water ring,
The gap closing between her and the thing,
“O, why did I to this dead river come running and singing?
How I wish I was at home skipping!”

It was as if some magic older than time kept her frozen,
Freia had thus been chosen,
The gap between her and the creature was fast closing,
If only she was at home safely dozing!

She tried to shout but only dry silence puffed out,
Her eyes bulged, she was clouded in doubt,
Tears fell upon her cheeks but she still could not scream,
Cruel, O how wrong everything now seemed!

Something dark, something bleeding green greed
Crept from the water with fluid speed,
The creature from the river wrapped a long strong arm
And held Freia’s gentle palms.

“Mine!” it gurgled through gnashing sharp teeth.
“Please, no!” spoke Freia in fever’s heat.
“Bride you will be!” the scaly creature hugged and hissed,
With jagged lips he did upon Freia plant a kiss.

The Water-Goblin, for indeed it was he,
Dragged away Freia by the knee,
Into the cold and dank river he waded,
O, how his touch she hated!

“I’ll drown!” Freia screamed, “To the shore take me!”
“Please, no!” she tried to sense make him see,
“I’m sure to slip and sink and in the water drown and weep!”
“Will not,” spoke he, “Magic bubble I shall for you weave!”

He spun his murky magic and just as he had promised and hissed,
A large air bubble circled Freia’s body and hips,
He lowered her ever deeper into his Netherworld Kingdom,
Up above the sun into the horizon did drown.

The green-eyed Water-Goblin a wedding banquet did hold,
It was a hideous party truth be told,
The guests he had invited made Freia’s skin crawl,
Demons of all kinds smiled and prowled.

The poor girl dizzily danced with the greedy groom,
Her speech slurred and darkness loomed,
Her pulse quickened and her breath came in bursts short,
Her husband’s nails did pinch and hurt.

A year and a day passed away like a carnivorous nightmare
And Freia birthed a baby golden haired,
“Pretty child,” grunted the Water-Goblin, “Is it a boy?”
“No, it’s a girl,” spoke Freia with joy.

Freia enjoyed the happiness by and by tick,
But soon she became homesick,
She wished to see her Mother and to her show the baby,
In that watery Kingdom she was but a trophy.

“Please let me visit my mother?” she kept pleading.
“Never!” he kept repeating.
“Please?” Freia was all honey, clever and charming.
“Never ever!” he was no more laughing.

And so it went on, and on, each and every day,
The Water-Goblin did for an end pray,
“Wife go then,” he one day gave in and readily flipped,
“Back you must come!” he spat through rotted lips.  

“Go now,” he gestured with claws ******
And at the child in the crib he pointed,
“The baby tender and sweet will with me stay,
Come back or else she pays.”

Freia begged, “To my dear Mother I want to baby display.”
“Hark and hear!” he kicked the cot of clay,
“Listen to my dread law. The child here plays.
Return to me by dark of this day.”

He took her to the surface and released her from the spell
Which kept her prisoner in the river red,
She went away yet still she heard a warning burning in her ears,
“Be back before dark or else they be tears!”

When to the old cottage she arrived she wiped her tears,
Her Mother was sitting in the rocking chair,
In the very air floated cobwebs, dust and impending doom,
The room was cloaked in layers of grainy gloom.

Freia rushed to her Mother feeling sad and weak,
It had been a year since they last did speak,
Mother and daughter warmly hugged and held each other fast,
“O, my doll, you return at last from the past!”

Freia did to her Mother tell her tale from beginning to end,
She was broken and needed to mend,
To her Mother she told about her beautiful baby,
Outside, the light was fast fading.

“I must now go back to my darling child before dark
Or else my dread lord will bark
And wreck vengeance most sharp upon my precious pearl,
O, how I miss my darling girl!”

“But don’t you see?” began the wise Mother true,
“The Water-Goblin has no magic over you.
It is said that whosoever returns to dry land can the spell break
If they keep the Water-Goblin at bay till daybreak.”

“Will the vile Water-Goblin free me and my child sweet?
And will he shift this curse? O, do speak!”
“Yes! You and the baby will be safe,” the Mother explained,
“The Water-Goblin will crack and be in pain.”

“Now we wait for the night of shadows long,” said the Mother poor
As she bolted the door,
“Go and bar the kitchen windows, I begin to feel sick,
Lock also the house on this side, be quick!”

No sooner had they barred the door of the cottage old
When the wind howled down the valley cold,
Night shrouded the land and black things moved outside,
They heard the rain pelting the hillside.

The storm with titanic volcanic fury spoke,
Everything fled even hope,
The cottage door with demonic force did vibrate,
Something was tearing the cottage.

“Has he come for me?” Freia shook in her Mother’s arms,
“Has my Master come to inflict harm?”
“No!” shouted her Mother over the thunderclaps,
“It’s the storm perhaps.”

Scratching was heard and they began to fearfully pray,
The panel above the doorway shattered,
Sharp shards of glass everywhere cascaded and scattered,
“Come back!” the thing outside banged and battered.

“It’s the wind. Only the wind, darling dear,” the Mother cleared
Her frightened daughter’s eyes full of fear,
The noise and the angry threats of the unseen creature
Drove darts of icy terror into their features.

“When will this nightmare end?” asked Freia with concern.
Replied the Mother, “Dawn is about to be born.
This Water-Goblin has to go back to his Kingdom before sunrise
Or else he will lose his life and prize.”

Crash! Something broke, splinters of wood in the air flew,
Cracked claws clawed across morning dew,
A hairy paw with nails long and sharp shot through the opening
Above the door and for the lock began searching.

A heartrending howl of frustration then was heard,
Without warning the probing fist did disappear
And there was an unnatural silence in the morning land,
The Hour of the dead Wolf was at hand.

Bang! Something outside the door had horribly burst,
Something had been flung with frightful force
But the cottage door was strong and held firm and fast
The Mother dryly spoke, “The terror has passed.”

“Has it?” said Freia as she with caution went to unhook the lock,
The handle was cold and her heart still in shock,
Her brow and hands wet with the nightmare’s perspiration,
She paused before the door in desperation.

Something lay on the ground before the door all blood and bone,
The sight would bring tears even to a stone,
Freia saw what the Water-Goblin had used to batter the door with,
O, how she wished to stitch her eyelids!

For there lay the lifeless body of her baby on the earth,
This was the baby to whom she had given birth,
Only a small finger remained of the golden curled girl,
The Water-Goblin’s curse had done the worst.

©Rangzeb Hussain
"The iniquity of the fathers upon the children."

O the rose of keenest thorn!
One hidden summer morn
Under the rose I was born.

I do not guess his name
Who wrought my Mother's shame,
And gave me life forlorn,
But my Mother, Mother, Mother,
I know her from all other.
My Mother pale and mild,
Fair as ever was seen,
She was but scarce sixteen,
Little more than a child,
When I was born
To work her scorn.
With secret bitter throes,
In a passion of secret woes,
She bore me under the rose.

One who my Mother nursed
Took me from the first:--
"O nurse, let me look upon
This babe that cost so dear;
To-morrow she will be gone:
Other mothers may keep
Their babes awake and asleep,
But I must not keep her here."--
Whether I know or guess,
I know this not the less.

So I was sent away
That none might spy the truth:
And my childhood waxed to youth
And I left off childish play.
I never cared to play
With the village boys and girls;
And I think they thought me proud,
I found so little to say
And kept so from the crowd:
But I had the longest curls,
And I had the largest eyes,
And my teeth were small like pearls;
The girls might flout and scout me,
But the boys would hang about me
In sheepish mooning wise.

Our one-street village stood
A long mile from the town,
A mile of windy down
And bleak one-sided wood,
With not a single house.
Our town itself was small,
With just the common shops,
And throve in its small way.
Our neighboring gentry reared
The good old-fashioned crops,
And made old-fashioned boasts
Of what John Bull would do
If Frenchman Frog appeared,
And drank old-fashioned toasts,
And made old-fashioned bows
To my Lady at the Hall.

My Lady at the Hall
Is grander than they all:
Hers is the oldest name
In all the neighborhood;
But the race must die with her
Though she's a lofty dame,
For she's unmarried still.
Poor people say she's good
And has an open hand
As any in the land,
And she's the comforter
Of many sick and sad;
My nurse once said to me
That everything she had
Came of my Lady's bounty:
"Though she's greatest in the county
She's humble to the poor,
No beggar seeks her door
But finds help presently.
I pray both night and day
For her, and you must pray:
But she'll never feel distress
If needy folk can bless."
I was a little maid
When here we came to live
From somewhere by the sea.
Men spoke a foreign tongue
There where we used to be
When I was merry and young,
Too young to feel afraid;
The fisher-folk would give
A kind strange word to me,
There by the foreign sea:
I don't know where it was,
But I remember still
Our cottage on a hill,
And fields of flowering grass
On that fair foreign shore.

I liked my old home best,
But this was pleasant too:
So here we made our nest
And here I grew.
And now and then my Lady
In riding past our door
Would nod to nurse and speak,
Or stoop and pat my cheek;
And I was always ready
To hold the field-gate wide
For my Lady to go through;
My Lady in her veil
So seldom put aside,
My Lady grave and pale.

I often sat to wonder
Who might my parents be,
For I knew of something under
My simple-seeming state.
Nurse never talked to me
Of mother or of father,
But watched me early and late
With kind suspicious cares:
Or not suspicious, rather
Anxious, as if she knew
Some secret I might gather
And smart for unawares.
Thus I grew.

But Nurse waxed old and gray,
Bent and weak with years.
There came a certain day
That she lay upon her bed
Shaking her palsied head,
With words she gasped to say
Which had to stay unsaid.
Then with a jerking hand
Held out so piteously
She gave a ring to me
Of gold wrought curiously,
A ring which she had worn
Since the day that I was born,
She once had said to me:
I slipped it on my finger;
Her eyes were keen to linger
On my hand that slipped it on;
Then she sighed one rattling sigh
And stared on with sightless eye:--
The one who loved me was gone.

How long I stayed alone
With the corpse I never knew,
For I fainted dead as stone:
When I came to life once more
I was down upon the floor,
With neighbors making ado
To bring me back to life.
I heard the sexton's wife
Say: "Up, my lad, and run
To tell it at the Hall;
She was my Lady's nurse,
And done can't be undone.
I'll watch by this poor lamb.
I guess my Lady's purse
Is always open to such:
I'd run up on my crutch
A ******* as I am,"
(For cramps had vexed her much,)
"Rather than this dear heart
Lack one to take her part."

For days, day after day,
On my weary bed I lay,
Wishing the time would pass;
O, so wishing that I was
Likely to pass away:
For the one friend whom I knew
Was dead, I knew no other,
Neither father nor mother;
And I, what should I do?

One day the sexton's wife
Said: "Rouse yourself, my dear:
My Lady has driven down
From the Hall into the town,
And we think she's coming here.
Cheer up, for life is life."

But I would not look or speak,
Would not cheer up at all.
My tears were like to fall,
So I turned round to the wall
And hid my hollow cheek,
Making as if I slept,
As silent as a stone,
And no one knew I wept.
What was my Lady to me,
The grand lady from the Hall?
She might come, or stay away,
I was sick at heart that day:
The whole world seemed to be
Nothing, just nothing to me,
For aught that I could see.

Yet I listened where I lay:
A bustle came below,
A clear voice said: "I know;
I will see her first alone,
It may be less of a shock
If she's so weak to-day":--
A light hand turned the lock,
A light step crossed the floor,
One sat beside my bed:
But never a word she said.

For me, my shyness grew
Each moment more and more:
So I said never a word
And neither looked nor stirred;
I think she must have heard
My heart go pit-a-pat:
Thus I lay, my Lady sat,
More than a mortal hour
(I counted one and two
By the house-clock while I lay):
I seemed to have no power
To think of a thing to say,
Or do what I ought to do,
Or rouse myself to a choice.

At last she said: "Margaret,
Won't you even look at me?"
A something in her voice
Forced my tears to fall at last,
Forced sobs from me thick and fast;
Something not of the past,
Yet stirring memory;
A something new, and yet
Not new, too sweet to last,
Which I never can forget.

I turned and stared at her:
Her cheek showed hollow-pale;
Her hair like mine was fair,
A wonderful fall of hair
That screened her like a veil;
But her height was statelier,
Her eyes had depth more deep:
I think they must have had
Always a something sad,
Unless they were asleep.

While I stared, my Lady took
My hand in her spare hand,
Jewelled and soft and grand,
And looked with a long long look
Of hunger in my face;
As if she tried to trace
Features she ought to know,
And half hoped, half feared, to find.
Whatever was in her mind
She heaved a sigh at last,
And began to talk to me.
"Your nurse was my dear nurse,
And her nursling's dear," said she:
"No one told me a word
Of her getting worse and worse,
Till her poor life was past"
(Here my Lady's tears dropped fast):
"I might have been with her,
I might have promised and heard,
But she had no comforter.
She might have told me much
Which now I shall never know,
Never, never shall know."
She sat by me sobbing so,
And seemed so woe-begone,
That I laid one hand upon
Hers with a timid touch,
Scarce thinking what I did,
Not knowing what to say:
That moment her face was hid
In the pillow close by mine,
Her arm was flung over me,
She hugged me, sobbing so
As if her heart would break,
And kissed me where I lay.

After this she often came
To bring me fruit or wine,
Or sometimes hothouse flowers.
And at nights I lay awake
Often and often thinking
What to do for her sake.
Wet or dry it was the same:
She would come in at all hours,
Set me eating and drinking,
And say I must grow strong;
At last the day seemed long
And home seemed scarcely home
If she did not come.

Well, I grew strong again:
In time of primroses
I went to pluck them in the lane;
In time of nestling birds
I heard them chirping round the house;
And all the herds
Were out at grass when I grew strong,
And days were waxen long,
And there was work for bees
Among the May-bush boughs,
And I had shot up tall,
And life felt after all
Pleasant, and not so long
When I grew strong.

I was going to the Hall
To be my Lady's maid:
"Her little friend," she said to me,
"Almost her child,"
She said and smiled,
Sighing painfully;
Blushing, with a second flush,
As if she blushed to blush.

Friend, servant, child: just this
My standing at the Hall;
The other servants call me "Miss,"
My Lady calls me "Margaret,"
With her clear voice musical.
She never chides when I forget
This or that; she never chides.
Except when people come to stay
(And that's not often) at the Hall,
I sit with her all day
And ride out when she rides.
She sings to me and makes me sing;
Sometimes I read to her,
Sometimes we merely sit and talk.
She noticed once my ring
And made me tell its history:
That evening in our garden walk
She said she should infer
The ring had been my father's first,
Then my mother's, given for me
To the nurse who nursed
My mother in her misery,
That so quite certainly
Some one might know me, who--
Then she was silent, and I too.

I hate when people come:
The women speak and stare
And mean to be so civil.
This one will stroke my hair,
That one will pat my cheek
And praise my Lady's kindness,
Expecting me to speak;
I like the proud ones best
Who sit as struck with blindness,
As if I wasn't there.
But if any gentleman
Is staying at the Hall
(Though few come prying here),
My Lady seems to fear
Some downright dreadful evil,
And makes me keep my room
As closely as she can:
So I hate when people come,
It is so troublesome.
In spite of all her care,
Sometimes to keep alive
I sometimes do contrive
To get out in the grounds
For a whiff of wholesome air,
Under the rose you know:
It's charming to break bounds,
Stolen waters are sweet,
And what's the good of feet
If for days they mustn't go?
Give me a longer tether,
Or I may break from it.

Now I have eyes and ears
And just some little wit:
"Almost my lady's child";
I recollect she smiled,
Sighed and blushed together;
Then her story of the ring
Sounds not improbable,
She told it me so well
It seemed the actual thing:--
O keep your counsel close,
But I guess under the rose,
In long past summer weather
When the world was blossoming,
And the rose upon its thorn:
I guess not who he was
Flawed honor like a glass
And made my life forlorn;
But my Mother, Mother, Mother,
O, I know her from all other.

My Lady, you might trust
Your daughter with your fame.
Trust me, I would not shame
Our honorable name,
For I have noble blood
Though I was bred in dust
And brought up in the mud.
I will not press my claim,
Just leave me where you will:
But you might trust your daughter,
For blood is thicker than water
And you're my mother still.

So my Lady holds her own
With condescending grace,
And fills her lofty place
With an untroubled face
As a queen may fill a throne.
While I could hint a tale
(But then I am her child)
Would make her quail;
Would set her in the dust,
Lorn with no comforter,
Her glorious hair defiled
And ashes on her cheek:
The decent world would ******
Its finger out at her,
Not much displeased I think
To make a nine days' stir;
The decent world would sink
Its voice to speak of her.

Now this is what I mean
To do, no more, no less:
Never to speak, or show
Bare sign of what I know.
Let the blot pass unseen;
Yea, let her never guess
I hold the tangled clew
She huddles out of view.
Friend, servant, almost child,
So be it and nothing more
On this side of the grave.
Mother, in Paradise,
You'll see with clearer eyes;
Perhaps in this world even
When you are like to die
And face to face with Heaven
You'll drop for once the lie:
But you must drop the mask, not I.

My Lady promises
Two hundred pounds with me
Whenever I may wed
A man she can approve:
And since besides her bounty
I'm fairest in the county
(For so I've heard it said,
Though I don't vouch for this),
Her promised pounds may move
Some honest man to see
My virtues and my beauties;
Perhaps the rising grazier,
Or temperance publican,
May claim my wifely duties.
Meanwhile I wait their leisure
And grace-bestowing pleasure,
I wait the happy man;
But if I hold my head
And pitch my expectations
Just higher than their level,
They must fall back on patience:
I may not mean to wed,
Yet I'll be civil.

Now sometimes in a dream
My heart goes out of me
To build and scheme,
Till I sob after things that seem
So pleasant in a dream:
A home such as I see
My blessed neighbors live in
With father and with mother,
All proud of one another,
Named by one common name,
From baby in the bud
To full-blown workman father;
It's little short of Heaven.
I'd give my gentle blood
To wash my special shame
And drown my private grudge;
I'd toil and moil much rather
The dingiest cottage drudge
Whose mother need not blush,
Than live here like a lady
And see my Mother flush
And hear her voice unsteady
Sometimes, yet never dare
Ask to share her care.

Of course the servants sneer
Behind my back at me;
Of course the village girls,
Who envy me my curls
And gowns and idleness,
Take comfort in a jeer;
Of course the ladies guess
Just so much of my history
As points the emphatic stress
With which they laud my Lady;
The gentlemen who catch
A casual glimpse of me
And turn again to see,
Their valets on the watch
To speak a word with me,
All know and sting me wild;
Till I am almost ready
To wish that I were dead,
No faces more to see,
No more words to be said,
My Mother safe at last
Disburdened of her child,
And the past past.

"All equal before God,"--
Our Rector has it so,
And sundry sleepers nod:
It may be so; I know
All are not equal here,
And when the sleepers wake
They make a difference.
"All equal in the grave,"--
That shows an obvious sense:
Yet something which I crave
Not death itself brings near;
How should death half atone
For all my past; or make
The name I bear my own?

I love my dear old Nurse
Who loved me without gains;
I love my mistress even,
Friend, Mother, what you will:
But I could almost curse
My Father for his pains;
And sometimes at my prayer,
Kneeling in sight of Heaven,
I almost curse him still:
Why did he set his snare
To catch at unaware
My Mother's foolish youth;
Load me with shame that's hers,
And her with something worse,
A lifelong lie for truth?

I think my mind is fixed
On one point and made up:
To accept my lot unmixed;
Never to drug the cup
But drink it by myself.
I'll not be wooed for pelf;
I'll not blot out my shame
With any man's good name;
But nameless as I stand,
My hand is my own hand,
And nameless as I came
I go to the dark land.

"All equal in the grave,"--
I bide my time till then:
"All equal before God,"--
To-day I feel His rod,
To-morrow He may save:
brandon nagley Aug 2015

Mother, I seeith thine pain, in thine own depression
Mother, thou hath given me life, I'm thy and God's invention;
Mother, thy halo thou weareth shineth so brightly to me
Turned fifty three yesterday, but mum, thou still looketh 23.


Mother, thou art now getting in thine own golden year's
Mother, when they maketh fun of me, thou dryeth mine tear's;
Mother, I shouldst hath listened, when thou saidst I'd be hurt
Mother, thou taught me forgiving and love is what life's worth!


Mother, mine best friend, and past life caregiver to me
Mother, thou was right, its mine light other's just canst not seeith;
Mother, I knoweth thou art worried for mine physical health
Mother, if something happen's, I promise to waiteth for thyself.


Mother, we've cometh along way, as thou hath seen me in cell's
Mother, I've seen thou to, in pits of doom,behind glass I yelled;
Mother, hell and back we've cometh from, seeing the world end
Mother, as thou helpeth me groweth, I'll helpeth thee to friend.


Mother, shadow of mine, musical muse, and gods divine
Mother, we've made mistakes, with no brakes to stop the mind;
Mother, tommorrow if either of us shalt loose ourn last breathe
Mother, sorry little late on the birthday writing, but thou art best.

Love thy son
Brandon cory nagley

©Brandon nagley
©Lonesome poet's poetry
©Juna nagley birthday dedication
Terry Collett Apr 2015
Yes Helen muses Id like to meet Benny by the Duke of Wellington but to ask Mum first and I dont think shell mind as its Benny as she likes Benny and his mum and mine know each other and talk to each other at the school gates and when they talk they talk and yes if I ask Mum nicely and when shes not busy shell let me go but I cant leave it too long or the time will go and he will have gone if Im not at the Duke of Wellington by ten past ten this morning has as he is going to the herbalist shop to buy liquorice sticks and sarsaparilla by the glassful and Benny says it makes blood so if I drink a pint I will make a pint of blood and hopefully I wont spillover with blood she waits a few minutes while her mother puts away the shopping Helen had bought home from Baldys and looking at her mother making sure her mothers features did not show too much stress and timing it right that was the key Benny told her once timing is the key he said her mother walks around the kitchen seemingly busy the baby crawling around her mothers feet and the smell of nappies boiling on the stove steam rising smell of it Mum she asks can I go out with Benny to the herbalist shop and buy some liquorice sticks and sarsaparilla? her mother picks up the baby she hugs him close smells his rear end pulls a face what did you say? her mother asks holding baby a little distance away from her arms out stretched walking to the put-down table over the bath and placing baby down can I go with Benny to the herbalist shop and get some sarsaparilla and liquorice sticks? Helen repeats standing with fingers crossed behind her back when are you wanting to go? her mother asks unpinning babys ***** and the smell erupting into the room and air as soon as I am allowed Helen says trying not to breath in hoping her mother will say yes but her mother hesitates her features ******* up her fingers pulling back the offending ***** and dropping it in a pail at her feet bring me a clean ***** from the other room Helen and some talcum power and some cream and best get some other safety pins as these are a bit well not fit to put on again until theyve been washed o keep still you little perisher dont move your legs so and no dont piddle on me go on then Helen dont dawdle so Helen walks into the other room and collects a ***** from the fireguard and talcum powder and cream and pins from the bag by the chair and takes them to her mother who is struggling to hold the baby in one place and clean up the smelling liquid and mess  and waving a hand in front of her face to give her fresher air give them here then girl I cant wait all day and here hold his legs the little figit so I can get him clean properly Helen pulls a face and carefully reaches over to try and hold her brothers legs still while her mother attempts to clean him up but her brothers legs move at a pace and hes quite strong for one so small she thinks hold him hold him her mother says Helen does her best for a little girl not yet in double figures there done it her mother says hes done now right take him and put him in the cot in the other room while I wash these nappies out can I? Helen asks can I go? go where? what do you want now? her mother says to go to the herbalist with Benny Helen asks he asked me this morning while I was getting the shopping at Baldys her mother put on the kettle and empties the nappies in the big sink when did you want to go? as soon as I am allowed Helen says gazing at her mother through her thin wired thick lens glasses hoping her mum will say yes off you go well you cant always rush off you know not when I may need you after all youre my big girl the oldest of the tribe but as youve been good this one time you can go but mind the roads and keep with Benny and if you need to go to loo make sure its a clean place and put some toilet paper on the seat you dont know who sits on them things ok I will Helen says trying to recall all her mothers instructions can I go now? she asks hoping her mother will not change her mind at the last minute best go now then her mother says its nine fifty nine fifty? Helen says what's that mean? ten minutes to ten her mother says o right Helen says and rushes into the passage way and put on your raincoat it looks like rain her mother calls out I got it Helens says and rushes out the door and down the stairs carefully not wanting fall down the steep steps she holds on to the stair rail and then out into the street and bright fresh air and dull clouds and she walks along Rockingham Street under the railway bridge and there he is Benny hands in his jeans pockets his hair and quiff creamed down and his hazel eyes gazing at her blimey he says youre earlier than I thought youd be he takes in her hair plaited into two and her thin wire framed glasses making her eyes larger than they are had to help Mum with my baby brother she says hed messed his ***** and Mum had to clean him up and needed me to help and gosh the smell Benny enough to make you feel sick and anyway Im here now o but I havent money I forgot to ask Mum for money she says biting a lip looking back towards where shed come I got money Benny says rattling coins in his jeans pocket she smiles and looks at him he gives her the kind of smile she likes the kind that makes her feel safe and wanted and she loves the coat he wears with the odd buttons and and his quiff of air and his warm what shall we do now stare.
Terry Collett Aug 2016
Lizbeth had cycled home after seeing Benny at the small lifeless hamlet where he lived, and entered the kitchen of her parents' house by the back door, where her mother was preparing lunch. Her mother moodily gazed at her, stopping the preparation of lunch. Where have you been to? Her mother asked. Out cycling, Lizbeth replied, wanting to move on and up the stairs to her room. Where did you go? Her mother said, eyeing her daughter over with a critical eye. Out for a ride in the fresh air to see the countryside, and not be cooped up here, on a sunny day, Lizbeth said, wanting to be done with the conversation such as it was. Wearing that short black dress? Cycling? Her mother said, I've told you put it away, it is too short for you now that you've grown. I like it, Lizbeth said. It shows too much, her mother said, leave it out, it will fit your younger cousin. They stared at each other. If I must, Lizbeth said, is that all? Can I go now? Her mother stared at her daughter. If I spoke to my mother like you speak to me, I would have got a good hiding, her mother said, sighing, looking away from her daughter, gazing at the kitchen wall where a clock tick-tocked. Sorry, Lizbeth said, I shouldn't speak like that, but I'm on and it makes me moody. Do you want lunch? Her mother said, turning away from the clock, and gazing at her thirteen year old daughter. No, I'm not hungry, Lizbeth said. Silence settled between them like a dark curtain.They stared at each other. Lizbeth walked off up the stairs. Her mother sighed and settled once more to preparing her own lunch. Lizbeth opened her bedroom door, went in and shut the door behind her, and leaned against it. Third degree each time I go out. She walked to her bed and lay down, her shoes on the eiderdown, which her mother always told her not to do; it was her little bit of defiance, little bit of saying: up you. Benny hadn't wanted to. She thought he might have weakened, but he hadn't. They'd been to the small church again; she had hoped he might have agreed to have *** with her this time on one of the narrow benches, but he didn't. She sighed. Waste of her morning sitting in the boring church hoping he might. He had stared around the church. She had wanted him so much she burned. She thought second time round might be lucky, but no, he was determined not to as she was that they should. They didn't. She had even put on the short black dress for him. She had put her leg against his, his thigh touching hers. God's house he had said the time before. We can't not here he said. Where then? She had asked. He didn't answer. That ****** Jane girl is behind it. He fancies her. The ****** ****** queen. He won't get into her knickers. Lizbeth could hear the radio from the kitchen playing. Classical stuff. Her mother singing along with some woman on the radio some aria. God forbid. The *** book that a girl at school had lent her she had given back after her mother found it and told her father who suggested she give it back(if she had  finished it he had said). She had. She missed the book. The pictures were fascinating. Her father never saw the book, but her mother had and was fuming about it. The pictures her mother had said were disgusting. Gone now. Given back. Lizbeth turned on her side and gazed at the window and the view beyond. She wanted Benny on the bed. She had almost that time she met him in town, and brought him back, and her mother was out shopping, and he had almost, but at the last moment, he had not, he went and she was left hot. Birds flew in the blue sky. The tree in the garden swayed slightly, its branches waving. If he were here now, what then? If she had managed to get him past her hawk-eyed mother, what would he have done this time? Nothing, I suppose. But what if he had said yes? More chance the Pope being a woman. She turned onto her back and stared at the white ceiling. The pink flowery light shade was her mother's choice. She wanted purple. If he was here now, would he? She raised her legs up so her shoes touched her dress. Her dress fell back down her thighs, showing off her knees. She could pretend he was there. Beside her. She laid her hand on the eiderdown beside her. Him there. She patted the bed. Her mother's voice hung in the air on a high note. She imagined he put his hand on her left leg. She put her hand there. Touched. Gentle. Closed her eyes. He would lift her dress hem. She fingered the hem and lifted it. She almost had him that day. She had undressed before him to ****** him into action. He had just stared after removing his shirt(or she had removed it). No like this he had said. Yes like this she had said. He had dressed and handed her clothes to put back on. Her mother's voice had stopped singing. Silence. She opened her eyes. Benny was gone. The bed beside her empty of him. Hard to pretend. He will the girl at school had said he will weaken. He hadn't. That ****** Jane has him in her purity power. Music began on the radio again. Her mother's voice singing along with a woman again. Lizbeth kicked off her shoes and they fell to the floor with a clunk. She lay there moody. Legs down straight. Eyes staring at the pick flowery light shade. If only he would. Here or in church or in the hay barn or in his bedroom (where she had been once when he had showed her his birds' eggs collection and fossils in a glass tank). If only he would. If only he. If only. If. It would be good.
Graff1980 Sep 2018
A small pale faced figure stands, enshrouded in darkness, while a hauntingly sweet song softly echoes through the cave.

“There’ll be days
precious moments
see them sunning
by the bay
till, the sea
sees the star light,
blinking angels

Somewhere in this sightless void a larger form slumbers. Moans of agony pass this man’s parched parted lips.  Tears moisten his painfully swollen face. The stench of sweat, *****, feces, and fetid breath fill the air around him. An alarm sounds as the last battery from the compact heater finally dies. Sloan shivers as the temperature within the cave begins to drop.
Mother mercy watches with a well-practiced stare of concern. She slides a thin, torn, and brown stained sheet over Sloan’s shuddering body. It does little to comfort the sick man. His ragged breaths slowly shift to slightly less raggedy breaths. Mother Mercy watches for a few more moments to make sure that he will not die, then settles down in a corner for the night.
Electric dreams of long ago float in the forefront of her mind. A bone thin boy of barely teenage years stumbles into a broken-down building that was once the Canadian Gazette. Stray rays of light from an overhead window brighten the small room, illuminating gun black filing cabinets, and dark wooden cubbies, colored with well-worn grey paint, which hold crumbled bits of old newspapers; One of the papers read, “Mass Methane Leak Poisons Ground Water and Air”.   Each step stirs up dust causing him to cough. Mother mercy can hear the congestion in his cough and see the fever in his scarlet flushed face. His eyes are a rabid red flitting left to right, searching for any sign of danger. A loud noise causes him to flinch. Mother Mercy moves forward, trying to speak to the boy, but like a doe sensing danger he prepares to dart.

She finds her voice. “Please. Do not leave. I can help you.” She pleads mechanically.

He moves forward, tentatively attempting to touch her. She can see a sharp scar that runs from under his right eye down to his thick dry cracked lips. He tries to speak, exposing his yellow and browning teeth and the many gaps therein.
Suddenly, daggers of light push past and through his young body. He does not cry out, but merely succumbs to disintegration. Then……
Then Mother Mercy awakens to a new morning. Waves of light bring the cavern to life.
Sunshine moves in and across the cave to expose uneven earth, and a dirt encrusted cave wall, which is oddly void of any insect life. Her hazel eyes quickly adjust to the oncoming onslaught of daylight. Once again, she checks the man to make sure he is alive. Sloan’s chest rises and falls in an unsteady rhythm, which is all she can really hope for.
She slides dark brown locks of long hair out of her eerily symmetrical face. She brushes the dust off her tattered tan coat, and her holey faded jeans. With a couple of rapid sweeping motions, she removes almost all the dirt, and pebbles from the breast of her inner shirt.
Off to the left of the cave, and still covered by shadows a small machine awaits her inspection. She examines each tube, cord, and gauge with a military proficiency. Then using the jury-rigged straps, she places the machine on her back. Heading out of the cave, Mother Mercy stops, picks up the batteries from the small heating device, and checks Sloan one more time. Finally, with her bare feet fully outside she sets off for the day’s labor.
The sky burns a bright orange interrupted by barely perceptible vapors of methane, and bluish grey cotton clouds. Despite the splendor of the morning there is nothing but silence; No dogs barking, or bees buzzing about their honey making business. There is no life to be found except for minor patches of multi-colored fauna that are randomly situated along her route. So, Mother Mercy breaks the silence with a song.

“There’ll be years
yarn unspinning
as we stumble
towards our graves,
but the seconds
in-between breaths
are what make
this life so great,”

A few miles along the way, she stops singing, and begins to check the tiny traps she has planted along her daily path. Each carefully constructed device is sadly empty. Three or four more hours after that the silence evaporates and she can hear a small stream of water running. She stops and stares down at her bare feet.

“There is something I forgot to put on my feet.” She queries to herself while continuing to walk.

A few moments pass as she puzzles out the minor mystery. Once she makes it to the edge of the stream, an awkward smile fills her tiny round face. Mother Mercy removes the machine from her back, letting it fall to the ground. It makes a loud thud and sinks several inches into the slightly softened earth.  In a movement so swift human eyes could barely perceive it, she jumps up, rising several feet in the air while crossing a considerable distance, and finally lands in the stream. Soft sizzles sound from her bare feet, as she slowly grinds them into the mud. Then Mother Mercy sloshes sloppily out of the water wearing a thick layer of dark brown mud on her feet.

“Of course, how could I forget. I need mud to cool my feet.”

She walks back to the machine, pulls it out of the ground with ease, and returns to the stream. Next, she submerges the device. Waiting till it is completely full of water, she pulls it out, and begins fiddling with knobs and switches. She waits as the water boils, completely evaporates, filters, cools, and finally condensates back into liquid. Deftly, she removes one of the filters and shakes out all the unknown particulates. Then she opens a tiny compartment, and places a small sensor device within in the water to check its quality. After a satisfactory reading she places the water filtration system back on her back and heads down a different path.
The mud on Mother Mercy’s feet dries; Dark brown shades lighten, crust up and chip off in little flakes. Irritated, she begins to slide her feet through the almost nonexistent foliage to scrape off the remainder of the drying mud. With each small patch of grass Mother Mercy moves her feet faster and faster. Her left foot flows back and forth with incredible speed and strength. There is a loud clink and a chipped piece of rock soars across the air.
In puzzlement, Mercy stares down at her foot and finds that it has split open. Red and black fluid streams from the seam of torn skin, which expands and exposes metallic bone. As she moves, the wire insulation from within her foot ruptures, revealing cheap copper conductor. The hot metal sparks, lighting up the methane in the air. A scorching white, orange, and bluish outlined fireball expands with enough force to launch Mother Mercy up and back off her feet.

She hits the ground hard, and curses,” ******* methane!”

White synthetic skin begins to melt, shifting and swirling into grotesque shapes, and darker shades of red. Mother Mercy rises, unsteadily. Wincing in pain, she unloads her heavy water filter burden. Again, she checks all the tubes, cords, and gauges. What was once a thing of ease now becomes quite burdensome. She places the filter system on her back again, and resumes her journey. The red and black liquid continues to leak. Each steps becomes slower than the last. Until, she reaches her destination. Mother Mercy collapses next to a series of solar panels. With what little strength she has left, she detaches one of the charged batteries. A look of distress crosses her already agonized face.

“I’m sorry.” She softly sobs to herself. “I need this one.”

Mercy pulls a flap of skin from the right side of her waist. An intricate maze of wires, metal, and fake flesh pulsates. Her hand plunges deep within the slimy cavity, twists, and removes a damaged battery. It is bent, and cracked leaking a thick acid liquid which viciously burns her hand. She tosses it aside then slips the unbroken battery inside the cavity, twists it, waits for the click, then removes her acid, and viscous liquid covered hand.
The synthetic skin slowly starts to unburn, shifting in reverse till it returns to its previously pristine quality. Her foot begins to pop and all the parts snap back into their original place as the split skin slowly stiches itself back together.
Mercy harvests the rest of the charged batteries and places the used ones in their charging slots. Finally, with the days labors done she heads back to the cave.
Once she is at the cave she washes a stray rag. Then cleans her hands. Cradling Sloan, she slowly serves him some water. Once he has had his fill. She gently rolls him on his side moves his shirt up searching for any sores, then proceeds to softly scrub them. She rolls him in the opposite direction and repeats the process. Then she checks his inner thighs, and **** cheeks. Sloan winces in pain but remains quiet. She gently lays him back, and rolls up his pant legs, washing the bare skin which is littered with more nasty sores. She finishes by washing his face, hands, and his feet.  Finally, she sends him to sleep with a sweet song

“and the children
that we leave
littles daughters
full grown sons
are like blooms
that lose their trees
as our roots
wither and flee.”

Mother Mercy is consumed by an unnatural fatigue. She resists slumber for a few minutes, but inevitably succumbs. Everything becomes nothingness, then changes to nothingness with dizzy brown spots. Yellow sparks split from the tip of her consciousness. The darkness dissolves and becomes the cave again. Small streams of water worm their way in from the cracks on the wall, which seems to breath unevenly. Suddenly she realizes the cave stinks like sewage. Fresh wind works its way in then blows out a stark stench of rot. Each exhale sounds like a human moaning in pain. The last flickers of light die a long-protracted death.
A wheezing breath stirs Mother Mercy from her dreams. She awakens quickly to see Sloan gasping violently.  She rushes to his side, and sees a thick yellow and greenish gooey fluid mixed with blood sliding down the side of his jaw. With her left arm she flips him over holds his upper body inches off the ground, wipes away the disgusting fluid, and checks the abscess with her free hand.

“Spit it out.” She pleads.

Sloan continues to gasp. Tears swell but refuse to fall.

“Pleebees, helpep, me.” He struggles, coughing violently.

Mother Mercy cradles him in her arms, singing,

“Till, the song
that I am singing
becomes the song
that they passed on
and the love
that I was bringing
are the wheels
that just roll on.”

Sloan, gasps and wheezes for several minutes more. Tears and sweat fill his face.

“Mob where’s my mob?” He cries between gasping breaths.

Two hours later slumber finally reclaims Sloan. An hour after that Mercy gently places his pained body back into its original position. After another half an hour she to surrenders to sleep. She sees nothing.

A stern voice commands,” **** the enemy.”

Mercy cries in response, “There are no more enemies.”

Mother Mercy awakens to a new morning. Once again, she checks the man to make sure he is alive. Sloan’s chest rises and falls. She wipes off a spot of pus and blood left over from last night’s abscess leakage.  The swelling has slightly receded, but his face is still feverishly warm to the touch. She switches out one drained battery from the heater for a fully charged one then grabs the water filter, and heads off to start the day’s labor, singing.

“So, goodnight
little planet
precious place
that I lived on.
I know you won’t
miss me one bit
but I was grateful
to call you home.”

— The End —