July – Rosie Garland

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When you grow up

At night, she leaps and does not land. Spreads her arms and soars
above the fenced and neatly weeded garden. Her dreams
are practice sessions where she lifts cars, sees through walls, fights

dragons. She is a pirate captain, a queen, a horse. She is neither girl
nor boy: the distinctions are irrelevant when her small body encompasses
male and female, human, beast. A turbulent child figure-heading

the prow of her beaked ship, she buckles on armour, rescues
princesses from spinning wheels and charming princes,
fearless of the shapes beneath the bed. Too soon

she hears the call: Breakfast! Now! Blinks this world into focus.
Hushes battle cries, sets her teeth against the summons
to dolls, dresses, a future sweet with happy-ever- afters

and you’ll change. You’ll see. She sheathes her sword
between the pages of her book. Every bedtime her mother tucks in
the sheet of husband, marriage, children: tucks it in tight.

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Fast

Carol Marsden is in a hurry to get out
of her school uniform. She skips
last period (Biology. Boring). On the back seat
she hoists her blazer as a screen, fingers fumbling
to unknot her tie, cheeks flushed
with Mary Quant blusher.

By the time the bus skids
into the turning circle next to Boots,
her skirt and sensible shoes are stripped, stowed,
swapped for satin flares and a flap-collared shirt.
She is first out of the swinging doors, racing
over the road to her apprentice-builder boyfriend:
grabs his half-smoked cigarette and sucks
it to the stub in one deep hectic gulp.

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Still Life with Parrots

Her rule; anything not worn for two years goes
The bin bag gapes. She stuffs it
with sale bargains, tags still dangling:

the coat kept for a best which never came
the stilettos that made her hobble,
a cashmere sweater lost to moths,

the gloves with itchy feather cuffs,
brooches missing half their stones,
a magpie nest of hairgrips

and a stormy blue kimono, exploding
with a jungle of macaws, beaks cracked
wide. The fabric waterfalls

between her fingers, rips under its own weight.
Pulling free of the satin drag,
the birds flap, tearing their threads.

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Personal questions

Sure, you can ask me a personal question – Diane Burns


No, I’m not a smoker. No, I never have been.
Yes, it’s one that smokers get.
No, I’m not a heavy drinker. No, I never have been.
Yes, it’s one that drinkers get.
Yes, you can say it’s unfair.
No, I don’t see it that way.

No, this isn’t a punk haircut.
No, this isn’t a perm.
No, it wasn’t this curly before.
No, I don’t want to wear a wig.
Yes, I could get one on the NHS. A pretty one. A good one.
No, I don’t want to wear a scarf.
Yes, I could get one on the NHS. A pretty one. A good one.

No, I haven’t tried multi-vitamins.
Or selenium.
Or coenzyme Q10.
Or folic acid.
Or beta-carotene.
Or coffee enemas.
Or broccoli.
Or linseed.
Or the Gershon technique.

Yes, it’s the same as Michael Douglas.
And Julie Andrews.
Yes, things have moved on since you were a child.
Yes, there’s a better chance these days.
Yes, it’s amazing what they can do.

Thanks for saying I look well.
No, I don’t feel it.
No, I don’t like it when you squeeze my hand.
Or hug me.
Or stroke my hair.
And say it’s soft as a baby’s.

Yes, these electric wheelchairs are useful.
Ah, so you think they’re brilliant.
Ah, so you’d like one yourself to get about.

No, I don’t think I’m brave.
Really, I don’t see my self as brave.
No, really.
If you must, then.

No, there’s nothing you can do for me.
No, there’s nothing you can do.

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The Ghost of You

We were sisters in sickness, two chemo chicks.
Made jokes no-one else could understand;
like do you know who I am?
because it was easy to lose sight of things
as small as names through the fog of narcotics.

We cheerleadered each other through the sweats,
the sickness, the boredom, the thankless task
of grinding through those long weeks on the ward.
We held quiet tickertape parades to celebrate
the tiniest gains in weight, or getting out of bed,
showered and dressed before midday.

We traded recipes for gentle custards, soups; rejoiced
when we discovered how to make tofu taste of something.
We teetered down our private catwalk
comparing scarves, hats, long-sleeved shirts
that could cover up tracklines left by the canula.
We giggled at the ugly prescription wigs;
went bald together, braved out the stares.

We invented new sports: One Hundred Metre Barfing
and Speed Waddling with Zimmer Frame.
We panted out our marathon, but when I breasted
the yellow tape I turned to find you gone;
fallen behind somewhere I could not return,
your fire stamped out. The path ahead is lonely.
Your memory sparkles. Your photographs still shine.

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Funeral songs

While you’re here –

I want the Kinks. Because they were cheerful,
grew their hair long (which is still boyish wild),
sang Thank You For The Day and I am thankful

for the grind of coffee incensing the stairs,
the hours it takes to simmer chicken soup,
the bronze of autumn sun on the chimney stack,
rain scouring out the gutters. Clean, clean.

While you have a moment –

I want my ears to brim with Sandy Denny, voice clear
as a breaking heart: Who Knows Where The Time Goes.
It’s a tough question. I will think it over but
not till I’m lying in my box or wicker basket (I leave that choice to you).

There will come a time when I let slip my hold.
Till then, let us celebrate the taste of now,
how rich the fragrance of each moment as it blooms
in my hand: life wide open, petals spread.

 

 

Acknowledgements:

When you grow up – first published in Best of Manchester Poets 3
Fast – first published in Prole, issue 11
Still Life with Parrots – first published in Loose Muse Anthology 4
Personal questions – Hippocrates Poetry Prize 2013, commended
The Ghost of You – first published The Intima, 2013
Funeral songs – unpublished