The Mulberry Tree (circa. 1600)

 

Beneath the mulberry tree, the ground moved

and I looked up at the dark tangled limbs:

arms and legs of children who’d ever played there.

Mulberries fell about my feet;     

my mother’s voice intervened       Mind where you walk

dog-dirt on the hop-scotch pink pavement

outside our house, the cold lounge, aroma of gin and orange,     

roast turkey on Christmas morning. Always at eleven o’clock, 

            dong      dong      of the grandfather clock.

Raise your glasses, father would say       To absent friends!

 

Names that followed, gone away, killed in wars.

The carpet with maroon roses, squashed mulberries,

and up above, the grown-ups lifting their warm arms.     

            Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!

 

Beneath the mulberry tree,

the children who grew up and went away      sang      sang.       

            Here we go around the mulberry bush,

            the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush...

Someone offered me a bottle of homemade mulberry wine.         

The ground moved.

            It does, she said.

 

Much later, you and I at the table with the wine,     

plain label, printed name.

We discussed how to soak it, to save it      forever.

Pulled the cork, poured the wine,

raised our glasses      To absent friends!

 

It tasted awful...

 

 

Children on trampoline-1000526.jpg

 

 

 

 

At the house where my father was born

 

            ‘It hurts to go through walls, it makes you sick,

            but it’s necessary.’ − Tomas Tranströmer

 

 

I’d expected a labyrinth of small dark rooms, yet

the house was lit marigold        scooped out like a pumpkin for Halloween

Flames flickered and spat in a wide fireplace

        a seaweedy stench had swept in      brushed walls with sea mist

Oak beams as broad as shoulders      seemed safe

                        the floor dipped like a ship

 

There was a tavern of voices outside

            laughter      bickering      sniggering     

gossip in the street      lingering Victorian morals

                        Crash of sea over rocks        din of death bells

                                                                                    It was 1917

                                  

I was through that door        that painting        that wall to god knows where

           

A Woman in Blue Reading a Letter    

                        a crinkly unfolding of paper sound

a letter that never came            after the Somme

 

Her sigh      swish of skirt    

            I turned      she passed the mirror      a silvery blur

                        a light crunch of shoe on wooden board

            I saw the horror of her unwed shame      in my own face     

                        the same mirror that once held her 

 

O to curl into the stillness of that blue velvet chair          

                        its painterly stopping of time

Walls giddied me        terrified me         the emptiness of that room

            She was banished         

                        He grew as his grandma’s thirteenth child                         

 

                                  *      *      *

 

I went through silence        a room bathed with pale sunlight

            It was late afternoon in winter   

From a window        across a meadow towards the sea   

I saw him walking away

He carried the burden of those walls      

on his dark days        dark, dark, days

            Shoulders hunched    

            he went towards the sea   

                                    the openness of the sea      

                                                                         the sea...

 

 

Alfriston window-1001913.jpg

 

 

 

 

Above a Seedy Bridal Shop

 

You never know what to expect      in a holiday let

booked on the internet.

The Dickensian street      had a decadent feel.

Flat two      I found above a seedy bridal shop.

The door was ajar.

A vestibule      whiffed of mothballs and peppermint breath.

Then as I went up the stairs      the air took on a hazy tint.

A glass table      opaque as an iced cake.      Dusty.     

A spray of whitish flowers

            anemones      roses      campion      forget-me-nots

stuffed in a vase      as if hurled by a bride      and caught     

by a girl with cautious hands.      Then ditched.        

A chipped vase had a nipped in waist      laced at the back

            twisted and wrung like a dishcloth      tight as a corset.

Even the spiders had fled.

The ivory clock      had stopped at a twenty to nine.

 

Despite what the website implied:

a clock wound each Saturday      (on changeover day)

            a barefoot Isadora with flowing dusters

                        fresh flowers tied with blue satin ribbons

fluid baroque folds      a möbius strip      the turning of wrists.

And something new      a window view:    

            a Rodin replica      La Cathédrale      in the street

A scent of summer flowers lifts skyward      the blurb said

            ethereal      choral voices in a medieval church.

Left in the lurch

that clock too      had stopped at a twenty to nine.

 

 

Flowers in vase-2.jpg

 

 

 

 

Doris Lessing, 1959

 

there she is                                          fag in hand                              

pensive                                    dark bobbed hair                    

shirt-waister frock                  crimplene

 

i caste my eye                                     along a shelf                           

faded paper-backs                   titles

intricate                                   as vertebrae                            

i touch a spine                         take a book                             

parched pages                         crack open                              

ochred                                     dusty      

the mustiness                          of vintage shops         

other people’s             houses             last night’s cooking smells     

 

i am immersed                         in dystopian tales                  

(vivid                                       as yesterday)

bravery of women                   in science fiction                    

the era                                                 of golden notebooks

 

yet surely this photo              is incomplete

unless

                                                she is about to speak

 

 

Lewes High St looking down-0839.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

Sisters

 

The promenade is monochrome.      We push through sea mist.     

Poppy was six the year she had TB.            Now she asks

what it was like for me.      My raincoat clings like dank seaweed.               

                                                            My lips part      but don’t speak.

 

Outside a shut door      I hear a doctor murmur      sanatorium.    

Our mother’s nurse-voice:      No!  

We push through blindness      my ring clinks a chrome railing.

Old people in parked cars peer through half moons of windscreens

            sip thermos tea      wait for mist to lift −        

                        hush of the shore      sanatorium      sanatorium. No!   

 

Creep away      slink in shadows      corridors      flat against walls    

            make myself scarce.       I am selfish.                    

 

                                                                                    Words won’t form.       

Our shoes crunch crunch      a storm has thrashed pebbles across the path. 

Wrenched apart like an arm from a doll       for a year.      No children near.     

Her room is quiet as daisies in grass.            Mine is drab.      Dark:       

                                                a ship’s horn booms through the gloom.

 

I search for words.     

We link arms      a breakwater emerges down the slope of the beach.     

I push further into thickness of the past  

                                                darkness heartens      hearkens ...

                                    opens into a softness      the warmth of mauve.

 

An oval mirror veiled with silk.      Auntie Phyllis smells of lavender.        

Her silver-backed hairbrush is heavy      she lets me brush her long black hair

down to her waist       it has threads of white.      At night      we listen

to the swish of the sea      sew sequins on damask.   

 

The chalk cliff towers above      craggy and bright.     

Our mother washes salt-encrusted windows with a sponge and soapy water —

pale sunlight seeps into the house on the edge of the cliff.

Poppy’s hair has grown into a cascade of gold.

                                                                        Daffodils laughed I say.

 

 

Fairy dresses-1001210.jpg

 

 

 

 

Dead Bells      

(in the grounds of a psychiatric hospital, 1959)

 

The wood was out of bounds.

Strange people lingered there      and stared. 

But Poppy and me      crept out the garden gate     

                        raced through summer grass     

quickly trampling stinging nettles.     

            The trees much taller closer-up!

Cow parsley made us sneeze     

            we squeezed      through a brambly gap. 

 

In the cavernous wood      sky disappeared.

Moss grew underfoot      the air was dank as mist.

We stopped      and stared:

                                    a lake of deep violet-blue. 

Trees towered all around                  

                                    dark-coated men      the dead.

 

A breeze      stirred      the blue.   

We stroked a silken surface      smoothed a tepid lake.     

Picked a single stem to have a closer look:

                        five       frail      pendulous bells.

 

A hush of insect buzz      leaf rustle.

Sparrows      flitted      strung their words in dares!

We looped our gingham skirts      into apron pockets     

            picked the pretty bluebells       irresistibly.     

 

                        ***  

Our mother was aghast          at where we’d been

            but      poor bluebells      was all she said.           

No more than girls like us      turning drab already.    

                                                             

We put fist-fulls of bluebells in jam jars   

                                    for a last drink of water.

At dawn      we stared at the dead.

 

 

Horse in field-1001819.jpg

 

 

 

 

Miss Philipou’s Class

           

I travel back and forth through years      different hemispheres.

Poetry began in this little book.     

The maroon linen cover faded brick-pink      gold lettering dulled     

but clear as Braille to touch      the radiance of everyday words.     

Leafy-patterned endpapers      eggshell       speckled with mould      

                        Left in the rain.      A blue-inked name.     

 

I turn pages      

            Miss Philipou’s voice      switches on      like a radio song.

                        Narrative Poetry      she cries with darting eyes

            pushing-up her black-ribbed sleeves      jingling silver bangles.

            We shop in Goblin Market      skip through streets of Hamelin.

                        Listen to a wedding speech.      Marvel

            at the wingspan of an Albatross.      Repeat the O! 

                        of The Wraggle Taggle Gypsies O!

            Help build a canoe      for Hiawatha’s sailing.

 

We chant by rote:      Deirdre alongside      a cast on her arm     

scribbled with autographs.      Susan      Beryl      Gina.

Margarita      in pink plastic spectacles     her empty seat     

            remedial classes with Sister Bernadette.     

Helen went out with a boy      from the Secondary Modern.

But Jane Hallem      her long red hair in front of me

                                                died in childbirth at just sixteen.

Her mother wore a grey serge coat      pushed a black pram around town.

 

 

Free films-0988.jpg

 

 

 

 

An Attic Window (Montmartre)

 

11pm:      a midsummer Saturday night.

It was a giddying height above the hub-bub      the whooping it up

            shrieks      laughter      along the Place du Théâtre.     

In a café      with an olive green awning      an accordion played Piaf.       

                                                 

A dog yapped on a wrought-iron balcony     a flame geranium.     

Shutters flung open like an advent calendar      a lamp or two         

            a room lined with books      a woman poured a glass of wine.           

I pondered a rear window line for this poem      a cinematography            

but a child wandered onto a balcony.     

I couldn’t look.      A cobbled street below.     

I turned from the window      the ceiling sloped to the floor.

I heard motor-bikes roar      revelry      the night punctured with sirens.

    

In a dream I recalled      a box-brownie photo of me      beside a swing     

            three badges pinned      proudly      to my school blazer lapel.

I thought I was tall      but I was small     

                        blue ribbons      on my tight plaits      flew back.      

I swung high      and dropped      from a starless sky.

 

                                    ***    

I had no idea      how melancholy      the morning would be.

            I thought of the day after Septimus fell.

Trees scattered leaves in the square      a deserted theatre door

            a closed boulangerie      tiny boutique       a silent school.    

Shopkeepers swept rubbish      hosed pavements     

                                                            rivulets ran down gutters.     

I climbed steep steps in shadow of the Sacré Coeur Basilica.

            The bells dong      donged      and swelled ...

 

 

Dieppe looking down-0491.jpg

 

 

 

 

Anemones (black & white)

 

In the momento mori     of the photograph

heliotropic faces of anemones      are raised      adoringly           

                                    stems clasped in a vase      invisibly.

           

Prior to the moment      let’s call it 8pm      a summer’s night.     

I watch from the wings     

            midnight-blue velvet drapes      along the window ledge

                                    an oblique angle     twist of the head.

 

The photographer      on the ceiling      rests      

            flat as a bed      peering through the crystal chandelier.

She wears camouflage      shell-pink chiffon      and pearls

            the shadow of the chandelier     

                                                dapples her with lacy cloth.

 

It’s then.

           

The wind-flowers flit in      khol-eyed      and wild     

            pushing-open French doors     

                        petalled frocks      from the fairy shop.     

They form a corolla      choreography

            for a ballet score      or game of musical chairs    

                                    pirouette

                        stop      gaze      at a single spot     

            an aureole of wispy foliage      spins around their heads.

A pleasing arrangement      the photographer says              

                        harmonious hues      a hazy reflection in water.

 

After the moment      in the stillness            

                                                we fill our arms with flowers.

 

 

Anenomes-1000503.jpg

 

 

 

 

after The Secret Garden

   

During the interval of the Haydn choral concert,

my sister (once princess of the dress-up box) said      Let’s go...

We went down the side of the church,

slipped through a gate —

the brass padlock a fake      for those in the know

into a flint-walled garden,      a kind of overgrown underground.

The light was green.

A soliquacity:

sparrows      finches      coo of wood pigeons,

bees on hives      and cabbage-white butterflies.

Trees      tall as stilts      connected earth to sky,

roots tipped ancient graves      almost merrily.

I craned forward but could not decipher a name.

It was a dead-quiet afternoon.      No traffic.     

We looked at each other;      

we’d gone back in time, she was nine.      I must call her Mary.

She wore a print frock, green      herring-bone braid around the hem.

Mine, identical in red      familiar      soft lawn against my skin.

Thunder rumbled in the distance      (furniture moved in heaven).

Bees swarmed overhead.     

I said I’d read      bees are losing their olfactory sense,

pollution is the problem.   

But the information had little application;    

we were in a novel       from 1910.               

Grasses and buttercups whispered to one other,

the wind puffed at dandelion clocks.

When it was time      for the concert to re-commence,

we trailed back inside,

slid along the pew      waited      in freckled silence.     

 

 

Janus in park-1002097.jpg

 

 

Acknowledgements

 

Some of the poems have been previously published in journals, anthologies, and/or placed/commended in competitions.

‘At the house where my father was born’ was published in Breath of the Sea, 2012, and H/Commended in Peter Cowan Writers’ Centre 2012 Patrons Prize for Poets.

‘Above a Seedy Bridal Shop’ was published in Rabbit Poetry Journal, Issue 12, June 2014; and Commended in Karen W. Treanor Poetry Awards, 2013.

‘Doris Lessing, 1959’ won the Creatrix Poetry Prize, 2013; and was published in Creatrix 20, Autumn 2013.

‘Miss Philipou’s Class’ was published in Rabbit Poetry Journal, Issue 10, December 2013; and in The Best Australian Poems, 2014.

‘Anemones’ was published in Sotto online Poetry Journal, December, 2013.

‘after The Secret Garden’ was published in Writ Poetry Review 03, 2015.