To Mum



When she wakes up,

she will want a poem.








One day


One day, the music stopped.

Euterpe, muse of music, had had enough.

Ah, peace at last, she said, turned over

and went to sleep,

as on the restless earth below

MP3 players emptied

and i-tunes tuned out.


Andrea Boccelli opened his mouth

exhaling pure Rod Stewart.

Rod Stewart opened his mouth and shut it again,

while superstores squawked into silence,

dress shops were struck dumb

and malls made mute.


'Why?' cried all the people, bereft.

Euterpe opened an eye.

I gave you a gift, she said.

Aeons you used it sparingly.

Recognised its worth.

But now you smear it over your lives

like peanut butter.

Come back when you've seen sense.


We demand our music now!

the people cried.


Euterpe called up Thor.

Got a spare thunderbolt, big boy? she breathed


For you, sweet cheeks, anytime.


That's the thing with Gods

There's no arguing with them.






Red over grey


I saw the Forth Bridge yesterday,

unwrapped at last,

restoration done.

All cheer now, everyone -

and yet,

and yet the old girl looked

quite naked sans the decent sheets

she's coyly hid behind for years.

Fragile, delicate, she took the air,

dancing bare over the grey waters

with more red arms and graceful fingers

than any Hindu goddess.





While going to buy a new handbag


I passed an old man sitting on the High Street,

sitting close by the Tron

on the hard, cracked shell of the city.

A beggar, down-and-out, grey-stubbled chin,

grey cap on grey pavement in front of him,

he muttered to the passing feet,

'Enjoy your day,' and 'Thank you, thanks,'

though there seemed little to be thankful for.


And I have little time for beggars,

none at all for the young of that tribe,

for though we are all profligate with youthful grace,

some grasp with both hands the chance to waste

that ease I would have now.


He's still there, Tronman, as I hurry back

clutching my new bag in its NTS wrap

and for once, impulsive, I drop the pound

kept handy for the next supermarket trolley

into his cap, where it sits, smug beside ten p.

and a brown penny.

He looks up at me, head cocked, bird-bright.

'Thank you,' he says

and as though he can see through my middle-class facade

to the aching tooth and aching void within,

adds, not unkindly,

'Youse look knackered.'


What answer could I give, there on the cold stone?

Nothing.  I turn away for the bus home.





Earthquake


I live in the ruins,

the cold leftovers of my former life,

like those poor souls

in some far-off disaster zone

or another,

seen scrabbling round for a dented pan

and a broken chair,

while the picture of happier times,

its glass smashed,

hangs askew

on a wall that has lost its fellows.


I have pans enough

and a chair for every day of the week,

two on Sundays,

where I can sit and leaf through

all the photos of happier times.

I carry my ruins with me

through the comfortable rooms and out into the town.

Delicately,

I pick my way across the rubble,

seeking the place from which to start anew

from which, and why, and when your eyes closed forever

and the earth shook.






Encounter


I met a bear

on the road

to Blairgowrie.

on a dreich November day

I met a bear

close by Meikleour.


A big bear,

a friendly bear,

he grinned in the half-light

and shook his russet fur, before

waving a parting paw he turned,

into the Beech Hedge..


I didn't want to let him go.

Will I see you again? I called.

His voice was faint.

I strained to hear.

Maybe,

This time of year, he said,

If you keep your good eye shut,

with the other two

you'll see me clear.





Betty Cowie


Only kindly people came

to the blank endpaper that is the crematorium.

Only kindly people came -

no mourners.

Staff from the Grange

performing the last duty of care,

helpers from the Friday Club

where Betty nearly knitted and crayoned large.

Dear Lord, receive the soul of this our sister Elizabeth Cowie -

but no sisters came. Were there any?

Nor brothers yet, nephews, nieces

shedding a tear for poor Aunt Betty,

sad old Betty with her gnarled hands, blind eyes

and built-up shoe.

Her one talent, her party piece,

remembering  birthdays -

especially her own.


And when Betty had been tidied away,

the kindly people filed out with small nods and whispers,

on their way to be kindly to others.





Fright


Minding my own business in my best crepe suit,

I see the door open and a deathshead shimmy through -

Am I bad-dreaming?

An Egyptian mummy fresh unwrapped -

On my feet?  At eight in the evening?

Grave-white it is and etched black,

A slash of dried blood for mouth, for hair, shell-shock -

And oh, the terrifying nose!


My brain backs against the wall,

Leaving my poor feet rooted.

I dare a second glance.

It smiles. Great God! It laughs!

Dusty, coquette.

Can Death be coy?

Papyrus skin racks over razor bone, the red wound cracks

as the nightmare tilts on its axis

in a parody of girlish charm.


And then as she moves on past, panic subsides

and I see the living, breathing woman,

gaunt with that old lie of Wallis Simpson's.

Seventy, she is – no,  more.

Face lifted – as on cruel hooks,

nose trimmed – as in a slaughterhouse,

hair lacquered scared and dyed a coal

she fondly recalls as true.

I watch with pity as, before the mirror, in fresh gore, on stretched lip

a half-remembered mouth she draws.


Pleased, she surveys herself anew.

The cocktail dress hangs from her scrawny shoulders,

expensive, curveless, smart.

She is ready for her entrance,

ever the ingenue,

when Death's her part.






A change in the weather


Shortly before we all die waiting,

spring, which has been pining under snivelling skies,

bursts forth as pink-cheeked May,

full-bosomed and blossoming


Above the house,

Pheasant's Eye dapples the meadow

and round each corner

flowering trees throw pink and white treasure to the wind,

like eager bridesmaids.


Light of step and heart

I springtime past Balnacraig, the special school,

some dead worthy's folly,

all turrets and transoms -

but friendly for all that.

A good place for troubled youth.


And here comes one now,

scowling for Scotland,

face pinched sharp under hair oil-slick black.

I try a small smile

On this sunniest, gladdest of days,

But dark cloud fogs her sun.

She stamps on by,

The eye of her own storm,

Born some other place than this sunny hillside -

And she's brought,

I see,

Her weather,

With her.





The bird feeder


Above, the quick, bright birds,

greenfinch, chaffinch, great tit

and the fierce woodpecker

in his barman's tux and scarlet party pants

stabbing at caged peanuts

as if they might run and hide.


Beneath, charmless,

fat pigeons waddle,

feasting on spillage.


And hanging from the stand?

A robber squirrel,

a nonchalant grey fur gymnast

thumbing his alien nose

at the well-meaning,

would-be-green,

half eco-hearted

purchaser

of twenty kilo bags

of bird food.





Highland holiday


Weeping wet holiday weather.

Puddles, pools and splashed ankles.

'What is to do dry?'

I ask Tourist Information.

'Anything with a roof.'

I add my sunniest smile.

Out in the rain-soaked street

only headlamps shine.

'There's the Wildlife Park,' he says

in bright reply.


Do the wild cats live in a condominium?

The monkeys in a mansion,

the polar bears in a stately home

with wolves in the west wing?

'Thank you,' I sigh and retreat

to the sopping street.







Miss Scarlet in the garden with the secateurs


Once I knew a woman

who wouldn't have red

in the garden -

unnatural, vulgar, shouting 'Look at me!'

Shattering harmony.


I'm not so strict.

According to my barmy neighbour,

half my plants are nicked

and why should I hold back at red?

Now in August

when the garden slumps, half-dead,

I welcome crocosmia to the stage,

a splashing, spouting scarlet fountain

red as rage

tempting the butterfly eye

away from tired green and counting

how many spent spikes of foxglove

still need the chop.


Red, the sign for stop.

It roots me here in simple pleasure.

I knew a woman once with such good taste

she missed the point.





The Jakies in the graveyard


The jakies in the graveyard

sit faces to the sun.

The neighbours here don't trouble them,

being dead most every one.


And when you turn your toes up,

your do-gooding days are done.

You no longer turn your nose up

at alcoholic fun.


Oh, the jakies in the graveyard dress

in comfortable grey and brown,

and sit with backs to the old stone wall,

backs to the busying town,


with its complex web of commitment,

its deadlines, duties, guilt.

They swig and laugh and swig again

as you skitter past, full tilt.


For the graveyard is a short cut

from vital here to there

and ears redden at a half-heard taunt

or frank, appraising stare


as the jokes go round with the Buckfast

on breath you could cut with a knife

and  it's almost as if a part of the wall

has maliciously come to life.


For the stubble sprouting on skinny chins

echoes the lichen-splashed stones

and the crusted shoes and grey-brown clothes

veil the living bones.


Bone to bone with the long-dead,

they sit till the sun goes in,

then drift away like fag-smoke,

to other jakie kin

and I pass the vacant bench and drop

an empty in the bin.







Fred


He looked so lonely

there on the high sill.


The fields are singing

with the hum of distant traffic.


A corbel stone

worked loose like a bad tooth,

and pigeonholed  'Dust'.


My arm aches with pretence.


A carving of a face

no French hand fashioned

with skill consummate,

Rather, a brute thing, rough-hewn,

for whom that phrase

could have been coined.


Plastic handles

s t r e t c h,

as I stumble down the path away,

fake casual.


Eyes mere gouging

from the stone curve of brow

and boxer nose.


Fake casual.


A slit for a mouth.

Little more

did the peasant craftsman hack

from the unwilling stone

before he turned back

to his pease fields.


Mum pauses, admires the view,

fake casual.

She does it well.

The bag, heavy with sin,

drags at my shoulder.


In Portbury Church

deserted, short of love,

I'd gazed at him.

He, stony-faced, gazed back

and the Dark Angel

put his soft hand on my shoulder.


At once, I saw appeal

in the gouge eyes.

'Save me,' they said.

'Take me to where I'll be loved and wanted (and dusted) -

Take me with you.'


And the Dark Angel saw

that I had the exact right person with me

for such an enterprise.

Not Gill, no.  Nor Dad.

Not Husband, as yet unknown,

who would have killed with disapproving frown,

but Mum, who held the bag wide

as I manoeuvred the corbel down.

No-one came,

no-one saw

us close the door

and make off with my medieval prize.

Once home, I put him safe with satisfied sighs

and called him Fred.


How long did Fred

keep me company next my bed,

Stone stand-in for flesh and blood?

I don't remember.

but well before

the real-life lover came to warm my bones,

I kicked the Dark Angel up the derriere,

took car – and Fred -,

drove back to where

they still had not learned to lock the door,

put him on a shelf

and walked away through the singing fields.

Had they missed him?

I doubt.

I miss Mum and her mad streak.

Temptation's a dull dog

without her.




At market place after five weeks away


The greengrocer's wife has lost eight kilo -

two artichokes,

a cauliflower,

three pounds of apples

and a sack of spuds.

'Well done,' I smile falsely.

Proud as a pineapple, she smiles back out of a chap-fallen face.

'Persistence pays,' she nods wisely.

I reach for my paper bag of plums and mourn.

She was once, not beautiful,

but had a country prettiness.

Cheeks pink as nectarines,

mouth rosy as a raspberry,

hair that sprang strong as curly kale on a frosted morning

when all else shrivels with the cold,

a bosom round and full as a basket of her own blushing mangoes.


Size ten again, she grins, smug with her achievement,

plumping for a moment the prune her face has become.






Wild geese


I saw the geese again today

and my heart lifted.

I saw the geese again

as I stood in my so suburban garden,

warned of their passing by their cry,

a far-off sound, like dry leather creak,

multiplied, then multiplied again,

heard clear above the traffic fidgeting on the main road.


I searched the sky

and saw the skein, the wide V,

shifting, restless, constant.

I have not seen out the seasons yet,

alone in this house that you've never known.

In our old house, quiet on its hill,

we would stand in the breakbone garden,

watching skein after skein,

scratched black lines against the sky -

and I felt each time

that squeak of pleasure

at nature taking its course.


And now I find

them flying, still flying, here,

their cries not for me.

I am irrelevant,

I and the concrete city with me.

The traffic's irrelevant, business beside the mark,

schools, theatre and that great drama, parliament, pointless.

Yes, no, who cares,

when you are a goose



Notes



Red Over Grey


Extensive maintenance and restoration of the historic Forth Bridge meant that one part or another was shrouded in plastic sheeting for years.  At last, in 2012 the work was finished.



Earthquake


Forget all that 'merry widow' nonsense.  It's no fun losing your life partner…



Encounter


To anyone who doesn't know it, the Meikleour Beech Hedge is a tourist attraction.  Planted in 1745, it is one third of a mile long and 100ft high.  In autumn, it turns a beautiful coppery brown.  I spent some months volunteering at a textile conservation studio nearby and drove past it regularly.



Fright


The International Astronautical Congress is an annual event bringing people from all over the world together to discuss developments in the world of space exploration.  As Head of Future Studies at the European Space Agency, my husband always attended and sometimes, as an 'accompanying person', I went too.  During a reception, I trotted off to the ladies loo – and got the fright of my life.  Note to anyone contemplating cosmetic surgery: don't.



The Jakies in the Graveyard


Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh and the story of wee dog Bobby is famous, but the Fair City of Perth also has a Greyfriars Burial Ground.  It dates from 1580 and is very interesting.  When I lived in Perth I used it often as a short cut into town.



Fred


This lapse in moral rectitude took place many years ago, as indicated by the bag used to carry off my prize.  Does anyone else remember the '60's fashion for bucket bags?  This one was plastic and in a fetching shade of ginger brown.  I am now a reformed character.










Loretta was born 1940.  Lived London, Bristol, the Netherlands and Perth.  Married with 3 daughters, now plus 7 grandchildren.  Widowed 2010.  Moved to Edinburgh 2014. Studied graphic design at Harrow School of Art, but suffering she says, from a butterfly mentality, never made a 'proper' career.  Has worked in advertising, as au-pair, cartoonist, kitchen designer, saleswoman, telephonist, copy typist, antique dealer (junk mostly) and language teacher.  Has had several short stories published (a long time ago).

























































































































































































Gods and Jakies




Return


One day

Red over grey

While going to buy a new handbag

Earthquake

Encounter

Betty Cowie

Fright

A change in the weather

The bird feeder

Highland holiday

Miss Scarlet in the garden with secateurs

The jakies in the graveyard

Fred

At the market after five weeks away

Wild geese


Notes