Friends are finding this a tough time of year. Winter stretches on, spring beckons slowly. Illnesses major and minor and political troubles aside, it is slow going for many of us. We all know about fear and not wanting to face up to what happens next, or of struggling to keep up a situation that by its nature has no permanence.
Gary Beck sets the mood of an ordinary day, actually quite cheery that builds up to a sense of pointlessness or disaster to come. In similar light is our awareness of ageing, as shown with some reality and humour in Merryn Williams’ poem.
Ian Blake gives us a more peaceful older figure in the retired professor, who has protected himself from chaos with his bookish routine appearances at the library.
We can be confused and filled with doubt in midstream, as when Vivien Jones asks What Time is it? Somewhere, perhaps, there’s a philosophical answer to these unsettling questions of chaos, change and time.
Or sometimes the answer lies in stories, accounts of what has to be or has had to be, and how we overcome these situations. We finish with Sandie Craigie’s story-poem, To Make Ends Meet.
Because surviving is not very comfortable. Somehow we have to win.
At the Shore
The sky is darkening,
faces in the sunset light
The beach is quieting…
A lone kite soars higher than a gull.
Mother and daughter
dig the last sand castle.
A small boat races home,
urgent to beat the menacing dark.
The glowering pink sky
growls with the weight
of old sol going west.
A cool breeze
blows across the boardwalk,
WPA built in 1937.
Joggers and runners
pound the boards,
startling old ladies
with pink hair
and faded lace shawls.
Then evening slides in.
The sky succumbs to sullen red.
Another casual day ebbs away.
Darkness claims the promenade,
and thoughts of drink, dance and growing lust
propel the tourists to smoke-filled bars,
as the night cycle goes on
to some formless destination,
before the final funeral.
from Civilised Ways
Light is drawing back from the corners of your room,
revealing less and less, and you hate glasses.
You carry the printed sheet to the window,
hold it at a distance.
You are my contemporary, or nearly,
yet you fumble, while I see clearly.
More than the odd line, or bag under the eye,
these are the signs by which I mark your ageing.
The little sisters who were to have been your bridesmaids,
grown up and with their own husbands.
Our jokes about our old headmistress
(how old now?), the receding line of birthdays.
That much time couldn’t have passed? But it has. I remember
lamps in my grandmother’s house, before our own age reached her.
We grew accustomed to them in the end, avoided
the glare of electricity.
Small, lightless rooms they had in another century;
low, sloping ceilings; tiny windows; daylight
filtered through diamond panes – how many
ruined their sight, reading or sewing by lamplight?
It goes and does not return.
Gradually, sky and sea are drained of colour;
the lumps of amethyst fade, the light
ebbs back. Your room is getting smaller.
Helicon Competition winner
Twenty years have passsed since he was last
lecturing students. Twenty years retired.
Reverend Professor Emeritus still comes,
though, sadly, now no longer every day,
to push apart the gently creaking doors,
greet the librarian, hang up his shabby coat,
snick latches on his tired attache case
(leather-strapped, initials flaked and worn)
lift out ruled pad, black-ink-filled fountain pen,
remove the yellowing card reserving him
this desk, this book-rest and this shiny chair
which he’s inhabited for fifty years –
illuminate in immaculate miniscule hand
some lost dark corner of his scholarly land.
from Remembering Falstaff and others, diehard 2011
What time is it?
I’m cooking scones,
twelve minutes in a hot oven,
time enough to hang out the washing,
or wash the dishes, or feed the cat,
or phone my son to say hello.
Seven hundred and twenty seconds
in twelve minutes,
two thousand million, and counting, in my life,
the scones will change from raw dough
to lightweight delight – and me?
The seconds have flown over me,
there must have been special ones
when I first heard Beethoven, fell in love,
my two moments of conception.
There should have been a bell.
There is a buzzer.
Hot, sweet smelling air announces
the scones are complete.
Out there in the cosmos,
does it matter that I am not?
from Short of Breath, Cultured Llama 2014
To Make Ends Meet
You sit, demanding
the scullery table
scrubbed clean gleam
Images of a lifetime
reflect its waxed finish
every capsized cigarette
burns deep, the scars of toil
now strewn with paper which
mimics your crumpled brow
Yes….I see you now
A rounded back shows
slender fingers grip tight
an indecisive biro
just for a minute
parting with pen you
twist nervously at
caustic soda fingers
To me, at this time
you appear older
the mocking sun enhancing
the colour of your hair
by a yellow streak which
follows the path of a
and mapping your face
are many lines, I wonder
I look to your eyes
those eyes that can
belie all, and
twinkle shades of
blue when you tease,
now shine in watercolours
and I want so much
to go to you, but
bite my lip, hold
back the tears, sensing
time with logic older
than my years
This is your time
So I ‘Hud ma wheesht’
try to let you tie these ends
ends that never meet
And even now
on looking back
I wish we hadn’t felt
the need to weep
in separate rooms
from Coogit Bairns (Red Squirrel)