#FP Footsteps Cracking Cobbles

As
Jack Frost nips pink toes.
Snuggly, plump duvets
are pulled up tight at night
as snoring bores repose.

The
still, empty coal black sky
shivers. Cold white stars
twinkle as they dance to the
light of the pale winter moon.

I
find it hard to sleep, spending
long evenings hugging the fire,
relaxing with a glass of wine
and a smelly dog at my feet.

Often
I walk empty streets listening
to footsteps cracking of cobbles.
Lost souls full of stumbling beer
as I, full of nothing, meander.

Then
as the footsteps fall silent. I
am deafened by my own steps
which drown out my thoughts
as I reluctantly turn for home.

Home.
I draw a chair up to the fire
and pour a glass of wine as
my smelly dog lays down to
sleep at my weary feet.

I fall asleep.
Sleeping on empty.

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The Fly and the Chianti.

The last time I made a ragout
I thought of you and that Summer
by Lake Garda and the fly that
drowned in your glass of chianti.

Our kids were a heady mix of
screaming toddlers and moody
pre teens, bursting with holiday
e numbers and addled with midday sun.

I remember sitting one afternoon
in Gargnano under the clock tower.
I was smoking an english cigarette:
an old Italian lady tutted in disgust.

My rose wine was perfectly chilled
and condensation dewed the table
where the glass sat. I squinted
in the afternoon sun. And dozed.

I was an Irishman abroad, ruddy
faced and yawning: then back to you
and the brood, talking gibberish
like an Italian washing machine.

We sun blocked the kids. Then lay
by the languid pool under deep blue
skies. You sipped Birra Moretti while
I toyed with a sweet caffè crema.

We went back to the apartment
reluctantly. Brats in tow. You took a
siesta while said brats flip flopped
the rooms like mini tourist lunatics.

In the tiny kitchenette I mixed beef
and onions and lots of garlic. Glugged
it (and I) with red wine, opened a strong
beer and feet up, looked out over the lake.

Then you were awake. The kids were
wild and voracious. Pasta bowls were filled
with steaming fusilli bucati and red
ragout with garlic bread on the side.

We smiled as we ate as we were in turn
eaten by pesky Italian flies from the lake.
One landed in your chianti, swam a while,
then died a beautiful alcoholic death.

It was a dreamy holiday. A moment
we never recaptured. We never went
back. We should. But bratless.
Just the two of us this time.

An Empty Grave

My wife made a decision, a long time ago, to donate her body to medical research. I’m not happy and even though she insists that I will die before her and be none the wiser about her fate, I am still uneasy about the whole affair.

I’m not a religious man. However, I can’t quite bring myself to deny the existence of a higher being and the apron strings of a Baptist upbringing have been difficult to cut. The idea of a universe created by a series of ‘accidents’ without a ‘masterplan’ is unpalatable and I’m sorry but ‘big bang’ seems rather like ‘creation’. Or so it could be simply argued. My mind is just not equipped to absorb molecular theories and particle physics. I am a simple man. I digress.

If I outlive my wife and she gets her wish, her body will be removed from her place of death and stored in a chiller until such times as it is required. Then she will be laid out on a stainless steel slab, cut from neck to pubic bone and her empty carcass poked and prodded, dissected and inspected like a side of meat by spotty first year medical students in white coats, skinny jeans and canvas converse boots. Then, her use to medical science exacted, she will be disposed of. Perhaps someone will say a little prayer, a remembrance to this woman they never knew, never loved. Or perhaps her lifeless frame will be incinerated with all the other useless bits and bobs with no ceremony or dignity. Just more rubbish in a plastic body bag.

And I am left to look at photographs and nurse a glass of wine, alone on my boat bobbing on the river. No grave to visit. No flowers to place. Only memories of the woman I loved.

Her children don’t know of her decision. I have reluctantly promised not to tell. I don’t like this secrecy. This impasse. As we get older and illness, accident or just dying in her sleep becomes more of a probable possibility, I dread having to face my kids and tell them that their mum won’t have a resting place. Somewhere for them to visit and feel close to her. Somewhere to shed a tear and remember. Somewhere behind walls, with a gate guarded by ancient yew trees. A place of quiet reflection. A physical place to fix the past.

I suppose we could have a service of remembrance. Play Monty Python’s ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’. That would have a certain pathos.

She watched a programme last night on the bedroom tv. A programme about body donation. She wouldn’t let me watch. I sat in the lounge and drank wine and watched football. She told me later what the programme was about. I didn’t sleep much last night. I tossed and turned. She got up sometime in the night and only came back to bed as I was getting up for work. We didn’t talk. She fell asleep.

Am I being selfish? Old fashioned? Is a plot of consecrated ground too much to ask? Am I hysterically rooted in ancient practices? Or am I eschewing my wife’s desire to extend her usefulness beyond death? Or just doing what anyone would do? Death is a very personal thing. One’s body is the ultimate personal possession. Not to be owned by another. Perhaps I should let it be. Accept her choice. Enjoy our life together. But it niggles. It hurts. It gnaws.

Today is like any other day. Nothing spectacular. The world continues to spin. People are born, die, make love, give birth, kill, hate, agree, disagree, punch, hug. The treadmill of life. And we human ants retain our place at the top of the evolutionary pile by our ability to be unique. Unique in thought.

So. My wife is donating her body to medical science. It’s her choice. It doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Which I don’t.

It doesn’t mean I have to agree with her.

Which I don’t.

I does mean I have to respect her wishes.

Which I do.

And that hurts.

My Son

I found this old poem, written many, many years ago, tucked under rubbish in a drawer and thought ‘this is a little bit of lost history’. It brought back a flood of memories (and more than a few tears).  Memories of a simpler time. A time in Northern Ireland where normality was measured in bombs and guns and senseless death and religious bigotry.
So here it is.
A little bit of my past.

Genesis

As a boy I played with pedal cars
and watched Lassie in black and white.

My sister was two years younger than I
yet we played happily together in a yard
mottled with crazy paving.

My mother was jolly and wore bright dresses.
My father was stern
and not afraid to use the belt which
hung like a voodoo charm from a nail
at the back door.

My sister and I lived for each childhood moment.
Each tumble,
each game of tag,
each chase around the yard.
It eased us through an enchanted time.

Growing Pains

Later, as a primary school boy
I played in the lush meadows which
surrounded our council terrace with
Wallace, Midgie and Trevor,
flattening the tall summer grasses
as we advanced on our bellies
wooden tommy guns at the ready.

I remember playing grocery shops,
stripping the bright seed heads of
ripened grasses and layering them
in tins and jam jars.

We pulverised lumps of sandstone
and made shifting dunes which
shone like magical beacons in the
afternoon sun.

I remember sacred places like
Johnston’s rocks and the Eagle’s nest,
secret sanctuaries where we whispered
about lost treasures and made
pledges of honour.

We climbed trees reaching the topmost
sapling branches and creeping to their ends
bent them earthwards
then jumped, the spindly growths
ripping skywards with a piercing rasp
like Mrs Oliphant’s whip.

I remember our fathers playing football,
it was captain’s pick
and our fathers were prized team mates.
They ran around our tiny pitch like teenagers
and goals were greeted with
Brazilian bravado.

Jock Murdoch watched from the side lines.
We were afraid of Jock.
He leant heavily on his stick
a growling Alsatian dog at his side.

Awakening

I was still at primary school
when images from Londonderry
filled the television news.

I remember Gerry Fitt,
a small wiry balding man with
black prescription glasses, who
confronted the police with his banners
and demands.

I remember
parents with stern faces
and tears in their eyes
politely explaining
that what was happening was
very, very bad
and very, very sad.

We didn’t understand.

Renewal

I am my father’s son.
I reflect his genealogy.

We are not close
yet we respect each other.

I was born into a dying age
of unseen, quiet, yet happy children.
An age of carefree immaturity.

My son is a free spirit.
He is a tender boy,
small for his age
yet fights his corner
like a terrier.

He is the spit of his Grandfather,
the same thin wiry gait
and mischievous grin.

Inside
he is made of soft stuff,
eager to please
and fit in.

Brought up to accept people
for what they are and
not what their parents
want them to be.

At the caravan last weekend
a fresh faced girl of nine or ten
asked my son

“Are you a Catholic?”

“Of course I am” he said.

My son is a Protestant.

#FP Night Swimming

Night swimming.

Dolphins fleckerl their dorsal fins,
spinning triangles of black.
And botch bubble wrap into
effigies of Jesus Christ.

Psychedelic piranhas play cribbage
as Marg from the Simpsons
dances with Johnny Depp
and Bungle from Rainbow.

Marching crustaceans
backflip and pirouette
as Bob Dylan strums Wonderwall
on a battered pair of tights.

Stars glint in the octopussy ripples
as unicorns ride by on yellow yaks.
My mother in a gimp mask sings
lulabies in a Marlene Dietrich drawl.

I toss and turn.

Eyes flicking like a flickbook,
bringing my dreams to life.

In this silent déjà vu.
A replay.
A pastiche of recollections.

At night. Swimming.

Spouting Ochre. Splosh and Cornflake Crunch.

It’s easy to string a few words together:
to string a few words along with the
promise of a sentence at the end of it all.

Curved plastic edge of a takeaway cup lid,
snapped tight to keep the coffee out of
sight and hot. A miracle of engineering.
See? This is what it’s all about.

Autumn. Almost too much to write about
without spouting ochre several times in each
sentence. What about ‘splosh’ or ‘cornflake
crunch’? Wet and dry. Enough about leaves.

The words we use (and often abuse) are the
victims in this party piece. “Put up or die on
the page” I whisper as I scroll through my
thesaurus looking for an alternative to ‘bent’

And so on and on it goes, this merrygoround
of type and script as words seep from my
porous mind and drip from my fingertips.
Anything goes. And usually does. Fin.