I've written a few decent poems, mainly in the few years after my son died in 2004. I joined the wonderful Waltham Forest Stanza group (aka Forest Poets) but I've lately lost the compulsion to try and nail a passing thought or complex notion in rhythm and verse. Whether I find it again or not, I plan to collect the work I've done and present it here some day. But here's a poem I wrote in March 2010 when the Stanza group agreed to come up with a poem from a word chosen at random from an Evening Standard that was lying around in the pub. The word was "Crusade" and, for me, it prompted a childhood memory:
Crusaders When my sister told me the walls were all furry I went there expecting to find the whole place lined with my mother’s fur coat, to stroke like a warm cat. But it wasn’t like that. They called it Crusaders, a kind of Sunday School in someone’s front room where they made us sit in rows on wooden chairs. I sat where I could touch the wall. It wasn’t fur at all. My finger traced round serried blades of fleurs de lis in fuzzy flock, while they prayed to God and Jesus and talked of their crusade to bring more people in to be saved from sin.
This man picked up a record and wrote a number on it in chalk. “Twenty-eight children here today” he said, “You silly man” I thought, “now the needle will stick”. But he stood proudly there and smashed it. “We’ve broken the record,” he declared and they laughed and applauded the joke, but I couldn’t bear the waste. I saw those broken shards of shellac on the floor, and I never went back.
And here's one I wrote about slipping on a banana skin - or was it about the sudden joy of knowing what I'd missed? Without whom
It happened when the afternoon collided with the night, when market traders clanking scaffold poles were packing stuff away in rusty vans, dismantling their stalls, some still shouting “Pahnd a bowl” and spilling sun-fleshed mangoes, bruised and over-ripened to be trodden into pavement slush, a woman walking carelessly against the crush of shoppers hurrying home slipped on a banana skin.
But in the very instant of this stroke of rotten luck, what struck her was the presence of the man behind her without whom,
she’d take a tumble anyway, and end up on the ground and then she’d struggle to get up again, but there were people all around. They wouldn’t leave her sprawled out on the street. She’d find a kind strong stranger there who’d heave her to her feet. And if, by chance, she did sustain a break or sprain, someone would ring an ambulance, and maybe even wait until it came.
And without whom
Well, to slip on a banana skin is quite embarrassing, evoking cartoon scenes of “Whoopsee! Down she goes”, a classic skit, of the pantomime dame going arse over tit, or the circus clown fooling around with his big red nose and enormous feet. So she’d be the first one to laugh and make light of her plight, and she’d shrug off her bruises and tend to them later when out of sight
And without whom
She would have been alright. She wouldn’t let this episode erode her confidence. She could depend on loving friends and daughters who would tell her “You must phone us”. So this man behind her with her backpack and their shopping list was really just a bonus. But in that moment when she slipped, and as he helped her up and made a fuss about it being dangerous to chuck down slippery stuff, she felt the sudden joy of knowing what she’d missed.