"Poetry tends to hang out at points of transformation. People may not have much interest in poetry at all or even read it much, but when a death happens in the family, or some other grief event, or marriage, or falling in love, or out of love, birth - people always turn to poetry." Joy Harjo, United States Poet Laureate
This is the place to find the weekly prompt for the Agbrigg Writers. Prompts are posted on a Thursday and the resultant pieces of writing should be submitted before the midnight deadline of the following Sunday. They then appear on the site on the following Monday. This ongoing exercise is not limited to members of the Agbrigg Writers group. If you are a visitor and you would like to make a contribution, please do so via the contact page on this site. Following the publication, readers are invited to submit a response to the work they've read. If you are unsure about how to construct a response, the following tips might help. How do you get into a poem or a passage of prose? Ask yourself these questions:
What are your first responses to this piece of writing?
What is it trying to say?
How is the writer saying it?
What, in particular stands out for you?
If anything, what puzzles you about this piece of writing?
Remember the golden rule please: do unto others as … etc. In other words be respectful towards the work of other writers.
Prompt Seventeen Responses
On a morning like this I want to bathe in fresh air, be loose and wanton with my time.
I want to plan nothing and wander, touch the earth, feel the sun and the wind, hear the birds and be empty.
Doing What I’m Told to Do
I was born in the 30’s and on my eleventh birthday was diagnosed positive with diphtheria. I was more concerned about my mother’s ability to pay medical bills than disappearing in the ambulance with the Grim Reaper at my shoulder. “Am I going to die, Mam?” I asked as I was hastened away to the isolation hospital. “No! just do as you’re told and you’ll be alright.” She risked a hug and waved me off to a regime of no social contact, restricted movement and speaking to relatives through veranda windows. For three months. And having spent the past four months in similar circumstances I hope to survive, following her down to earth philosophy. I left school in 1948 when Nye Bevin established the National Health Service. All free on the point of delivery. A marvellous concept. I would have been blind in my forties when I developed cataracts too early in life. My blindness only lasted a short while, then my euphoria at coming into the light. Seeing dimension that trees had gnarled barks and the gravel under our feet is a myriad of colour. The operations and following care was free...Thank God. Widowed I am used to living alone so I had imagined the lockdown would have little effect personally. I was wrong. I miss the human touch, hugs from my girls, the scent and closeness of skin; walking down to Morrison’s pushing my stroller and chats over coffee. Being classed as high risk I rely heavily on my three daughters for food and shopping with a couple of neighbours occasionally dropping paracetamol tablets through the letter box. Also, with patient assistance from my girls I have almost conquered my fear of technology. Thursday zooming has been a lifeline. People have shown a kind side, probably brought about by the herd instinct, defence of their own kind prevalent in war time situations: camaraderie wrought by circumstance. Then they escape to beaches in droves ignoring the safe distancing rules! In gratitude for the tremendous sacrificial effort of tireless front line N.H.S. workers, we have stood outside our homes beating pans blowing whistles and setting off fireworks. Vociferously applauding their dedication to the lives of others. There is a feel of reverence here. As though the National Health Service as an institution, has become a religion to be worshipped. Karl Marx described religion as a form of control. Yet, throughout this pandemic they have been supreme negotiators of setting up a framework for human survival. And all credit to them for leading the way in treatment and protection to rid us of this insidious virus. But here comes the rub. Everything in this world comes at a price. Data banks are full of our medical history, and what other personal information I shudder to imagine. Track and trace is the latest. But if you have been good and kept your nose clean, why worry? If this is the way to suppress this rapacious beast, surely, we owe it to humanity to live with this restriction. Cautiously optimistic, I’m following my mother’s advice, doing what I’m told to do.
Prompt 17: Surviving the Pandemic
C-19 and Counting
There's breaking news, could it really be true a virus made by man, from out of the blue We've all read the book, well done to that man Now someone's unleashed, the devilish plan
But the results are different, it moves a lot faster The world's under threat, from a terrible disaster As Pestilence brings, the world to its knees Death wields his scythe, without a by your leave
It couldn't be simpler, as we're all so obliging So smug, so conceited, and so self-admiring Grappling with the concept, of self-preservation Even pretending, to stand as one nation
With lockdowns in place, wherever you look They try to keep us inside, by hook or by crook But complacency is tightening, its grip on our lot and the virus spreads further, at a fast rate of knots
It's all made so easy, with our constant defiance Unwilling to heed to, such simple compliance Outside on quiet streets, back alleys and parks there are clandestine meetings, under cover of dark
But nothing will stop, all those reckless fools who continue to flaunt and abuse the rules So those vulnerable, sit behind closed doors and their cries are in vain, as the tally soars
It's easy to see, how we've come, to this stage When man's been complicit, from an early age The way that we're living, is ethically wrong As someone sits poised; finger on the bomb
We took the high ground and ignored the signs Now someone's decided, it's time to draw the line Whoever has done this, may not choose to forgive Until we start looking, for another way to live
Ruthless is this man and relentless in his quest as he puts man's salvation, to the ultimate test With conviction to act, the deed has been done And he'll have no qualms, producing another one
With comparative ease, he culls the human race So perhaps we're not worthy, of a saving grace Because while man faces disaster, beyond belief the environment we destroy, takes a sigh of relief
We gambled with life, and not just our own Perhaps this will teach us, to leave well alone Will we ever recover, from this global pandemic Or should we see the result, as purely academic
If we don't stop this virus, as fast as we can in no time at all, we will be back, where we began But are we deserving, of compassion and mercy as we continue our lives in, never-ending controversy
Wednesdays and Poetry Prompts 25 March 2020
I woke early at about 5:00 and came downstairs to sleep in the recliner chair. Woke up at 7:30 and went back to bed but I was coughing and gave up. Did the dishes and had breakfast. Phoned my friend to check that she was OK. Another friend phoned in error (she is still getting used to her new phone) and we chatted for 20 minutes. Pulled the cooker out to clean behind it. Washed some clothes that my son is getting rid of. Weather is lovely and just right for drying them. Phoned mother-in-law and a friend who was feeling poorly. Both were OK. Did some clearing of duplicate files on the computer. Had a bath and went to bed.
I’m not sure if you tick Any or None of those boxes But I do know that If I call at 2:00 am You will say “Hello, where are you?” And you will come.
1 April 2020 Woke up about 8:00. The coal was delivered before 11:00. I had a strange dream last night that we were taking Gordon Ramsey to a rugby match. (I don’t even care for Gordon as he is too sweary.) Finished my Reader Group book; The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes. It was his take on Shostakovich’s life. I did a review and score at 7:15 as if we were still physically meeting. I then read all the other reviews. Did some more scanning and shredding. Watched a streamed gig on the internet. Phoned my sister for a catch up and had a bath.
Home is where I am me. Where I’m not tidy Where I want to be if I am feeling poorly. Or I am happy with a cup of tea. Home is where I am me.
13 May 2020 Woke up at 8:00 and took my tablet and waited half an hour to eat breakfast. Had cereal and a slice of toast. I sorted some dustsheets for a boil wash and then did the dishes. Wrote my review of the Prompt 7 responses. Need to get them on the blog for tomorrow. Waited for a phone call from the hospital. Tried phoning them at 4:20, but no answer. Emailed ISP/phone provider about telephone call charges. Walked to allotment with Mick to cover plants and I picked some radishes. They really are better than the supermarket ones. Came home and drove through to Tesco. Got everything on the list except Trex. Watched Great British Sewing Bee and had a cup of tea with two small Green and Blacks chocolates.
People say you need enough money to “keep the wolf from the door”.
Some don’t have a door So that wouldn’t stop The Wolf.
Also, you should ask The Three Little Pigs About wolves and doors.
17 May 2020 Had a better night. Got up at 9:30 and took tablet and had a bath. After breakfast I FaceTimed my friend. Got ready to go to town. Bank, building society, Boots and Wilkinsons. Negotiated way round Ridings (Keep To The Left). Came out at the back and had a long walk back to the car. Was boiling by the time I got there. Called for petrol on the way home. Had lunch and fed and watered plants. Went on the computer and did my reviews of Prompt 11. Emailed rest of the group and told them that this was the highlight of my week. Watched Repair Shop and Great British Sewing Bee (awww Liz) and had a drink for Breast of Friends. Roles
I am starting a crusade Leading a charge Against the ‘liberated’ Women.
I chose my role as Housewife and mother A job denigrated By some.
So think before you Call us ‘Stepford Wives’ Or berate us for staying At home
Surely ‘liberation’ works Both ways and I am Free to make my Own choice Too. P.S. We work at home too. 15 July 2020 Got up early and took tablet. Went back to sleep and got up at 9:15. Had breakfast then got a bath and washed my hair. Didn’t bother putting washing in as it was drizzling on and off. Had a ride to the nurseries and bought a Canna Lily and an Echinacea for myself. Bought my neighbour a red Lobelia. Picked up some grass seed for my daughter and some potting compost to repot my many Aloe Veras. FaceTimed my friend in Florida. Sent her my Security poem and she asked if she could share it. Made some ice cream in my new toy. Had a ride out in the car and came home and watched TV.
Security I want you to be Secure In your job. In your relationships Where you live. But you are Grown And moved away.
Even so there will always be a secure place in my heart for you.
When she was a child, she was full of questions. Why is the sky blue? Why does the moon travel with you when you’re on a bus at night? Why do people in hot countries wear lots of clothes when everyone knows you take your clothes off on hot days? Her mum never had answers to these questions and she’d forgotten them by the time her dad came home on leave. Anyway, she couldn’t trust what he said. He thought African people couldn’t swim because it was hot in Africa and there wasn’t much water. She knew her dad was wrong on that one because she knew a black boy and he was a good swimmer. She thought it was because her dad was Irish. She was a child during the polio epidemics of the 50’s when newsreels showed people in iron lungs and children with calipers. She knew one or two from the estate. She had all her vaccinations and she had measles and whooping cough, both of which terrified her mother. She remembered her mother standing at the door of her bedroom looking stricken as she whooped and coughed and gasped for breath. She was told to keep away from paddling pools and never to sit on a toilet seat. Children she played with weren’t allowed in the house and were inspected subtly for cleanliness. She got nits and sat under the central light in the living room several evenings while her mother got them all out one by one. She had curly hair, which held them beautifully. She saw a book about peoples of the world in school. There were pictures of Bedouin covered from head to foot in layers of clothing. Why didn’t they expire from the heat? She was interested in other countries. Nothing exciting ever happened on her road. The kids all played out until it got dark then it was bed. Boring. If you were an Eskimo you could go on a sledge pulled by reindeers. Or if you lived in India you could watch snake-charmers in the market or fly on magic carpets. When she was a teenager, she became fascinated by the macabre; science fiction, leper colonies, tropical diseases, jungle aeroplane crashes, concentration camps and cannibalism. Life was never boring except when you lived in a small city in Devon. Now she’s old. She knows about midges and mosquitos from her travels. She understands disease vectors and vaccinations. She knows about sunburn and Ebola and AIDS. She knows about keeping yourself safe if you’re a woman. And now that she knows about a virus, for which there is no prevention or cure, she doesn’t see those heavy robes and face-coverings as a way only to keep women in their place. She thinks maybe that was how families protected the precious mothers and daughters and how they kept each other as safe as it was possible to be, in a threatening and random world. She sees people in Sainsbury’s wearing a mask and thinks it wasn’t so daft to cover yourself up if you lived where terrible diseases were endemic and you couldn’t afford to get sick. Once again, she wonders and ponders about people living all over the world. People with only their own resources to feed themselves, and with little medical support. In her life she has seen and read and talked and discussed. She loves her own culture, literature and music and poetry. She admires artists who have recreated beautiful women, and men, for thousands of years, who have lauded the features of the Venus de Milo, nothing hidden, all laid out and exposed to all the elements. And Michelangelo’s David - uncorrupted by any blemish. Ultimate beauty and healthiness. She is calm about the future because what will be will be. In the end Gaia will put everything right.
Covid19 in 2020
I don’t know anyone who has been seriously ill or died from Covid19. I have read and heard about such tragedies but it seems like another world outside of my door while I am isolating. I have to confess that I have been minimally affected compared to many. It was a bit of a problem doing my usual grocery order on line as all the slots were booked up for as far as they were offered and although I didn’t get to the supermarket, I was told that the shelves were empty of medicinal products and toilet rolls as well as other items. I guess there must be a lot of people in the community with upset stomachs. The lack of other staple items like the pasta was a problem for some, as shelves emptied as fast as they were topped up. The introduction of foreign foods into Britain is to blame for the lack of pasta which I never had as a child nor did I have pizza but I did have Welsh rarebit. Mother cooked curry every Wednesday but that’s different. Last month my granddaughter and her partner were devastated because they had painted half of the garden fence of their new house and they couldn’t get any paint to match, which will mean that they have to do the work all over again with a different colour. Covid 19 is to blame for such a great disaster, as it has made people address DIY they have ignored for years and now can’t get the products needed. I was a war baby. I can just about remember the days of post-war, ration books, just a smear of butter to last the week, milk stored on a cold slab in the pantry. I used to get sixpence a week pocket money if I did some chores. I would go to the local sweet shop with my ration book and buy a block of Highland toffee and a block of Highland liquorice toffee if there were enough coupons left. The radio linked us to the outside world. We walked to where we needed to go. We didn’t miss telephones, televisions, supermarkets to fill trolleys, shopping on line, foreign food takeaways or dining out because we never had them. We did have fish and chip shops but often couldn’t afford a fish so made do with chips and scraps. Over the years there have been epidemics, pandemics and other disasters disrupting the lives of the people. The real and present faceless enemy Corvid 19 has upset the world we live in in 2020. Some have faced hardship, disease and isolation and hunger in their lives but the ones probably hardest hit are the people who have never lacked before and those without support of family and friends. Compared to many I consider I have had it easy so far I miss seeing my family and joining my friends on our usual lunch dates. I miss my Church and my Church family; I miss seeing my fellow writers at the weekly group meetings. I have missed shopping, seeing, handling and trying before I buy. I am grateful for the kindness of family, friends and neighbours for looking out for me, offering to shop and the frequent ‘phone calls to see if I need any help which today has replaced the intertwined local community of bygone days. There have been a number of iffy ‘phone calls which were obviously tricksters taking advantage of the lockdown and the vulnerability brought about by isolation and loneliness. Then there’s the people pretending to give masks at the door in order to rob the home owner and offers to shop, taking the money and not returning. Sad that is but the heartening emergence of people going over and above the call of duty, delivering food parcels, genuine offers of shopping and looking out for the shielded and isolated. The belated requirement for the use of masks in enclosed spaces is seen as a necessity to protect others but they do cause my glasses to steam up. I hope I don’t bang into you if I’m out and about. The previous generation had learnt to be hardier and withstand hardship with stoicism. It was a harsher world, experiencing wars, separation and loss. There was no National Health Service and the threat of the workhouse for those who couldn’t support themselves. In those days when you died, you died. There was no resuscitation, respirators or modern medicines. There was no unemployment benefit and the range of monetary support seen during this current viral attack. I guess my parents would have just got on with their lives adjusting to the hardships and not necessarily blaming everybody else. I have a mental picture of my mother in her eighties sitting in her rocking chair in her kitchen having all her teeth pulled out by the local dentist. On telling her how brave she was she responded with “If it hurts it will soon be over and won’t be for long”. She had brought six children, one a baby in arms, on her own from India to England, while my father fought his way through an enemy inhabited jungle. Today I sit in a warm house, talk to others on the ‘phone, buy on-line, watch television, read and write, have food to eat but can’t go to the theatre, football match etc. It isn’t life threatening but it is very unfortunate that so many have had their livelihood taken from them, facing financial ruin and an insecure future. My heart goes out to them and the thousands of people that have suffered from Covid 19 and lost loved ones to the virus. Gwyneth
Where the plague of class overlaps with a global pandemic
PLAY 1946 National Coal Board. Aeons of time. Kept in line. King Coal rules the day. Work hard. Keep the home fires burning. Salt of the Earth. Life blood of a nation.
STOP Mines lost. Jobs the cost. People On the scrapheap. Winners, losers, Spin or die. Take your pick and shove Your communities.
FAST FORWARD Bright new futures. Circles of light. Coronas Around the sun. What you can’t see Can’t hurt you, Unless it’s a Virus
REWIND Scum, not salt of the Earth. Discarded entities. Those not needed Now feed us. Key workers Keep the wheels turning. Shame On all of us.
Pandemic 24th July 2020
I like smiling. I smile at babies, old people, sullen teenagers. They may look surprised but usually smile back. Job done. We both feel better. Today I’m wearing a mask, Now do I smile? Is it worth it? Or shall I shout ‘Hello’? Pity I can't see a thing; my glasses are steamed up. I actually wonder if I’m 2 metres away from my fellow shoppers. Welcome to life in the wake of Covid 19
I have walked a lot since the lockdown began back in March. Without having to work on my feet, run after grandchildren or enjoy a swim. I vowed to stay fit. I discovered hidden treasures in Wakefield. The Trans-Pennine Way, old bridle paths around the city, narrow roads along the route of long forgotten railway lines. The old sleepers and tracks still visible. The dried-up streams became my orchestra as July rains re-energized them. Returning home, I would dust off my yellowed copy Of British Birds and Wildflowers and research what I had seen accompanied by a welcome cup of tea and a hob nob or two, undoing all my good work. The mark on my leather belt is a permanent reminder of where it used to fasten.
‘’My journal entry for 24th March began ‘no pubs, no schools, no cafes, no gyms, supermarket shelves empty’ I should have added no family, no friends. Little did I realize then what mattered most. I Zoomed into my first virtual meeting on that date too. Face Time , Whats App became the order of the day. The digital world opened up. I purchased a new laptop to replace my clunky old model. It was like driving a Porsche as opposed to an old Morris Minor.
I coped with lockdown well. Frustrated certainly but others had it much worse. Those shielding or living with an abusive partner. Now I feel a certain lethargy has overtaken me. Like a Duracell battery on low power. I crave an impromptu meal with friends, a visit to the cinema or theatre. The world has shrunk. I feel bereaved. My life was good, warts and all. I miss it.
Covid 19 and the NHS: a personal perspective
I was born in 1948, a month before the NHS came into being. My father had to use his medical insurance to pay for the hospital bill. Like a lot of people back then, we didn’t have much money, but we made regular trips to the sweet shop to claim the sweet rations along with my dad’s packet of Woodbines. But as things in Britain improved, we came to take the free NHS for granted. My first memory of the NHS was when I had my tonsils out at the age of four and when I had an eye operation aged five. I would be lying if I said they were good memories but the operations worked and they didn’t cost my parents anything. In the early part of my life, I didn’t know anyone who worked in the NHS and my experiences of hospitals in my twenties to fifties were not positive ones. In my mind, doctors and nurses were hard-hearted and scary and I avoided them as much as I could.
Fast forward to 2020 and the Covid 19 pandemic, when stories of dedicated NHS workers brought the nation to tears of gratitude. Surely these can’t be the same doctors and nurses who treated me so carelessly in my earlier years. The answer is that they are not the same. Those that treated me are long gone. There is a culture about treating patients with dignity and respect now and more knowledge about the mental effects of hospitalisation and trauma. I have recently met some retired doctors, nurses and health workers and come to realise that, like the ones treating Covid patients with such dedication and humanity, they are people just like everyone else.
At the start of the lockdown, I phoned my 91-year-old widowed aunt, living alone on the East coast. She had no-one to get her shopping, no-one to talk to and apart from a landline phone, no communication with the outside world. I urged her to phone the church, the doctors or anyone else who could help her, but apart from a sermon pushed through the letterbox she heard nothing from anyone. Stories on the TV about neighbours helping vulnerable members of the community did not extend to where she lived it seemed. She talked about getting the bus to town to post a birthday card to her friend and having a go at mowing the lawn because the man who did the garden hadn’t turned up. It’s difficult to make any sense of what eventually happened to change things, as her accounts on the phone were rather confused. But after a couple of weeks, a lady from the church offered to get her shopping and when she suddenly became ill and phoned her GP, he came round the same day. Even in times of national crisis, the NHS did not leave a 91-year-old in pain.
So Covid 19 Pandemic has changed my perception of the NHS. It’s almost as old as I am and like me, it has probably changed a lot over time. I have always appreciated the service it gave, but Covid 19 has allowed me to see the humanity behind it and I really hope that this new national respect for NHS workers will carry on long after this crisis has passed.
Clad in a smart fleece-lined tan-coloured car coat, he stood out from the duffel coats and anoraks. His exaggerated ‘Oxford’ accent stood out even more from the range of Midland and Northern accents I’d encountered since arriving at Uni. It must have sounded distinctive at his grammar school too, where the mutual friend who introduced us had also been.
‘He’s changing colleges next year’. This was almost unheard of, like starting the season with Liverpool and transferring to Man. City halfway through. There must have been reasons, though I didn’t ask why. He changed to our college, where Geordie, Scouse, Mancunians and Yorkshire lads mixed along together quite happily, with a thin seasoning of southerners like me learning the ways of life north of Potters Bar.
It was an uneasy start for my new car-coat acquaintance. All students shared rooms the term he came. He was placed with a member of the Socialist Workers Group, who met in the shared room every Sunday afternoon. He showed his lack of appreciation, firstly by burning sticks of self-igniting incense, possibly to demonstrate his High-Church affiliation. They didn’t take the hint, so he squirted lighter fuel under the door and ignited that instead. The Socialist Workers went elsewhere.
In his second term I got to know him better. We’d sit round after Sunday formal dinner listening to ‘Round the Horne’, laughing at its camp humour, before dispersing to our weekend essays and practical write-ups. He was reading theology, apparently with the idea of being an academic priest. He’d was having an unrewarding relationship with a pretty nurse, who was also reading theology. I’d recently ‘broken off’, so we had a common bond. The others in our group didn’t have ‘relationships’. He made it a rule never to work on Saturday evenings, so we made up time after the socially wasted Saturday evenings in the first year. After a very lonely and uncertain first year, I felt him a distinct asset and talked to him about topics the others didn’t care to raise.
Then things started to go wrong. He came to my 21st and distinguished himself as the only person who got legless. Three of us had to sit on him till his desire to pay a call to his beloved nurse subsided. Several pints of beer were given in recompense to the student who unwisely volunteered to take him back to his room in his car, borrowed from his dad. His confidante in our group told me about his unhappy home life, his mother dying with the strain of the breakup. It was soon after the passing of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, but what had been tacitly accepted in Metropolitan London for several years didn’t go down well in the provinces. When my friend stayed with his divorced father and partner over Easter, the postcard I tactlessly sent from Florence of Michelangelo’s statue of David was not well-received.
He returned to college in a bad state. He was taken to a Victorian mental hospital to recover, but when offered a dessert spoon with which to eat his breakfast egg, he discharged himself and indignantly returned on the bus. After various pills and a lot of patient care on the part of those of the rest of our group who hadn’t had enough of him, he seemed recovered, but we noticed his character had changed. The car coat had gone forever. The Oxford accent was becoming even more noticeable with a slight lisp attached. He adopted a more elitist approach to life, cultivating a disaffected Old Etonian who reluctantly ended up in our rather egalitarian college.
In the autumn, his closest friend went to Germany for his year out and suggested I should take over as his special confidante. However, I wanted to travel a more conventional path through life. We drifted apart the final year, although he was somewhat shocked and a bit hurt when he found me in compromising circumstances with a female student. Notwithstanding, he was almost the only one of my group who made any attempt to be sociable to her. I’d felt like John introducing Yoko to the other Beatles.
We kept up after college. In Manchester he took his favourite class of boys to the Midland Hotel and treated them to afternoon tea taken off a gold tea service. In Birmingham he educated bishops’ daughters. He then attempted to enter various monastic orders. At one, he felt it had been worthwhile as Marianne Faithfull had attended High Mass there with her mother. At another, he persuaded the school cadet force to present the visiting General with bunches of daffodils. The monastic life was not for him.
He settled down working for the Charities Commission in St James and was able to move to Brighton in the mid-1970s. I received letters about superannuated Bavarian Princes who were enjoying the nautical atmosphere there and throwing wild parties. For several years, religious-themed Christmas cards would arrive with amusing but slightly scurrilous stories in them. One evening, he rang me when I was not feeling at my best. I’d also just put the children to bed.
‘I’m getting married!’ ‘Er… congratulations who is it? Do I know her? ‘He’s an able-bodied seaman on the Newhaven Dieppe Ferry!’ ‘Oh, well, yes, very good. I hope you’ll be happy’.
I’d read about HIV and its impact on gay communities. He anticipated my next words. ‘We’re not using Durex. I don’t care what happens’. He’d never used Durex even in his Don Juan days, which had caused major problems on one occasion.
The Christmas cards continued to arrive for several years after that but without the stories Then one Christmas they stopped. I hoped he’d found some happiness in his life.
After the Storm
After the storm we potter, random in our course salvaging what we can in silence.
Correcting, straightening, mending. Building for the future with minute careful tending.
And sadder, wiser, without hurry we meet
tentative, reluctant to accept the night could hold such fury.
Living with the Pandemic
I’m not surviving the pandemic It’s stopping anything academic And getting me in a panic
Food shopping is frenetic Meditation makes me melancholic I might soon be an alcoholic.
Prompt Seventeen: Living with the Pandemic
Our starting point for prompt seventeen comes from an article by the American novelist, Tayari Jones and an article in the Observer earlier this year. She is writing about living through the Cornona Virus crisis and I invite you to read her article very closely. We’ll start with the opening paragraph:
I was born in 1970, two years after Martin Luther King Jr was martyred in service to civil rights for all Americans. As a child, I reaped the benefits of the sacrifices of my parents’ generation. I was spared the tyranny of Dick and Jane, instead learning to read with books featuring drawings of happy, beautiful black children. My first paediatrician was a black man, modelling for me and my brother that we could be doctors, scientists, or whatever else we wanted to be. I never felt the sting of a racial slur hurled at my face until I was about 40 years old, living in New York City. Because of the strong foundation on which I had been built, I experienced the insult with annoyed disbelief, not as a blow to my soul.
Points to note:
The introductory sentence. Look at the power and scope of this first sentence. Look at how she takes us, the reader, from the personal, “I was born in 1970,” to the universal, “two years after Martin Luther King Jr was martyred in service to civil rights for all Americans.” Look too at the carful word choices she has made: “martyred,” “in service” and “all Americans.” Ask yourself how effective this sentence is.
Look at how she expands on the positive message in sentence one into the following three sentences.
Note how the crescendo of positive feeling is abruptly halted with the phrase, “the sting of a racial slur.”
Note too, the balance of the final sentence and how effective it is in rounding off the opening paragraph. This paragraph now serves as a brilliant opening to the rest of the piece. The reader is alerted to the tone, subject matter and direction of the remainder of the article.
Now read the whole article:
Planet virus: living with the pandemic
Tayari Jones, US: ‘We are living in a horrific Venn diagram, where the plague of racism overlaps with a global pandemic’ Tayari Jones is the author of five novels. Her fourth book, An American Marriage, won the 2019 Women’s prize for fiction. Her latest novel, Silver Sparrow, was published in March, to critical acclaim. Born and raised in Atlanta, she returned to the city recently after a decade in New York, to teach at Emory University.
I was born in 1970, two years after Martin Luther King Jr was martyred in service to civil rights for all Americans. As a child, I reaped the benefits of the sacrifices of my parents’ generation. I was spared the tyranny of Dick and Jane, instead learning to read with books featuring drawings of happy, beautiful black children. My first paediatrician was a black man, modelling for me and my brother that we could be doctors, scientists, or whatever else we wanted to be. I never felt the sting of a racial slur hurled at my face until I was about 40 years old, living in New York City. Because of the strong foundation on which I had been built, I experienced the insult with annoyed disbelief, not as a blow to my soul. Social justice has always been my parents’ ministry. As a mere teenager, my mother participated in the Oklahoma City sit-ins, three years before the famous Greensboro demonstrations. My father protested segregation at the Greyhound bus station; for his trouble he was arrested, jailed for a week, and then expelled from university. Their bravery was rooted in a commitment to bettering the world for the next generation. This is my parents’ greatest gift to me: a life without the daily in-your-face racism that they faced growing up in the Jim Crow south.
But now, in 2020, my parents are on my mind every day, as we are living in a horrific Venn diagram, where the plague of racism overlaps with a global pandemic. Mama and Daddy are, thankfully, in good health. But they are 77 and 84 years old. They aren’t young any more. Covid-19 is especially dangerous to the elderly. It is especially lethal for elderly black people. Luckily, my parents are intelligent. They listen to doctors. Daddy is especially compliant, wearing the masks my mother sews, even when we meet for our weekly outdoor visits.
The conversation inevitably turns to politics, and all of our moods darken. Every day there is another outrage. The police murders are the hardest, as they echo the lynchings that were an omnipresent danger in my father’s boyhood in small-town Louisiana. Above his mask, eyes reflect anger and despair.
My parents live in a lovely neighbourhood of roomy stucco homes, nestled on cul-de-sac blocks, adorned with crepe myrtle trees and dogwoods. It must be said that it is a lovely black neighbourhood. (The mayor herself lives only a mile or so away.) They chose to live on this side of town because they enjoy the comfort of other black folks. Here, they are free of the hassles of everyday racism, like your neighbours mistaking your kids for prowlers and calling the police. They do, however, have to deal with the soft racism that shows itself in the little things. For example, their favourite grocery chain won’t deliver to their home, but pick-up service is an option. I live about 15 minutes away in an integrated neighbourhood, so we have the food delivered to me and then I take it to them. I am happy to be useful.
The person who delivers the groceries also does the shopping. My order appears on her phone and she texts me to ask if it’s OK to substitute white rice for brown, or pears for apples. She apologises that there is no yeast in the store at all. The hired shopper is almost always a black person, usually a woman. One day, she drove up as I waited on my deck. From my perch, I told her to make sure to take the envelope tacked to the door, where I leave extra tip money. I asked her if she would like a bottle of water.
“No, ma’am,” she said. “We have plenty in the car.” Unmasked, chatty, and vivacious, she explained that every day she drove two hours to Atlanta. Her town, she said, didn’t need much grocery delivery. “Also, we drive for Uber Eats!”
Confused, I said, “Who is ‘we’? Do you work with a partner?”
She said: “No! It’s me and him.” She went to her car and opened the back door. A few seconds later, she showed me a plump baby. She held his arm and bobbed it so it looked like he was waving.
On the drive to my parents, all I could think about was that baby. The delivery woman is what we call an “essential worker”, which means that she works for low wages and cannot shelter at home to hide from the virus. I imagined her walking through the store, infant on her hip, shouldering the risk for me and my family. I thought of the extra tip tucked in an envelope. It wasn’t enough. It could never be enough.
When I arrived at my parents’ home, they were waiting on the lawn, sitting on folding chairs. Daddy stood and took a step toward me, his arms extended, but then he remembered and let them fall to his side. My mother invited me to look at her flowerbeds, fretting that her begonias weren’t thriving this year.
I told them about the delivery woman and her baby.
“How old?” my mother asked.
“Six months, looked like.”
Daddy frowned at his fist. “This goddamned country,” he said.
Now it was my turn to move in his direction, arms outstretched, only to turn away because, in the age of Covid-19, touching is not allowed.
Writing Task: And now we get to the rub. This task is larger in scope than any before it. We are working under the title of: Surviving the Pandemic. It is our personal view and we can choose to write poetry, prose, fiction or non-fiction. It has a much larger allowable word limit than usual: 1,000 words and a longer deadline: Thursday 30th July. As always, good luck with your work, apply everything you’ve picked up from Tayari Jones about shape, structure and word choice and enjoy! There will be no further writing prompts set until the end of August. At that point we will be able to take stock and see where we, as a group, are heading. In the meantime, you will still hear from me as I intend to put together a book of our responses to the virus and I will be contacting a number of you for clarifications and permissions and no doubt I will also be offering humble suggestions.
Prompt Sixteen responses
August the 1st is David’s birthday, which we always spend on Sark But not this year August the 3rd is our wedding anniversary, also usually on Sark But not this year August 10th is our millennium grandchild’s birthday She sees her estranged dad But not this year August 15th is little Evie’s birthday - The 16th our daughter’s wedding anniversary But this year we will be self-isolating, shielding Avoiding human contact. This year we will not be having a pint at the Island Hall In a noisy Friday night crowd We won’t have birthday cake and a barbecue by the pool.
On the other hand we won’t be squashed into a rubber dinghy or starving in Yemen either.
Oh August we see what Spring has become. Venerable, imposing, sublime. You wear Nature as raiment fit for a lord. The noble leader whose name was bestowed on you might have ruled over a pax Romana, but you have your mense pace. Your settled days providing a safe and secure time for the nurturing of nature’s treasure. You are the bridge from the fulness of July to the ninth month with her shedding of daylight minutes. Oh Venerable August We await you.
August arrived in a flurry of showers, interspersed with gusts fit to shake the house. It was towards the end of summer, yet still with the smile of the sun and rich with the harvest of life.
August's nature reflected the changeable. Sometimes sunny, other times menacing but also giving. He wore his golden hair like a halo, sweet and mild but was given to outbursts of rage. His golden halo transformed into an angry black blanket, causing people to scurry for shelter before the storm erupted.
It was the time for fun and holidays., No homework or the threat of exams to spoil their lives yet August could or would not let them delight in it.
He had been petted and spoiled by his older siblings, April, May, June and Julie who failed to comprehend his moods especially when they held August so special.
Before too long August was usurped by the arrival of Septimus, who brought the return of plenteous, eclipsing the saddened, self-pitying one. Out came the sweaters and warm scarves. There were school uniforms and satchels smelling wonderful of new leather, filled with the new like rulers, protractors, pencil cases stuffed with new pens, pencils and rubbers. August was no longer held in the esteem he previously enjoyed and faded out of favour as time moved on.
Of all the months I hold so dear, August is the time of year. Families gather like ants Picnicking and chattering Filling my life with joys and laugher The heat bakes and warms you within With so much to entertain we must begin. Joyful children running about None are even slightly stout. Making mud pancakes in the sun. Touching toads and frogs. And flapping after butterflies and bugs, Laying in the grass, hide and seek. At night lightening bugs are gathered in a jar. To light our way. There is nothing more grand that an August sky, With birds and clouds dotting the view up high.
Really, the important thing, if I think about it, is dad’s happiness. My brother Charlie had seen him outside the cinema with this ‘blousy’ woman. I know he doesn’t fancy the idea of dad hooking up with anybody after losing mum, but he made her sound like a woman of the night.
He’d snapped a photo of them laughing together as they stood in the foyer. She looked summery in a loose cream dress, floral swirls of red and yellow, teamed with white trainers...Glasses stuck on the top of her head. An August woman, I told myself...like a full-blown rose. Her shoulder length hair was auburn streaking blond highlights.
I could see what Charlie meant about her being blousy but I would rather say voluptuous and maybe, a little frayed round the edges. I envisaged her wafting a warm, heavy perfume as she moved closer to dad. She appeared to be a woman who had seen life, who knew where everything fit. She had tramped through new mown hay with daisies in her hair and had chased the fox from the chicken coop. Who now was resigned to flirting with a sombre man with wintery hair, but still robust enough to brace an unpredictable wind.
Well! I understand Charlie’s anxiety but dad is on his own now. Mum wouldn’t begrudge him a vestige of the joy they had shared together. She had been a snowdrop, bravely pushing through the spring of her illness. Later calming his fears as he took her round the lake in her wheelchair. And even though he is a man finding his way again, I think he owes himself the challenge of a woman who flaunts hooped earrings and whose signature might be the Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen.
Do you remember when Life seemed endless Uncertainty our single guarantee? The horizon bounded only by The salmon sky beyond the rising sun. Timid shoots arising from milk chocolate fields.
Now the golden dust of harvest Tempers the radiance of summer The thresher has finished for the day The wheat ejected into servant trucks.
The bales of straw scattered like Upended packs of sugar cubes. Cute-eared field mice roam in search of winter quarters in some domestic garage.
On the gentle rise the flinty church has witnessed this so many times before. Peering sternly from above a stand of trees, dark green now edged with rust and ochre.
“What a nice day it’s been” “Yes, not a bad summer, Not bad at all.” Time we were home To water runner beans Before the autumnal dark arrives.
Eyeing the crumbs of lemon cheesecake The dregs of second cups of tea. We must return here sometime soon.
In July 2020, NASA announced a change in the constellations that led to the 12 signs of the zodiac 2,500 years ago. There is now another constellation called Ophiuchus – the snake bearer – and as a result, many birth dates now have different zodiac signs. Those born in early August are some of those affected. Formerly straddling Leo and Virgo ( Lion and Lady sign) August is now Cancer and Leo (Crab and Lion).
Lost in space
August was a Leo and a Virgo too. But when they changed the zodiac, He got into a stew. When NASA’s consternations About all the constellations Changed his Virgo to a Cancer sign, His visage turned to blue.
‘I’ve tattoos inked upon each knee: The lion and the lady, They’re there for all eternity, To change is a monstrosity. A pain in the astrology. It’s surely an atrocity’. Said August with a frown. ‘I will not swap my Virgo for A crabby Cancer crown.
Who is this brand new upstart With his brand new shining sign? They say his name’s ‘Oh- fee-kuss’ He’s a snake whose bite’s benign. Well I’ll never stand aside for him. I do not give a dam. And I’m looking for the same response From Fish and Twin and Ram.’
As August ended off his rant The sun and stars looked down, ‘You lot believe in anything. This zodiac’s a clown. For August is still August: A month of sun and heat. A month for days upon the beach And putting up your feet.’
It had all the markings that would identify it as a total family disaster. And we had form. My parents had emigrated to New Zealand following my father’s retirement. It still makes me gulp when I think about it nearly fifty years on. I appreciate the straight audacity of such a decision now that I am past the age when they made this move. But I felt orphaned.
My parents and I had finished off a bottle of sherry and a packet of Jaffa cakes that were the only things left in their kitchen cupboard, and departed for the airport with a one-way ticket, via Hong Kong, to visit one of my other brothers. Emptiness swamped this adult child.
It was not deliberate timing but we made our first born within days of their leaving. ‘Deliberate’ anything was not really possible despite advances in contraception but this was never really appreciated by my mother. Her blue, flimsy, airmail letters came to a sharp and deliberate stop. She never forgave my perceived wickedness in making a grandchild to celebrate their departure. It was not a matter we ever discussed.
There were occasional state visits to our home, and a three month stay when our second child, was nearly three, but firm relationships were never established again. Mother died in the mid-eighties. My father and I made steps to sort out how we were going to make this work. We had one good piece of fabric in the bag of bits. We knew that we loved each other, despite his wife and my mother. A good start.
A visit was to be made. I saved up leave from my work, and we decided as a family that I would go to New Zealand for five weeks with Tom, now nearly fourteen, and Chris would look after Alex. We chose the long school holiday so that no education would be lost, and plunged over the world to see my Kiwi family, via Disneyland in Los Angeles. It was August 1990 and winter in New Zealand.
Well here we go. Prompt Sixteen and we are working with notions of the seasons and individual months. We are on familiar ground of course, Keats nailed autumn for all time by referring to "seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness," while Sylvia Plath railed against spring where "idiots reel giddy in bedlam Spring." Thomas Hood played on the name of an autumnal month and produced his famous conclusion, "No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds!/ November!" While Eliot tipped everything on its head and famously announced, "April is the cruellest month." As I say, it's a well-worn path and one on which we must tread carefully as there are cliches to the left and hackneyed phrases to the right. So have a read of what the American poet, Beverly Burch makes of January.
January Time to practice. Midwinter, your heart’s clock slows down. Your eye won’t labor for small treasures, ignoring the velvety depth of gray, fretwork of branches against sky. It’s easy to open up in April, young sun, one blooming thing after another until you forget the casualties. And October’s feast, showers of red on the street, gold on the table. Now chilled bursts of air cuff your face and you say January’s a brutalist. I say, a master class. Out of the numbed-down life. I’m not brave, just imagine wilder places, as if I might actually go. Like the Arctic north, stripped of illusion. It could undo the schooling to brush off extinction, whether we survive this world. No remorse, it kills with unbearable beauty.
So there we are, we're on our own now folks. Our prompt Sixteen is simply: August See what you can do with that. Prose or poetry, but remember to make it new. Not what your readers expect, but what will make them sit up and take notice. Good luck!
Prompt Fifteen responses
Not Herring Gulls
Not Herring Gulls
Car bound in a dirty car park with a pale cappuccino tasting of its plastic cup, it came to me. Love finds its soul in the day to day of a rough edged life. It is there in the observing of small meanings and understandings.
He opened the pesky sandwich triangle for me, carefully peeling off the flaccid top slice and folding it over. He then said ‘watch’. Before I could mouth a protest, he threw it out of the window on to the rain drenched tarmac.
A noisy crowd of pretty, black -headed gulls with bright eyes, fell on the claggy triangle of white bread, their wings like bright, clean sea -going sails, tipping this way and that. One beaked the whole slice, a second before the rest fell about him.
They danced in the drizzle, like a Christmas crown of angel’s wings, shrieking and laughing at the steady rain, their dainty feet detailing against the pure white.
Grinning, he said ‘I knew you’d like that – they are not savage and greedy like the herring gulls’
Love Is Beyond Words
Love is beyond words.
Love is something you can't quite put your finger on.
"I love you" is what you say to your mum - maybe.
But it really is the sitting beside her and leaning snugly on her shoulder when she isn't particularly happy.
"I love you" is what you say to your dad - maybe
But is is really fetching his cardi even though he didn't ask for it.
"I love you" is what you say to your kids - maybe
But is really shutting their curtains and making a path through to the bed after you've given them a lift from town (at 3:00 am)
"I love you" is what you say to your husband - maybe
But it is really knowing which condiments go with which meal and knowing when to make a cup of tea.
"I love you" is what you say to me - maybe
But it is really the hugs, the smiles, the kisses. The wordless language of love.
THIS IS LOVE
You told me I was beautiful when my nose was streaming and my hair was lank. Made me laugh when I was sad and wiped away my tears.
You anticipated my wants masquerading as needs. You forgave and forgot, put the bins out, not asked, and unblocked the bunged up loo
You pretended to enjoy that tasteless meal, switched off the cowboy film, not my choice and tolerated unwarranted blame without umbrage or strops
You reassured my insecurities stayed silent when I unburdened supported me those times when self-doubt overwhelmed me. You loved me more than self.
Till whatever do us part
Is this really love Do you care for me as much as I care for you We measure, we compare We fight and forgive
Is my love that of a dutiful wife or carer of a petulant child Are you the protective husband or a lodger with a slave You treat me as such
Are we just on loan 'till something else comes along Is this really love
We sit across the table day after day, year after year Conversation gets shorter and the silence gets longer Only courtesies remain
Is this the life we chose or one we choose to tolerate Are we together through choice or for the obligations we made Clinging to what was
Responsibility and respect keep this relationship maintained Is this really love
Café on a rainy day
‘It was with that final kiss that I knew she was the one,’ he said, as he poured another cup of tea from the stained white tea pot, ‘but by then it was too late.’ ‘I’m sorry,’ I said, leaning back in my seat. It seemed a long time since I asked him how he was. He sipped his tea in awkward silence as I stared at the crystal drops weaving their way down the steamy café window. There was a clink as he put down his cup. ‘What about you?’ A sudden breeze cooled the air, as a couple in matching blue coats swung open the café door, donning their hoods like armour against the rain. ‘Me?’ I muttered. ‘Oh you know. Married the wrong guy.’ ‘Divorced?’ I nodded. ‘Long time ago now.’ ‘Kids?’ ‘No… You?’ ‘No.’ Our eyes turned towards the sudden influx of people bursting into the café, closing umbrellas, wiping raindrops from their spectacles; the smell of damp clothes mingling with the faint aroma of coffee. ‘The weather’s getting worse.’ I said, struggling for something to say. He said nothing. But after the waitress had cleared the table, he reached across and took my hand. And there we sat. Hand in hand. Frozen in a moment of time, sitting in a café on a rainy day, as if we had turned back the clock. The last time we held hands was in a café like this. It was just before he kissed me and told me he wanted his freedom. And it was with that final kiss, that I knew he was the one.
It’s because that first kiss was a giggle after the Saturday dance. Love was what people saw at the pictures, not wrought by a flirtatious glance. Married life proved hectic with a man to please? I could never think clearly with a mind full of teething balm and nappies. Sometimes we escaped domestic bliss for an evening at the theatre. Afterwards zooming back home on the Lambretta, to yawning sitters and sleeping babes. (We’d had three by this time.)
Later, Macmillan may have declared “We had never had it so good” But he wasn’t cobbling together our finances. We tootled down to Cornwall on the Fosse Way, kids asleep on pillows in the back of our tiny Morris Minor; holidays hooking out spider crabs, always too short.
A decade on, they did their own Saturday stuff at the local cinema. We shopped in town. Your infatuation with Wakefield Trinity meant us meeting up after the match. Fingers tapping, I waited for you at the entrance to the city. The football fans were like ants moving as bison on mass over Kirkgate bridge. You emerged from the crowd, face flushed , eyes a glow thrilled by the game. You caught sight of me standing there. You hesitated. Everything about us seemed to distance. My heart leaped into my throat, breath taken away. Your pupils darkened. I couldn’t speak. Silently you gripped my hand and through a purple-haze we strolled to Marks and Spencer’s.
A vision of Paphos
Sickened by the wantonness of women in our town, their dress, their language, their attitude. None would make me happy for life I vowed to create the ideal woman One who’d be perfect in every way.
My life savings invested in a rough block of best Carrara marble translucent with a touch of soft pink. Zealously I set to in my studio.
The proportions carefully sculpted Over many months. The features more perfect than any celebrity of stage or screen.
My love grew as she neared perfection Mineral transformed to animal, under my expert hammer and chisel the long flowing hair took an age.
The marble now blushing like the morning’s dawn, she looks up adoringly through sightless eyes a delicate smile playing across her face I kiss her every night But every time cold stone meets my lips.
Ever beautiful, always there for me She’ll never grow old, have arguments, run off with other men Away from my temper. She gazes at me in eternal admiration My love for ever.
How did you become this man smiling at me?
Let the air carry my mistakes, my misjudgements, lift them away.
A beam of light guides you, it lingers, effulgent for others.
These glimpses of the sublime, this business of love, I mean.
He paused by the window to consider what someone had told him about the Greeks, their language, and scenes such as this,
these moments: the pale disc of the moon fading out of shot, wispy grey morning, moments;
the Sunday flock of pigeons scattered from the city square, the low sun zeroed in casting greenfly in bronze, moments.
Or moments like Dolores O’Riordan raising the key in confession, I know I’ve felt like this before but now I’m feeling it even more.
These moments of epiphany like with the woman who shared the bed they’d bought at Slash Carpets, Tring with thirty years now on the clock.
She who biroed out mistakes in the Guardian crossword cursing vowels and a spelling block. Or, as she often did, slipping aside toothpaste, tinned potatoes and flakes for folk at the foodbank.
Yes, these moments without a word of Greek just being present at the sulphur struck against the sandpaper moment
like the songbird silhouette posted topmost, euphonious, tune bombing the sky.
Prompt Fifteen. Love? It's all Greek to me
Well, prompt 15 and we've got a lot to read, look at and think about. Yes, we are wrestling with that ol' devil called Love. Let's start with a Wendy Cope Poem:
It's all because we're so alike - Twin souls, we two. We smile at the expression, yes, And know it's true.
I told the shrink. He gave our love A different name. But he can call it what he likes - It's still the same.
I long to see you, hear your voice, My narcissistic object-choice.
Now let's see what the Greeks had to say about love:
Seven Greek words for love 1.Eros: romantic, passionate love Eros is passion, lust, pleasure. It’s an appreciation for one’s physical being or beauty, and is driven by attraction and sexual longing. It describes desire and obsession and is most similar to what we think of as romantic, passionate love between life partners. At least in the earlier stages of courtship, when everything is crazy-hot and you can’t get enough of each other, that is. 2. Philia: intimate, authentic friendship Philia is characterized by intimacy, knowing, and soul-to-soul bonds. It’s encouraging, kind, and authentic; the stuff from which great friendship is made, regardless of whether it’s with a platonic best friend or a romantic partner. This love is also based in goodwill, or wanting what’s best for the other person. Philia is a connection akin to that of soul mates; it’s one part destiny, another part choice. 3. Ludus: playful, flirtatious love Ludus is infatuation, toying, flirtation. It describes the situation of having a crush and acting on it. It’s rooted in having fun, whatever that means specifically to you. Ludus is definitely the love you’d experience with a fling—casual, sexual, exciting, and with zero implications of obligation. Of all the Greek words for love, this one more than others comes without any eros or philia attachment. 4. Storge: unconditional, familial love Storge is the protective, kinship-based love you likely experience with family members. You might love your sister, even if you don’t like her, for instance, and you might love your dad, despite the mistakes he made in raising you. Storge is driven by familiarity and need and is sometimes thought of as a one-way love. For instance, consider a mother loving her baby before the baby is aware enough to love her back. Storge can also describe a sense of patriotism toward a country or allegiance to the same team. 5. Philautia: self-love Self-love is hardly a new concept, as evidenced by the ancient Greeks having a word to describe it: philautia. It encompasses two concepts: The first is that healthy, feeling-myself, care-based love that reinforces self-esteem, like buying yourself a new book as a gift for completing a big work project or putting on a face mask to relax and take care of your skin. The other concept is one of selfishness that can be pleasure- and fame-seeking and highly concerned with status. (It can even be the foundation of narcissism.) 6. Pragma: committed, companionate love Pragma is love built on commitment, understanding and long-term best interests, like building a family. Over time, eros can turn into pragma as a couple grows to honor, respect, and cherish each other, accepting of differences and learning to compromise. It is everlasting love rooted in romantic feelings and companion. 7. Agápe: empathetic, universal love Agápe is love for others that’s inclusive of a love for God, nature, strangers, or the less fortunate. It’s generally an empathetic love toward humanity itself and is sometimes connected to altruism since it involves caring for and loving others without expecting anything in return. This sort of pay-it-forward love—people helping others selflessly—is the foundation of great societies and communities.
And now a picture: Elliot Erwitt's Aspect of Love.
So now we should be just about ready for prompt 15 and the minefield which is writing about love. As you are probably aware there is an elephant trap marked cliche lying ahead but we'll avoid that by looking for a totally different approach to the subject. We have an optional starting line which is: It was with that final kiss that I knew. Good luck everyone.
Prompt Fourteen Responses
Steps across an unsafe bridge
‘John, would you walk her back to hall That bridge isn’t safe for young girls at night’
That weekend a phone call, Parties and cigarettes Getting acquainted Close to a teeming weir By the bridge. Later we’d visit a lesser river.
The weather turned bitter Folk singing, snow and qualms Memories that cling
She supported Civil Rights in Derry. Her Protestant dad called her his ‘little ray of sunshine’. Enough troubles in her life. I let her dump me.
Next summer I delivered phone books in steaming New York, Cared for by a Jewish Mom.
Returning home, a chance encounter near the bridge. She smiled warmly ‘I knew they’d look after you’.
In Jodhpur the ‘boy’ (who was a man) unlocked the very secure, high gates to the Indian Major’s garden. We had booked Airbnb. The only traces of India were the heat, the clothes of the Major’s wife and the fumbling, curved shouldered “Namaste” from the boy. Our accommodation and meals were lavish The Major at the head of the table. The boy rushing in and out, careful not to overreach himself. Touching nothing. No eye-contact. He did not exist. I wanted to reach him, say, “Please”, find out about him. His meekness was disturbing. His squirming subservience was ingrained in his body and face. Owning nothing, not even his clothes. The kitchen floor, his sleeping mat. The boy delivered our laundry to the garden door of our rooms. He was silhouetted by the afternoon sun. “Please come in.” He bowed and bowed. “Please sit down.” He gestured defensively in utter disbelieve at our familiarity and attempts at warmth. The well fed, well-loved dogs on the Major’s veranda luxuriated in the late sun. When we were leaving, we made attempts to thank the boy, to make contact. His shuffling was sad, he knew he was being watched. The gates were locked after us. Disdainful instructions to the boy. The dogs patted, indulged. We were drawn back into the colour, filth, noise of the Indian streets. The boy part of it all. Would that he could sit at the table. Would that he had a name.
Ripples in a stream
Awakened from, a nightmarish dream Where drained of all my self esteem
Stifled and gagged, unable to scream Stripped of my dignity to such an extreme
Like the proverbial cat who's got the cream You think you're back to plot and scheme
Stories filled with the same old theme Of a hellish life under your regime
I will not succumb to that old routine To the outside world, a sight unseen
Echoes of the past unable to redeem Over and over, like ripples in a stream
Life shared on this earth, was far between So, go on back, to wherever you've been.
Hammocked in soft sleep, I am aware but absent in mind. Noisy senses are lulled and fanned open to tendrils of feeling.
The architecture of our room dives out of focus as a Pennine blast billows the curtain, that panics, stills, then flaps again. A steady roaring comes across the valley, up from Cawthorne and over the top to Woolley confirming again the ancient curvature of wiry trees.
My head pillowed, gradually, foetal curling, the beat of the wind takes up the giant presence of the ocean. I meet with it at Bedruthan, Thread through the cliff top survivors: bright thrift and sombre heather pin pointed with campion
I sink into the maelstrom, sea sound working into every bared crevice, not heard, but felt, shaking into the bones of my standing form instructing it to submit.
Above, delta winged sea birds tack shoreward, only to be thrown back into a tornado of twisting winds. Below, the waters come up from the deep, The stern, knotted muscles of Neptune throwing up curtains of spume, Each like a caul over the marching ranks of waves.
The winding gear of St. Agnes misted over the horizon, throws a curve and dissipates the view. The curtain takes another blow and then settles.
Unperceptively you came upon me, I was unaware of your presence for many a year; I managed very well without you, or so I thought.
Then the day of confrontation compelled me to choose, give my life to you or walk away. I agonised with breaking heart, streams of tears
Why choose me? I am not worthy Have been and done where and what I ought not I let you down again and again But still you sought me, pursued me.
I accepted you, have let you down again and again but still you have loved me I am the apple of your eye and you are my beloved, forever faithful, forever true
My sister Jenny loved Jesus. I have a painting she did of three terraced cottages. They are depicted in shades of purple and lilac with red roses round the doors, azure sky and fluffy white clouds. It reminds me of the hint of Devonshire violets loved to wear. She was the eldest of four sisters who, throughout our lives have bled for each other...While appreciating the curing effect of laughter. Following her death an accolade was printed in the Wakefield Express. Telling of how she radiated an aura of love, compassion and unwavering faith... I too want to give testament, knowing that beauty of soul shone through her eyes. After my stepfather had ordered my mother to reduce her former family and move to a smaller house; our Jen found placement for herself and my two older brothers. Being only five summers I was given a home alongside my sister Joyce then eleven. Margot and Jeff, three and two respectively, were born to him and my mother. Although separated, Jen would still not desert us and came to visit every Thursday wearing a black pinafore covered in white fluff from her shift in the mill. Bringing smiles and cuddles, sweets and knitting she was frequently doing for somebody else. She was the glue that held the family together. We would then sleep three in a bed. Before gently settling us, we knelt at the side, hands together, eyes closed while she taught us to pray. Prayers that seemed interminable because they included everybody we could possibly know. She was quietly intelligent, sensitive to others needs before they were expressed, and an unobtrusive guiding hand loaded with all our troubles. She would have been embarrassed reading this.
The Final Session, Ever.
He sat and chatted with me for over an hour. His voice was soothing and calm. I talked of the past and present, I cried.
He moved me to my core as we talked about my life. Never before was I able to find, A more divine person to listen to me about my world. Again I laughed then I cried.
If it weren’t for him giving me my medication, I would never have survived. Like Sylvia Plath, I would have moved through the annals of time.
But I did survive, I am born anew. In order to grow, In order to bloom.
As I sit down to write this letter to you, the wardrobe door creaks open. I see your paisley shirt. The one with the frayed collar and the missing button. I think of Rome. And pistachio ice cream. We passed a bar and heard Edith Piaf, "Non, Je ne regrette rien". You insisted we go inside. You ordered absinthe and said it was “cosmopolitan”. You started French lessons at night school and got a French mistress. I didn't feel 'cosmopolitan'. Just cheated. I decide to put the cap on the silver fountain pen you bought me and go for a ride in my Renault. Maybe I will tell you about Louis, your son, demain.
Well, here we go into prompt fourteen. Two things to read this week as prompt material. We have a piece of prose and then a poem. Our response? We are going to write about someone who enters into our life and then leaves again, leaving a lasting influence. This may be an episode which took place over several months or years, or it may have been a brief meeting where people have been thrown together by chance. Who was this influential person? A member of the wider family? a neighbour? a teacher? And how do we describe this time? Do we go for a straightforward recollection like in Jack Shaefer's prose passage? Or do we adopt the symbolism of the snow globe in the poem? Are we writing as ourselves? Or do we write as though we are someone else? There's a lot to think through on this one. Start be reading the two pieces of text:
And always my mind would go back at the last to that moment when I saw him from the bushes by the roadside just on the edge of town. I would see him there in the road tall and terrible in the moonlight, going down to kill or be killed, and stopping to help a stumbling boy and to look out over the land, the lovely land, where that boy had a chance to live out his boyhood and grow straight inside as a man should. And when I would hear the men in town talking among themselves and try to pin him down to a definite past, I would smile quietly to myself. For a time they inclined to the notion, spurred by the talk of a passing stranger, that he was a certain Shannon who was famous as a gunman and a gambler way down in Akansas and Texas and dropped from sight without anyone knowing why or where. When that notion dwindled, others followed, pieced together in turn from scraps of information gleaned from stray travellers. But when they talked like that, I simply smiled because I knew he could have been none of these. He was the man who rode into our little valley out of the great glowing West and when his work was done rode back whence he had come and he was Shane.
Shane, Jack Shaefer
London a Routemaster bus the tower of Big Ben and the Thames impossibly blue
everytime in passing a vigorous shake on whim for a snow storm on demand a game, a game until it was no longer new
there are no Routemasters now and the Thames was never so blue nor can I look at that snow globe without thinking of how you
shook up my life then withdrew.
Prompt Thirteen: Here, there and everywhere
Prompt Thirteen responses
In the dark room, under the blanket
In the dark room, under the blanket She hears each whooshing beat of her heart Like approaching footsteps In rain-soaked alleyways.
She holds her breath and tries to imagine What it would be like To be totally silent. Forever.
The room would look much the same Except for the blanket. That would be folded across the bed, Smoothed to perfection. The carved wooden jewellery box That once belonged to her mother Would live in a different home. And the old chest of drawers would be filled With someone else’s clothes.
And she would be at peace. Cocooned in a different kind of blanket.
In the dawn room, waking from sleep She hears the new day, Tumbling out with birdsong, Sweet and warm. And she lies there, Just for a moment. Under the blanket Hoping For a better day.
On the allotment among cabbages
I stab at the weeds. Their insidious advancing reminds me of you.
Lean down, reach and pull. I wish you could be removed so easily, tossed in the bin.
And these nettles; purpled with flowers. Like your flamboyant self.
Masking the sting. Discomfort so easily inflicted. Like your policies.
I get to the end. There is another row to hoe. Tomorrow is polling day.
On the beach under a cloudy sky
On the beach under a cloudy sky I cast around for the flat oval stone To skim along the surface of the sea. On bended knee I launch Plop, plop, plop Like a bouncing bomb Not a patch on my Dad A six leaps world champion.
The little ones on unsteady legs Prod in the rock pools. Squeal with delight at discovered crabs. Worms and shells Which, when pressed to tired ears on the journey home Echo the sound of the sea
Mum on stripy throne Robed in cagoule, defence against the north westerly Regally supervising the construction of the castle and moat
The cold North Sea washes over bare toes. I am content. On the beach under a cloudy sky.
On Woolley Edge
A staccato fox’s bark Punctuates the tidal roar Of traffic far below. Dawn loiters in the eastern sky waiting her cue.
Bleary from a restive sleep, the trumpet-call to day strikes deep into my being.
Comfort in the final hour 0f music ‘through the night’ Offers solace, maybe a solution, to life’s enigmas.
A toddler cry from No.21, Protests at another nasty dream. ‘Early shift’, reeking of de-icer, Grits his teeth and turns the starter.
By the Lake Under the Stars
By the lake under the stars Through the long night I listen I hear your familiar voice in the ether and sponge up guilt with no reason.
I want to feel with a clear mind. Meanwhile rain refreshes the earth and the moon continues her cycle
And me with open door hesitant carpets dust-free.
Atone...in welcome silence.
Before the tide turned in 2020
I read in the shade beneath the wide-reaching sycamore where fat pigeons call one to another. A lone cabbage white flutters by as a wasp buzzes too close for comfort. A breeze carries the hint of roses. Then the sky adopts an angry rumbling and a heavy cloud lobs hail with gusto.
I retired to the garden with book because They are working from home. Her in the lounge, him in the summer house; whispered conversations and gesticulations in the face of another case conference. And Charlie is bewildered by the disruption of his daily, doggy routine.
I silence the disembodied telephone voice informing me of a caller’s identity, withdraw to my bolt hole overlooking the garden, sheltering me from high tech and hailstones. I pause to see the roses battered Into submission until the sun reappears. I read on, content in isolation.
The Proposition is the Preposition.
What am I about? Sometimes I feel above, and yet below, it all, even though amongst friends.
I march before myself holding my pennant, flagging weakly in the drizzling rain thinking my own thoughts.
But I am really behind, deep down in my own trenched valley, upside drowning in a downward drift.
I let my ragged flag trail near the water, watching the opposite bank where Ratty lives some way between Wind in the Willows and Watership Down. No dulce domum for him.
I stand up weighted down with my own obsessions What am I about? Not much it seems.
Lying in bed, the still room above
Lying in bed, the still room above, sends messages of memory, the gentle footfall of her lightness.
She had retreated there, the emptiness cocooned her. His betrayal ate her smile, delicately devouring her quiet. He had netted her, cloying, crushing.
Even now, the still room above, shouts her,
He heard her standing at the window staring beyond. He touches the folds of her floral dress. He breathes the taste of her.
Even now, she stays in the still room above.
On the Balcony Under a Full Moon
On the balcony under a full moon: stillness near and distant barks. I want to be here with a silent heart with a manifold mind knowing they are all inside and asleep.
The man, remote in his private universe now almost dashing the dark, visible to me only, far away in turn.
The child, smelling of all things good, her smile full of tomorrows filling me with everything I long for just now.
The parents on the edge of their stories but not ready yet to give up their hate, their forgetful distaste.
And me, under the moon lulling our loneliness.
This extraordinary poem from Silvia Pio establishes the location immediately in the title which is repeated in the first line. This is the place where the poet, writing in the first person, will meditate with a “silent heart” about the people inside. Who are these people? Well there is “the man,” “the child” and “the parents.” They are all asleep while the poet mentions them in turn alongside the briefest of associations: the private universe, “the smile full of tomorrows” and “their hate, their forgetful distaste.” But no firm conclusions are drawn. We are left with a picture of the poet under a full moon and the beautifully provocative last line, “lulling our loneliness.” With the given setting of a full moon and a balcony, the assumed solitariness of the poet, it would be easy in a poem such as this to slide towards the over-sentimental or even a maudlin response but that is firmly resisted with this honest reflection. Our writing prompt this week will borrow heavily from Silvia Pio’s poem. Look how she uses two prepositions* in her title and first line: On and Under to set up her personal meditation. We are going to use the same technique for our title and first line. After that, the poem or piece of prose will take us where it will. That is up to you. Good luck, everyone.
*Prepositions are words which indicate the position of something. There are loads of these in the English language: about, above, among, before, behind, down, near, opposite, under, up etc. You get the idea.
Prompt Twelve: It's the Same Old Song
Prompt Twelve: It’s the Same Old Song
How often do songs and tunes spring up which remind you of a different time and a different place? Prompt Twelve is about just such a piece of music. It will be a “now and then” piece prompted by music. (Or even a “then and now piece.”) Where were you at the “then” moment? How did you behave? What did you think? How have you changed since then? And what is it about the piece of music which prompts these thoughts? To help us along the way this week, we have a poem from Amanda Huggins’ lovely collection, The Collective Nouns for Birds.
On Hearing Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street
We explored each other, inch by inch, in a guesthouse off the Edgware Road, discovered London kiss by kiss, made it ours, and ours alone.
I thought I’d dress like Annie Hall, write novels and smoke Sobranie Blues, you’d paint our Hampstead floorboards white, read poetry in the afternoons.
Yet when my time for London came, there was no you, no teenage dream, all that was left was the drab routine and the long commute on the Northern Line.
And each time I hear Baker Street, I recall that summer, way back when we both believed the stars were ours, so sure we’d make it to the end.
The Collective Nouns for Birds is available via the following link: https://maytreepress.co.uk/shop-poetry-book/
Prompt Twelve It's the Same Old Song responses
The guitar talks to me. I am transported back, a traveler in time. I feel the warmth of your hand in mine. A different time. A time Without mobile phones, no world wide web. Just words on flimsy blue paper Words punctuated by pips and dropping coins We survived. Until the winter came and your hand went turned cold And my guitar gently weeps.
On hearing Mustang Sally
A cacophony of teenage dancers spill out onto The fairy-lit street like overflowing ants As the sound of the surf across the road crashes to the beat of Mustang Sally Like silver cymbals on sparkling drums.
And I am happy.
Perching on the edge of the wooden stage, Like a colourful bird on a perch I sway to the mesmerising rhythms of peacock-boys Strumming booming guitars Beside black pulsating speakers.
And in that moment, there is no tomorrow. Only the now.
But that now soon turned into tomorrow And I can no longer bear The loudness of speakers.
Somewhere on concrete under pine
“La Vie En Rose by Grace Jones.” “Hmmmm.” “Go on, you must remember. Lay Love on You by Luisa Fernandes.” “Nope.” “One for You, One for Me by La Bionda.” “Nothing.” “Well this should do it. At the Copa, Copacabana.” and Jo chimed in “the hottest spot north of Havana.” “Sirrocco on Poros. The only disco to a have a large concrete circle under pine trees.” “That’s the one.”
It was 1978 and three of us were on a two-week holiday on Poros. The hotel was awful and the food terrible. But Poros – ahh, there was something about the island. Not too touristy, even though boat trips would stop for a couple of hours (the prices in the market and shops would shoot up).
The three of us were used to going to Cinderellas in Leeds and we wanted to dance. The first night we managed to find the disco and we sat at the side and watched. Suddenly the waiter came with three glasses of whiskey for us (not our drink of choice). They had been sent over by three sailors. A family nearby saw this and asked us to join their “company”. There was everyone from Grandad down to young grandchildren. I think they were looking after us. Everyone thought we were very young to be on holiday alone.
Anyway, we were hooked and went back every night. At the break, the local lads would do a Turkish Snake Dance, just for the fun of it. As they finished it, the first notes of La Vie en Rose would start up and the next few songs were always played in the same order.
Would I go back? I looked at my waist-line that showed no signs of anything being wasted.
The trip beyond
A summer of love, sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll Be rid of the established and take control Memories of the past, to which I attach Psychedelic pop and with names to match
Pink Floyd, Deep Purple and Shocking Blue With electric guitars and synthesisers too Filled with metaphors and mind-blowing lyrics Brought wonderful escape with hallucinogenic
White rabbit, Stairway to heaven and Itchycoo park Inspired great journeys that many would embark A trip that would leave all their troubles behind But some would return, left out of their minds
The best of music from the best of times Timeless classics that are truly sublime.
Do you the remember the night of Die Fledermaus? Freak snow storm silently descended as we soaked up opera at ‘the theatre in Bradford? Our muffled trek to waste-land parking...Breath caught on freezing air! Hearing the cacophony of scraping, revving and car horns as vehicles hastily fled into a deceptively treacherous Christmas card scene. Left in frightening silence....Totally alone when our Datsun refused the exit gradient. Hypothermia approaching, I prayed helplessly under a blanket. Meanwhile, you, a vision to hang on to! Armed with two hessian sacks and a spade from the boot, knelt on unforgiving scrunch under the car. And after I lost count of how many thwarted attempts, we were free to brave the highway and beckoning warmth.
Safely home, face flushed, cocoa mug slipping your hand, snoring into your chin. Did you hear me whisper? “You’re my hero”.
Reach Out I’ll be there
The train grumbled its way across the dark Fenland soil, a landscape devoid of reference points apart from the rows of power and phone lines standing at crazy angles against the dour autumn skyline. This was my breakout from home life, a chance to redeem my past failures and to begin to make a real life for myself. Like most new undergraduates, it was the first time I’d really been away from home. The joys of institutional dining, of doing my own washing, of being forced to show my lack of learning, of trying to create my own saleable ‘brand’ – these filled me with terror. Some degree of mental effort would be required. Like reading books and journals and producing presentable maps with only pen and ink. Two-weekly essays, nine-o-clock lectures every morning, Saturdays included, college food that made it bottom of the list for ‘signing in’. Sometimes a six penny bag of chips from Sweaty Betty’s filled a hole. Chatting up female students during practical geology; returning after midnight lockdown and chucking gravel at the ground floor window of a friend with the promise of a pint; exploring the ‘foreign’ northern landscape at weekends; these were more comforting thoughts. If I was going to make things work, I’d have to do it myself. Join a group with similar personalities, share their hopes and fears over powdered coffee and dried milk that floated on the surface. Before I looked for girls, I should look for myself and think why I came. It was up to me to accept what was there and make the best of it, enjoying unlooked for delights and pleasures, and other things which would be there when I was ready. No-one else was going to do it for me, I had to be there and reach out for my real self.
Many, many years ago. I felt a limit to my life. I held myself back to stop my growth. But time went by and I came to my senses. There were no more fences. I’m a soft one now. Life has taught me so. Freedom is there for me. My gate is now open. I am open to love. I am open for you. The King of hearts waits for me.
They’re coming to take me away ha, ha. (song written by napoleon xiv)
She watched as it spread, A red, warm and sticky, tide on the white sheet. Heart pounding, stunned.
“Has the doctor left yet?” The puddling liquid Assembled into clumps She lay peaceful, passive.
He ran, grabbed at a white coat Begging for help, panic driving out decorum, prime necessity. I have to go home.
I have to go home She’s alone Thank you, thank you again, I have to get home
A blue flashing light signalled their arrival, followed by male voices in unison singing We’re coming to take you away ha ha
The silly song reassured. When the situation dawned They were silently efficient. They took her away, ha, ha.
The reach was deep, sad beauty pervading.
Gorecki’s Symphony No.3. I had to move. A dance study of stilted simplicity, stillness shouting grief.
The body crafting, carving space, sound.
Crystal Pite, choreographer heard it. Her piece on refugees, ‘Flight Pattern’.
The reach was deep, flowing, holding, tender, giving dignity.
My body declines and declines, the music soars.
Winding our way down to Baker Street
I’m standing in the kitchen peeling spuds when I poke a finger for pre-set six DJ hyperbole and roaring sax then Gerry Rafferty sings of Baker Street escaping for a cleaned-up life no more booze and no more casual sex.
Funny that, Baker Street was playing when Colin and I sat on a bus in France our rucksacks strung on overhead racks juddering our way through the mountain pass amongst a jabber of itinerant grape pickers. Two young kids affecting poise.
A decade too late for the Summer of Love, winding our way down to the Cote D’Azur for a touch of Picasso, some je ne sais pas. We had tasted the booze, rougher than sandpaper - darker than blood, and sex we knew would dangle like a ripened peach.
It was the old man with thick grey stubble who leaned across and offered us food. Fingers black-cracked like North African soil he peeled away the waxed paper wrap for us. We who hid behind mime, smile and reserve and turned it down.
We used to think it was so easy a summer’s worth of making pies bundled in our jeans, heading into blue morning. Later we joked to dampen our shame tarnishing his offer with embellished fright. Testicles, eyeballs, one lump or two? We used to think it was so easy.
Weighted down by alcohol and depression
Gerry Rafferty died, sometime in 2011
a man in despair.
Dropping a line every year on his card Colin lives in a four-bedroom-mock-Georgian somewhere near Hull.