Dead man’s teddy bear

After three days I make myself open the too-light box.

The sender’s name, marked clearly, meant I was forewarned

It carried a relic of a life.

A stained bear, complete with knitted jumper.

I half want to inhale and hope for smells long since leeched out by time

The disgust stops me as much as the knowledge it would be a disappointment.

The note with careless ease within:

“I rescued N’s teddy bear from being thrown out, we thought you might like it.”

Like? I don’t even remember this bear.

Where did all the others go?

There were rooms full of teddies, too many for a childless middle-aged couple.

You saw no shame in playfulness.

I’m still angry that the house was sold.

That all has changed in those rooms that brimmed with books

At the address I wrote all those letters to.

They must be gone as well.

Too many forgotten memories.

The odd snapshots stick, like the time you went to make me an omelette but scrambled by mistake.

There’s a photo in the box as well.

An old black and white one of you graduating.

All that youth and promise used up long ago.

“…we hope for rain” written as if I might care how the weather is for them

Or perhaps just for something to write and fill the space in the card.

More good intentions from those from your generation who got to spend more time with you.

I envy them that time but there’s also relief that they were the ones who did the dirty work at the end.

It was an end that took an age to come.

I wish I could believe that you are now with the other half of your heart once more.

It must be nearly 20 years you’ve been waiting to die.

You once said you envied my faith.

Perhaps it’s best you never learned there’s nothing left here to envy.

We talked often in my head, particularly on the darker days.

I liked to think we shared an understanding.

Too many ‘shoulds’ trip over each other.

The bottom line is I didn’t like what you became, that’s why I didn’t make the effort.

That empty hulking shell of human flesh waiting patiently to rot.

The piss smell that even the most expensive residential home in the wealthiest of countries still couldn’t quite mask.

The lights went out long ago, when she went before you.

I remember the light in your eyes in the old days.

How many still remember those days? The handful left ebb away a little each year.

You didn’t just love me, you delighted in me.

It made all the difference.

As I clack away here decades later I still take hope from your encouragements

You always praised my writing so perhaps it’s not all so bad as it seems upon rereading

These disjointed thoughts in prose with pretensions of being poetry.

You would have delighted in my girls too, particularly in the cheek.

I must try to do this more.

A dirty teddy, an old photo and an inane card.

That’s all that’s left.

Now I must return the hollow niceties with a thank you note.

Like a bug in amber I preserve my memories.

You two were the only consistently happy memories from my childhood.

So many books shared, the ways we played with words.

You still stay with me when I read.

I’m probably the youngest one left who loved you well

I expect I shall also be the last.

What is the proper place for a dead man’s teddy bear?

 

I carefully pack the bear back in his cardboard coffin

And put it with the other things precious enough to keep out of reach and out of mind.

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The potholed bumps announce I am back here once again

Back on these paths I’ve shared but more often walked alone

So many moments of meaning here:

Shrivelled last year’s acorns that rattle round my boot

Tacitly I greet the landmarks only I would know

This dear little holly just by that unusual bole

 

 

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How often here, with a child or two in tow

To exercise the dog and walk imbalanced on every fallen log

Sculpting work and pleasure plans afoot

Each tree as known as faces of the old friends they have become

All those ants that tried to bite

And nettle stings, knee-scrapes and fights

That time a fungus looked just like a witch’s nose!

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The chiff-chaff that I learned to tell apart

The squirrels chased and great galoshing puddles jumped

Soggy picnics and “don’t you dare touch that!”s

The time I slipped just here and hurt my back

The leaves we tried to catch in vain

The den I never could quite fit in

 

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This bank, that patch of moss

All the memories which signal loss

Mind that root, the one just past this fallen tree

“Please tell me when you need a wee!”

The times the dog would not come back, no matter how we called

The stormy days where creaking trunks harried me along

The hours and hours measured on the Fitbit app

Can ne’er do justice smell of sap

 

The various hands I’ve held along the way

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Those real as well as real to me

The wind and rain that sang their sovereignty

The forgotten small talk at crossed paths

The ‘swamp’ where we say ogres live

And sticks for wand and broomstick play

This fork comes out by the holly I picked that year

(and pricked myself in equal measure)

The brief enchantment of bluebells by the thousand

And better ken of why in times long past the ice defying greens cried “MAGIC!”

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Three times Dog has been bramble bled and rushed off home

And crossly kindly nursed to health so that we might return

Sweet chestnuts’ prickly cases strewn

And ditches full of autumn leaves begging to be rolled in, buried in

Scooped up and thrown with a confettied exuberance of joy

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The sorrows sobbed and days when delight bounced in every step

Childish glee at cracking icy puddles

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The first times I explored this way

Dropping mental breadcrumbs lest I stray

The good friends we found those owlets with

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The days of anger, stomping its staccato out

The cool relief from summer’s ray

The very air of all those days and days

The footsteps just a little fraught in winter’s race against last light

Catkins and acorns gathered by little hands

To be later glued into a joyfully pointless mess

 

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The gate where you stood and watched me drive away

The trees still speak of that sad day

There must be an injustice in all I have taken from this place

The solace it has freely given

How many times I’ve stayed “just a little longer”…

(Can’t I stay? Must I really go away?)

…To revel in this constant moment which is above all other

The joy of days when watches ticked away unchecked

This place: a playground; diurnal duty; sweet relief from life

Those fairy toadstools that we saw

(another “don’t touch that!” implored)

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Butcher’s Broom, I know you too

You live near the possibility of being

Without restraint or fear or shame

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The thoughts and thoughts and plans, half realised, half forgot

The details plotted in this space, sketches of my future paths

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I know you woods

I know your avenues of twisted barks

The rustle of the leaves caressed

That leap I make across the stream

That tree askew, yet wonderfully so

These little gems I’ve come to know

I’ve taken pride in sharing you with those who’ve walked here by my side

I’ve led a few to joy this way

For ‘wonder’ just follow this brook

(In wintry times at any rate)

Now my time to walk these paths is poor

There’s a new path leading me away

Though always going full circle here

I have also come so far

Always so much detritus from the forest floor

That sticks to clothes and reappears much later

In the most unlikely places

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This time can only be of itself:

Future trips down memory lane will never be quite the same

As the vast banks of memories I’ll carry away with me

Such memories are not without weight but the burden is an honour

I have lived and loved in this place

Lived and loved so well.

The potholes bid me a bumpy farewell as I go on my way again.

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On being a bad person

Untitled

With the rank sweat of stale thought –
The heat wells up.
Hell beckons.
I dived and caught a robin,
Twisted its neck loose.
(The child and cat deserved the same)
Puzzledom pervades.
The perspiration of anguish is in the sights.
It happens…and scorches my sanity.
The sweet and sour in my mind
Produces noxious plays.
A word-thought becomes a gun
To trigger the bullet-hole-feel.
With no exit wound it cruises round my veins
The surface never far behind
It pricks my heart again.

I was 18 when I wrote that. I still think it’s powerful. I wrote an awful lot of tripe but I do think this might be a little better than most of them. The reason I think it has something is that I think it captures a snapshot of irrational anger. I remember the day I wrote it, well, I remember snippets. I remember it was a beautiful summer day and I remember being upset/irritated, I don’t recall by what. It clearly wasn’t so important that I remembered it. So this anger was petty. The key word is ‘deserved’ because clearly, as a mostly ok person I know that no person or animal deserved to be harmed because I was in a shitty mood. That still holds true regardless of how valid that mood might be.

I struggled with my temper when I was a child, I used to lash out a lot. I had to deal with the repercussions of that. As I grew older I learned to control my anger, or at least vent it in ways that were healthier for everyone (I found playing competitive sports helped a lot despite the social demands this put on me). It is the honesty of those lines which resonate with me still. That flash of irrationality, those seconds where I felt so angry, hard-done-by, confused, sad, alone and afraid that the only thing which made sense was to hit back, to hit anything, to somehow punish the world for the pain it caused me.

Naturally, and rightly, my outbursts as a young child were punished and I was repeatedly told they made me a bad person. I have made real progress since those days, in my adult life I’ve only really lost control of my temper once, there were reasons for this, good reasons, but as I said above that doesn’t make it right. The poem also reflects the pain of such anger, it was my veins the pain was coursing not another’s. Twinned with anger is tremendous guilt. I knew it was wrong, I knew it was bad and yet I couldn’t help but feel that way.

On a good day, when I am feeling rational and content I believe I’m an ok person. I know ok is an inane term but I use it deliberately because I’m not sure I believe I am either good or bad, I just am. I think most other people are too. I’m starting to believe that maybe there are no good or bad people (a controversial statement in light of recent events) but only good or bad choices. As with anything within the brain from learning to addiction it is the repetition which is key, thus a series of poor choices produces what many would call a bad person and vice versa.

On a bad day I still believe I am a monster. You believe what you are told after all and I was told a lot when I was young how bad I was, what a burden I was. Again we’re back to the reinforcement of repetition.

I’m sharing this here because I think it needs to be said. Perhaps they do that in anger-management therapy (I’ve not done any such therapy), perhaps there’s support groups where someone stands up and says “Hi, my name’s Dave and I’m a right bastard sometimes, I also like dogs and long walks by the sea…”

I’d like to make it clear that I’m not trying to defend people who act in anger, that way lies only more pain. What I’m trying to explore is the fact that anger is a part of us, I believe each and every one of us has the capacity to do terrible things.

There’s been a lot of people on my feed recently trying to distance atrocity from insanity, I think they are right, the two are far from synonymous. While anger is also a psychological issue and can often be a part of mental illness there is also extreme anger going on every day in the general population. I watched a woman yesterday get incredibly angry because she had had difficulty parking in the car park of a small business. In one respect she was right, the car park was too small for the number of customers on the premises and I too had had difficulties. On the other hand the way she shouted at the staff was inappropriate. What I really liked however was the way the staff dealt with it, they did their best to help her and it clearly failed. After she had left I heard one explaining what had happened to the other and rather than saying the woman was crazy or irrationally angry she simple said “she’s clearly having a bad day”. I didn’t feel there was any subtext to this statement, it wasn’t a polite code for ‘nutter’ in case she was overheard by eavesdroppers like me, I believe it was a moment of real empathy and kindness.

Some days I still want to lash out at the world, I want to make it pay. I don’t expect to realistically ever achieve a zen-like state of harmony when this doesn’t still happen. What I need to learn is that it’s alright that sometimes I feel that way. If I felt like that all the time then I’d have a bigger problem to address but for the most part I’m not a bad person, I’m not a good person either although I do try, I’m an ok person, just like you.

Wordless cry

There’s something in me screaming,

Something I can’t express,

Something in me screaming,

That my tongue just won’t confess.

 

I don’t know how to say it,

The words just don’t exist.

There’s something in me screaming,

With tortured words of bliss.

 

I want to run away,

To find a place to hide,

So no one hears me screaming,

What my bleeding heart can’t hide.

 

The panic leaps upon my breast,

And troubles my calmed mind,

I really can’t express the rest

That’s rotting here…

inside.

 

I wrote this when I was 15.

Reality versus reverie

She eyed the barren chocolate box,

which with its sunken sockets mocked,

And tried to think of simpler times

(another box of hollow lies).

The pressing calls of here right now,

To mimic ‘good enough’ somehow,

Weren’t muffled by her waking dreams

Of soothing lover’s aching screams.

While in her mind she daemons slew,

Her courage sank as soon she knew

That time had marched on once again.

And so she battled with the rain,

Still thinking of her vain amour,

She trudged bedraggled to the door,

To fetch her only true love home

And act the mother ’til alone

She can retreat into her mind

And fuel her heart with hope that’s blind.