Dolling up Grand Aunt Mary

When she came
we painted her eyes
with shadows.
We pinched her cheeks
until they ripened,
and slicked on a clown smile
with a bright honeyed stick.

We wove black ribbons
through her grey red hair,
and sharpened her nails
with the roughest emery.
We draped feathers around that
withering neck
and told her she looked like a film star
from the forties.

She endured our ministrations
with tight lipped patience.
Too gracious to grumble,
too refined to complain.
Afterwards she’d nibble biscuits
and sip sweet tea
through the cockles of her
clown mouth.
Then, wiping crumbs away, would say
‘Now children, go and play.

Moving

How do you weigh a house?
The bricks and mortar, tiles and chimneys?
No doubt those guards are weighty.
Surely include the landscaped garden,
its drooping flowers,
and heavy seed heads?
The shrubs, the herbs in pots?
The ponds?
The lolly stick crosses of long missed pets?

The contents are substantial.
Soft sofas and chairs
Imprinted with cosy evenings,
tables laden with feasts,
wardrobes full of outdated fashion,
beds crumpled with comfortable passion.

Oh, and the books. The shelves,
and shelves, of books.

How do you weigh a house,
where thoughts expanded,
where children left their giggles in corners,
where the halls still echo with the stamps
and slamming doors of angry love?
Where images of daily living in the living room
never fade?

A house where you can still find pine needles
In the carpets of Christmas pasts,
and there are still stars on the ceiling,
stuck there on a little girl’s whim.
Where hugs and waves and tears
tarnished the front door
after you said ‘I’ll be back soon’.

How do you weigh a house
that is at once so empty
and yet
so full?

Patience

She stood at the door
and said
I’m not living, I’m just waiting to die’
She watched as the rain fell
Onto bare ground
And flowers grew abundant
And the sun made them glisten
The longer days came and went
The flowers died
The trees cried leaves
While still she stayed and watched
Then the snow came
And cleansed the earth
Spring returned triumphant
And the flowers grew again
And then she understood.

Save your Energy

Get a smart meter’ the ad said.
Oh, if only I had one
I would never have stayed
to listen to those idiotic words
dripping from your mouth
like wasted water.

The electric shock
that you claim to feel
whenever I am near
drains me and I can’t recharge.
Oh yes, the light’s come on,
one hundred watts of understanding.

You sputter like a loose wire.
You shouldn’t be kept in a
confined space.
A dangerous appliance.
I turn you on.
You switch me off.

Elizabeth

After ‘Queen Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard, 1533 – 1603

Oh, I bet that dress was heavy,
dripping with pearls and jewels,
and hangers on. The puffed up
sleeves on those young arms.
That frosty veil of lace
cloaking your drooping shoulder.

And that skirt.
Double, triple, layer
of silk and taffeta
and deep piled velvet,
dragging in the dirt,
wicking up the mire,
all heaped on your
virgin hips.

Did it weigh on you?
Did you need the fancy collar
to hold your chin aloft,
or just to stop the chain
from chafing
that pale and slender neck?