This is a collection of verse written by my mother,
found in a box after her death on June 5-th 1995.
Both in Cambridge and in Lewes she enjoyed her creative
writing and poetry groups, and much of the material here
must have been written as exercises. The box contained
many versions of most items, some dated, some not, so it
was quite hard to determine which version was the latest.
There were also a good many unfinished fragments. Anyway,
I have used my own judgment in selecting the material.
She certainly never intended her work to be published.
School Holiday Fever did appear in the Cambridge
Daily News. I have placed this last, because it is the
happiest item. Where the items are dated, I have placed
them in chronological order at the beginning, followed by
undated items. It may be that some of you, for whom I
produce these sheets, will be able to place them in
context better than myself.
Most of the verses are sombre, to say the least. They
may come as a shock to those of you who knew my mother
as strong and happy. It is probably fair to say that these
verses provided an outlet for the grief of my brother's
death, and of the tragedies which she had to face as a
Samaritan. On the other hand, I do not think she took her
verses as more than an exercise. It was the company she
kept in the poetry groups that delighted her.
As to whether the verses are any good, I am in no position
to judge. I could certainly make comments and footnotes on a
many of them, but I think it better not to. For many of you
will perhaps know better than I what some of them are about,
and it is not for me to claim any editorial authority.
I hope you find these verses an interesting memorial to my mother Mary.
Gavin Wraith 28/12/96
Little Miss Horner
In your dark corner
With only dry bread to eat,
Take bread and take water
Stay in the dunce's seat!
We made you the scapegrace.
You made us lose face,
and now you must suck your thumb
And you must be grateful -
It really is hateful
You won't take that sugar plum.
The best private school,
The big swimming pool,
We've a colour TV and two 'phones.
How dare you despise it -
The others all prize it -
Our house is as big the Jones'.
You rushed to your room
To curl up in the womb
And slammed the door in my face.
Yes, up in your room it's a womb -
It's a tomb,
And the family feel the disgrace.
He had withdrawn.
His blue eyes had become dark,
Black and glittering.
They seemed deep, like holes of jet
But they were empty.
Certainly he had gone far away,
Growing smaller and smaller,
Retreating and receding inwards.
But now someone has taken his place,
Someone imperious, proud and sneering.
Someone black as Lucifer,
Fallen and destructive.
Then He was cast out, or simply left,
And the shrunk self came creeping forward,
Crushed, frightened, bewildered and needlessly guilty.
After the suicide who was the Victor?
Was it Lucifer hurling even himself to destruction,
Or was there a last burst of frantic despairing courage
As the small soul freed itself from its cruel visitant?
BALLAD OF THE PRODIGAL
In the land of faerie you must win your spurs
Though they give you the gift of a sword;
You must leave your father's castle,
You must cut the umbilical cord.
Your father fears you,
Your brothers hate you,
But your mother's tears tie you.
You must venture deep in the forest,
You must seek by night and day,
Though the piteous maiden you rescue
Is none other than Morgan-le-Fay.
The woman holds you,
The witches find you,
And the webs of the world bind you.
The beautiful princess of evening
Is stripped of her glamour bright,
She is haggard and wizen by day-time
And you dare not wait for night.
Time is flying,
Youth is dying,
But the horns of elfland call.
'Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair,
I must scale the castle wall',
But once in the arms of the princess
She binds you in slothful thrall.
Your love upbraids you,
Your wine degrades you,
And you must cast away this spell.
'Apple tree, apple tree hide me,
Toss me your golden ball,
For I'm alone in the wide world
Now I've left my father's hall'.
Your horse dies under you,
Thieves plunder you,
And the cold world starves you.
'Then I shall return to my father's house
And show him my golden ball,
And he will rejoice and feast me
And our mingled tears will fall'.
SONNET OF THE PRODIGAL
Had I not left you I'd not learn't to live,
For in my father's mansion I knew naught
Of the great world that teemed outside the wall.
I had to leave - I had to answer the call.
Had I not left you all would be unsaid.
The closeness of our kin sealed up our lips.
How could I grow, how understand, how learn?
Until the seal were broken - how return?
All I have learnt has stripped me of my pride.
Though I repent, I cannot wish I'd stayed.
I won't foreswear the scars, the strokes, the whips,
because these meant, at last, our unsealed lips.
Father, receive me, look upon my shame,
For neither you nor I need take the blame.
SILENT SCREAM OF THE ELDER BROTHER
It's not fair the merry-go-round,
It's not fair the swing,
He left me at home to do the work,
Now they welcome him like a king.
They feast him with the fatted calf,
With mead and milk and honey,
Why do they put on such a spread?
They're eating up my money!
BALLAD OF THE SILKIE
Row the boat, row the boat, bring home the catch,
Soon I'll be hearing his hand on the latch.
Evening is darkening, the lamp is alight,
Father will come home before it is night.
Spin the wheel, spin the wheel, turf glimmer hot,
Rock-a-bye, rock-a-bye, babe in your cot;
Rocking and spinning and straining to hear
The dip of the oars and the boat drawing near.
But now the door opens and a Seal-man stands there
And sea-water's down from his streaming hair.
'Silkie, oh Silkie from out of the sea,
Say that my man is returning to me.'
The doorway is empty and Silkie has fled,
But the rolling waves roar that my husband is dead.
The white sprites are riding, bespattered with foam,
Oh, how can he row the boat, row the boat home?
So rocking and spinning and rocking I pray
That the lamplight will last until it is day
For when the flame flickers the wind cries to me
'Your true-man lies sleeping under the sea.'
Hooded, blanket-blinded, hand in hand,
The chain of youthful killer-victims stand.
Between the Black Maria and the judgement seat
The weasel-faces round them spit,'Hang, birch, beat!'
Do hidden faces show the signs of strain,
Or is the scabrous skin too hard to feel the pain?
Beneath that crust the heart of darkness lies -
A gush of fear and hate - and the young victim dies.
They kicked his head in - now his brain is dead.
But the same anguish in those eyes of lead
Above the fangs of weasels, stoats and cats
Thirsts to shake out the life from those poor rats.
Tearing off scabs, revealing running sores
A thicker scale will form. How disinfect the cause?
A gift was offered and a price was paid,
But I paid double, double and yet more,
And I received a hundred, thousand fold
More than I bargained for.
It was a hard bargain.
I wept as I paid,
But I gloried in the gift while it lasted,
And I glory in it
And am enriched by it
Now that it has gone.
You call for your mother, you beat on the door,
But the sound of your screaming will frighten you more,
For no one will come.
Ring up the doctor, the priest or the shrink,
Take to potions, to pills, to prayers, to drink
But no one will come.
Protesting, rebelling, breathless with fright,
'I am weak, who can help me? Where is God in my plight?'
But no answer comes.
Self-pitying tears, sleepless tossing in bed,
Sobbing and weeping but make the eyes red
And weary the body with heavy head ache,
Sapping your strength for the steps you must take.
For no help will come.
Pull down the shutter, stiffly plod on,
Channel the energy terror has wrung
Out of the fight that at last you have lost;
Useless, quite useless to count up the cost.
You only must pay.
Stripped and alone but deep down inside
Though vanquished the Will has never quite died.
Again it will risk, again it will fight,
Alone dare to grasp at a dangerous delight,
Though no help should come.
I'm valueless and not accepted here,
Born out of time and place.
Why must I try mask after mask
Seeking my own true face?
Is there a City where I need not lie?
Is there a secret other people know?
Where can I start anew, under what sky?
For twisting, turning, somewhere I must go.
Perhaps to India at a Guru's feet,
Lulled by a sitar's plaint and tabla's beat,
Or in Morocco, drugs and desert heat
Will loose my failure's chain,
Wash out the blame
And let me start again.
But each man takes himself with him,
Crossing a sea or mountain range.
His City is within, within,
It is himself must change.
Answering a knock
There stands my long-dead lover.
Time slips a moment
And I greet - his little brother
Grown into a splendid man
And ten years older now
Than the dear dead.
'So like, so like' I sigh,
But how unlike am I!
How old, how cold and old
Cautious and craven,
I who dared flaming swords
barring my heaven.
The moon floats up before the sun has set,
The wind has dropped and all the lake is still.
Just at this moment day and night have met,
The steel-bright shield of water breathes a chill.
The pink has faded from the darkening sky,
And lights begin to prick the valley floor
But in this bed of bracken I shall lie
Waiting until the stars flash out once more.
Then down the steep fell with remembered tread,
Fresh checked, moonchilled, blood beating warm and red,
Leaving a swirl of blue, a wraith of breath
Tracking behind me to my hollow bed.
SPORTS DAY AT THE MENTAL HOSPITAL
The sun shone and we sat on a green bank
To watch the egg-and-spoon and the three-legged race,
And what we saw was clownishly macabre, unspeakably grotesque.
But let us not be sentimental, we had paid
And the money, like this grim festivity,
Would provide change from the monotony
For some poor few.
Beside me, clasped together on the grass,
A man and a young girl lay motionless -
He past his middle age, but thick and strong,
In neat blue suit that gave a naval air.
But his glass gaze was empty as a sheep's
And he was plainly of the living dead.
Silently he cradled her, not looking in her face,
Her thick-lipped, bulge-eyed, blubber face.
She sprawled her gross legs gracelessly,
Showing her knickers and sad heavy thighs -
Grasped his square hand with stubby paw,
Nails bitten to the quick.
A little love, a little recognition -
Were these poor lonely ones
A little comforted so closely folded,
Silent, just lying together,
'You are old, my poor mother', the young man said,
'And your hair is exceedingly white,
Can you tell me - I really must ask you again,
How is it you sometimes judge right?'
'In my youth,' the old woman replied with a smile,
'When I looked a much prettier sight,
I sometimes declared again and again
Black is black and white often is white.
To keep my brain active I stood on my head
And asserted all manner of truth,
I balanced the facts on the end of my nose -
Oh, alas, for the days of my youth.
But now that my body is not quite so lithe,
And my hair is exceedingly gray,
I have to accept the very strange fact
That I can't change the world in a day'.
'I find to my sorrow', she said to her son,
'That I see neither black nor yet white,
But a rainbow of hues and all shades of gray,
Do you think I am losing my sight?'
METAMORPHOSIS (from a short story by Kafka)
"My lilies fester and my rose is sick,
Something is crawling at the root of things,
Armies of ants invade the ragged grass
And on the slippery path a snail scribbles
Scribbles a warning.
I must withdraw, must hide from out-of-doors,
Lurk in an empty room, bare tiled -
Nothing for moths or mice or moving things -
There to be safe and clean.
For me, locked in, the food you bring is dirty and the water rank,
The air grows foetid and it smells of me,
This bright, white light has split my sight
Into a thousand eyes,
My flesh flakes off, my bones dissolve,
No spine, no limbs, no teeth,
My blood is slime.
There is no mercy for this flabby worm
For your deliberate foot would tread me to a pulp,
Ashamed, disgusted, terrified,
Because I am not what I seem."
His stiff blue fingers fumble at the latch -
His boots, clogged and heavy,
Part of himself.
Wrenched off, they leer at him.
Objects live evilly
And only he, dumb, blinded, numb,
Every bird is a crow,
Every bush is a blackened furze.
Bread turns to bile, his tea tastes brackish.
His very chair threatens him.
All the world writhes.
Stifled, he forces open the reluctant window.
Faint and clear a blackbird calls.
Clouds are parting
And he raises his eyes to the thin spring sun,
Which no longer spies on him.
Now his kettle has a name,
'Sir Henry' in his sooty cast-iron elegance.
The twigs for his fire he lays just so,
Sweeps the hearth after a certain fashion,
His knife and fork placed thus.
His walking stick, polished to his hand,
Is a dear friend - his pipe a comfort.
Ritual retains the balance.
Standing at the cottage door,
Breathing sweet airs,
water suspended in the evening mist,
He sinks into his myth,
Knows himself part of the spark,
Part of the dewdrop, part of the worm cast,
And a melancholy joy pervades him.
She combed her hair
She buffed her nails,
She smoothed her bit of lace,
A touch of red upon her lips,
Pearl powder for her face;
And from her twinkling house of glass,
Dusky with purple bloom,
She cut a heavy bunch of grapes
And took it to his room
Laid on a rose-wreathed china plate,
Tied with a satin bow,
'Oh, surely these will tempt him,
He'll relish these, I know!'
He turned away dissatisfied,
He waved the gift aside,
'My dear, I am not thirsty
For hot-house fruit', he cried.
'I slaked my thirst on fallen crabs,
Red, rotting in the grass.
You're much too civilised, my dear,
And far too middle-class'.
Press the ripe fruit upon his lips,
He will not taste
Though he will sicken, thirst and die,
Without its juice.
We offered apricot and peach,
Ripe plums and berries,
In vain. His lips were closed,
And the hard barrier of teeth
Clenched against sweetness.
The twisted tree, hung with bright lamps
of bitter crab, had tempted him,
And in his throat was lodged
All he desired, and could not swallow.
'Bite, bite, bite - you bastards,
What do you want - my blood?
Yes, yes, I Have a drink problem,
Fair enough, I have a drink problem'.
First the loud wild laughter,
The broken teeth bared,
The long sensitive hands,
Bitten to the quick,
Clenching and unclenching,
Violence blazing in his eyes,
Soon to well with tears of self-pity.
He hated her, could not forget.
She shopped him,
His mother shopped him for three bleeding pounds,
Into the bowels of Hell,
Borstal, the jail, the looney bin,
That was his education,
There he learnt about life.
Life - call it life,
All his life depression.
Unwanted seventh child,
He wet the bed - the scapegoat,
Six years old
Afraid to go home,
Rain soaked on the tenement steps,
Then the cops came .......
Meanwhile, in another place, the epileptic
Gifted, cherished eldest son,
Fell down incontinent,
Tongue and lips bleeding,
Bite, bite, bite.
THE TRAIN NOW LEAVING ............
And does this little cancerous skeleton feel pain?
Bravely and patiently she waits to die
And yet can't quite unloose the rein
And let affairs and management slip by,
Let matters fall to ministering hands.
Her very capability and strength
Had made her solitary within
Though friends had thronged,
Yet she too longed for love, had her regrets,
A softer side, almost incongruous,
Which mixed with stern control
And managerial ways,
Warned off the closer ties.
Yes, one would be possessed,
Possessed and overwhelmed,
By a superior strength,
Giving too much and thus demanding more.
And now she waits alone, hearing the train draw near,
Still no complaint and still no sign of fear,
Only the panting body shows distress
As from the tunnel's mouth
Gaping like hers,
The grim engine whistles to a pause,
And she is borne away at last,
At last, to rest.
Having nearly joined you in knowing
or not knowing how deep or long
the dark is after the breath's payment,
either voluntarily or at gun-point
or when light is snatched too early away,
I return to give praise that this time
I opened my eyes on a day, frost-bright,
dazzling in its vitality, accusing
in its wealth of the love you could not share,
and forgiving of one who deserved less.
So I will remember you and be your voice,
I will think of you and be your limbs,
your bright laugh, your words and warmth
which grew like the sun's and, as the sun's light,
healed, restored, gave life where hope
crumbled in cinders on the heart's hearth.
I will be Lazarus. I will walk again
over the earth with my fortune of breath
praising trees, children and stars,
for you would have given much to be in my shoes.
SCHOOL HOLIDAY FEVER
I must go down to the shops again to buy a packet of Tide,
For the call of my shirtless children can no longer be denied.
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying
And the clothes line and the soap suds and the clean clothes drying.
I must seize my shopping basket and lay in plenty of stores
For a crowd of hungry children have come swarming through the doors,
And all I ask is a big pot, some chicken and some rice,
Some apple pie, some gingerbread - I'll cook them something nice.
There's no more school for several weeks and they'll all be here for tea,
No more reading - no more lazing - no more being me!
And all I ask is no chicken-pox, no measles and no mumps
But good health and happy times, and no one in the grumps.