This Is Heaven
Flowery cotton pinny, crossed over shoulders
Broad enough to cope, with whatever life delivered.
Warm, baggy skin, from which arose Nana smells.
Oil of Ulay and Pears soap.
Yardley talc dusted into crevices etched by toil and hardship,
A life of thoughtless, engrained to the bone, thrift.
So second nature, so instinctive,
It made a mockery of our modern, credit crunch notions,
Of make do and mend.
Kitchen scraps in the pig pail,
Ready to feed those two shadowy monsters, which snuffled and grunted,
Over in the big shed, terrifying, yet at the same time, attracting,
Inquisitive eyes and brave little fingers poked through railings,
Only to run, shrieking, when the monsters came to investigate.
Nothing was wasted, even crusts from a faddy childʼs plate,
Were soaked in milk, ready to make bread puddenʼ.
Nanʼs bread pudden, the stuff of legends,
A solid brick of pure fat and carbs.
Hearty enough to stick to ribs, and anywhere else it touched,
Pockets of sweet, succulently plump sultanas,
Exploding into melting, oozing warmth on your tongue,
Made every mouthful, a thrill of discovery.
Long days, exploring and claiming as my own,
The hay meadows which surrounded Nanʼs house.
A childʼs paradise, complete with hoards of village children.
Common as muck, my mother would sniff, yet I didnʼt care,
And gladly followed where they led, the secrets they shared,
Of birds nests and dens, of hidden streams and the absolutely,
Bestest trees for climbing.
The sting of witch hazel, on green grazed knees and elbows,
Tacit agreement reached that parents did not need to know,
Iʼd been breaking rules, and ascending the heights again.
Lunches eaten in the open, usually in the branches of a tree.
Sandwiches of white Motherʼs Pride, thick sliced,
Slathered with marg and jam.
No thought given to cholesterol and calories,
But somehow, we thrived and grew healthy on it.
Tumbling home, ravenous as puppies, the setting sun picking out
Nanʼs windows with gold, thoughts gladly turning tea-wards.
Toast made on the fire, dripping with butter,
Hard boiled eggs and salad. Cheddar, so mature it stung the eyes,
Home made pickle and salad cream.
And, best of all, cake. At least four different kinds, all home made,
No shop bought cake ever disgraced Nanʼs table.
The unforgiving hardness of the pew beneath my bottom,
Sitting beside Nan in chapel on a Sunday.
Hearing her thin reedy voice, piping out her favourite hymns,
Head bobbing under her Sunday best hat.
Nanʼs hats, of which she had a succession,
Each one more hideous than the one before.
And yet, there was a strange kind of comfort, in knowing,
That time may end, and civilisations crumble into dust,
But Nanʼs hats would endure.
That occasional, much longed for treat, of sleeping at Nanʼs.
Heavy candlewick bedspread, old creaky wooden bed.
Coconut matting, cold underfoot,
The squat china po, and rose patterned oil lamp,
Casting kinetic, spine chilling shadows on the ceiling.
Torchlight under the covers, heavy over my head,
Listening for the comforting boom of Big Ben striking ten,
Hearing the slow, ponderous tread on the stairs,
Hurriedly feigning sleep, book thrust guiltily down by my toes.
The lamp being dimmed, until the world shrank,
And there was only that yellow circle of light, and the soft,
Night time sounds of Nan, sleeping across the hall.
Copyright © 2009 Julie Sea-Borne
The Fat Club
There are three of us. Me, Jan and Mo, all new girls.
We watch the easy familiarity of the others,
Those who joined in the usual post Christmas rush.
During the fatly depressing month of January,
When resolutions have been decisively made,
And, just as decisively, broken.
Now, we sit, in a row, in a cheerless church hall,
On a cold, wet night in March.
Three silent, uncertain newcomers,
We eye each other, wondering, assessing,
Before Mo breaks the ice, names are exchanged and we share,
Reasons … excuses … hopes and expectations.
Mine is a sudden realisation what months of comfort eating,
Binging to forget the pain of a nowhere marriage,
Have done to a once slender frame.
Now I want to reclaim, rediscover, reaffirm, my own existence.
Jan wants to lose weight for her daughterʼs wedding in June.
Sheʼs already bought the suit, she explains, tone breathless,
In a size too small, deliberately so.
She will … must … drop at least a dress size, if not two, or else …
The else is left hanging, her fear of failure a palpable thing.
And as for Mo, well, sheʼs there to lose her baby fat.
Many weeks go by, before I learn her youngest has just turned 21.
Baby fat, come of age.
We meet, each and every Tuesday, come rain or shine.
To trade our successes and our failures.
To encourage, congratulate, commiserate.
Jan loses steadily, safely. A comfortable two pounds a week.
Plodding and predictable, her smug satisfaction growing session by session.
I lose sporadically and unpredictably, a miserly pound one week,
Then an awe inspiring seven the next.
Recently acquired, my bulk seems to dissipate almost as quickly as it came.
But then, as the others frequently remind me, I am the lucky one.
The young one, the single one, the one who can fill her fridge,
With Perrier, smoked salmon and salad, can have empty cupboards.
The one with no husband to complain, or children to moan.
Mo treads water, lose a pound, gain two, her shiny cheeks crinkling
At each disappointment, inviting us to join in her self-ridiculing.
And we do, for she is our group clown, our court jester, and so, we laugh.
Once, face in deadly earnest, she claims to be anorexic.
And we gaze, dumb struck, at bones buried beneath layers of flesh,
Rippling, rolling mountains of body, bulging through clothes,
Spilling over shoes, tightening under a wedding ring,
Until it had to be cut off by the doctor, from a finger oozing with pain.
Gently, the leader asks the question we are all thinking,
And Mo blinks innocently. Because, she explains,
Every time I look in the mirror, I see a fat woman.
The room explodes, the class clown has once again entertained.
Janʼs daughter gets married. She wears her suit with pride.
I achieve my goal. Weight lost and more beside.
Gradually, life becomes busy, crammed with the pursuits of the
Very thin, the very young, the very single. I stop going.
Years pass; the fat club is relegated to dim and shady recesses of memory.
Something to be - if not ashamed of - at least, silent about.
Then, quite unexpectedly, I bump into Jan.
Buying treats for her grandchildren. She displays the obligatory photos,
To which I make all the right noises, before asking, innocently,
If she has seen anything lately of Mo, and, at once, the glow fades.
Her expression becomes sombre, her hand clutches at my arm.
Didnʼt I know? She asks. Hadnʼt I heard?
She tells me a tale of a late night call to the ambulance,
Of frantic attempts, of stomach pumps and medical intervention,
All to no avail. Mo, class clown, group jester.
In reality, so desperate, so unhappy that life became too much,
Too hard, too difficult to endure any longer.
Guilt, rank and cloying, stains my throat.
A guilt that still lingers, recognising that I should have,
Could have, would have, noticed her need, her pain,
If only Iʼd not been too young, too ignorant, too selfish.
The concern I felt too little and too late.
Copyright © 2009 Julie Sea-Borne
This is Heaven
Where the birds sing, and the bees hum,
And the afternoon sun catches and stays,
Baking paths and metal chairs, until they bite at unwary flesh.
Where I learn how to breathe again, and where she creates,
A fantasy land, a world peopled with little folk.
Where flowers nod, and blossom drifts from an over fertile cherry tree,
Thick with the promise of dark, sweet fruits to come,
The delights of jam, pies and homemade cherry vodka.
Here, now, this is heaven.
A red tin watering can, inexpertly plied as she waters with careless abandon,
Plants, lawn, paths and feet, all thoroughly soaked and glistening.
A slumbering cat, bonelessly sprawled in a plant pot,
Flecks of sun hardened soil sprinkling the soft fur of its belly.
An indignant, shocked protest, as it too is watered, in hopes it may grow.
An Englishmanʼs home, may be his castle,
But for this Englishwoman, it is her garden.
This tiny, non-descript plot of land, bound on all sides by house and fence,
Yet, look up, and above is ten thousand acres of sky.
A bowlful of water for the making of mud pies, long grass for a jungle,
Home to so many animals, that, on the rare occasions I mow,
A thorough search must be mounted, to ensure no loss of plastic life.
I am reliably informed, that fairies inhabit our garden.
Drawn by its disordered unruliness, its wild abandon.
And, sometimes, eyes half closed against the sun,
Senses tuned into the busy thrum of nature,
I fancy I see them, quick and jewel like, darting and weaving,
Their wings incandescent blurs of movement.
She makes a snail farm. Suppressing shudders, I watch,
As she searches the dark, secret places for livestock,
Confidently plucking each up by its shell, displaying green frilly underskirt,
Delighting when one ventures probing horns from its tawny home.
She finds a green beetle, carapace hexagonal, and we watch, for what seems hours,
Its patient scrambling, over the obstacle course she has built for its amusement,
And I sympathise with its frustration, at the forever climbing of twigs and leaves,
Antennae vibrating in questioning bafflement, it scurries in ever decreasing circles,
Before she finally grows bored, and sets it free.
I am given cups of delicious mud tea, my plate piled high with such gourmet delights
As twig soup and dandelion cake, which I eat with appreciative relish.
Until she is satisfied, and I can return, with relief, to my glass of Chardonnay,
Droplets of cold condensation on my palm, the shock of icy tartness on my tongue,
I tip my head back, eyes shut, feeling the caresses of the sun warm on my face.
Where time stands still; and an afternoon lasts forever,
Where a child can imagine; and an adult forget.
Where secrets are whispered; and promises made.
Here, now, this is heaven.
Copyright © 2009 Julie Sea-Borne