The 26th candle

Dear Dad,

You died today.

It doesn’t matter that it was in 1986; and although the raw pain has gone, I do and probably will forever get a pang of misery and regret when this day comes and I will, as I have done every year without fail, light a candle for you in a church.

That was a difficult year, such a difficult year. When your only sibling died that February, the pain etched on your face at his death was heartbreaking. You had that stunned look of disbelief and you must have thought about all those wasted years when you did not have much contact with each other due to stupid, stupid family nonsense.

His dying was the final straw; the catalyst that set in motion the countdown to you dying nearly eight weeks later.  There is never a good thing you can say about family dying but these events did bring our families closer, much closer than we had ever been when growing up.

Yours was the first dead body I had ever seen and even though I did not want to see you lying in your coffin, I was curious and you looked so peaceful; sleeping the permanent sleep.  When I bent to kiss your forehead, it came as a shock at how hard and cold your head was. Daft really, I mean, what did I expect? You looked so smart in your suit, and on the day of your funeral, when we were saying our last goodbyes, I placed the poem I wrote for you in your breast pocket next to K’s Star of David.

The turn out for your funeral was huge, not surprising really as you had met so many people during your life.  All your friends from the golf club, non golf friends and old family friends that you were still in touch with, professional acquaintances, the staff and Directors from your factory. And of course, most importantly, your family.  I sat and cried through the whole thing and could not sing Jerusalem, even though it was a favourite of yours.

The golf club you belonged to had its flag at half mast – mind you, you collapsing and dying whilst playing a round of golf must have shaken them up somewhat, bloody good job you were winning by the way!

It would have been nice however, if alot of those who professed to like you and Mum, had bothered to stay in touch with her after you died. She was dropped like a hot potato by so many who had greedily enjoyed her wonderful cooking and hospitality over the years, but then shunned her so quickly after your death. That hurt her very much Dad, and I often wonder how I would feel or if I would say anything to them if I met them again.

I know I was not easiest person to live with when I was growing up.  I had alot of the usual teenage shit to deal with and I truly believe that you saw alot of yourself in me so tried to curtail those more spontaneous outbursts.  Ah Dad, if only you knew the half of it, how sometimes you didn’t make it easy for me and I suffered at your words and actions.  But you know what?  I was not bad; I was confused and angry and I didn’t know why, I do now.

I wish that I could share with you all that I have discovered about your parents, particularly Granddad.  He hardly ever talked about his family so you did not know much and I have discovered such alot!  Did you know he was one of 10 children, and one of his brothers did not come home from the Somme?  I know that would have interested you and that you would have gone to Thiepval to pay your respects. K and I will do that one day, I promise.  I know that you always said that you had Polish ancestors through Nan’s family, but did you know that you also had German and Dutch?  K and I walked their London streets last summer and tried to imagine what it would have been like in their day.  Oh, by the way, the building where Nan was born still exists.

I got used to your absence a long time ago, and that was something I never thought would happen.  You were not perfect, you had many faults and it was not always easy having you as my Dad, but know that I loved you, still love you and have never forgotten you.

You always liked my poems Dad, and I wrote this for your funeral:

IN MEMORIUM

When death was one,
Your grief was great.
You pondered memories of your London past.

When death was two,
Your sorrow true.
Your feelings though, were sweet relief.

When death was three,
No words expressed
The silent tears wrenched from within.

Now death is four.
We bear the scars, our grief immense, our sorrow true.
We gather the ashes you leave behind and pick up our hearts as you want us to.

Several years later, when I was sorting my head out, many things became clear to me about myself and I wrote this by way of an apology:

DAD

You died too young,
I was not there
To rush into your open arms.
Tell you that I care.

My growing years were fraught with pain,
Could never find the love inside,
Display it as I ought.
I am that fool with much to hide.

I find the words you wrote to me,
Cannot stop the falling tears.
Reading them turns back the clock
Of how I wasted many years.

I light a candle every year,
Assuage my guilt, lest I forget
That you meant everything to me,
And I miss you yet.

I still love you very much,
This message is belated.
I was stupid then, but know I know,
It was never you, but me I hated.

Love M-A xx

At the 11th hour…

At this time of year, I always remember those who did not return from war/conflict, whatever you choose to call it, and those who did but who return with physical, emotional and mental traumas that are hard to witness. So, as I have written quite alot of poetry with a military theme to them, I thought I would share three with you.

I wrote this one in memory of my granddad Alfred who, alongside his three brothers, witnessed the carnage of the Somme. Sadly, one brother was killed in September 1916 and his remains were never found.

07:30hrs

The rum was lost, but we had to go over.
The line was set, we had but one chance.
With a sign of the cross, or whatever religion,
We think what the fuck are we doing in France?
The silence is deafening, the guns have gone silent.
The countdown begun to the whistles blow.
And over we go, walking in bullets.
And onwards and onwards we march and we go.
A father is lost, and a son and a brother.
So many men on the first day of battle.
I would rather not be here, rather not suffer this.
Rather not face the push: treated like cattle.
1st of July, 1916,
Seven thirty am, and over we’ve gone.
They said we could do it, that we would make history,
In this hell hole of mud that we call the Somme.

My dad (who lived through the Blitz in London’s east end) and I wrote this one together about WW1 when I was about 13/14 years old. Those of you familiar with the poetry from that era will spot lines taken from poems by W.B Yeats and Wilfred Owen.

PREMONITION

I know that I shall meet my fate,
I know that I shall die.
Fighting in this bloody war, fighting til I die.

We all signed up, we thought it right to fight for King and country.
What romantic fairytale,
Oh England fair, our country.

But as we stand here in our trench, we think of all at home,
we think of what we have to do,
our firing arms to load.

We get the signal, off we go rifles in our hands.
Fighting’s in our blood and mind,
protection for our land.

We get a little present, it’s just a little bomb.
We are blown sky-high and to the winds.
What did we do wrong?

Now all is quiet, I cannot see my friends, they have all gone.
Do not desert me God,
I’m all alone.

Sing, oh angels, sing to me.
Take me by the hand.
Lift me from this earthly grave, take me to your land.

So give us Lord our daily bread and with your love enthrall.
I gaze upon this weary land
as the bugle sounds recall.

Dulce et decorum est propartria mori.
War’s a bloody waste of time, now tell me that’s a lie.

I wrote this poem back in 2005, after watching a programme about the extermination of Jews in the various camps but namely Auschwitz. So, although the number six in the final line refers to the estimated numbers of Jews killed, this poem is also dedicated to the huge numbers of other ‘undesirables’ who perished in Hitler’s death camps, and to those who continue to die in circumstances where humanity and compassion are absent. My one wish is that none of my Jewish ancestors met their end this way…

AUSCHWITZ 27/01/05 PLUS 60 YEARS

These are my numbers, etched into my soul.
They define me, because my name no longer exists.
But my identity is in that pile of shoes – but I can’t see them,
But I know they are there and will I be remembered?

I am afraid of this familiar; the brutal grey.
They look like me, so why the hatred?

A pile of stench, a smoke-filled sky.

And human ash, and human ash…

My being: who will remember me as I float down from permanent fire, stoked in hell?

If you light one candle, you will remember me.
But if you light 6, you remember us all.

I also think about my other grandfather, grand père Louis who fought in Verdun in WW1, losing an eye for his troubles, and also my mother who along with her family, lived through WW2 in occupied France. She can still vividly remember the way things were then, especially in the depths of winter when her bedroom ceiling would have sheets of ice on it and she would have to sleep under the contents of her wardrobe in order to try and keep warm.

The Lady of St Johns

I see this lady every afternoon as my train trundles through St Johns, and she fascinates me.  Always sitting in the same place, always in her own world, always in shocking pink clothes!

A few words came into my head as I was walking home today, and as with me when I write poetry, when I got home, I immediately began to work on them further before bunging them on here.

So, here is my ode to The Lady of St Johns:

There she sits rocking, every afternoon.

There she sits in shocking, pink, but only she can hear the tune.

No one else sits near her, don’t think they want to try.

She sits with notepad ready, watching the trains pass by.

She mouths the words to something, I never make out what.

Her bags (pink) sit next to her, are they all that she’s got?

I hope that she is happy, I hope she is not sad.

I might wave to her tomorrow, I wonder if she’ll be glad.

What’s with the name?

OK, as this is my first post, I thought I would start with how and why I chose the title of this blog, just in case you were wondering like…

Let us start with the how.

I have wanted to do this for a long time now, partly because English language was about the only thing I could cope with at school (not that I am THAT brilliant at it), and because I always get ideas popping into my head for bits and pieces and I never remember to jot them down.  Unless I am writing poetry that is; then I am very disciplined and immediately write down the words that appear in my mind.

Anyway, I digress…

I come from a family of book-worms, and from as young as I can remember all four of us were reading something.  Every time we moved house, we would have to
have a set of shelves built to cover ONE WALL of our new lounge because we had so
many books!  Fiction, non-fiction, reference etc, etc.  You name it, we had it.

Also, as a kid, whenever I got a new book, I always wrote inside the front cover (in my appalling handwriting) `This Book Belongs To…’  and I wanted the title to reflect that.

As to the why?

I like alliteration and there is some of that of course and I put Bint at the end in reference to a very dear ex work colleague of mine who retired in 2010.  He has a love for the English language and he always called me Bint.  I shan’t tell you what I called and still call him as that would not be fair.  (Contact me for the answer… no don’t… no do, shut up!).

Him calling me that was never meant as an insult, though believe me we would hurl insults at each other at every opportunity, much to the astonishment of other colleagues who did not know our relationship.  Our favourite game was to substitute a word of a James Bond film with fish or cheese or anything; i.e. “From Russia with fish” or “On Her Majesty’s Secret Cheese” etc, you get the picture.  Sounds daft but our game would render us useless for a good while, as we doubled up with laughter to the point of crying and real pain!

Anyway, I thought that it sounded OK, and it is certainly better than some of the other ideas I came up with!