a rare disease

they opened Alice up
like she was a tin of sardines
or a potential can of worms
no need for surgical face masks
when dealing with the already dead

they peeled back her widow’s skin
rummaged around her used insides
examined the obviously damaged liver
and wondered at the black gases
that emanated a smell of melancholia

the coroner told his assistant that:
neurological symptoms began with
subtle changes in mental acuity,
mild memory loss, poor reasoning ability
and irritability – he went on:

these symptoms become more severe
eventually progressing to delirium,
suicidal tendencies and coma
his assistant couldn’t stop himself weeping
and noticed too the coroner shedding a tear

here, take a scalpel and grab a leg
we’ll make incisions from belly to tippy toes
then saw open the top of her head
to release the rest of those melancholic gases
that keep her spirit from resting in peace

they set to work to free her corpse
from the devilment that lurked within
and all the while they breathed the black gas
the tears ran down their starched white gowns
a rare disease mused the men in unison

when their work was finally done
Alice Mary neatly stitched back up
never to know how far her story would spread
from London to Belfast, Swansea, Scotland
syndicated for all to read

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Alice Mary Thomas was my great-grandmother. She was from a family of railway tunnel miners and had spent much of her childhood living in squalid navvy shanty huts around the country. The Thomas family would have met and known my Hill ancestors from working at one or more of these mining projects. Alice married my great-grandfather Alfred William Hill in 1888. Their first two daughters died very young, possibly as a result of the Russian flu epidemic in the 1890’s. The family finally settled in the Lambeth district of London where Alfred died in 1920 aged 53 and Alice in 1929 aged 59. I recently discovered this story about Alice’s death whilst searching the British Newspaper Archives for articles relating to my wider family history. I was previously aware that she had taken her own life but had no idea about the link to the rare Hanot’s disease or primary biliary cirrhosis as it is better known today. The poem is based on these newspaper reports with some added fictional aspects thrown in for good measure.

Some few years later in 1937, their son Ivan Arthur (my grandfather) died whilst working on the new escalator system at King’s Cross Station in London after falling down an access shaft.

Alice Mary’s sister Louise Thomas found her way out of relative poverty and hardship by becoming the governess to the de Havilland family where she met and fell in love with the aviator Geoffrey de Havilland. They married in 1909 and she shared many of his early flying exploits. They had three sons, two of which were test pilots who died carrying out their work – events which she never fully recovered from. In 1944, five years before her death, her husband was knighted and she became Lady ‘Louie’ de Havilland. But that’s another story . . .

Symptom details taken from:
https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Hanot%27s+disease

 

 

shotgun cabaret

i shot my reflection
as i walked past the mirror
with two fingers levelled
& cocked thumb twitching
my snide grin mocking me
‘a loaded gun won’t set you free’
the closest thing to suicide
for one that’s scared to run & hide
i live to fight another day
this life we call a cabaret

yes ‘life is a cabaret, old chum’
but for some it’s more a bowl of glum
the days humdrum
the nights succumb
to the rule of thumb
that we must overcome
and accept the crumbs
like little jack horner
who sat in his corner
saying what a bad boy am I . . .

(song lyrics by Joy Division – New Dawn Fades
and Fred Ebb / John Kander – Cabaret)

this

the journey had been long and wearisome but uneventful
despite his illness
the black cab taxi ride to the airport
the flight across the unseen Atlantic above the clouds
where looking down he swore he saw angels waving

coming in to land and taking off again
transferring from one side of the continent to the other
well almost
the hire car and motels and people
the prescription drugs that kept him going

the roads narrowed and became less inhabited
the scattering of local tribal dwellings petered out
no more tarmac only dust
he drove as far as his Chevrolet Spark would take him
until the front left wheel wedged in a rut

he hiked the rest
knew where he was heading
for he had been here some years before
had recced the terrain and its possibilities
before the illness came

and there it was the cave on the hill
the gaping mouth begging for sustenance
in this dry and parched sonofabitch badland
where the desert-thorn drew blood from his passing hand
and the crows cawed, rattled and clicked

like I’m in a Western  movie he thought
stumbling into an ambush in a rocky ravine
he stopped by a silty stream and listened to the echoes
they were whispers of wind, dust, water and spirits
helloo he cried

helloo came the reply
but there was no-one there
his strength was almost spent
his race almost run
must make the cave he said outloud

must make the cave
and when finally he slumped inside its jaws
a great weight was lifted from his shoulders
no  more pills or food or worry
just memories and his fate with the birds

this was the way to meet one’s maker
wherever and with whomever that might be
the journey would be swift and serene
the sound of footsteps approaching
her hand forever holding his

this dream of death
this deathly reality
this wish
this wish
this

There were times

There were times
often coinciding with the end of an eight hour studio shift
when I would listen to the radio late into the night and drift
lying near motionless on the floor like a sedated madman
blowing cigarette smoke up towards the broken ceiling fan
paint stains on my clothes from all those abstract years
of city sound and landscapes that still buzzed in my ears
and out beyond the window past the fire escape ladders
tall cranes would cast their ugly shadowy gallows
along the graffitied brick and timbered warehouse walls

There were times then
when all the world but me was silently sleeping
and not even the birds had alarm called the new morning
I felt alive then as if electricity was coursing through me
as if the needle I had long forsaken had once again been
and found my vein and wrapped me in its calm serenity
a bright red bikini sunset throbbing with Rothko intensity
Kathy, Jack, Frank, Sylvie, Jerry, WB and Charlie B with his lowlife cheap tricks
on the road down the coast cruising in search of mind bending kicks
Florida, Arizona, Tijuana, the famous coast to coast bar crawl

Yes, those were the times
but we knew they weren’t to last, we sought our separate ways
Bill to Kansas, he said living there was a helluva lot cheaper these days
and less violent despite the stash of guns and ammo he kept
for hunting and shooting and for clearing his debts
or killing tooled up rednecks when the day of judgement came, we’d joked
in letters and on postcards that kept the fires of friendship stoked
Kathy and I to New York until that mess of crazy didn’t work out
Jerry and Frank to California’s Laurel Canyon hideouts
Jack the jazz-fuelled wanderer, well, he was in it for the long haul

And those were the times
when we honestly believed we would change the whole goddamn world
when we marched with Anti-Vietnam War banners unfurled
from Greenwich Village to the Golden Gate Park
from Washington DC to Washington State we left our marks
on celluloid, vinyl, paper, pavement, tenement, in space
on canvas and Polaroid Andy caught almost every angle, every face
and blended fact with his fiction, his pop with his art
but it was all too much for poor Sylvie’s heart
the talons that clenched, the babes that bawled

Yet those times were
and forever will be indelibly tattooed upon my subconscious
in psychedelic dreams tripping with a lyrical lusciousness
and it is why I lie here with poetry and jazz and art alive within me
here on this apartment floor motionless and carefree
the voice of the late night deejay a lone performance
at this very minute, this hour, this life of mine, of no real importance
I am lucky to have dodged death’s unholy harpoons to tell my tale
like Ahab and his godforsaken avenging whale
these lines I think, I breathe, I gift, I scrawl.

 

for National Poetry Day:
https://nationalpoetryday.co.uk/

 

Mime Artists

The trees are moving like mime artists
Yet the wind is not their voice

They shed their silent thoughts
With every leaf that falls to the ground

The word autumn is echoed
In the crisp scrunch of footsteps

But it is a slow uncertain suicide
Shutting down and boarding up the show

Standing bare through winter
The arc of the sun scraping the horizon

Waiting to see if they will survive
And become mime artists once again

Elaine

My father was thirty eight when he died

I was barely seven

Mother took me to Spain to ease the pain

Help the healing and never forget

His death had crushed her heart

Part of mine too at the time

The soft white sand slipped through our toes

The cloudy night covered the stars

Transformed them into lost diamonds in the dark

My sunburnt skin itchy beneath my souvenir shirt

 

And then the rain came straight from the heavens

Her sad face and wet hair a sight I would never forget

I found a tiny shell and she held my hand

The castaway clasped between our palms

A momento mori of what was to come

For mother and son

 

For years after she would take me walking in the rain

Walking in the rain with Elaine we would sing

Just like the song

The tiny shiny shell always came too

Clutched between our dripping hands

Sometimes warm

Sometimes frozen

 

One day she tried to wake me from my teenage dreams

But I was growing tired of walking with Elaine in the rain

So she went on her own

And never returned

 

After searching for several days they found her body

She was bloated and floating face down in the local river

Partly wedged under a fallen tree

Somewhat hidden from public view

There was rumour it was murder

But I knew just how much her life had been blighted by grief

Since Dad had passed away exactly ten years before

 

We drove to the Chapel of Rest in Uncle Don’s white van

And there she was

All peaceful looking in her long wooden box

Her hands folded neatly across her chest

Like a sleeping martyr I guessed

I reached into my pocket and found the tiny shiny shell

I kissed it gently for a lingering moment and lovingly

 

Leaning over the coffin pushed it under her cold fingers

Safely wedged in the palm of her right hand

The hand that held mine when we went walking in the rain together

 

Here

Take this Mum, I whispered

And when you meet with Dad

Wherever that might be

Take a walk in the sunshine

And maybe think of me

Painted Rocks

I wake
to a blank morning
your tears stain the pillow
like drops of memories left abandoned
on a melted heartbeat burned
and charred under this equatorial sun

another step closer the edge
another deep breath

a paradise for tourists
a flaming hell for the unbelonging
glinting sunlight on wave after wave
crests diamond studded and jewel reflected
as far as your eye could never see
when blinded by such darkness

another step closer the edge
another deep breath

I relive your last moments
imagine your plight
but it is unfathomable
lost to me on a dolphin’s dive
you are simply gone now
another name on a painted rock

another step closer the edge
another deep breath

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(this piece links to my previous post – the memorial to those who had committed suicide by jumping from a cliff on Gran Canaria. I tend to use the theme of wide open spaces – sea, sky, deserts, highways – in which to arrange and hang my imagination. I try to leave enough room between my words for readers to place their own interpretations –  a dreamy vagueness perhaps. I might use this idea of linking from one post to the next as an aid to writing and exploring different subject matter. It is all too easy to get bogged down with the same old words and never realise that your writing has stagnated).

Searching for Avalon.

Does my header art remind you of a seventies Roxy Music album cover? Maybe it’s the foliage and the expectation of two scantily clad women appearing from behind the signs. The signs themselves were photographed on Gran Canaria during a trip in January 2016. Much needed winter sun. A zigzag path opposite the hotel led to a rocky headland, a lighthouse and a favourite spot for suicides. It was a long, thoughtful journey to the rocks below. A small memorial of painted stones marked the spot near to where those brave unhappy souls had taken their final step of faith into the unknown: Nayra, Saul, Alberto.

IMG_06042

Just names on the parched volcanic ground to me but to someone else a loved one – brother, sister – boyfriend, girlfriend. The bottle of beer reminded me of Jim Morrison’s grave in Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Perhaps an anniversary gift and one for the road. The heat of Gran Canaria in January seems an ocean of time away and I look now towards my two month summer trip to the States which starts on the 25th July. Searching for Avalon maybe.