I walk with my keys in my fist,
Jagged teeth ever ready,
Solid metal lumps within my grip,
All the better to punch someone with.
I live a free life, so you tell me.
Yet I am my own warden,
Patrolling my boundaries,
Enforcing your rules.
I choose to wear skirts,
But not too short,
Wouldn’t do to drop the wrong signals.
Not too long neither,
Those aren’t so good for running away.
Just right to the knee,
Perfect and wholesome,
Somebody’s schoolgirl fetish.
Trousers would be an invitation
For someone to remind me of my gender
Strip me out of them,
Make me into a woman.
So I walk with my keys in my fist,
Eyes down, head bent,
Ears straining, mind whirring,
No time to think whilst being ever vigilant.
Pink blossoms rain like confetti,
Reminders of my place within life.
Wife, mother, carer, keeper,
Softness wrapped around steel,
Like my poor hand around harsh metal.
I carry my keys to freedom as a weapon,
Ever ready to defend myself,
Against ‘friendly banter’ from strangers.
I can unlock any door, walk any road,
But the highways are dangerous to me,
Filled with brigands,
Who will demand that I stand and deliver.
The women will tut at my choices,
When I knew what as waiting for me out there.
When I use my weapons,
Lash out, leave wounds cut deep,
You recoil in shock.
You question my lack of humour,
My poor judgement,
Label me emotionally unstable.
‘There is no need for this violence,
Your fight is over,
Your mother won your freedom for you,
A whole generation ago.’
Perhaps she did,
For I do carry my own keys.
Even she has warned me though,
With sad eyes and deepened scars
That I should always carry them in my fist,
While yours are nestled safely in your pocket.
I have saved the best one until last. I grew up in North Wales, and while I love Welsh writers, many of them write about the valleys, about the coast, about the South. That’s not my Wales. I grew up and into my adult years in the villages of Ruabon and Llangollen and this poem was written about those experiences. The Kelly from ‘Kelly Sings’ is Kelly Jones, lead singer of the Stereophonics, who played in Llangollen while I was in sixth form and were instrumental in the popular rise of Welsh rock music. I can’t listen to his songs, in particular the first album ‘Word Gets Around’, without mentally going back to those days. This poem reflects how I feel and the experiences that echo through my head when I hear those songs.
As his vocals stumble over rough guitars, laced with gossip
I’m feel like I’m back walking the red brick streets in the dark,
Breathing deep the coal smoke.
The ash turns from thick warmth into bitterness
As it mixes with the grey drizzle.
My bus rumbles on like a baby dragon,
Roaring and belching smoke,
Snaking up into the village high streets
Bearing ladies with string bags, bundled into anoraks,
Purchased from the markets ten years since
But good for ten more at least.
I head towards the pubs where their husbands sit in corners,
Welsh bitter slopping onto the dominos.
Grey smoke curles into their eyebrows,
Mustaches twitch over dry silent lips.
At their feet, old collies stretch and wheek,
Knowing that Ivor will be in with the disco soon.
The history of Wales heads home for tea
While its future plasters itself in gel and lipstick,
Hair slicked into spikes or scooped into scrunchies.
They totter and slouch into their elders’ seats,
To order bottles and flick peanuts,
Dancing to five whirling lights on the carpet,
Shouting to friends last seen in the classroom,
Scant hours hence and a world away.
His tragic lament soars over plucked notes
Throbing behind regular base drum beats.
The memory of old cassettes and walkmans stirs deep,
Recalling recordings repeated with each passing fad.
They groaned and croaked out Welsh rock,
Booming through tinny headphones, cranked loud.
The quad lay overgrown,
Littered with illicit butts and sweet wrappers.
The ghosts of the old grammar envied us our freedom,
They skulked in the shadows around the worn paths,
Under wrecked covers and past barred windows.
We lay on the grass their feet were forbidden to touch.
The red bricks have been smashed assunder since,
Replaced by new houses, failing in an old style,
Priced way beyond any former pupil’s means.
The fusileer memorials were carefully removed
But nobody cares where they are now.
Rumbling discontent into beats like footsteps, sharp across flat slabs.
Lamenting a youth lost without choice,
While we ached to be shed of ours.
We gurgled with energy, bubbling into our accents,
Watching our musicians conquer the world.
We were channeling the river, racing over rocks,
Laughing and dodging the jagged sharps
Before stalling in pools when the water level dropped.
Marooned in worn rock holes
We listened as all of the promise trickled away.
Jumping from the bridge into the dark pool was once a rush,
Before it became a one way trip.
As the chords thrum back and forth,
Gravel rattles in his voice while the snare drum ticks on.
The bar emerges from the smoke once more,
Sweating wood under young palms,
Silver changing hands for Smirnoff and Snakebite.
Each night followed the pattern of the last,
Capturing our sense of belonging.
The cigarette grooves deepened in the porcelain,
Dirty, rusty brown stains in the off white fittings.
The cold tap glugged and dribbled
While the sticky floor clutched at my soles.
The worn red carpet wore the Guiness flecks,
As someone dropped minstrels into their pint
To sweeten the stout.
The juke box whirred into life,
Spitting out Cerys and the Manics,
Along with a dose of good old Tom.
Choruses raised in a sea of red rugby shirts,
Cursing in English, their Welsh long lost to them
They chanted to the land of their fathers,
Not knowing what they sang.
Another disc whirred and clunked
And Kelly sang…
Just as he sings into my memory,
Echoing a sea of red pride,
Lamented and remembered,
Not feeling so lost now in a white flag,
Or trapped into a red cross.
Kelly sings to me,
And every time a dragon awakens and roars.
This was one of the earliest poems I wrote during my current writing streak. I was so angry, not only with the person who had broken my heart but with myself for letting it happen despite seeing all of the warning signs.
You had me well trained,
Conditioned to respond to you,
Even if it was subconscious and wordless.
Pavlov trained his dogs to respond to a bell
Knowing that food was offered;
And so I responded to your smiles,
The flash of your eyes,
The flick of your hands,
Aching to be fed…
I am nothing more than Pavlov’s Bitch,
Trained to respond to your whims.
I have laughed, gasped,
Panted and chased my own tail in frustration;
Fetched and carried,
Begged for treats,
Trudged through the rain;
Stood on the outside looking in,
Calling my kennel a home for sake of nearness,
Grateful for flashes of sudden warmth,
Hoping for an end to the cold.
It has been a long time since you rang a bell for me,
And even when it sounded last,
It was hollow and bereft of promise.
I still strain to hear it,
For I am no better than Pavlov’s Bitch.
There are some people in this world who are unwilling to be loved. This poem was written about one of them.
You were never content to rest within my words,
Always adding extra to remove things.
“I love you”
But not like that.
“I care about you”
But not in that way.
You stripped out the meaning
Of everything I tried to give you.
You tore out the best bits;
Thrust them back at me,
Not realising that you had ruined my gift.
I loved you.
Exactly like that.
I cared about you.
Even in that way.
I should have known,
That someone so reluctant to be loved
Would never love me in return.
You said you loved me…
But not like that.
You cared about me…
But not in that way.
By adding extra,
You removed everything.
Sometimes when you make changes in your life, people hold their breath waiting for you to change your mind. Some people can hold their breath for many years…
I can read your face.
Is it safe to breathe out?
You’ve held in that last gasp,
As if it was the final gulp of good air,
Scented by the past,
Reminder of how things were.
You’ve all been holding your breath,
Waiting for the world to resolve.
For me to just relax,
Dig out my old smile,
One day, you will run out of past.
Let it go,
Let it out.
Realise that you can exhale.
But only if you’re willing to embrace
You admitted that I was necessary, at times.
Good to walk on when solid.
Best avoided when sloppy.
Handy for growing things,
Nurturing, making, building
But best kept outside.
Only welcome in small doses,
Pruned and pre-planned.
Brushed off your boots before you enter.
Stay off the carpet, don’t stain the sofa.
Yours is a clean, sterile house,
With a plain and orderly life.
No place for me there.
That’s what I mean
When I say that you treated me like dirt.
This poem was written about my husband, who I swear was a cat in another life…
Your soul must have belonged to a cat once.
You rub your eyes and stretch
With a closed eye smile,
Snug yourself against me,
You love your food and sleep,
Often bringing home treats for me,
Curling up with your head in my lap,
While I rub your full tummy.
In the night, if I should move,
You’re there with one eye open,
Making sure all is right in my world,
Before turning over and purring back to sleep.
Most people hate the rain. But it makes me feel fresh and clean. It always sounds different. Every different sound creates a different poem.
The Sound Of The Rain
I love the sound of the rain.
It trickles through my mind,
Washing away rotten thoughts,
Leaving a clear space,
Filled with the sound of splashes.
It clouds my windows,
Hides the world from my tired gaze,
Closes me into a safe, soft mist.
The raindrops whisper a gentle promise
Of fresh starts and new growth.
I’ve never met a snake and seen a person. But I have met a person and seen a snake.
Snake In The Grass
I remember narrow eyes
Set into a long thin face
With a forked tongue flickering quick wit,
Saying one thing, spitting another,
Laced with venom.
Curled tight around your prey,
Never truly mating, only hunting.
Languid, graceful moves
Hypnotising those around you,
Making them feel safe.
I once felt safe with you.
But once bitten?