Category Archives: poetry

Mother Stone

St. Ives is the bleached white Tate, the

hazy, colliding seasky blues and,

peeking through

gaps in grey monoliths,

the soft green of Hepworth’s garden.

 

This is stone

in conversation, composed

so the towers may whisper over the heads of their bulbous cousins

who are cut along the natural grain

so voices may slip across the ancient lines in their skin –

life is not kept in

our faces when she reduces us to pure movement;

the swelling outline of a mother’s belly,

a dancer’s pulsing form.

 

We are far from the flat-faced Madonna and Child –

clinging

holy –

we never realised we were

infant

detached, matching each other’s contours,

distant and close as art behind glass.

 

~Ruby Kelman, 2016

Blackpool

Blackpool, July, 1946.

I imagine it was raining. Slowly, at first, in spits and spots, then all of a sudden all at once the heavens opened, scattering the couples cuddling on the seafront. I imagine that the heavy drops pulled on the bright lights on the pier just as they smudged Julia’s war paint, blurring the features beneath. Rain and tears mingled on her cheeks, becoming indistinguishable from each other. Lightning crackled and sparked overhead as thunder echoed Alfred’s roar…

Except… Mother Nature doesn’t always have this sense of ceremony. My own Blackpool was a doorstep on a night that was still and calm, where I basked in the warm glow radiating from suburbia’s bay windows whilst my home tore itself apart.

So perhaps the sun was shining and it was bright and clear on that northern street where I can see a boy who comes just up to my knee. He looks from Julia, to Alfred, to Julia as his father yells, “Who do you want to be with, John? Your mother, or me?”

A coin flips in John’s frightened head and he runs to his father’s arms, pauses, looks back, panics and carries on running. Then he hears his mother crying and wonders if he is allowed to change his mind. Before he can find out, I snatch him from that hot street because the only compromise is one where everyone loses. We cling to each other, John and I, and I stroke his hair and promise him lies to hide from the endless wondering ‘what if’.

He’s fifteen when we meet again, when we kiss but he goes too far so instead I insist we play guitar. He’s telling me about the woman who bought it for him. The beautiful, skittish almost stranger who plays him Elvis Presley and dances and smokes and laughs and couldn’t cope.

She’s with him, that’s just how it goes. But we find an old photograph album and there are the pictures of them and we see specious love that doesn’t exist and surely never has though the evidence defies it.

Next time, he’s seventeen and reeks of cigarettes, sweat and freedom in a black suit that doesn’t fit right. I offer my sympathies but my comfort is futile because this is beyond what I can fathom. Empathy is hard when you can’t possibly understand. So I clasp my hands and wish and wish that I could be better. There is only so far my empty embraces can go.

I felt invincible, forgetting my naivety and conceit. So I scrubbed until my fingers were raw and cracked and made a bed with crisp, white sheets and dabbed at his wounds and whispered, low, when he winced at the antiseptic. But I wound the bandages too tight and the infection flourished in the heat and all I did was make it worse by fussing.

So I don’t visit again until he’s just turned 30, when he doesn’t see me sitting in the corner of that white room where Alfred asks for money and forgiveness one last time.

Spoken word version here

Sometimes

It started with a list of boys. Your older brother boys, hero boys, boys-in-my-class boys whose initials I wrote in giggling code and you swore on your life you wouldn’t tell.

So when it really started when I was 12 I’d been in love before. She was a dancer, pretty, older, three things I wasn’t. She played the romantic lead so I told myself it was him I was defending when they said she couldn’t sing, him who made me blush when I swear she smiled at me once, him whose name I wrote, sighing, in my attentive darling diary.

But then it continued, with someone closer. The nearness of it all made my skin shiver and my head tie itself in knots while the rest of me caught myself charmed by the tiny patch of hair the dye missed and quietly hyperventilating when our skin touched.

I was surrounded, trapped, by friends with boyfriends who texted them in lessons even though we still cared about the rules and kissed and grew up faster and the Stockholm Syndrome consumed me and I thought that was what I wanted too.

So, he occupied the next year and a half and I screamed about it because this one made sense in some stupid, hopeless way and I could get a laugh from being obsessive and desperate. Towards the end, the feelings evaporated and I used the space it cleared in my mind and thought about girls instead.

And then it was her and I’m sorry for that. We were porcelain and I smashed it and with all this glue and string I can’t put the pieces back together.

Then I tried to introduce myself for the first time with my new face.

But the words got trapped in my skull, where they festered and turned themselves over and over until they lost all meaning. Then they plummeted down to the pit of my stomach and curdled and churned. They robbed the air from my lungs and got lodged in my throat. They got stuck in my teeth and held down my tongue and numbed my fingers and welled behind my eyes and I took a deep breath and typed ‘I like girls sometimes’.

Then, her. She was frightened and I don’t blame her. It tore me apart and I cried a hurricane but she seems happy with him so… so am I.

And now there is she. I am fearless and protective and I swear this isn’t me.

Because there are still times when I wake up and dissolve into worry because the world scares me. And there are things you say that make me wince but I have to keep the argument that can refute all yours folded up and pushed to the back corner of my mouth. When I close my eyes, my fear pulses through my head, beautiful and putrid.

But it’s okay because I still can’t get it right.

Now I need to pick a new name, a title, but there’s none that really fits. Even the one I like, the one that encompasses all my love and rage, is problematic. I can’t get my tongue around it and it makes people shiver and anyway I resent that I can be so misdefined when all I need to really say is I like girls, sometimes.

Spoken word version here