Poetry

Molly parked her walker up under the window of the dayroom and took the last place at the table. The poet was sitting on one of the long sides; he’d set up plates of cream biscuits down the centre as if this was a kitchen table and it was going to be some chatty morning. Molly tried to pull her chair in so she could reach the complimentary paper.

First thing, before mention of the biscuits, they went round the table listing favourite poets. Keats, Browning, Wordsworth, a nod to Shakespeare and even God with the Psalms. As the latecomer, the visiting poet – whose name she couldn’t recall – came to Molly last. She said she liked Sylvia Plath. Not that she’d read anything beyond the sensational newspaper reports at the time, she just wanted to be different; she’d never been one to conform and wasn’t about to start. The poet nodded sagely.

‘Wasn’t she the one who killed herself?’ asked Arthur, the only male resident to turn up to the poetry workshop.

sylvia plath

The woman beside Molly leaned over and whispered for her alone: ‘that’s where poetry gets you.’ She smelled of Yardley lavender talc. Molly recognised her as she breathed her in, and was instantly glad Patience was here. She reached into her low slung cleavage to fetch out her glasses – that way she could see what was going on too.

‘So you are all fond of a poem with a rhyme, Plath fans excepted,’ said the poet with a tiny bit of acid in his voice. ‘Do you want to see if you can write something without rhyme?’ The enthusiasm was not returned unconditionally. The idea of a three line form poem seemed okay though. ‘None of us are likely to die before we finish,’ murmured Patience. Molly couldn’t help sticking her glasses back on her nose and glancing across at Joyce just to make sure. Joyce’s chin was resting on her chest and her baldness was exposed: a naval gazing slump.

Molly was still muttering out strict syllable patterns for her haiku about a muddy pond when Patience shoved her own bit of poetry-paper over for her to see.

Blah blah blah blah blah
blah blah blah blah blah blah blah
blah blah blah blah blah

Molly put her hand over the paper and started a reply, feeling like she was at school again, sharing secrets with a girlfriend, living in the light of her smiles and approval.

Ha ha ha ha ha
ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
ha ha ha ha ha

Patience gurgled and spluttered and sprayed a bit of spit and Molly lost sight of her as her own eyes crinkled into slits.

‘Would you like to share your poems?’ the poet asked. Molly opened her eyes to see him looking straight at her. The poor thing, what disappointments he must have had to end up doing poetry in an Aged Care Hostel.

‘No, it’s a bit personal,’ Patience interrupted boldly. She reached over and patted Molly’s goanna-skin hand. Molly felt electricity shoot up her arm. The hostel’s nylon carpet was a bugger for static. And she’d been in love with Patience from the moment her son admitted her. She missed Nancy every day – who wouldn’t after forty-three years together – but Nancy was dead and Patience lived in a room in the same corridor.

‘A love poem next,’ announced the poet. ‘Maybe we can extend ourselves to ten lines.’

Molly didn’t hear the instructions; she was composing a love letter she’d never send. She knew every metaphor she could come up with was a cliché because love was a cliché no matter the age. A nipple still stood up like a rose bud, tides still rose too, and a storm wave still crashed through secret caverns.

The room went silent around her except for the scratch of pens negotiating their way across paper and Joyce’s soft snoring. Molly did try to put some of her thoughts down but they were always one step ahead of her arthritic joints. Arthur was quicker. He read out an ode to a woman who was ‘the prettiest rose in the garden’ and ‘the twinkliest star in the sky.’ He wasn’t the only one in the workshop to tear up as he read, though his face remained a continent of dry creek beds and no tears fell. They all needed a break and an orange cream. A trolley of teacups chattered in. Patience poured more electricity into Molly as she touched her.

‘I was thinking about all those years at boarding school,’ Patience confessed. The left side of Patience’s face sagged a little even when she smiled. A stroke was not always as gentle a thing as the movement of Patience’s hand down Molly’s arm.

‘It is like school,’ agreed Molly, hoping to recapture the collusive intimacy of their haiku laughter.

‘I had a thing with one of the girls in the dorm.’ Patience stopped. Picked up Molly’s hand. Stroked the loose skin on the back into gullies before travelling the length of her index finger. ‘I always wondered if it counted and whether it meant I was a virgin on my wedding night. Can I get you a cup of tea? Two sugars isn’t it?’

 

Jane Downing

 

Pennsylvania

“I’ve said many, many, many unkind things about Philadelphia, and I meant every one.”

David Lynch

philadelphia

I’ve lived in this city far too long. Philadelphia is full of filthy streets and fatties. Being the home of the cheese-steak hasn’t done the people any favours. Sometimes it’s warm and muggy and pigeons lie around lethargically and your butter always softens real quick for your afternoon ham sandwich. But then, winter rolls in with spikes on its boots and cuts your cheek with a blade of ice and cuts and cuts and keeps cutting until your socks bite your toes and your skin is as flaky as careless shredding on a block of blue cheese.

And here I stand at the table with my family. Philadelphia born and bred. I’ve never put one foot into Ohio or Virginia or Maryland or Delaware. I would have made it to Arizona in October if Mom hadn’t wrapped a tight leash around the family credit card.

‘Sit,’ Dad barks at me, as if I’m our neighbour’s Presa Canario, Princess.

Poor Princess. Every Monday, I watch the yellow sunlight drift through the glass and illuminate the bristles on the legs of the Hacklemesh Weavers clustered in the corner of my room. When I hear the padlock click, I open my bed-side drawer and pull a box from the plastic wrap of the Tic Tac multi-pack. Every Monday, I watch Buck mow the grass. I sit by the window, slamming the orange box down at the perfect angle on the edge of the window sill. I place a Tic Tac in my mouth and soften it and chew it and swallow, throw one in the air, catch it on my tongue and soften it and chew it and swallow. Then I cross my fingers.

‘I said sit.’

The beauty of a collapsible cage is that it is collapsible. Every Monday, I place the last Tic Tac on the sill in the hope that one day Princess will break through the metal bars and eat Buck while he’s scratching his filthy redneck scalp. I imagine I’ll walk down and offer his girlfriend Tiffany a cigarette and offer her a Tic Tac and give Princess a scratch behind the ear. Tit for tat for a tiny morsel of entertainment in a city sucked dry by dope and derision.

‘Jacob sit, now. Next to your sister,’ says Dad.

‘Father, relax. I’ll sit,’ I say.

I lean forward towards the table snacks. The box of See’s candies feels cool in my hands. I pull it towards me and it rattles softly like a maraca. Everyone stares sharply as I pop a bubble in the wrap.

‘Not necessary,’ says Mom, shaking her head.

As Gram rambles, I pick up the brown paper from the box and sniff the nutty, Easter-like scent. I take a bite and assess the centre. The caramel is beige as bitter tea. It’s chewy. Gram finishes her speech about the Blanket Society. Now she’ll ask me about life at the burger store and history and examinations and guitar and friends and probably, girls.

‘I don’t swing that way, Gram,’ I’ll remind her, again.

Again and again and again and again. When Gram was my age she wasn’t into computers or cell phones or video games or telly but rather tennis and the pictures and young men and picnics and picnics with young men. Young men, Jacob, you and young men? No I don’t think that’s right, my dear.

I stare at the gold pendulum swinging left and right ever so slowly above Gram’s head. I study the clock’s face. It pokes a thin black tongue at me. I’ve never noticed the scratch next to Roman numeral seven.

‘Ding dong, ding dong,’ it sings.

I hope the clock doesn’t unhinge and peel itself from the wallpaper.

‘Ding dong, ding dong,’ it sings again.

I hope it doesn’t drop from the wall and fall onto Gram’s head and make her stop yapping like a Chihuahua in a tiny crochet jacket. The wallpaper really is ugly. It looks like frothy Cool-Aid. Mom had puffed out her chest at every wallpaper store in the city back when they were renovating and looked more than deflated fumbling at registers and stuffing rolls of old stock into the back of her grey Ford Escort.

‘Aint that right, Jacob?’ says Dad, nostrils flaring.

‘Huh? Ah yep, Dad,’ I say.

Roman numeral three looks like a little cage.

‘Jacob has a friend called Jess,’ says Dad, making twitching rabbit ears with his sausage fingers. ‘She’s here all the time.’

I try to roll my eyes as far into my head as I can without detaching an eye-string.

‘Is it cherry pie for dessert, Mom?’ I ask.

Mom plays with her necklace.

‘Jess is lovely,’ continues Dad. ‘She’s sophomore at Jacob’s school and I’ve heard she’s top of her volleyball team.’

‘Dad, shut up,’ I say, looking out the window.

A maple brushes its fingers against the glass. A distant tree sags under the weight of a thousand red ants. Ants, scuttling and smothering. I imagine a leaf snapping off in fall and floating in the warm breeze and floating down the street, past the main drag of stores and past the power station and all the way to the Atlantic Ocean where a current could carry it to somewhere distant like Israel or Italy or India. Escape this hell-hole little leaf, while you can. Have a say in your own damn life, while you can. I’ve said many, many, many unkind things about Philadelphia, and I meant every one.

 

Carmel Purcell

The Cringe welcomes Carmel Purcell, the newest addition to our writing team. Look forward to a variety of articles and short fiction from Carmel in the coming months.