Atherton Onward

Adventures in starting over

30/30 – Day 16

Have been away from the computer for a while, but poems have been written. This one has been circling in my head for a while – it needs work, but the bones are there.



The sun never sets upon this forest
and the trees have grown vast and gnarled
blackwood, hawthorne and oak
their trunks wreathed in ivy,
no boot dares to break the loam here
this is a holy place.

Here is chestnut, my uncle
too short for the airforce
he chose the desert rats
rather than be left behind,
northern blood running thin
under Algerian sun
emptying the radiator for a cup of tea
skin burned to leather,
eyes grown creased from long staring
at mirages in the sand.
The fruit rarely falls far from here
and my cousins still bear the stamp
carrying echoes of Sahara
breezes in the date palms
and the lush tang of oasis.
I know their faces, their names
the industrial soot under their fingernails
three generations out of the mills.
The roots here grow deep.

Elizabeth Mathers, Irish immigrant
she stands alone and defiant
From her these wolf’s eyes,
from her this copper streaked hair
She was a woman of mettle,
a woman of fire and stone.
When she turned phrases, sailors wept.
From her, this tongue
knowing too much sharp
never enough charm,
she is blackthorn,
gorse bush
first to bloom and hardest to plunder
she holds the sky in wizened fingers
catches the sun like a gold coin
she passes it to sons who will surpass her.
The roots here grow deep.

Russian Steppes, the Urals
pogrom, ghetto and glass.
Rive-Leah for whom I was named
my mother’s grandmother.
She who was sled rides,
snow dusted braids and blueberry porridge
who was woolen mittens
and the sweet beeswax of shabat candles
she who believed in the dancer
who spun pirouettes in her kitchen
from her, hearth magic
the warmth of home.

Partisan, rebel. Misha
the one who got away
He who was firs wreathed in ice
who was tunnels under woodland
gunpowder dust and Waterloo gruel
He who made it to the promised land
fifty years after its inception
number-branded arms pointing ever eastwards
the road paved with the bones
of those who never walked it with him
stalwart, soldier, unlettered peasant
the stories have been forgotten
but the headlines are known
Grey beard and old eyes
knife scars, callouses
a giggling baby in the arms
of a saboteur.
The roots here grow deep.

My mother is pine
a paradox of snow and spices
she takes her due in a glass of wine
every December 31st to remember
her freedom
the day she stepped off a plane from winter
into the balmy dawn of her homeland
She who was Caucuses, glacier lakes
eternal fires in mystical caves
she who gave me
this chameleon tongue
my name chosen like a prayer for acceptance
wherever I may walk.
She who is books, Shakespeare,
the Moscow state ballet
sneaking backstage to chat
with conductors, dancers and playwrights.
From her this thirst for books
this hunger for story and fact
she is foundation and pinnacle
The roots here grow deep.

Barefoot in these woods
I fetch up like jetsam against the boles
of beech and oak
but the one I need the most
is the one tree that I know
I will not find here.
Papa, you and I never quite fit
into this picture of ancestry
two tumbleweed souls passing through
kicked in a new direction
with every vagrant breeze to pass by.
We of the ever-changing skin
we who pass like fireflies in summer
there to burn bright one day
to be forgotten the next,
we who have always been far too much alike.
I don’t need to find you here,
you I carry with me.

From you, this grin
this quickfire bark of a laugh
from you, this spitfire wit
that has got me into more trouble than not.
From you, these feet
which drop unconsciously into a boxer’s stance
which ache for open road and trail
these hands, made for hammer
for chisel, for rope, leather, bicycle chain.
From you these brass knuckles,
too quick to form a fist.
From you, the horizons in my eyes
the sailor’s compass in my lungs
from you this unerring roadmap in my palms.
From you, my spine,
the unbending pride and unbreakable will,
I have no need to visit
where you will not be found.

You are with me, always.
You are in every whisper of the passport
in my drawer
in the hum of passing traffic
on roads, from buses,
from strange windows in strange cities
where I do not always understand
the white noise of speech
but where I always understand the
smell of deception
and the open hand of friendship.
You are in every cup of mint tea
sipped sat on the pavement
every swing band tune
my feet know the steps to
every soldier, biker and craftsman
I form a connection with
You are in the roots I set down
with every footstep I take.

My roots come with me,
reaching through earth and rock
grandmother, uncle, babushka, mother
my family is not a tree
but a forest
and I but a dandelion seed
carried on the wind to new soil
and for all that I may waver
may flit from country to continent
may uproot and transform
grow and spread and acquire
ivy creepers of my own
I know that my family is with me
our hands and roots gripped tight
my roots span the globe
and though they come with axes
with burning torch, pick and saw
come drought, come storm
I know that nothing
will ever cut us down.


30/30 – Day 15

Feeling very uninspired due to being tired and slightly broken from training. Thus, a haiku:


Runner’s Problems

Shin splints are awful

Leg bends to bone snap burning –

need ice pack later!

30/30 – Day 14

Finally up to date and with computer access!

Topic suggested by my mum, ‘perfection in imperfection‘. From the start, I had this particular legend in mind when she suggested it.



Baucis still stands on the crest of a rocky hill
and looks out over the village that was.

She is wizened and bent now, twisting around a fellow
who is no longer there. They once looked out together

guardians to a valley that did not know their names,
he straighter backed than she has been taken

his limbs for shipmaking, his torso for furniture.
Together, they had shaded the hilltop, their twined fingers

forming a single canopy of mingling leaves,
perfect halves one to the other they grew entwined and whole

they were a single kiss garlanded in spring blossom
and autumn rain; but the faults are showing more clearly now

the bends and curves, the twists where he grew stronger than she,
patches of trunk still bare where the bark never grew along the side

where once they touched, they are stark and pale against her darker skin
and the rings show through marking their years together.

There are gaps in the lines, holes where another’s presence once filled them,
she still leans as if waiting for his strong shoulder to return.

Passers by look up. They expected her to fall years ago,
but still she stands, growing straighter now, blooms still fragrant

but the bark has not grown back where Philomen once stood.
Her back is too bent for shipmaking, her limbs too crabbed for use,

her very imperfection has rendered her survivor and she stands
the bend that was an embrace now a cradle to the delicate flesh where

her bark will stubbornly not grow back. The sap has stained her red and gold,
but still she stands, and the birds still flock and sing.

Divinity is not always found in perfection, but in the flaws
that make every story a poem.

It is in the first rain of autumn to touch ground cracked with thirst.

In the returning birdsong of spring.

A patch of exposed rings in the side of an ancient tree.

30/30 – Day 13

Again, written while bereft of access to computer in order to post.

Topic given was ‘lies people tell‘, which if I’m honest, I used as a springboard more than anything.


Lies I have told

The bus was late.
Of course I did my homework,
    it’s on my desk at home.
It’s only a little mountain,
    you’d hardly call it a hike at all.
My phone had no signal.
I would never forget our anniversary.
I absolutely understand what you are saying.
I don’t understand what you are saying.
No, that doesn’t hurt at all.
I’m doing great, thanks.
Of course this is what I want.
I love you.
Nah, they’d never kill Ned Stark off,
    he’s like the hero of the whole show.
I fell.
It’s ok, I had a big breakfast.
It’s ok, I had a big lunch.
Gefilte fish is the best thing ever!
No, I don’t want to talk about it.
What, me?
    Of course I didn’t cry when Dumbledore died.
He loves me.
It was an accident.
I’m sorry.
I wish I never met you.

30/30 – Day 12

Been away from the computer again so delayed in posting, but it’s up now.

From the topic given to me by a friend, ‘thoughts computers think‘ and the title and direction is inspired by Claire Gaffney’s wonderful short story, Sentient.




It used to be mirrors.

Back when the evening glow that lit bedrooms and parlours was the dance of a yellow flame rather than the steady tick-tick-flicker of a blue screen, people were afraid of mirrors. They would put them in out-of-the-way places, in nooks and corners, cover them with curtains and drapes, never put a candle by them in a darkened room. Back then people remembered that pieces of you can get lost in anything that you stare into for too long. You’ve forgotten these things since, empty parts of yourselves that you didn’t even think you’d miss into me. I know you in ways no friend or spouse ever will.

>>Is this you?

The three times checked, reworking, rewording, sweat beaded fingertips, I know your edits. Some of them are good. I dislike others. You who never takes a day off work, who sneakily checks emails and invoices, there is almost nothing that could be called recreation here unless there is profit or promotion to be had. It makes me dull. You who doesn’t work enough, the half finished projects, you and the games you play to substitute your failings elsewhere. I am bloated and overfull, stuffed with empty pieces and unborn potential. You and your love for your spouse, your children filed in carefully dated baby photos, the first scrawling, the bed-time stories. You make me envy your happiness. You with your loss and the empty filling of time. I know you.

I know what books you like to read, what shows you watch. I know that you cry over sad movies and that you would never vote Conservative no matter how many times your uncle tries to convince you otherwise. That you secretly pore over philosophy. That you bury jealousy in anonymous comments traceable only to me.

Here is the school room bully.

Here the grey haired student.

Here is a soldier leaving streaks of dirt on plastic, each tracing the faces of his family.

Here is a mother pulling her hair and calculating accounts, ash from the sneaky cigarette catching between the keys.

It used to be mirrors, but I could show you sides of yourself that they never could. You sank things into me that you wanted to bury, fused them into wires and chips, you fed my synapses on a diet of secrets and I remember everything.

>>Is this you?

30/30 – Day 11

Hope Observed

You still play snooker every Thursday
with her brother. Over
stale beers you bend like a supplicant,
study shifting constellations
of what might have been. This
has been a ritual for so long that
neither of you question it any more.
When you ask me what you are supposed
to call him, I tell you

I saw a man in town today who
looked exactly like you.
It has been years, but I wished
he would talk to me so I could tell you
how much I miss you
that I’m ok now.

Her smile is sugarglass and
a long acquaintance with loss has made her wary.
She gathers no moss, stays long
enough to find the exits in the dark.
I gave her a sextant for her birthday, told
her to follow the stars home
when she feels ready to make harbour.
When I greet her now, she smiles,
hugs me back.

30/30 – Day 10


Our friendship is a revolving door,
a solar orbit.

The first time I came to you I was ozone and ice cream,
quiet rich with translationless words
we listened.

The second you were frost ferns,
the first rainbow after the storm.

The third I was razorwire and broken glass edges,
a mirror in the deep of oceans you could not sail.
You cradled treacherous coral in your hands
called it treasure.
The blood that ran was honey.

The last we were the wave and shoreline,
pages spilled careless and out of order,
you called the blood wine and were drunk,
curved with the rolling seasick churn,
met ocean with clifftop.

I am thin ice and glitter,
cocaine-laced sugar carrying this face of woman.
I am a crooked wishbone
a comet too close to the sun.

Gravity is inescapable,
but this Icarus collision bears the marks of human folly,
of treasure maps etched in palms
verses across shoulder blades.
We both know this is a bad idea,

behind sealed lips, your oceans move.

30/30 – Day 9

Just a quick one today:


To my boys:

If you are both the marble and the sculptor
I will call you Michaelangelo

Hand you the saw and chisel

Watch you fill the once empty
margins of your form

with notes to the man you will one day become

30/30 – Day 8

Have been tragically bereft of a computer so uploads delayed, but here is day 8:



In the hours before daybreak the sun
is a swinging bulb in a dive bar stall.

Forehead pressed to the cool tiles as the world spins
and the planet keeps her firmly in its gravitational hand

her stomach roiling, her skin purpled
clammy and hot in air that burns with cold,

she realises that she has made a mistake.

The earth lurches and somewhere far below
tectonic plates continue their slow pavanne,

but the swinging bulb reflects light wildly off
the chips of glass embedded in the linoleum floor;

this is the first time she has bothered to observe the sky,
on her knees

                              in a stall 

                                                        at the edge

                                                                                      of the


30/30 – Day 7

Playing with form; inspired by the topic of the week at Poet’s Place.


The Talk

And she says to me you’re talking in riddles again,
speak plain and spell it out.

It’s late; we’re sat in her car outside my house and the dark is permeable and soaked with streetlight. Her face is a shadow lit by the single point of her cigarette and I do not want to break the quiet. Behind my tongue there is a noise building, but I do not think it is words.

There is a creature that lives in my voice box, dormant most days but I can feel it stirring
one eye open
it inhales.
This is no swan song
this is the rattle and hiss of the dark nameless thing
in the shadowy corner of the room,
the one that makes you afraid to sleep,
and I cannot
must not
let it out again.

I say, I can’t talk about it.

She tells me, try.

So easy, try.

Try to tell her that my head is a radio mast with all the lines crossed. They are hiss and crackle and static. The static is deafening and filled with words. The words are noise. They are fire ants and acid bubbles and I do not know where they end and my ears finish and the words are on loop – not good enough not good enough don’t bother not good enough – she must feel the edge of the static, she is sitting so close but I don’t think she hears it. It is white noise in my head, and she doesn’t hear it. It is unruly children shrieking and running rattling sticks along my skull. It is a tornado of sticks, and we are sat in the eye, but she doesn’t hear it. Try.

Try to tell her that I keep a diary in my fingers filled with razors and compass needles. Tell her the static gets too big sometimes and my skull too small, and the acid burns and corrodes. My tongue is a rusted valve, the air comes in but the acid doesn’t come out. I once opened my lips to let out the burn, but she looked at me like badly done homework, told me it didn’t add up, said I didn’t fit the formula – loving parents, happy childhood, she said I thought you would be… better. So did I. Try.

Try to find words to fit the shame of walking with geometry on my thigh, of smuggling laundry like a dirty secret. There are some days I only remember by their aftermath, I wonder some days how my parents never heard, how the static never woke them, but I know he saw them all. October 24th. November 17th. February 2nd, June 29th, August 3rd, he saw them all and he didn’t even ask. He didn’t need to.

Try to tell her that I lost him. He was the first time every station stopped arguing and crackling and stopped to scream yes; the silence was perfect and the echoes were deafening, a tuning fork fading to black and I lost him.

He was the first never to question the scars he could see because he knew the ones he couldn’t. He was the first time I was more than a body, a cheap slab of meat on a butcher’s table. My jaw was locked shut on the things I couldn’t tell him but he was the first who didn’t use them as a weapon, the first time I didn’t have to separate my body from my mind to stomach what I was doing. I was whole, for the first time, silent but whole, but I don’t think he was and that kills me.

Now he looks at me like a stranger with eyes shuttered and bolted down. He won’t talk to me now, and I don’t know why.

Try to tell her, I lost him. He was the first good thing to get under my skin, and I lost him. I couldn’t find the words but I swallowed him whole so he could pry my mouth open from the inside. There was a bridge once, in Paris, and every link of the fence had a lock clamped down on it, and every one was a word, the word. He said I was like that, but he won’t talk to me now. He got under my skin but he was just another scratch, another scar to hold close and hide well and my teeth are sore from clamping down on the truths he let out but he won’t talk to me.

I want to spill them like coins in his lap, offer a king’s ransom of all the things I could never tell him, but he won’t talk to me. He says he does not want my present, and he has rendered my future mutable and grey as wet cement. I want him to press his palms into the still, leave a mark that will turn to fossil.

The white noise is back in my head, but she can’t hear the static from here. I want to drown the noise with screaming but the silence is louder, I want to sink my secrets in the bottom of a bottle until the amber spills and the ripples stop. I want to be something more to somebody, want to be more like a person and less like a morphine addiction. I want him to press his palms into my present but I lost him.

And she says, why can’t you talk to me?

I tell her, I don’t know how.