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Life Is Like That

Part I. People

By: Elizabeth Parish

Adam & Eve


I am the God-created
master of
the world and all its
mysteries: its animals and
others in this universe
are bound beneath my heel. I can
bring order and the rule of law to


womankind, mother of
children, magical new
creatures, bringers of joy. I love all
who came in peace, and yet
feel grief for those who seek to
impose one ideology on


This is how it happened.
He took the photograph.
Each face wore the same expression.
Three of them.
In one minute, she would sneeze.
She wanted to hide.
She pressed hard on the ridged skin of her scar,
where once a penknife had slipped, and cut her thumb.
Outside the room, the noisy world,
inside, silence.
She could hear Peggy's stays creaking as she breathed.
She thought of gas, hissing through the mantles,
and the rattle of beads on her mother's jet-edged cape.
When you push the wooden beads along the abacus,
they click.
Frozen in that pose for ever.
But tomorrow, she will be different.


The end of May.
The Linkway is a drift
of white moon-daisies, golden-eyed,
like slender nodding debutantes
at the Palm Court, or office girls
gliding and swaying at the Palais
with petals partly opened, partly furled,

he loves me,

he loves me not,

watching the swift pursuit of sun and moon,
and sun and moon, and day by day
growing more bold, more open-eyed,
white petals in a coronal about a golden heart
raised proudly up to greet the travelling bee,
Daisie, daisy, give me your answer, do
or teasing, swaying close, and now away,
responsive to the ever-changing wind,

he loves me?
And round about, the springtime crowd,
bright buttercups, and broom and gorse,
creamy parsley umbels, tall, aloof,
pink campion, bridesmaids at a stylish marriage,
pale froth of colours round the bride
dressed all in white and gold to meet her beau,
in sunshine June, along the Linkway banks.

He loves me!

Gathered by an eager, sticky hand,
held close, in loving, youthful clutch,
half-crazy, all for the love of you
and taken home, and stuck into a jar,
cut off from wind and sun and world
daisies no longer dance, dull cares
blotch the golden heart, the bright head droops.
Proud Daisie, plucked, house-broken.
He loves me,

he loves me… not?


Oh, good morning, doctor.
No, I'm quite alright, thank you,
and I'm pleased to say
that little problem's cleared up nicely…
Actually, I came to ask…
Well, is there something I can take?
Or could I have a jab
against the latest epidemic?
You know the one I mean?
I don't know what it's called…
You see the symptoms everywhere, these days.
Hands clutching slightly tilted faces,
you know, like toothache, or perhaps
the way your ear feels cold
when you've had sinusitis…
The look of them! Empty-eyed
blank faces grimacing,
it's quite wide-spread -
I've even seen them suffering in cars,
and quite delirious.
And have you heard them, doctor?
Talking to themselves! You can't avoid them.
They broadcast details of their private lives
for all the world to hear.
They don't seem to realise
they're in the street, don't understand
they're in some shop with lots of people looking on.
It's so embarrassing! I shouldn't
like to catch it, so I came to… Oh!
Excuse me, doctor… Yes. Hello?
Why, Doris!… Have you heard…?


time goes slowly.
When you've done the usual things,
the rehabilitation class, the sessions
with the psychotherapists, the visit
to the library, the recreation hour
with other inmates, meals, and sleep,
there's only time.
You measure it
not by a clock in seconds, hours, years,
but by other seasons. Last time she laughed.
Or wept. Somehow, time expands
its empty acres widening between each visit.
Some times contract
to galloped miles of smoke and conversation.
Then another bleak extent.
A long stretch.
Doing time.

Grass Widow

Where is he?
No place.
His letter talks of endless struggle
moving where the fighting is
on the far shore of the world.
I am outside
in the other place.
I fall, all water,
become stones thrown,
rocks in dull speech.
A pool of emptiness.
They watch me in that place
of marriage bands,
and birth and death.
But here, outside,
the endless rock and the long wait
is all that I possess.
I have come to this place
to claim the silence.
I am all anger,
I have nothing to say.


They say he has a woman tucked away
In photocopying. Perhaps she sits
Quietly humming as she waits alone,
Warmed up, and ripe for reproduction.
In he rushes, eager and expectant,
Anticipates each nuance, which will bring
Climactic outcome to this brief encounter.
Beneath his skilful hands she comes alive;
He lifts, manipulates, strives to achieve
The rhythm necessary to complete the task,
While she, in turn, slips back and forth
In fluid movement, to disgorge at last
The fruit of their joint labours, warm and fresh
Imprinted with the characters he brought
To this communion. Then he goes, as men
Will always go, and takes from her all trace
Of what they made together. And she sits,
Quietly humming as she waits alone
For his return.

Refugee #1

Ear-shattered silence, after rattling chains
in sullen dankness echoing the boom
of wood on steel, and steel on steel.
The lorry is embarked, contained.
A shriek of metal brakes, released.
A whooshing roar, subsiding to a drone.
Propelled along a narrow tube
under the sea.
Unshafted and restrained, suspension settles,
sighs, sways to other rhythms,
through the clammy chill.
The engine clicks and cools, the cargo
creaks, and shifts, not quite perceptibly
stirring up old fumes, dripped oil,
stifling emptiness…
I cannot get out

Refugee #2

I am a refugee, up-rooted, dispossessed,
no longer part of the suburban terraced
territory of my father
and grandfather.
Incomers of another race and creed have changed
the language, introduced an unfamiliar range
of products in the shops.
I walk the streets I knew, and people stop
their conversations, stare
as if I have no business to be there
in what is now their place.
My face
no longer fits.
A different culture, habits,
history are celebrated
and upheld. Mine is subtly denigrated.
The system is against us both: your right
to your beliefs negates my right
to live as I have always lived,
as my forefathers did,
taking in the immigrant, the refugee,
accepting difference, working towards equality,
yet keeping their own ways.
These days
I feel I am the stranger,
threatened and disliked, my values scorned, endangered.
I do not know the answer, do not hate
my neighbour. Only, if I state
my fear and my distress,
I'm labelled racist, white and middle-class.

Shopping Trip

He pushed the trolley round the supermarket
bulk-buying for the club, and laying in a stock
of household goods at bargain prices.
Six trays of eggs. Two dozen toilet rolls.
He had the savings all worked out
to the last penny. Items totted up,
all columns totalled.
He hadn't reckoned on the stroke.
Slumping, he over-turned the trolley,
sending pink cylinders careening down the aisles,
falling among the spreading yolks.
The staff were kind and helpful.
Gave his wife a cup of tea.
Called out the doctor and the ambulance.
Whisked away the empty shells.
Closed his account.

The Statues of Abu Simbel

We are watching eternity pass by.
We are God-Kings of Egypt, and our temple
stands between the sky, the over-arching realm
of mighty Amon-Ra, and, far beneath,
the endless sands, domain of Isis and Osiris.
Through this sharp and sterile land
the River runs.
Sky is a cloudless dome of endless sun.
Men make their transient assault
upon its planes, climb through its airs,
but cannot touch the Gods; cannot trouble
Re, journeying across the brilliant blue,
nor grasp the hot clear stillness
where the Hawk stands high.
Horus, serene and merciless,
broods silently on death.
Sharp and sterile sands drink in the sun,
give back its heat, sap life.
The fleeting works of men invest the land,
ephemeral as dust. Tombs and cities rise,
and shimmer, like the shadows of a pearl,
They fade and fall; their builders come at last
to face the judgment of Osiris,
the feather balance of the heart.
River is a track of life and death,
a shining sheet, with whirring water-birds
in fragile flight, now here, now gone.
Men dream and plan, seek to control
the running waters, stay the River's course -
and move the temples that they dare not drown.
The ka-barge sails.
And still, year after year, life-giving Isis
resurrects her world, her lotus buds, and tamarinds,
her great papyrus, and the reeds to feed the poor.
The River falls, runs, rises.

Day follows day: the passing years
erode the legend of our greatness;
suppress the fleeting memory, more slowly
smooth the record from the stone
God-Kings of Egypt, changeless as the sky,
the land, the River, in a changing world,
we watch.
This is eternity :
the hawk-hung sky,
the sharp and sterile land,
the River, running.


No more breath.
Deepset eyes turned inwards, and away
from London, Rome or Spain,
from marriage, trade, from life.
Laid out carefully,
Gold-threaded linen for her Roman shroud,
her pillow strewn with Spanish bay,
the proper grave-goods.
Coffined in lead and English stone,
and sealed away in Spitalfields
for almost two millennia.

Uncoffined in the glare
of television. Meticulous,
uncaring fingers paw her cushions,
part her shroud, expose her face
and bones to the indignities
of scientific tests.
Nothing is too intimate,
but DNA will search it out.
Her reconstructed face,
displayed in a Museum,
takes the breath away.

Forensic Reconstruction

'Let's do the tour,' he said.
'Come into Messville,
Meet The Ancestors.'
A head inverted in a helmet like a pot;
a smell of resin and formaldehyde;
a little Black and Decker on the bench;
a library in a cupboard;
pins sticking into skulls,
acupuncturing the dead.
'No, we don't work on actual bone;
the information is scanned digitally,
and then we make it up with clay and resin,
with plaster casts, adrenalin and panic.'
A bench; a skull unsteadily set on a rod;
facing a woman, arms upon the bench
and bottom sticking out -
as if she's saying
'Hey, you! Speak to me.'
He tells us how it's done;
those others simply demonstrate:
she silently interrogates a reconstructed head;
the plaster cast, with holes for pupils in its eyes,
a concept of itself,
nods gently in reply.

Robert the Bruce
a reconstructed head

It was the leprosy that worried me:
the numbness and the thickening of the nerves,
the small grey patches of lost feeling,
the lesions, and the scaliness. Deformity.
Scars, which no spider-thread can heal,
a sacrilege of flesh, which cannot be redeemed
by a crusade, or royal benison of oil.
Duty done, for my disfigured flesh
kind death the only cure. Breast-bone
sawn through, and heart embalmed,
white leprosy close-webbed in cloth of gold,
laid in the earth. To earth returned,
as centuries elapsed. Now flesh is grass,
bone stripped and cleansed and free.
Why have you brought me back
into this bland environment, this suite
of curious dimensions, which is not my world?
What should I have to do with disembodied heads,
flayed shapes, skulls crucified by pins?
I have no purpose in this bare
and sterile cave, no commerce with the spider.
Why have you made the skull/mould/cast,
filled in the eyes/pegs/muscle groups,
laid on the red clay strips, made me a face
the nose collapsed, coarse skinned,
with nodular, exaggerated folds?
The heart is gone from me:
I have no life, no meaning here -
why give me back my leprosy?

About the Author

When I left school in 1957, I was on my way to Manchester, to take an Honours Degree in English - and I have remained in Manchester ever since. After my degree, I took a teaching qualification, and taught for some thirty years.

I am married, with 2 children, and acquired two more with my second husband, Richard Parish, a UMIST professor and a scientist of international repute. I have three grandchildren.

While I was teaching, I helped write a number of pantomimes and pageants, and gained something of a reputation for composing scurrilous verse during training days, so when I retired, I decided to go into Creative Writing. I usually write poetry or short stories, and have contributed to some anthologies.

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