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Life Is Like That

Part II. Developments

By: Elizabeth Parish

Conditioning

We are middle-class, white-collared,
living in the suburbs, London's Metroland.
We are respectable.
The house we live in is a corner terrace,
facing another row of thirties terraces,
ribbon development.
The house-front faces down the Avenue,
presents a blank wall to the other road,
and disapproves of it.
It stands just as the builder made it:
two reception rooms downstairs, a passage-kitchen,
and a hall;
upstairs, two bedrooms, one for Mummy,
one for us, bathroom and lavatory combined,
with a geyser.
The boarded stair has plywood triangles, matching
the fitted cupboards underneath. We store waste paper,
coats and jam.
The kitchen has a walk-in pantry, and the dining room
has built-in cupboards. Picture rails are on the walls
of every room.
Toned, leaded paintwork through the house
in cream and green, beige sub-fusc wallpaper
with autumn-tinted borders.
The house has gardens on three sides. Outside,
on the verge in Maple Avenue, an air-raid shelter.
Puddled steps, door closed.
We don't go there. We use the Morrison. Within the cage
inside the blacked-out house, we sleep, and Mummy listens
to the bombers overhead.

Retrospect

I never did say, then, the things I thought.
My father ruled my world, governed my days,
and I still stumble on his image, caught
in the bleak camera of a childish gaze.
I will not face the truths those snaps display:
I've fabricated lies to hide behind.
I will not watch the skeletons as they
come tumbling from my rag-bag cupboard mind.
Each day I pick the bones, attempt to sort
the jumbles of half-recollected rage,
I take each negative, print and distort
and colour it, and fix it to the page.
Caption the memory, give fear a name -
then look at truth. They're not at all the same.

Boat Race

1951.
We went to watch the boatrace.
That year, Oxford sank.

Seventh Wave

When does the counting start?
That one - the froth on scampering toes?
The wave which curls round loitering feet
of hand-linked lovers on the shore?
The comber, cresting high and fast as middle age?
That breaker?
It all adds up -
the lost hair-ribbons,
socks that won't stay up,
the grey wool cardigan, when others have
the proper uniform,
the struggle to be best
when someone's always better -
The sum is - not quite right.
It's compounded -
the pimple on the chin before the hop,
the ladder in the tights,
and the embarrassment
because you do not smoke
or drink
or go with boys -
It's bound to end in tears.
It's multiplied
in the new home,
in the determination to impress the in-laws,
to pass the critical inspection.
The sponge-cake sinks,
and some-one runs a finger through the dust
along the picture-rail you cannot reach -
Tears by bedtime.
And then division -
Not quite our type, poor dear.
You don't belong.
Why don't you cut your hair,
dress in more subtle colours,
change, conform, behave like us?
All the small inadequacies.
They always hit you when you're down.
The sum is not quite right.
It's bound to end in tears by bedtime.
They always hit you when you're down.
The seventh wave.

Changing Times

My body clock is out of time.
Sleep-deprived, I count the yawning morning hours
until my body says it's time to rise
- too late.
For now the morning is half over:
and though I've seen the dawn,
I've lost my appetite
for elevenses at ten, and half-eleven lunch.
It's half-past one,
a pencil-twiddling time.
How shall I fill the gap
of lunch-time afternoon, and still not spoil
my far too early dinner?
Evening comes (at last).
Sunset, post-poned, is finally achieved.
What do you mean, 'It's time for bed!'?
I'm wide awake, and could stay up all night.
Perhaps I need a three-day resurrection.

Monument

I have a 'thing' about the Pont du Gard
the golden aqueduct of Roman arches
bridging the Gardon.
It is no use to modern man.
Water comes to Nimes
from other sources, and by different routes.
In the past two thousand years,
massive engineering feats have given way
to microchips.
But still it stands, arch on arch on arch,
a windy ridge of stone between two cliffs,
the river running through its cavern roots.
Functionless, it has become
part of the landscape. And every other year,
I have to go and reassure myself that it's still there.

Foretaste

I've hurt my back.
Perhaps I've slipped a disc.
The aspirin I took an hour ago's
not having an effect.
I ache.
I have to calculate each movement,
figure out
how to achieve each altered state,
then, slowly,
cautiously,
pausing to wait for muscle cramps,
adjust each joint
a centimetre
at a time.
I cannot bend
to deal with shoes and stockings,
cannot turn
to look behind.
How far is that chair?
And if I sit, can I get up again?
I dare not risk
the world outside.
I'm vulnerable, tasting age,
the flavour of mortality.

Hobbies

Pigeon-plumaged hawk
delicate and wary
half-hidden in the elder tree
eyes flicking
picking at his prey, then
pausing
pulling and dissecting, and then
pausing
eyes flicking
scattering discarded feathers on the ground beneath
distracts the would-be critic
from intricate analysis
of images upon the page.
The bird has flown.
The work resumes
mind flickering
picking at the poem, then
reflecting
pulling and dissecting, and then
scribbling
mind flickering
scattering dismembered poetry in cold prose notes.

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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