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Sunday, 2 November 2008


Ancestral portraits
(of a sort),
those faces on her pages.
Patterned like old masters,
skeined from thought
or torn from magazines,
then craquelured
with pin or compass point
'till each became, from
hairlines down to eyebrows or beyond,
a wickerwork of scratches.
They's all us crackles, she would tell
of where a glaze had crazed -
or so we might have thought.

And crackles too
from fir cones chewed,
And eyes closed as she drew.

They's all us family, she'd say
(thumb marking every one),
all suffering the family disease. All they
long hair roots manglin' down
and choking all us brains...
And then

I'd find her ruler eaten half away.
Dozz me 'ead in, straight it dozz -
allus they old centimetres staring up
an' givin' I the evil eye.
Some days I daresn't even lift me desk lid up!
Wherem all us English inches gone?
All been eaten, az 'em?

Weekends Elaine was mum.
Two brothers in a pram
(one old enough to walk),
small sister on a rein
and all unwashed,
she'd walk them up on Saturday
to watch the boys play football in the park.

My son came once to run the line.
That was the week we'd looked
at ripples on the lake; the way
the waters moved round a canoe
or ruffled differently
when following or faced
into the wind; the way
a small wave slapped against the bank... our play
to find the best words
for the patterns we had seen
and to embody them in art. Elaine
was energised beyond herself.
Ripple became her word
for beautiful.
You's ripple, you!
she told my son.
He looked to me for help.


As far as I could determine, skeined was used of anything that came from the memory or the imagination: a drawing, painting, speech, song, a tune played on an instrument, writing, and so on.

Mangling seemed to carry the double meaning of hanging down and becoming entangled.

Allus = always.


Lucy said...

You do something very precious in recalling these children with such precise love and compassion. They are fine poems, but something more too. I feel they are part of a lost world - but as you said in the last post, is there any other?

Marion McCready said...

'Ripple became her word
for beautiful.
You's ripple, you!'

This is a real gem of an ending!
Lots of nice moments here, Dave.
Apart from the ending, my favorite part is the first three stanzas, the sonics really add to the poem.

Dave King said...

Thanks for that. I often wonder if there are still children like that out there. The answer is probably that there are, but quite definitely the world has changed for them and for the folk who work with them. They probably no longer show up in the way they did. People have to be quite free to show themselves and now I feel that the children I worked with are constrained.
Thanks again - I found your remarks most touching.

Dave King said...

Interesting - the first part of the poem was the one I had most trouble with. The rest just came. I'm not sure what significance to attach to that, but I do find it very thought-provoking. Thanks for the feedback.

Ken Armstrong said...

It bears reading and re-reading and then it shows itself to be quite beautiful.

Janice Thomson said...

I found this poem to be very moving, bringing back a myriad of memories of being a Mental Deficiency Nurse(a title long since retired) at an institution for mentally handicapped children and adults here in Canada. It was a dark gloomy old tuberculosis sanatorium with tiny windows and dark walls. I worked with children somewhat like 'Elaine' but like any institution there was no time to be one-on-one
with these lovely people. Personalities were not allowed to develop - everything was so scheduled.

At one point we had a bright child of ten who suffered a physical disability only, requiring 24-hour care. There was no where to place her so she was admitted to our facility. I watched her change from a talkative happy child to a withdrawn grumpy individual who in a year's time quit talking altogether. Many times I begged to take her and others outside, to let them feel the summer breeze, touch the trees and smell the flowers. There was no time in the schedule I was told and furthermore they could catch pneumonia and die. No one wanted to take responsibility and release them to my care on my days off either. So instead I watched them slowly die inside one by one until all that was left was a body covering a skeleton - the mind had long since gone. It was a happy day when the last of these institutions was closed and the children and adults were integrated back into society.

Dave King said...

Many thanks for that.

Dave King said...

So much in what you say resonates with my early experiences. My first special school was an old M.D. (mentally deficient) school (we, too changed the name - regularly, as it so happened) with high surrounding walls - so that the outside world need not see them? They were grossly underestimated at that time. There were children who could be taught, the responsibility of the Education Department, and children who could only be trained, who were catered for (doubtful) by the health department. Thanks for your contribution. Much appreciated.

maeve63 said...

I was quite impressed with the poem. I especially enjoyed your use of dialogue. That was an interesting and unexpected twist. Nice work!

Anairam said...

What a lovely poem! The dialogue paints the character of Elaine so strongly - I can visualise her. It brough tears to my eyes. My mom was a teacher and had a girl in her class, Anna, about whom this poem could be - old before her time at ten, caring for youger siblings, struggling with learning difficulties not known then, lost to the normal education system. I think the end of your poem is brilliant, "He looked to me for help". It encompasses absolutely everything I felt when I was a child and confronted with Anna, so embarrassingly different from me, and yet in other ways so similar.

Linda Sue said...

Finding this blog, as enticing as a shiney dark rain puddle. I jumped right in, expecting a satisfying spash. To my surprise, I fell into deep, bottomless poetry. Laundry, dishes in the sink, walkies, not today. Thank you so much! These are the most well spent hours I have had for a very long time.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your visit to my blog. Love the picture painting here too. I like the idea of people inventing their own language. We do it in our family too.

Conda Douglas said...

Oooh, very evocative poem, Dave. And your word use in this poem! Skeined. Craquelured. I loved "long hair roots manglin' down and choking all us brains..."

I can't remember what famous poet said that poetry is painting with words, but that's what you do with this poem.

Anonymous said...

Alongside the bright vividness of the portrait itself, there is a powerful sense of time and place here, Dave. There is so much that we might learn about the errant, the aberrant, the plain disadvantaged child from the adept poem. Certainly more than seems to be generated by the box-ticking culture that, alongside everything else, afflicts our social services.

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Dear Dave, this poem is really intense. "Ripples" have repeately attracted me at sea and, even more, staring at the Venetian lagoon, I wrote a lot about them...I think I am going to re-read this poem here many times.

S. A. Hart said...

Dave, I never cease to be inspired here at your blog. Because of this, your blog has won award recognition! Check my blog, The Artist's Muse for full details at http://sharonahart.blogspot.com .

Anonymous said...

Fabulous, Dave. This one really works well when read out loud. I have just read this to my wife and she is in full agreement. Brilliant!

Dave King said...

Welcome, and many thanks for taking time to comment. I have always enjoyed incorporating dialogue - sometimes wonder if I overdo it, so much appreciate the comment.

Dave King said...

Welcome aboard. So much of what you say resonates, especially your feelings as a child. I remember those... thanks again.

Dave King said...

Linda Sue
What can I say? I am overwhelmed. Welcome and thank you so much!

Dave King said...

Very much enjoyed my visit, so very happy to welcome you to mine. Private language is a fascinating field for study.

Dave King said...

Thanks for that - though some of the words belong to Elaine, it should be remembered.

Dave King said...

As to the box ticking culture, I am completely with you on that, couldn't be more so. I probably wouldn't have time to take them to the lake these days!

Dave King said...

The whole thing about water and its surface patterns and behaviour fascinates me.
Thanks for your comment.

Dave King said...

Again I am overwhelmed. Many thanks.

Dave King said...

Thanks for that. I have to confess that I had not read it out aloud, even during the development process, as I nearly always do, so was very gratified to read your comment. (I have now, but that's thanks to you.)

hope said...

This poem was like ripples of emotion...and I've read it more than once, which is truly a compliment to you.

Each read found something new. And I agree with sorlil...I love the "ripples" line as defined by Elaine.

This is so much nicer than politics. :)

Jim Murdoch said...

And this is how language grows isn't it? Someone decides to redefine a word, other people hear it and adopt it. And so it goes. Kids the whole world over could adopt 'ripple' if this InterWeb-thingy does what its supposed to do.

Great portrait, Dave.

Dave King said...

Thank you so much. Wallce Stevens said (in The Man With the Blue guitar) that poetry should replace religion, but is it not a pity that there seems to be no way for it to replace politics?

Dave King said...

Absolutely right. Kids have always done that sort of thing, of course. They didn't actually wait for the internet. But their redefinitions tend to be short-lived. As soon as they are taken up by the adult world, they find their own replacements.
Thanks for the comment.

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