Tag Archives: Grey Hen Press

Palmistry in Karachi

 

Elsa F

Imagine my surprise and delight when, in January this year, I received an email in Dutch from a fellow poet! Elsa Fisher had read and liked some of my poems. We started a correspondence and were going to meet at the end of May. It’s a great pleasure to introduce this month’s poet who has ‘a clear eye and an ironic ear’.

Elsa Fischer was born in The Hague, Holland. She has lived and worked on four continents and, later in life, studied Art History in Canada and at the Sorbonne. Always a lover of poetry, she joined a poetry workshop after her retirement.

She has two published pamphlets: Palmistry in Karachi (Templar Poetry, 2016) and
Hourglass – Poems from the retirement home (Grey Hen Press, 2018). Other poems have been included in a range of magazines and anthologies. She is currently preparing for a third publication.

Elsa lives in Bern, Switzerland, in a lovely retirement home (where some of her poems are set). She likes to point out that she does not belong to the Woopies (well-off older persons) but rather to the Yelpies (youthful energetic elderly persons)….

I hope you enjoy the range of these poems, with their sharp observation, humour, empathy and poignancy.

 
Palmistry in Karachi

“…the old days when we were still young,
naïve, hot-headed, silly, green. A little bit’s
still there…”              Wislawa Szymborska

 
At twenty I danced the tango
in Karachi at the saried begums’
Red Crescent Bazaar with a gay
attaché who had that rhythm in
his blood and where a sketch
of my profile by a local genius
fetched handfuls of rupees.
I shook hands with Ayub Khan
and Fatima Jinnah, ignorant
of who they were and that
he would have her killed.
There was my near-drowning
in the Arabian Sea and a wicked
camel race along its shore.
And I’ll tell you this: I lost
my innocence in Karachi.
To an Italian born without
toenails and his palms
with no lines so that you,
my friend of little faith, claim
he could not have existed
and that I’ve made it all up.

 

 
Seedpods

 
I love how your wisteria seedpods exploded in the night,

love to hear drops falling from where someone waters geraniums

early in the morning as I am writing at the wrought-iron table,

its rusty flakes cutting into skin and I remember how, in another life,

they caught my mother’s dress as she sat down to tea under

the glycine, my first French word, and for a startling moment

I hold this image called up by smells of soil and fleshy leaves,

by all this art nouveau abundance.

 

 

In the beginning are my hands
after Andy Goldsworthy

 
they are my skin-cut tools
cracked as dried earth.
I trust them, they lead me.

I listen to the passive witness
of stones, their dialogue with trees,
learn how they rely on each other.
I need the energy of peat – the melt of mud
and mineral feed and sheep’s piss on canvas.
Above all I love my icicles – reconstructed,
glued with my spit or draped like lobster
claws and oysters on a plate of river ice.

I square black-rooted bracken stalks
thorn-pin chestnut leaves into floating
snake ribbons until surfaces open up
and nature itself becomes the object found.

I go into its internal spaces, lie spread-eagled,
feeling the pull, feeling the rain.

 

 
Safe

Like ducks waiting for the cull
we line up at the doctor’s,
baring arms for the flu jab.

Once you stood like this, in an orderly row,
mouth wide open to receive the sugar lump
that the school nurse had carefully dosed
with the life-saving drops of Dr Salk’s vaccine.

To be protected from the fate of that boy,
fitted with braces, who sat for years reading
as we messed around with bats and balls in PE.

A nurse helps with the sleeves
and we return to our coops.
Safe for another season.

 

Trespassing

I’m digging out my winter things.
And watch from behind the slats
how he opens a wardrobe, takes out
the bridal gown for her to hold,
then gently crowns her with a garland.

On a small table lie the bric-a-brac
of a long marriage. Masai beadwork,
a glass paperweight from Venice,
the matryoshkas.

He gives her a moment,
then puts the gown carefully back
on the coat hanger, smiles as he lifts
the garland with its faded ribbons
from her hair. A whiff of Chanel.

He makes sure she’s comfortable
on the walker and wheels her away,
switching off the cellar lights.

I stand for a while, getting used
to the dark, arms heavy
with scarves and shoes.

Illness

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photo credit: Michael de Groot, Pixabay

 

I was evacuated within hours of being born: an un-exploded bomb from WW2 had just been found in the hospital grounds. My mother and I were despatched to the nearby town of Haarlem. After a bike ride my father found us there in an old people’s home.

May last year I posted about the small memorial on the Waalsdorpervlakte in the nearby dunes, how the sound of the bells reached me, sitting inside the caravan. You can read more here. This year there will only be one person ringing that large Bourdon bell tomorrow evening, and the wreath-laying ceremony by the monument on the Dam, Amsterdam will also be scaled down.

Liberation Day, the 5th of May, is celebrated on a large scale only every five years. This year, 75 years on, would have been a major event and a Public Holiday. Flags will be flown, for sure.

 

Moensplein

 

The poem Illness is from my pamphlet A Stolen Hour which was published in March this year by Grey Hen Press. Because my mother’s father owned an electrical shop, we had a small black-and-white television soon after they became available. You can see the house still has that balcony. I like how in the poem the personal and the public are combined.

 

Illness

I’m sure it’s May 1956. Grandfather still runs the electrical shop,
but his wife is in hospital. Next month German tourists
will park their cars in resorts on the Dutch coast.
I’m sure I can smell the smoke from the butcher’s next door,
but I’m ill in bed, can only see pink trees above the balcony.

I’m curled up, a sniffy nose and my ears blocked,
but I can’t turn my face away from the place in the dunes,
a pile of boots and shoes. There must have been butterflies.
These twenty men marched out of town, the execution.

I can see myself at the ink-stained desk, a grainy photo.
Then the photo starts moving, shakily, away from the light.
I’m ill again, but not in my bed in my bedroom, because my mother’s
mother is there in her best dress, lying still. Downstairs
the front room curtains have been drawn.

Late in the year …

woman

Woman, Leeds Museum

I am very glad to leave this year behind me. Those of you who’ve been following the blog for some time know that the chronic Brexit stress had badly affected my health. I was in and out of hospital for a series of investigations, blood tests and scans. The National Health System (NHS) is extremely short on resources and staff, but every individual I met treated me well and as an individual. Brexit will now happen, so I must apply for settled status soon.

I got the all-clear late August and my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous came out last month. The poetry world is extremely competitive, so I was delighted to be asked for a manuscript! My third book, a pamphlet called A Stolen Hour, will be published Spring 2020 by Grey Hen Press.

The small paperback Creative Visualisation by Shakti Gawain is my Desert island favourite. I’ve had a copy for decades. First published in 1978, it’s been a bestseller since. On or around New Year’s Eve I always take stock. A regular item on my seasonal To Do list is the gratitude list. On a personal level there is a great deal to be grateful for.

 

Creative Visualisation

 

Thank you for following my blog. I leave you with a poem about 2019 and a blessing for 2020 – a new year and another decade.

 
Late in the year

It was late in the year, too late
for the year to end in an orderly manner.
This year had no manners; it stopped
suddenly in July and now it was travelling
at speed, but in the wrong direction.

Four horses pulling the carriage
splash through puddles on the rutted road.
Through an archway into the yard – a square
dark patch – a small whimpering dog
left behind now the owners have moved.

This year is like that farm, empty
and cold, a broken window, dead
birds in the chimney, overgrown grass.

The lanterns on the carriage are getting
smaller still and the road is a dead-end
stony track ending high up on the moors.
It was that kind of year, we were lost
and not all of us would survive it.

 

Blessing

May inspiration come to you
whether you’re awake or asleep.
May the poems you find be yours to keep.

May you create easily to give you a lift
while your inner critic works a different shift.

Never Totally Lucid

Hilary

 

This is my 100th blog piece, and I am delighted I can celebrate this century by introducing you to the work of Hiliary Elfick. We first met many years ago at the wonderful Almassera Vella in Relleu, Spain and have exchanged poems there several times since.

Hilary is an experienced broadcaster and the author of a novel and over a dozen poetry collections and pamphlets. She has performed her work in cathedrals, theatres, bookshops, libraries, schools and literary festivals in many countries, including Africa. Two of her poetry books have been translated into Romanian.

Hilary lives in East Anglia and also in New Zealand (where she is a bush bird guide), and is a frequent visitor to Australia where she recently launched two poetry sequences in collaboration with an international prize-winning Australian photographer, with a third appearing in early 2020. She has a lifelong love of being out in boats on the water.

Three poems are from Hilary’s THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS, published by Grey Hen Press (2019), while The Wedding Ring is from her earlier book THE OUTSHIFT PLACES, also with Grey Hen Press.

 

The Wedding Ring

But the morning before the wedding his father died. Two events
he’d long anticipated and with equal fervour. He would have
ignored the former, but Gilly persuaded him that even a minor
gesture to the event at their own reception might be at least seemly
and, more, something that much later he might be glad that he had
done. ‘I won’t pretend’ he said. ‘I won’t do platitudes.’

His mother came as planned. Under her wide hat her face
impossible to read, as it had been for many years. His sister
hugged him, saying nothing. Only when Gilly’s ring slid on his
finger did something jolt inside him. A ring finger. A ring. His
father ‘d always worn his. Even after everything.

 

Scan0020

 

When you know exactly where you were at the time
i.m. Professor Donald Nicholl

Six foot six he was but never towered.

Your first week. A small lecture theatre,
a wisp of Sobranie from the row in front.

He comes in, begins to speak

then nothing but his voice
and what he says and how he says it.
Sixty years ago. You’re at his feet:

whatever subject this man teaches
whatever he’ll demand
you’ll do it. You’ll be there.

Your first tutorial he asks how Christ came into Britain.
Someone tells him what happened, names, dates, places.
He turns to you and waits. You wait too. Then you tell him:

One man told another.
They put down their nets and followed.

Days later his wife has their fifth, last baby;
he names her after you.

Forty years on when he’s dying you remind him
Socrates said there’s no greater love
than between a teacher and his natural pupil.

Wonderful he whispers.

 
Four Quarters
A Grandmaster sees four moves ahead.

As child, I anticipate the trigger
for a new rage in my mother.

As mother I wake startled
by a cry or too-deep silence,
deep water, roaring roads.

As wife I place your glasses, shoes,
just where your eye might fall,
forgiving the questions I answered
today, yesterday,

tomorrow.

 
Never Totally Lucid

‘The reality of nature …obeys laws…never totally lucid to
our understanding.’ Anni Albers

When is he coming?
Five o’clock.
Is that what you wanted?
No. You gave me that yesterday.
I can’t have.
You did. Look. Here in my bag.

Did he come yesterday?
No. He’s coming today.
I’m not ready.
You have till five. You have time.
Why is he coming? Is it cold in here?
Your skin smells different.

I can’t find it.
You put it in your pocket
I only have this in my pocket.
That’s the one we’re talking about.
Who wrote this?
I did. You asked me to.
Why do I need it now?
You don’t. It’s for tomorrow.
Did I agree to this?
You did.

You make me so angry, you don’t listen to me, you just go ahead.

It was your idea.

What was my idea? When was it my idea?
Yesterday. That’s why he’s coming today.
Who?
James.
I don’t know a James.
Look. Here’s his name. Your handwriting.
Did he come?
No. He’s coming today at five.