Selected Poems & Short Stories
I've been writing poems and short stories on and off all my life. Here is a small selection of poems and short stories which I hope you will enjoy.
From A Swiss Farm
Oh, how I long to speak my native tongue!
Pun, and belly laugh with all my lungs
Understand; be understood
Recognize the trees for wood.
How I’d love a good long natter
Argue, moan, or grumpy chatter, read a poem, loaded with words.
But I’m mute;
Not really hearing, not really heard.
There are some things I understand; -
The skill and gentleness of working hands,
Death - sad voices, an eye’s command,
Shrieks of joy, annoyance or alarm.
But in the communal eating times,
Straining to catch the gossip or a funny rhyme,
Hand and eyes just aren’t enough,
I long to hear some good plain Anglo-Saxon stuff!
Frances Rowley Beaumont
Gloria needed a pee and tried to get out of bed, but the chrome bars stopped her. She rattled them, which made a satisfying metallic noise. But no one came. She was fed up with waiting- her whole life seemed to be about waiting- so she returned to her familiar obsession. She was trying to remember a secret. The half memory gnawed at her and was so close she could almost touch it. All of a sudden two ladies, wearing tight pink overalls, burst in, “ Morning Gloria! Up
Then sniffing the air one said, with disappointment in her voice, “Oh Gloria, what have you done?” “I’ve got a secret.” Gloria said. “What’s your secret Gloria? Come on, you can tell us!” they teased. The bed’s safety rails were lowered and they helped Gloria walk to the bathroom where they pulled off her soiled night pad, and washed her with two flannels - one for ‘above the waist’ and one for ‘below.’ A brown crimplene dress and a beige acrylic cardigan were produced for her to wear. Gloria loved wearing co-ordinated colours like red and navy together, or blue with a white trim; she objected to these ‘Jumble Sale’ clothes with a screech and a kick at the carers’ shins, which they anticipated and avoided with a quick side-step.
“Come on Gloria, please help us!” they begged as they struggled to dress her. If they accidentally pulled her hair when they were brushing it, she would try to pinch them or even bite a nearby hand. They moved quickly out of her reach and, relieved to have escaped without injury, the carers went out of the room to wash and dress the next resident down the corridor. After this daily drama Gloria was glad to sit quietly in her armchair and wait for breakfast. Now what was this secret? It was something she had to remember to do but, as she strained nearer, it faded like a leaf shadow on a wall.
At breakfast in the dining area there were six square tables with four elderly people sitting round each one. Some were in wheelchairs and everyone had to wear plastic bibs. Gloria thought, ‘They’re treating us like babies!’ One lady at her table had loose dentures which clacked as she ate. No one spoke much. They had little in common, except that they were all waiting. When one left, they were soon replaced.
After meals Gloria liked to go back to her room, rather than be with the others in the lounge with the TV blaring. She had just sat down in her arm chair when she heard a gentle knock , “Gloria, please may I come in?” She stared silently as a new lady popped her head round the door. Her pine green tunic matched her smart trousers – an outfit Gloria approved of - and she liked her blonde hair and bright pink smile. Out of a patch-work bag she poured a cornucopia of coloured balls of wool onto the bed. She said, “We are knitting squares to make blankets for refugees. Will you help?” Gloria wondered if the refugees were German or Polish? It didn’t really matter and she nodded her agreement. “Which colour would you like?” Gloria gazed with wonder at heap of wool, then leaned over and tentatively touched one.
The lady said, “That’s good - I’ll just get you started.” She counted out loud as she cast on fifty stitches, then gave the needles to Gloria. The needles felt cool, metallic and familiar, but Gloria’s hands were stiff and unsure. She fumbled the wool around her fingers to get the tension. She paused - what next? Then slid the needle into the first stitch, looped the wool round, then slipped it off on to the other needle. Click click, click click ! Her confidence fluttered when she saw that she hadn’t dropped a stitch. It was such a good feeling.
Her mum had taught Gloria how to knit during the dark evenings of the war. After they’d washed the supper dishes and closed the blackout curtains, so that no chink of light showed outside, they’d settle down to listen to the radio. Gloria loved the big band music, and sometimes her mother danced her round the room. They might get out the hand sewing machine to repair or make clothes. Gloria was allowed to turn the handle as her mother raced down the straight seams. At other times they would unravel old jumpers to reuse the wool. Gloria would have to hold her arms wide so her mother could wind the wool round her outstretched hands to make it into neat skeins.
Most of the children in the area, including her best friend Ellen, had been evacuated. She was only six years old when the war started, but they soon learnt, when school was over, how to sneak past the ARP wardens and explore bombed-out houses. In their search for shrapnel and other treasures they would clamber over rubble and into what looked like human dolls’ houses with the front ripped away. The wall paper and furniture was open to the rain, and stairs were hanging precariously in mid-air. Some days they’d fill their pockets and school bags with apples or plums from the neglected gardens. Sadly for Gloria, Ellen was evacuated. They’d waved her good-bye, with hundreds of other children, clambering onto a train going far away from the bombs, to live with people they did not know. A brown parcel label was tied to Ellen’s coat lapel with her destination address, and she was carrying a small cardboard suitcase. Foraging wasn’t half so much fun without her.
Gloria’s mum worked in a munitions factory and when she got home, tired out, they had a cup of tea and a potato scone then made supper together. The wool they had for knitting was mostly navy or brown, but sometimes they’d get a bright blue, or even red, which was Gloria’s favourite. Her mum knitted balaclava helmets and socks for the fighting soldiers and sailors. Gloria made stripy scarves and hoped her dad would get one to keep him warm in France. She knew that he was fighting in a dangerous place, but Croydon didn’t feel that safe either.
When the Air Raid alarm siren wailed outside they turned off the radio, grabbed their coats and gas masks and scrambled into the garden. They clambered down the brick steps and through the low door into the Anderson shelter. It smelt of earth, paraffin and candle wax and was cool even in the summer. Mum’s friend Uncle Jim had spent his weekends digging a huge hole in the garden for the shelter. He had a limp - one leg was shorter than the other- and he wasn’t allowed to go to the war. When it was finished he joked “There you are! You’ll be safe as houses down there!” He was kind, could do card tricks and made them both laugh.
The curved corrugated iron roof was covered with a thick layer of earth. It had once been a rose bed, but now they grew marrows and rhubarb over the shelter and
spinach, raspberries and runner beans in the garden. Inside it was grey metal with a green painted door, with no windows but bunk beds on each side. Her mum had hung up a framed cross stitch sampler you could just read in the lamp light. The embroidered border of bluebells and violets and the letters in a darker thread were all made with little cross stitches. Gloria remembered some of the words:
‘Time by moments steals away
First the hour and then the day.
Small at first the loss appears
But it soon amounts to years.....’
Gloria felt safe there with her mum. The hurricane lamp had a warm flickering light and she thought it was like Mole’s home in ‘Wind in the Willows’. Uncle Jim came down with them some nights. On Gloria’s bunk was her comfort blanket and her favourite doll in a red knitted dress. They’d try to doze through the menacing drone of the bombers, the wail of fire engines or explosions which made the ground shudder. When the ‘All Clear’ siren sounded they’d come stumbling and blinking out in the dusty light. With any luck it would be a night when the bombs hadn’t fallen near them; when no one they knew was killed, burned or made homeless. There was rationing of most things, except potatoes. “We must make do and mend!” was one of her mum’s favourite sayings. Gloria was surprised to hear herself saying out loud, “Make do and mend!” The lady in green agreed and laughed, delighted to hear her speak for the first time.
Gloria remembered her mum saying, “Can you keep a secret? It’s very important! Promise me you won’t tell dad about Uncle Jim coming round. Your father has had a very tough time and we don’t want to upset him, do we? This will be our special secret. It is very important. Now do you promise?” Gloria couldn’t see why her dad wouldn’t be glad to hear about their kind friend Uncle Jim. She knew telling lies was really bad and she would be punished for it, but her mum was unusually anxious and insistent, so she promised, very solemnly.
Gloria went on knitting, Click click, click click. Then something else clicked and unlocked. She remembered : This is THE SECRET she must keep ! Gloria looked up and asked, “Do you know when dad will be coming back from the War?” The lady in green said, “No Gloria, I don’t,” then added,” I am sorry, but I think your dad must have died by now. The War’s been over for a long time. Remember, you’re nearly eighty yourself!”
Eighty years old! Gloria couldn’t believe it! Where had her life gone? In a flash of clarity through the fog of her dementia, she realised her dad must be dead and so
she didn’t need to keep the secret any longer. She remembered his blue- eyed smile and the rich smell of his pipe he kept in the top pocket of his tweed jacket. She breathed in, to catch that scent of him again, but only smelt disinfectant. She realised, in a rush, she’d never again feel him squeezing her tight, or hear him calling her ‘Glory-oryia’ or feel the delicious lurch as he swung her onto his shoulders, to give her a ride.
She shut her eyes and tears meandered down her wrinkled cheeks. Her shoulders drooped and the knitting fell into her lap. Gloria heaved a great sigh, then gradually her breathing quietened and slowed to almost nothing. The lady in green watched and listened anxiously. She was annoyed with herself. Gloria, she knew from her notes, had had a career in Fashion Design and knitting had been a hobby. It was wonderful that Gloria had retained that memory, and started to talk to her, but telling Gloria that her father must be dead like that was maybe too blunt, too direct? There was no doubt she’d been shocked. She was sleeping now, or maybe, and this was a sudden terrible thought, dying! She was an experienced occupational therapist, but she was beginning to think this might be the time to get some help, when Gloria took a gulp of air, lifted her head, looked around and found, to her surprise, there was some knitting in her lap. Gloria
touched the cool needles and soft red wool. Red was her favourite colour and she was glad her mum had taught her. She picked up the needles and started again.
The therapist said, “Well done Gloria! I expect you will finish that square today. I’ll come and see you tomorrow, shall I?” For the first time anyone there could remember Gloria said “Yes, please,” and smiled.
Frances Rowley Beaumont
Waiting For The Bus
I’m waiting for the bus on a grey winter afternoon with my 8 year-old daughter, Ellie. The bus is late. It doesn’t take much to bring traffic to a standstill in the narrow streets of the old market town we’ve been visiting, so I say, “Shall I tell you a story?”
Ellie smiles and nods her approval.
“Once, when I was a little girl,” I say, “I was standing around on my own at a bus stop waiting for my Grandma to come. It was hot. There was one bus a day, and it was late as usual. I began drawing with my toe in the warm red dust, like this.”
I draw an arc on the damp pavement with my shoe.
“Lots of things could make the bus late; a flat tyre, or an axel breaking in a pothole, or an accident, which caused long arguments about whose fault it was. I knew that, when it came, the bus would be bulging at the seams with chattering people – the women colourfully wrapped in their printed cloths and headscarves. Crates, sacks and bundles would be lashed to the roof, and inside there might be a couple of live chickens, or even a goat.”
Ellie’s eyes open wide as she imagines live goats and chickens onboard a red London bus!
“My grandmother” I continue,” only came to see us twice a year. She was skinny and wrinkled, dark ebony brown. She brought us luscious mangoes from her own trees and told us stories about the old times, before white men came to Africa. I wondered how she’d survived giving birth to nine children - at least, that’s as many as grew up - as well as working all day in the fields. Women worked hard, but most got worn out. My grandmother could be as funny and skittish as a baby elephant and I longed to see her again.”
Ellie smiles at the thought of her calm English Grandmother behaving like this.
“I sat in the shade and plaited a fly whisk out of long grasses. All around me were insects buzzing and whining - like an English summer day, but louder. It was hot and smelt of cow dung and dust. I listened for the grind and growl of the heavy bus changing gear as it climbed the hill, but there was nothing on the road except three cows resting and peacefully chewing the cud. I must have fallen asleep because suddenly I was being shaken awake. A woman said, ‘No bus coming today. Bad accident!’
She was running. I followed, and a wailing cry arose as the news spread. The call pulled everyone out of the fields and the compounds. Men, women and children were running - running to help the passengers and the bus. As we came up over the hill, we could see in the valley below the partially collapsed wooden bridge with the bus lying on its side - the bonnet was nearly in the water. Bags, boxes and people were strewn along the road and the river bank.”
WAITING FOR THE BUS
In recollection, the scene is so vivid and shocking that I stop. Ellie is hanging on every word. Glancing up the dismal street I see no sign of our bus. It’s getting dark and beginning to rain.
“Go on Mum”, Ellie urges, “What happened to your Grandma?”
I take her hand in mine and say quietly, “As we got closer, we saw people were sitting or lying around in a daze. Some were crying and one or two seemed very badly hurt, but I could not help them. I could only think of finding Grandma. I searched and searched, calling her name. I wondered if she was still inside the bus, or trapped under it? Then I saw her. I was amazed to find that in this mayhem she was sitting quietly in the shade, resting her back against a tree, and cradling a child in her arms!”
I didn’t want to frighten Ellie. She is a sensible girl, mature for her age, and is used to us talking honestly about life and death because her dad is a doctor, and I am a nurse. I sense that she is feeling alright, then I say,
“Grandma was so pleased to see me, then she introduced me to the baby, saying, ‘This is Jacob’. She pointed sadly to a body lying on the ground. ‘That is his late mother.’ The woman’s head was covered by her blood-soaked wrap. Her legs and bare feet were sticking out of her wrap, and flies were already beginning to investigate.
You know Ellie, grandma was so lucky to be alive! She told me that, when the crash happened, she was sitting next to Jacob’s mother just playing with the child on her lap, to give his mum a break. His mother was leaning out of the window to catch the cooler air. As soon as the bus went onto the bridge something gave way, and the bus tipped sideways, and with a terrible jolt and a crash it slid down the embankment. They said termites must have weakened the bridge. Anyway, Jacob’s mother half-fell out of the window. Her body saved them from falling out too, but when they lifted her up, they saw she had a broken neck. She must have died instantly and did not suffer.
Changing the subject Grandma said, ‘Jacob’s a brave little man!’ as she stood him up on her lap and smiled into his bright little face. He was a lucky boy, a sturdy child with beautiful eyes, rather like yours Ellie. We guessed he was about a year old and later made that date his ‘birthday’. I loved him immediately and pleaded with Grandma, ‘Please, please, please can we keep him?’
‘Well,’ she said, ‘only if his family don’t claim him. Then we must ask your mother what she thinks. Then, well, we’ll see.’
So, that day I came home from the bus not only with my grandmother and a bag of mangoes, but also a very special baby brother!
Grandma died the next year. Though she had saved his life, she never had the joy of seeing him grow up to be a fine young man. I taught him to read and cared for him like a mother until I left to study in England.
1331 words Jan 2019
WAITING FOR THE BUS
Did I ever tell you Ellie, how he got his name?” Ellie shakes her head. She has not heard this story before.
“At first we called him Jacob-who-was-Spared, which soon got shortened to ‘Jake- spare’. Some people nicknamed him ‘Shakespeare’ because he is very good with words. He got a scholarship the same as me, but he chose to train as a high school teacher in Lagos, and says he wants to write...”
Ellie interrupts me, “Look mum! The bus!”
At last the green double-decker is lumbering towards us. We are glad to get out of the drizzle. The bus is half empty, so we have a choice of seats.
“Sorry we are late,” the driver grumbles as I hand him our fare, “it’s them blasted roadworks, then we couldn’t get past a lorry parked on the double yellows.”
We smile our gratitude to him for providing a bus at all.
As we settle down for our journey home and begin to warm up, an unexpected home-sickness overwhelms me. Outside it’s dark and grey. I’m longing for warm earth underfoot and the bright colours of ladies’ wraps; the cheerfulness, bustle and smell of the markets, and the taste and juiciness of ripe mangoes.
“One day”, I say to Ellie,” if we save up, and dad and I can get time off work would you like to visit my family?”
“Would we see your special brother?”
“Yes darling, of course. He’s longing to meet you.”
“Wow!” Ellie says, “I ‘d like that. I can tell my friends, ‘I’m going to Africa to meet Shakespeare!’”
Frances Rowley Beaumont
Old Lady In Hospital
Hardly hides her soft blue veins;
Her bones are tinder-thin.
As they lift her, all can see
Her breasts, now empty, swing;
And her most private skin,
Under a single tuft of hair.
That once- soft mound
Would have swelled
And opened like a rose,
With juices flow
At passion’s pull and thrust.
Now she endures
The hold and lift of unknown hands;
And tries to trust.
Frances Rowley Beaumont