Thursday, December 3, 2020

White Trash (in memoriam George Floyd)

Watching George Floyd being choked to death was one of the most distressing things I have ever seen; I was shocked and appalled, and determined to help bring change in by now the only way I knew how, writing verse. I remembered the time I had been racially abused by someone as I went to visit my wife in the London hospital to which she had been transferred, and that formed the first part of the piece. 

But it wasn't enough and so I dived down, one layer to start with in order to equate this verbal abuse with other that I, and all of us, have suffered in our lives then deeper to realise with shame that I myself had of course been culpable of saying abusive things to other people. Both western and eastern religions teach us to first look to our own thoughts, words and deeds before we judge and condemn others; I had touched on this in Where's His Mask? and here in White Trash I tried to develop it further through lengthier contemplation. 

We have come now to the end of my output, a journey of just over two decades, and I would argue (though of course you may disagree) that my overriding theme has been that of the poet thinking through his dilemma. That, for me of course, has been mental illness in the form of bipolar disorder whose condition has bred within me the desire and ability to study, examine, and try to resolve difference, both inwardly in my own soul and from there outwardly to that of the wider world. 

I don't think I will ever be truly free from the shackles of this horrid illness but I hope in these poems I have been able to fight it with some effect by putting pen to paper. Thank you so much for joining and bearing with me through often tumultuous and sometimes turgid verse, and don't forget that my short story collection William Ottoway's Utopia and other stories is available for purchase over at:

https://www.williamottowaysutopia.com

For now, I leave you with White Trash...

I walked the road in terror
Fearing for my soul,
From Underground to hospital
A short ten-minute stroll.

‘WHITE TRASH!’ came out of nowhere,
I felt the scorching brand,
Abuse’s mark upon my flesh,
Its hot, igniting hand.

Inclusion up in smoke and flame,
Equality for all
Torched and cindered by two words,
So ignorant their call.

Even as I stumbled on,
‘That’s what I like to see’,
He pressed home his advantage
To create an enemy.

I’d never met the fellow,
I never would again,
I never sought hostility
From him or other men.

If only he had seen my soul
Instead of just my skin,
If only he had stopped to talk
Our friendship might begin.

Instead he swiped the legs out
Quite from underneath my feet,
Happy with his victory
And my manner of defeat.

For on I staggered bent beneath
This new, unwanted weight,
A thousand worries in my mind
Compounded by his hate.

See, mental illness plagued me,
It had done twenty years,
That’s why I crept the road in panic
Wracked by dreadful fears.

So, when I reached the hospital
Its grounds of safety swelled
Within my breast, though larger cares
Continued to be held.

My wife in ante-natal,
Far, far away from home,
Our unborn child premature
Too keen this world to roam.

I’d no idea at that time
What on earth life had in store
For any of us, good or ill,
It shook me to the core.

I really could have done without
A stranger’s scalding touch,
His kindness would have soothed,
I cannot stress this point too much.

But then it got me thinking
Of other words I’d heard,
Malicious comments made
Against me, each of them interred.

They singed the same as ‘WHITE TRASH!’ had
They came from just one source,
That part malevolent and dumb
Which deviates from course:

The course of honest policy,
The course of polite regard,
The course of empathetic thought,
The course of lowered guard.

And then I thought much deeper,
And then I swallowed quite,
For sudden did I realise
My own part in this fight. 

Had not I also said to others
Words with cruel intent?
Dissatisfaction in my breast
Expressed without relent.

Was I not simply bad as he
Who sent me on my way,
Confused and hurt and lost
My fragile mind in disarray?

Did not I upset others
And worse, not even think
How impact of my careless words
Might cause their souls to shrink?

From tube to Overground
And city back to leafy town,
In safety of my car
I thought upon all this with frown.

I couldn’t square the circle,
I could not comprehend
Why we hurt each other,
Spit out words which do offend.

Now that I am home again
I often think upon
The way in which I felt
When I walked back and he was gone.

Relief he was no longer there
Regret that he had left
Remorse we had not chance to chat
Repose, although bereft.

I do not know, not for the time,
What it feels like each day
To bear the brunt of prejudice,
Discrimination, feel dismay

At how my fellow human beings
Only offer me slapped hand.
Feeling once the sting though
I now start to understand.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Innocence

An old poem of mine has just come to light! This is Innocence, part of my juvenilia composed when I lived on the Isle of Wight. I do remember writing the piece but I'm shamed to say I have absolutely no idea what it's about!! I wonder if you might be able to help...

Our time is close, the hour is near,
The nocturn day decrees,
Our two as one will ever trust
Belies a blessed ease.

The daylight sparks a raging vow
For peace and unity,
But ever burns the wrathful wake
Of Strife, who holds the key.

Believe it, now! I wish no ill,
No harm, nor tethered peace,
I rarely count the troubled nights
When dreams so touch and tease.

For mine is every man's desire
And woman's too I swear,
To gird unbridled passion
And bring fruitful lines to bear,

To banish thoughts of wantonness,
To sliver guilt and shame,
To open out our fallen hearts,
To welcome Truth so tame,

To bind and swathe our souls as one,
To wrap our hearts so tight,
To die for once in ecstasy
And chasten dull delight.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Lockdown

On January 13th 2020, I returned home from a happy day spent in London and looked forward to a relaxing evening at home with my family; that night, I rose from bed more times than I could count to drink glass after glass of water, trying to slake a thirst which continued to raven right through the next morning and beyond. Over the next few days I developed a continuous cough, sweated through my shirts in the day and my bedsheets at night, and began to feel the worst I had done since I'd contracted influenza at university.

Matters did not improve, such that at one point my eyes felt like they were glued together and whenever I swallowed I thought my ears were going to explode with pain! I keep myself fit, but just trying to warm up left me rolling on the floor from breath and every time I tried to run I could hardly manage the movement. This was far from normal - like everyone, I get ill but whatever this sickness was it felt as though it was actively assaulting my system, my body, my very being. And the fatigue was so overwhelming that throughout February I would often have to take to my bed in effort to restore an energy which never replenished.

If this was Coronavirus then I had it from that initial date until we broke from school in March; when lockdown was instigated several days later, I felt the most relieved I had done in weeks and not just because I was feeling better again physically. But still, still the following months proved quite bizarre existence, totally abnormal for the whole population and noticeable, to the poet's mind at least, that superficially everyone seemed to be getting on with life yet beneath the waves we were all struggling in our own way and to different degree. 

And so, using my experience of mental illness and the lessons I had learnt through composing verse, one day I put together the following offering from the point of view of someone with fragile mental health (and of course there were thousands if not millions of us suffering so) who had to endure this frustrating, frightful and often isolating period, Lockdown 2020...

All around me I do see
People different to me,
They look happy and carefree,
They don’t face my enemy

For my foe is mental illness
And it robs me of my soul,
Loots my very being
To achieve its hateful goal

To isolate me to despair,
To steal me from my friends,
My family, strangers, loved ones,
Enemies. I’ll make amends.

I’ll show we’re not so different,
I’ll illustrate the fact
That all of us are bound together,
Held in mutual pact

To transcend our division,
To hug each other dear,
To heal our separation,
Placing Love ahead of fear.

All around me I behold
People similar in mould,
Though we suffer and feel cold
We are of one shepherd’s fold.