Water beneath the bridge

A quadrille for the Secret Keeper’s challenge. It sounds to me like something the oracle might have whispered.

This week’s words:



Water beneath the bridge, you say, carries worries away.

But on what shore does the tide abandon them,

To sink roots, nurture young shoots?

Enter here, roars the river, leave hope for the foolish.

Nothing fades but it leaves a ring of grime behind.


The skies are changing


The skies are changing, wild cloud streaking

In and out of sunbeams, veils of grey.

Roses heavy bowed with bee-loud scent

Strain against the wind, stain pink the day.

I hear your words again against the howl

Of crow-black branches, twisted by the gale,

They lie as dull as water in the ditch,

Their echoes faded like a distant wail.

Roses fall, wind bears all trace away,

The sky has changed, in stormlight shadows play.

Microfiction: The Custom of the country

This is for Sonya’s Three Line Tales photo prompt.

photo by Adi Ulici via Unsplash


Since they were small they’d know not to fool around with the portals, that parallel universes weren’t always fun and sometimes the curious never came back, so they only had themselves to blame when the new people they visited turned out to be less than friendly and marched them in chains to their sacred place.

“It’s only an electricity pylon,” he said to his friend, nodding scornfully at the gaunt metallic structure that held out its arms against the evening sky. “Are these people really so backward they worship our antiquated junk?”

But in parallel worlds with no electricity, pylons have another use, and when the next dawn broke, the morning sky had soaked up the flames and the screams from the indestructible wicker man, leaving just a pile of smoking bones at its foot.


Flash fiction: Bits and pieces

This one is for Sacha Black’s writing prompt, The Rusty Thing.

Photo ©Piotrus


They had lived in the same house for twenty years and now they were leaving it, moving to a smaller place. They’d last moved when child number four was born and they had run out of corners that could be turned into somebody’s private space. Child number four was now leaving home, taking her belongings and the few inherited bits and pieces that spoke to her. The others already had their own places and had ransacked the house years before for anything useful.

She had been gradually filling bin bags with things she didn’t want, emptying drawers, wardrobes, dressers, going through the dozens of boxes full of amorphous ‘stuff’ that should have been thrown out long ago but was supposed to come in useful one day. She had now reached her own personal things, the single drawer in the entire house that held the bits of rubbish that meant something to her. She never opened the drawer, never looked inside the leather case that held the letters, the odd bits of inherited jewellery, the child’s toys, broken watches, and scratched glass paperweights.

She opened it now and caught her breath. So many memories fluttered out. She closed her eyes. Scenes of the past flickered behind her closed lids so fast she had barely time to grasp them before they subsided again. Their first cat’s collar, the bell tarnished and silent, a plastic turtle she had loved when she was a kid, her mother’s only pair of earrings, the children’s maternity bracelets, the ink on the name tags illegible now. Two were chopped to pieces. Joe’s. The duty nurse forgot to take them off at the maternity hospital, and she remembered how they had panicked when the baby’s hands had swollen up and had rushed him to the paediatrician to have them removed. That was the first emergency with Joe, the first of many. He was gone now, that son who had caused them so much heartache as a child. Gone to live in Australia. She dropped the bracelets into a bin bag with the plastic turtle and the cat collar.

A hand on her shoulder made her turn.

“Why are you throwing those things away? Remember how Rambo used to hate that collar? And how he almost choked when it caught in a branch of the apple tree?”

He picked up the collar and fingered it lovingly. She saw a piece of faded leather and a tin bell that didn’t ring. She pushed back the memory of the old cat lying still, a dribble of dead drool on his lip.

“And the kids’ bracelets! Don’t you want to keep those?”


He looked at her with wide, questioning eyes.

“Well… as souvenirs.”

“We have the children. In a way. Why keep bits of plastic?”

He wasn’t listening, riffling through the paper, the letters, restaurant menus, hotel bills, theatre tickets, part of their shared youth. She could sense his annoyance.

“These things, the letters I sent you, your parents’ letters, the souvenirs of that holiday in Greece. You can’t throw those away!”

Suddenly it was too much. She covered her face with her hands and sobbed.

“Hey.” He was tender now, crouching on the floor beside her. “Hey.” He pulled a strand of hair from her tear-sticky cheek and kissed it. “I just don’t understand…”

She swallowed and cleared her throat, steadying the tremble in her voice.

“All these memories, souvenirs you call them, they’re all bits of what’s gone, finished. We don’t have babies any more, or parents, or a cat. All of this,” she gestured at the papers and objects scattered round her on the floor, “it’s just a reminder of what we’ve lost.”

She looked into the bewilderment of his eyes and saw that he hadn’t understood.

“But they’re souvenirs of good times, not sad times. Don’t you want to remember happiness?”

She shook her head. “But we don’t remember happiness, not really, just the idea of happiness. Haven’t you noticed that the sharpest memories are always the sad ones? They jump out at you when you’re unprepared, and each one unleashes a whole crowd of other sad memories, unrelated except in their sadness. When I look at Rambo’s collar, I don’t see a happy young cat, I see me taking the collar off for the last time when he died. I don’t remember why I loved that plastic turtle so much, it’s too long ago, but I do remember how heartbroken I was when my hamster died when I was eight. Don’t you see?”

She searched his face for a glimmer of understanding. She took his hands. “Seeing Joe’s baby bracelet just reminds me that he’s gone. I know Australia isn’t death,” she managed a smile that he echoed, “but that little boy we loved so much has gone. I don’t want to be one of those old ladies who lives in the past, sifting over the deaths and the partings. I don’t want to be ruled by memories.”

He sighed. “We’ve built up quite a past, haven’t we? When I look back—”

“Don’t! There’s too much past, and not enough left ahead. The river never stops flowing, you know. When I die, I want it to be trying to finish one last thing, not drifting backwards into some rose-tinted, bittersweet place that didn’t exist, trying to catch up with the people who have already flowed back along the river.”

He smiled and nodded. Understanding.

“So, we’ll give your mum’s earrings to Isa, and we’ll get another cat for Rambo’s collar.” He dropped the plastic turtle into a bin bag.

“And we’ll take cuttings of the roses to plant in the garden of the new house.”

“And nothing else.”

“Nothing. Just you and me.” She held his hands tight. “Building something new.”



Two people

Two thoughts from this morning. Two people. Old acquaintances.

Photo ©Laura Hadden


Homeless man on the park bench sitting,

Bread between his fingers crumbling.

Fluttering flock gathers, waiting.

He tosses breadcrumbs, smiling,

The best for his favourite saving,

A pigeon with twisted feet, hobbling.




Mamie stands, feet planted apart for balance, with her stick, and her wild hair a-prickle with pins. Mamie gazes, rapt, at the herd of Harleys waiting outside the shops. Her eyes bright with wind tears, wander over the sleek metal, the shiny chrome, marvelling at their tall-antlered handlebars, the long powerful stride of them. I wonder if she sees them now, or then, and if she feels a waist beneath her arms’ tight grip, a shoulder beneath her cheek.

The bikers return, big-bellied, black-waistcoated, pony-tailed, heavy arms swinging, their faces frowning. Worried that the demented old bat with the stick will damage their machines? Mamie smiles and points with her stick. She mumbles, tongue stumbling as it grapples with unaccustomed words that elicit no response. The bikers turn their backs and throw their corpulence onto the leather seats. The herd throbs. Mamie smiles still, nodding happily as they tear away in their borrowed agility. On her face is the same beatific expression that sees the amber magic in a jar of honey; that hears the rippling sweetness in a robin’s song.

She stares at the place they have left empty. Perhaps in her waking dream she soars, weightless, wrapped in the arms of honey sweet memories of a pulsing heart, wind in her hair, and love brimming over the too-short days of the past.




No trace

Painting by Michael Ancher

The wind has swept the furrows smooth,
No trace of our footsteps left behind,
How we walked, enlaced, along the shore,
No trace that we were ever here.
The waves still roll with their eternal swell,
In the foam’s hiss, their whispered sadness cries,
A lonely gull calls to the empty sea,
But no more tears are left for me to weep.
Above the hissing foam, the rolling waves,
The night is full of faded stars,
That night, our stars, the tender sky,
All hidden in a cloud of dust.

Caparison: decor of the past.

I thnk it was some time in November last year that Ali Isaac first suggested we each write a retelling of an Irish legend to give away in a booklet which we would then fill up with promotion for the books we have already published. The idea took root, and before we knew it, it had metamorphosed into a collection of love stories that we would publish for Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day, as everybody knows is half way through February. And before that there’s Christmas to get through and the assorted afflictions that health throws at us at this time of year. That didn’t give us much time.
I’m proud to announce that we have done it! Our collection of love stories from Irish myth is uploaded to Amazon and waiting in the wings for the big release day. For almost two months we have been living and breathing Irish myth, heroines and heroes from a very different time. People were different then, incomprehensible in many ways, even though the rawest of the emotions probably haven’t changed much at all over the centuries.
The picture below is one I downloaded because I liked the colour and the movement. But looking more closely, I see, or I think I see, some of those differences of sensibility that separate us from our distant past. The picture is entitled Caparison, and so is the poem.


Was life really so simple then?
Wars fought and won
With just a handful of rockinghorse men?
What were they defending,
Land, lord, families?
And did they ride out with these thoughts,
Vivid as the sun,
Carved on their hearts?
The turned, worried faces say it all.
Death approaches a spear’s length away,
Chain mailed and caparisoned.
Men’s tiny faces furrowed in anguish,
So clearly drawn,
And the faceless helmets,
Sinister in their repeated facelessness.
This we understand,
The fear, the grief, the shame.
But there is more,
Equally important to the artist’s eye,
Pretty ochres and shades of Sienna,
The swirl of waves, fins or blue leaves,
But not a drop of blood,
Not yet,
Not until the end.
All is movement across a muddy field
And all the horses are smiling.

Last summer’s roses

©Brocken Inaglory
©Brocken Inaglory

The past’s an uncertain place, she said
Seen through a rain-smeared pane
Where the garden is full of roses
And we are lovers again.
The past is a running river
That rushes to the sea
Carrying the fallen roses
And all you meant to me.
The past is a place full of dreaming
A castle built on a hill
And seen through ice-patterned glass, she said
The castle is standing there still.
In the past the sun shines always
Even on winter snow
The blackbird sings at midnight
In the garden where roses grow.
The past is best forgot, she said
With its heartaches and its woes
Like the old abandoned garden
Where only the wild rose grows.