On the Roof

Friends is better than anything –
Family, wife, kids –
Friends is best.
Always.

And we had always been
Best Friends.
I can’t remember a time
Before we were.

And then this
Thing!
Illness.
Cut the legs from under Dan.
Paralysed him.
Separated us
Into the three who could do –
Asher, Reuben, Me –
And Dan who couldn’t.

We tried so hard to keep together;
To include him.
But he was drifting away from us,
Even though he couldn’t walk.
He was in despair and we were just desperate.

And that’s how we ended up on the roof.

Asher’s idea – of course – to take Dan to the Healer,
“It could work!”
Reuben, as always, up for a lark and something new.
Me, as usual, not sure it would, but not willing to risk it wouldn’t.
Even though Dan was furious.
Lugging him out into the daylight
Everyone staring.

Asher leading the way
Leaving the carrying to Reuben and me
We were sweating and straining – Dan’s no lightweight –
While he kept up a stream of curses on us
Interspersed with a repeating chorus of “It’s a waste of time!”

But when we got to he house,
Even Asher was defeated.
Couldn’t blag a way to the door through the crowd.
Reuben stopped laughing
And Dan went quiet.
That’s when I realised
How much he’d been hoping.

And then it came to me!
Get him up on the roof, make a hole and drop him through it!
And I’d said it aloud
Before I could stop myself.

For a second they all looked at me,
Amazed!
And the next thing we were round the back
And climbing up with that
Dead weight on the stretcher.
Pushing, pulling, dragging him up there
While people shouted and swore
And tried to grab us back.
Us kicking them off and swearing.
Dan back to cursing us;
Afraid we were going to tip him to his death.

Once perched,
We ripped a hole in that roof
With the energy of men who had nothing left to lose.
Knowing we were already in big trouble all round;
Waiting for angry shouts from the room below.

But when we peered in
There was just a gaping astonishment to match the gaping hole.
And the Healer squinting up at us
As the sunlight poured in over our shoulders.
Mortified,
Dan had fallen silent;
Eyes closed tight.
So we lowered him down into a well of silence.
The Healer,
He was the only one who didn’t seem put out.
He looked at Dan and told him
He was forgiven.

That was a bit of a shock all round
You could hear people muttering
And well, disappointing
To be honest
For us.

But then he told Dan to get up
And Dan,
Who has never been one to do as he was told,
Even if it was good for him,
Got up!

Reuben burst out laughing!
Asher burst into whoops!
And I burst into tears.
Embarrassing!
And then Dan and the Healer
Looked up at us
And Dan was smiling.
I’d forgotten that he could.

And the Healer
He just nodded at us –
Respect!
It felt really good!

I don’t remember getting off the roof
I think people helped us down
Dan staggered out of the house like a shaky toddler
And we all hugged each other.

Then we set off for home
The crowds parting like the Red Sea
Asher and Reuben went ahead dancing about, giddy
I’d linked arms with Dan as he was a bit unsteady
Like he couldn’t believe he was walking again.

I asked him how he’d know he was healed
He said he hadn’t
Until he tried to get up.
He said deciding to try
Was the scariest thing he’d ever done.
He’d been so afraid that nothing would happen
And everyone would see
That he was beyond healing
Not worthy
A man unable to believe enough.

Then he lowered his head on my shoulder
Whispered “Thank you”
And we walked on.

Afterwards Asher took to telling everyone it was all his idea,
The roof.
I didn’t mind.
It doesn’t matter
Friends matter.
Friends is best
And the Healer
He turned out to be one of us.

copyright Tina Towey 2020

The Fourth Dream

The third dream I have kept to myself.
And it is so hard!
The number of times
I’ve had to bite back the words
when she asks
why there is a dark cloud on my brow;
reaches up to smooth it
with her small strong hand.

How can I tell her
what I know is coming?

The first dream,
in a way that was easy,
because it brought us both
joy and peace,
alongside the awe and excitement.
The wonder of it!
A child coming for me to father,
although he wasn’t mine.
Seeing the anxiety in her eyes
chased away
by my smile;
by my ‘Yes’;
by the fact that we’d both been visited by an angel –
she awake and I asleep.
We’ve talked a lot of that dream.

The second –
that was a dark vision.
I persuaded her to flee
with only vague sketches of imminent danger.
That haunts me yet –
that we ran without thought of warning
friends and neighbours.
Left them to the horror and slaughter…
She guessed afterwards that I’d known more than I said
and it is a burden of unhealed sorrow and regret
she helps me bear.

But this third dream,
that’s mine to carry alone.

You’d do anything to spare your children
pain and sorrow.
The worst thing is the realisation,
the certainty of knowing,
that you can’t.
That they have to do their own living
with all that that entails
and their own dying
and you can’t
stop
any of it.

That was my third dream;
a nightmare of him in agony.
Blood and pain.
The hands I’d held
when he tottered his first steps;
that I’d guided with my own
to carve and plane.
Those hands
broken, pierced;
a botched job with a hammer and cheap nails.

I can’t share that
with her or him!
What good would it do?

So I kiss the hand
that tries to smooth my brow.
Make a joke
about being a man with a naturally grumpy face.
She doesn’t believe me,
but she lets it go.

Worse than this –
and that’s bad enough not being straight with her –
is when he catches me
looking at him;
failing to hide the sadness.
And he puts his arm around my neck –
he’s such a loving lad –
And my heart
Splinters.
But I just
pat him awkwardly on the back.
Tell him I’m just getting old,
full of aches and pains.
It’s not a lie;
just not the whole truth.

The dread of it all –
It’s the trek to Bethlehem – that stable!
The scrabble to Egypt,
The three days we lost him when he was twelve –
All of those rolled into one and multiplied beyond measuring.

I find myself praying,
begging
for another dream.
One like the daydreams I had so long, long ago,
before any of it.
Before she told me
she’d said ‘Yes’.
Before I knew I wouldn’t say ‘No’.

A dream of her safe, happy,smiling.
A dream of our son, safe and strong and grown.
Provided for and protected and loved by me.
Every husband and father’s dream.

If I could have a dream like that,
maybe this third one,
maybe it would forget me;
leave me alone?

Oh for this new dream to come
and come soon!
And to know it will come true.
Please God! Please God!
Give me another dream!

copyright Tina Towey 2019

Talitha

How can I describe it?
Explain.

There was a Blackness,
Not a darkness.
Black
Black
Black
Creeping inward
Like fists slowly clenching before my eyes.

In and In and In
With every Out, Out and Out
Of my breath.
This I remember;
How hard it was to breathe;
The shallower, the harder.

And the Black
Stealthily obliterating
Everything –
Sight
Sound
Breath –
Swallowed by the Black.

Then nothing but
The Black.
Nothing but Black.

Until –
And who knows how long? –
A Voice
Spoke
Light.
Words that sounded-shone
Rent
The Black.
“Little Girl,
Get Up”

And the Black
Bled,
Fled away
Instead
A Shimmering behind my eyelids.
Sunlight on a calm sea.

I opened my eyes.
I saw a man
Seeing me.
Holding my hand.

“Hungry?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“I’m absolutely starving!”

And we both laughed.

Copyright Tina Towey 2019

After the Dance

A fool times over,
I knew.
And a man dead.

It wasn’t the girl I wanted.
It was her youth, her grace, her fire!
I lusted after those.
An idiot vow made of wine, longing and nostalgia.

And then,
Out of that lovely mouth,
A vileness!
An unspeakable demand spoken.
And the unspoken question, challenge
In all eyes.
“Well?”

How could I refuse?
Risk ridicule and the shifting sands –
Respect founded on fear
Of me and my word.

And a man,
A terrible, truthful man,
Dead.

And from that day on
I couldn’t stand the sight of the girl,
But kept her close
To spite Herodias.
To make her age with suspicion and fear.
Have them gnaw her hollow to a gourd husk,
While her brittleglitter smiles and laughter
Grated.

But I a fool twice over
And a man dead!
But not gone,
Oh no, no, no, no…

I did not lose face,
But I do not recognise myself anymore.
And I am deader
Than he.

copyright Tina Towey 2019

The Silence in the Silence

The silence in the silence…
Why so often can I find
Nothing to say
To one I love so much
I would die for him?
Instead
The silence in the silence…

Speaking volumes
A library of self-reproach.
How little do I know him?
How faulty our connection?
The black hole pauses
Pock the ether
Of our distant distance phone calls.
Scrabbling for handholds
Football, politics, foreign language dramas
To arrest the slide into
The silence in the silence…

Why are the debates, the arguments,
Conversational rallies so few, so short?
Trapped in Trappist encounters
Monosyllabic meals
Television repeats to drown out
With familiar character dialogue
The howling hush of
The silence in the silence…

In my imagined ideal
We talk, spar, share
Endlessly, effortlessly
And silences are companionable
Brief oases to refresh
Recharge our repartee.
But instead
There is
What is
The stumbling, inarticulate, ill-expressed love
Between my son and me.
The silence in the silence…

Copyright Tina Towey 2019

Matter

We have a memory
Of the people in our past.
An idea
Of the people who are to come.
But the here and now people
Of our lives
Are neither preserved, nor etched,
Nor unformed, nor edgeless.

They are in our faces,
Solid and sentient.
Hard to ignore,
Even as we try to avoid eye contact.
They
Touch us!
Physically, mentally, emotionally;
Invade our space
With their sticky fingers.

We resist,
But then recall –
We are they.
They are us.

We see,
When we open our eyes.
We know,
When we open our minds.
We sense,
When we open our hearts,
What truly matters.

We matter more
Than the matter we are made of
And
When matter is no more,
We will still matter.

copyright Tina Towey 2018

Tea Dance

In support of a good cause –
The scarlet splash of poppies everywhere in the concert room –
Tea, cake, dancing.
People from a bygone era
Stepping confident, careful
To the music of their time
Well before mine.

Then a voice from the next table,
Still soft-edged with a scots lilt,
Though that land had not been home
For a lifetime long.
“Come on and do the St. Bernard’s Waltz with me!”

Mary on her feet, hand outstretched,
An imperative deafness to my protests
That the St. Bernard’s Waltz or any other
Was a barely retrievable childhood memory
From Junior School Christmas parties,
Partnering Kevin Connole –
My godbrother and classmate –
Taught the steps by our parents and teachers
In a time well before the national curriculum
Decreed no more dancing lessons,
No more cakes and ale, or potted beef or Dandelion and Burdock.

This was shaky terrain for me,
Home ground for Mary.
We took to the floor.
Cast in the even more unfamiliar role of
‘The Man’,
Obeying her sotto voce instructions,
Surreptitiously glancing down and around
To match my steps and keep in time.
We circled round in measured measure.

Getting the hang of it,
I looked up at her face.
Her eyes were dancing nimbly
Over the hills and far away,
Leaving me and the years behind.
Smiling to herself,

Shiny as a gold locket.

Tea cups chinked the beat.
“Ah,” she said, smiling widely,
“I haven’t been in here since Michael died.
I used to come looking for him for his dinner
And they’s say,
‘He’s in playing snooker, Mary love’”.

“And did you ever dance the St. Bernard’s waltz with Michael?”
I asked
“Aha!” she nodded, with a girlish giggle,
“Sometimes.”
I thought, Why look how pretty she is still!

And in the lens of my mind’s eye,
I could see her and Michael
Young once more.
He dark and handsome – party piece
The Gypsy Rover
She elfin mischevious lovely –
Singing Marie’s Wedding with her sisters.

She and Michael dancing together,
Learning to be partners in life.

The music stopped.
A soft sigh as she squeezed my arm.
“You’ve helped me lay a ghost.”
But to me, the ghosts were there still
Dancing in her eyes.

copyright Tina Towey 2018