LADY WITH LAVENDER AURA
From a secret drawer Aunt Phoebe
takes the unctuous lavender oil and
gaggles of barefoot children run amok through
wildflower meadows, dry tongues of summer
yearning for sarsaparilla and calamine balm
to soothe the itch of post-war deprivation.
She hears the electric hum of bees in lupin throats,
watches fingers pluck flowers from Nissen hut walls,
breathes in carbolic soap from the hard-scrubbed nails
of her dad, stripped off to wash in the kitchen sink,
drooling as her mum lifts milk-topped scones from
the blackened side-oven – Mrs. Beaton’s, of course!
On elbow crooks and freckled wrists, she drips
the oil, cuts on her fingers stinging like vinegar.
Too much, intoxicating, filling her pretty head
with sickly-sweet confusion – gasping for breath,
wheezing from the burn of excess, as though
the lavender fields might soon be pulped to dust …
Those fields in France, crackling with spit-roast
hedgehogs, where carefree gypsies danced, caroused
and jumped the devil’s cinders, their nostrils teased
by a lavender sea, fused with basil and thyme.
An idyll in a bottle, nostalgia’s pangs released
whenever Aunt Phoebe performs her daily toilette.
Her clockwork days marked out in rhythmic bursts,
obedient slave to social expectations.
FLASHBACK AND PROLEPSIS
Some days we were like birds, flying blind
on winged prayers, in search of Nirvana.
Other days ballerinas, arms draped over the barre,
legs extended in arabesques, practising our pas de deux.
Or hedge sparrows with pretensions of grandeur,
craving the pomp of power; shy peacocks
in stolen plumage; Java green embroidered
with iridescent blue, kissing feathers of coppered ochre,
strutting our stuff when the jazz band played. Shy girls
with sugar-brown eyes dancing round cheap handbags,
peering coyly from beneath curtain fringes, minds
transported as the dissonant riffs reached a heady climax.
Our world seemed too beautiful, overwhelming,
all sunlit uplands and naked beaches, where
summer came but never went. We were there,
clothed in excitement and eager to explore,
quick to respond when chance came calling, soar into
life’s blue yonder, outcome unknown, but worth the risk.
Some days now I recall that charming innocence …
childhood moments of heart-stopping magic; souvenirs
to dine out on in the dark days of pestilence to follow.
At the end of the lane, you stood still,
photographed wild roses
scented like forgiveness.
I thought of the French boudoir,
peonies spilling from the tipped vase,
red blood on milk-white sheets.
You laughed that curious bubbling laugh,
like milk boiling over on the stove,
afraid to expose your vulnerability.
I remember our time together in Rome
chasing barefoot through dusty piazzas,
dancing to the tune of illicit love.
You bought me an opal ring
from a tramp peddling impossible dreams,
forgetting that opals bring tears.
Memories are all that survive now,
blurred, warped by the passing of time,
cutting, pasting, and saving only the best bits.
Our paths ran parallel for a time
but we knew they would never converge…
Just postcard dreams now, no message, no address.
The gentle hours of morning rise from the
velvet cover of scant moon over water,
stillness so deep it fills the space like
a hypnotic drug.
I rise, drowsy-headed and limp-limbed,
flinging wide the creaking casement window,
gazing down on the shifting shingle of a
single moment, into an ever-evolving mosaic.
Silhouettes of jet-winged scavengers picking
at ochre-grey-green pebbles, triumphantly
tugging at skeleton fish bones washed up
on last night’s high tide.
Brine-drenched breakwaters sag beneath
decades of memory, heavy as church lead.
Out to sea sailboats at anchor indulge in the
bliss of a snatched Sunday morning forty winks.
Overhead the thinning cloudscape yawns,
casting off the stale sweat of night. A chilly
off-shore breeze suddenly catches my tangled locks as
the town steels itself for more undisclosed adventures.
REQUIEM FOR A CELLIST
She rocks rhythmically in her chair,
her eyes dulled by grief, skeletal fingers
clutching rosary beads, chanting mechanically
‘Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine’
Dementia gnaws away at her brain
as she clenches her fists, howls
like a caged wolf, searching
desperately for her beloved cello.
Then, as if by magic it appears, a Stradivari,
propped up by the Steinway grand,
pleading to be picked up and played again,
its bow sprawled across the piano lid,
resin box still unopened.
A sudden draft from the open window
breathes life back into the stale air.
Haunting sounds unlock iconic images,
transporting her to lovers’ beds, concert halls,
summer gardens and back-street alleys –
a heady rush of half-remembered liaisons,
ecstasy and pain intertwined.
Final chords crescendo then trail away
into the invading gloom of a winter twilight.
One last brave ‘da capo,’ then finally silence.
Her weary frame crumples in dismay.
She attempts to rise from her chair, pleads
one last time: ‘Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine’
Margaret Royall was shortlisted for the Bangor Literary Journal and Crowvus poetry prizes 2018. Her first collection appeared in 2017 and her poems have featured in many journals and pamphlets, most recently The Blue Nib, Hedgehog Poetry Press. Her prose/poetry memoir of childhood, The Road to Cleethorpes Pier, was published with Crumps Barn Studio in May 2020.