Pratibha Castle – Three Poems

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A young wife

without a hearth,

she fled the hills, 

sisters, paltry sun,

treasures entrusted

to the stewardship of mist, 

contentious drizzle, grief 

slouch clouds. And though

each week in the Finchley flat 

that was never home, mocked

by the tisk of a gas flicker fire,

she sifted soda with a scrimp 

of salt into talc fine flour, 

coaxed in milk soured 

with a fist of lemon –

for want of buttermilk –

her warm hands cosseting

the dough into a farl, 

blessing with the sign

of the cross and a shrug

to Our Lady on the mantel;

slices fried with rashers

for the flavour. And though 

come the Saint’s day 

she clipped shamrock 

to the collar of her coat,

purple, a favour to her eyes,

each time she wet the pot, the curve 

of its white spout was a heart stab 

memory of swans    gliding     gracious    

above the tarry Blackwater, a mere 

stone’s toss from the graveyard 

outside of Kells. Her heart

keening for the green of hills 

lost, till I took her home, too late

for eyes never more to tear up

at the sight of mossy slopes 

or the mizzle that guarded 

through grey days.

PLUMS

I put words in a paper bag, hid

them in my pocket. Forgotten,

squished like plums,

they leaked, chastising

the skirt of my Mary dress

with the morbid stain of shame. Buried

at the bottom of the garden

the dog – almost –

dug them up. Hopes

and dreams, the

violet spectre

of a hug. When,

months later moving

as we always did

away, my parents

to another job, me

to yet another chalk

cheeked clique of nuns,

bully girls in chilly dorms,

priest in pulpit, words left

suffocating in the mole blind

dirt could offer little comfort. I gave

myself to arpeggios,

rallentandos, chords, spilt

tears onto the callous keys, adulated

birds and trees, sun scorch

crocus, inhaled melodies

and trills of hope.

Returned, grown,

to exhume words

conceived for rolling

on the tongue, to be

broadcast with blackbirds’

songs and never a need to hide.

KOALA

I had one as a child.

Just a toy, still,

fashioned

out of real fur,

you could make-believe

to clutch a panting life,

feed eucalyptus leaves

into a pink moist mouth.

Black nose, leather claws, eyes

glass, like the marbles

daddy as a lad

shuntered round granny’s yard.

A game he craved

to resurrect

about the kitchen

floor had mammy

not objected.

To crash

my measly

cache of Popeyes,

cats eyes,

beach balls

with the payback

of a copper-sparkled Lutz. Slate

beneath a grown man’s knees

atonement for the folly

of assuming

he could reach

back to reclaim such

smokescreen memories,

his arms too short

to restitute the child

snatched too soon

from his embrace.

I had one as a child.

Black nose, leather claws, eyes

glass that never wept.

 

Pratibha’s prize-winning pamphlet, Triptych of Birds and A Few Loose Feathers was published by Hedgehog Press in2020.  The child of Irish Catholic immigrants,  her writing appears in various publications and draws on her experiences growing up in 1950s England.  Starting late, she graduated with a first-class honours degree in Creative Writing aged 61.

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