Live Poetry: Jelly Fish

Jelly fish

See:
This is not me.

please don’t admire
this alabaster shell, worn smooth
by wind and rain
and other people’s words

please don’t envy me
these spikes I’ve grown
to ward off critics
and keep the truth at bay

please don’t be fooled
by who I wish I were
and who I’d like to be;
my aspirations are not me.

please peel away this shell
and see
the jelly fish inside:

My fears and guilt and doubt
The tears that won’t come out
The things unsaid and jobs not done
All the arguments never begun

See:
this is me.
love this blob
and get me for free
in all my beautiful uncertainty.

 

(c) Judith Kingston

 

You can hear this poem read aloud along with poems by Sarah Miles, Stephanie Arsoska, Helen Braid and Ellie Danak on Youtube.

Linked up to Prose for Thought.

Emilie

I was hoping to make this into a podcast, inspired by Stephanie’s dialect poetry, but it’s not working out. So instead, you get the same poem twice in print: once in Dutch and once in English. It was actually an interesting exercise, because you don’t just ‘translate’ a poem. Really, you write it all over again. So if you are bilingual, read both versions – perhaps you have a favourite?

For my first ever niece

Lieve Emilie,

Jij noemt hem papa
– of eigenlijk noem je niet,
je kijkt en denkt
hij is een warme
vorm vol veiligheid –
papa, dus, voor jou.

Voor mij: broertje.
Altijd vijftien in mijn hoofd
lang haar en fijn gezicht
en t-shirts uit de Large
een cello, even groot als hij,
een stille denker
rekenwonder
dichter, zanger
en acteur.

Nu is hij jouw papa
en jij zijn allerliefste Emilie.

Zijn haar is kort
en hij draagt pakken
rijdt een auto van de zaak
en elk moment zingt hij van binnen
omdat jij in zijn leven bent.

Jij kijkt en denkt
Jij groeit en leert:
Die handen, dat gezicht
De ogen die maar kijken
lachend, vol met liefde,
papa heet hij
papa nu.

Ik blijf het zeggen
want het lijkt zo vreemd
hoe één klein mensje
zoon en broer en man
voor altijd zo veranderen kan

maar ja

jij kent hem toch niet anders
dan die man die
alles voor jou over heeft
altijd in je blijft geloven
een veilige haven
een rots in de branding
je vaste anker
je trouwe vriend
altijd blijft hij van je houden:

papa

je papa.

(c) Judith Kingston, 2013

Dear Emilie

You call him Daddy
– though really you don’t

say anything at all
you watch and think
he is a warm
safe shape –
so: Daddy, he is to you.

To me: brother
always fifteen in my mind
long hair, fine features,
black t-shirts with band names
swamp his frame
like the cello that he plays.
A quiet thinker
a mathematician
an actor, a singer
a crafter of words.

Now he is your Daddy
and you his dearest little Emilie.

His hair is short
and he wears suits now
jet-sets, analyses and consults
and every heartbeat is a song now
because you have come into the world.

You watch and think
You grow and learn
Those hands, that face
The eyes that gaze
laughing, full of love:
the word is Daddy
Daddy, now.

I keep repeating and repeating
because it strikes me as so strange
that such a tiny little person
can change who someone is, for ever:
son, brother, husband, man –

But then

you have only ever known him 
as the man who would do
anything
for you
who will always keep believing
your safe haven
your protector
your rock
your friend
his love is for ever

He is: Daddy.

Your Daddy.

(c) Judith Kingston, 2013

 

Prose for Thought, you can’t get rid of me. Soz.

Who are you?

This morning at a parenting group I attend, the visiting speaker told us about an exercise she had learned during her counselling training. The counsellor sits opposite you and asks: “Who are you?” Whatever answer you give, she will ask you the same question again. And again. And again. Until you run out of answers.

I am one of the Hermione Grangers of the world. If someone did that to me, I would be looking for the right answer. The textbook answer. Trying to ‘guess what’s in the teacher’s head’. If they kept asking, I would get more and more frustrated, annoyed. Why had I still not got an A*? The trick is, of course, that all the answers are the right one, all of them reflecting how you see yourself.

When we were asked the question: “Who are you?” and given time to count how many answers we would give, instead I found myself writing a poem.

 

Who are you?

I am the sum of everything said
everything asked
everything thought of me
in a single day

I have shaped and curled
to fit and suit
to please and amuse
in every way

I am who you say I am
Who I wish I was
Who my mother thought
I ought to be
Who am I meant to be?
Which of these thoughts are mine?
What is there left of me
since I met all of you
out there in the world
and thought how nice it would be
if you never thought ill of me.

What lies inside this shell
down the tunnels
twists and turns
when I unlearn
all these faces
the voices that say
‘I distance myself,
I can still deny,
prevaricate or lie
if need be.’

Who is sitting round that final bend?

What she breaks
I cannot mend
What she speaks
turns to stone
She is a stranger
in my home
where she sits
all alone,
unknown.

Who am I?
I cannot tell
cannot see inside this shell
I don’t know me very well

But you do
don’t you
the one who made
every hair and every nail.
Can we trade?
This maze of riddles is for you,
the need to please,
every time I fail,
the guilt that won’t fade
that impenetrable veil.

Then if you could sit inside that place
give the real me your fine face
clothe her in your glorious grace

And when they ask me “Who are you?”
Can I refer them on to you
and can your answer be mine too?

(c) Judith Kingston, 2013

 

After a bit of a hiatus, I will link this up to Prose for Thought.

Who shall I be this week?

The Toddler is Peter Rabbit this week.

A few weeks ago, he was Mickey Mouse. He announced his new identity to me one day, and then he assigned identities to everyone else: I was Minnie Mouse, the Baby was Pluto and Daddy was quite annoyed to discover that he was Goofy. Before that, we were Numberjacks. The Toddler was Numberjack 2, the Baby was Numberjack zero, I was number 7 and Daddy was number 8. We ourselves had suggested that he was number 2, trying to explain the concept of ‘age’ to him. We were never sure whether he’d got it, and whether our own numbers had been assigned reflecting how old the Toddler thought we were, or whether it was our status in the house or just how much he liked the Numberjacks in question. When a (21 year old) friend of ours came to visit and was told she was Numberjack 9 we gave up trying to work it out and just went with it.

I find this role playing fascinating. As a child, I would get completely caught up in stories and want to live in them. I would change my name to that of the main character of my favourite book and insist my family and friends call me by it (usually something archaic and unfortunate, as I read a lot of Enid Blyton and The Worst Witch and so on). Every week, I had a ballet class with three of my friends, and our parents would take it in turns to get us there. As one family did not own a car, they got us to ballet by taxi. We loved this, as we got to go on our own and lie about our names. I would tell the driver I was called Mildred or Darryl and be someone else the next week, terrified meanwhile that one day we’d get the same driver we’d had before and he would rumble us.

But I was about nine at the time. My son is two and a half and he already has this longing to live in stories.

With the Numberjacks, he definitely acts out episodes, but with his paper numbers, not by pretending to be a Numberjack himself. He will launch number 3 and find a three to land on in the house, and once I drew the puzzler for him and he wanted me to trap all the numbers in Puzzler bubbles.

When he discovered Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, it was the Mouskatools that followed us into every day life. If something went wrong, the Toddler would helpfully suggest that a Mouskatool could help Mummy’s car drive faster or bring more Shreddies when they’d run out.

Now, it’s Peter Rabbit, his new discovery. He is Peter Rabbit, of course. I am Mummy Rabbit. His baby sister is Cotton Tail. He will ask me: “Oh! Where’s Cotton Tail?” Or: “Look, Cotton Tail trying to stand!” Or if she is yawning in her car seat: “Cotton Tail is really tired. Wants a little sleep. Oh, poor Cotton Tail.” Somehow this is just irresistibly cute and expresses his love for her perfectly. She is Peter Rabbit’s little sister, an adorable little rabbit who sometimes gets in the way of his best laid plans.

Last night, I was Mr Tod. This was new. I’d never before been a baddie and I wasn’t sure what was expected of me. So as my son skipped, rabbit style, up the stairs, I followed him slowly and said I was coming to get him, trying to stay on the right side of scary. But I needn’t have worried. The Toddler fed me my line: “I smell rabbit!” I repeated this obligingly.

Mr Tod does bedtime. Image from childrensnursery.org.uk

Mr Tod does bedtime. Image from childrensnursery.org.uk

It turned out that Mr Tod gets a lot more done. He was allowed to brush the Toddler’s teeth without a fuss, he managed to change his nappy and he was even allowed to pick the two bedtime stories. Mr Tod wanted stories with foxes in them. The Toddler approved. One of the stories was in Dutch, but Mr Tod had to read it, so I translated it on the fly. I read both of them slowly, with that calm, sophisticated menace that the character has on TV. My son loved it. Mr Tod tucked him in and counted to twenty as he stroked Peter Rabbit’s fur.

I snuck in a goodnight kiss at the end. Thankfully that was allowed.

Just a Mum

“Oh, I’m just a mum.” This phrase always irritates me. It suggests that mothering is not an activity or a job worthy of mention, deserves no praise or status, and is tantamount to frittering your life away. However, it cannot be denied that using the word ‘Mum’ to describe yourself basically means you are defining yourself purely by your relationship to other people, specifically: your children. It doesn’t say anything about you except that you have procreated.

It felt in some ways like taking a step back, having a second baby. I was just getting used to having a little more freedom: the Toddler mostly slept through the night, he could feed himself from a plate of food placed in front of him, he was getting more independent and happier to spend time away from me. I had started to expand my freelance work a little by doing some work out of the house, and that was fine as my son was happy to play at a friend’s house for the occasional afternoon.

The Baby’s arrival meant I was once again permanently attached to a child. I know it is possible to express milk, but it takes me quite a few goes to express enough for just one feed and with all the sterilising and storing it hardly seems worth the bother when you could just take the baby with you wherever you go. It just means outings are restricted to child-friendly locations or the supermarket, and need to finish in time for naps to avoid a double apocalypse around 5pm. Also, the late night ‘dream feed’ acts as a curfew for dates with the Husband and limits drinking to one modest glass of alcohol which must be consumed before 9pm. My pyjamas have once again become my best friend, and it is a rare night when I am not in bed by 11pm – and out of bed again at 3, 5, and 7am. There is not much left of the evening once the kids are in bed, and not much energy for doing anything more exciting than cooking and eating dinner and lurking on Facebook. This gets tough, psychologically. Most of the time, I feel like Just a Mum.

I used to describe myself as a writer and I still do. I don’t have the time or the brain space to write entire novels right now, but this blog has helped me to keep going – a short post a couple of times a week I can manage. But what am I writing about at the moment? About motherhood. Am I ‘Just a Mum’, even in that?

As a teenager, I formulated why it was that I wanted to be a published author, what it was I wanted to achieve with it. My aim was for people to read my writing, heave a big sigh and say: “That is just exactly the way it is.” I wanted to capture the world in words, to give my readers that thrill of recognition and describe for them how they felt in a way that they perhaps could not express themselves.

Looking at it that way, perhaps being ‘Just a Mum’ in this blog is not a failure but a success. I can still capture a common experience in words and hopefully what I describe will resonate with other Just-a-Mums and Dads. Hopefully, I can make you feel understood, less alone and perk up the odd grey day.

What do you do when you feel you are losing yourself in your kids? What helps you feel like an individual again?