a green cardboard box

all that remains of you rests in a green cardboard box:
6″ x 9″ x 6.
your name, printed on a generic white sticker,
with a number and a date:
the date we set you free
by fire –
and all that remains of you now rests, with me, in a box by my bed.

a green cardboard box.

you weigh less now, but you are, surprisingly, heavier
than i anticipated.
i didn’t know what to expect, to be honest, when i got the call
to come and collect you.
but you were given to me, gift-wrapped, like a present.
gift-wrapped in a silver bag, with silver rope handles:
like a belated birthday gift.

having you, for my mother, truly was a gift.

with my brothers, i will scatter
what’s left upon the graves of those you lost long ago:
your lover and your son,
just like you wanted, Mum.

but, truth is, i am finding it hard to part with you.
so long as i have you, in this little green box,
you remain a part of me.

but, part we must.
i cannot hold onto these fragments
of bone and cinder
– that were once strong arms that held me
– that was once a beating heart that loved, unconditionally.
i must let you be
and scatter you to the breeze
and set you free.

i must learn to breathe for myself.

some days, i feel like i am drowning,
suffocating,
in my own loss and self-pity.
Sundays are the hardest days to bear

because i was there that Sunday,
when you gave your last breath back up to the sky
– do you remember?
i saw the light in your eye
turn off, like a light,
leaving my world a whole lot darker,
despite the sunlight.
i was there, with you, with my hand on your heart.

i felt it stop.

part of me died with you.
oh the pain of physical severance.
our umbilical cord, cut.
finally.

i know Death is not the end.
i know you walk with me.

i know you have stopped by… i know.
i could smell your perfume.
and i heard you, rattle my cup!

but i cannot keep you here, comforting as it is, having you close.
i must set you free.
i must let you be: be with Dad and William.
it’s the one last thing i promised you and
it is time.

time. we always think we have time.
truth is, there is never enough time.

time. my past, my present and my future:
all in one little green box.
time. it is all we had.

they say, in time, it becomes easier…
… this… breathing for myself.
i hope so
because sometimes i feel
like i am weighed down at the bottom of the ocean.

 

(c) Kat McDonald – September 2017

Rest in peace, Mum.

My late mother – on her 91st Birthday!  7th June 2017… she passed on 16th July 2017.

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saying goodbye to the family home

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the words ‘good bye’ are said daily.  we have countless euphemisms for our departures: “cheerio” “see you later” “ciao” but the words “good bye” suggests a certain finality.

i have said these words countless times but, today, i uttered those words, with finality, as i said “good bye” to the house i grew up in.

today was the hardest day.  saying ‘good bye’ to such a ‘friend’ was the only time those words have strangulated.  it was the only time i have felt a sadness unlike any other sadness i have felt. as i closed the door, for the last time, i felt something close inside me.  it was final.  something was severed, just as my umbilical cord was cut many years ago.  i now had to breathe my own breaths.  it was the first time i ever felt alone. it was the first time i felt real loneliness. i felt at a loss for a loss that was not yet gone. i felt orphaned by the searing pain of familiar nostalgia and the gnawing ache of a new melancholy.

today was the hardest day.

home is where the heart is and our home was filled with love.  as i drove down our old street, looking for a place to park, i already felt an overwhelming sense of emptiness.

and then it hit me.  this would be the last time i would ever return to this place. this place called home, to which i had returned countless times.  this place was sacred. somewhere I knew would always be there for me from when i returned from my travels.  this place was my rock.  it was grounded.  earthed.  steadfast.

a light would always be left on.  it was a place i knew i could return to and be safe when I needed to feel. to feel loved. to feel comforted.  it was my home.  it was the only family home i knew.  this home was more than a house. more than mere bricks and mortar with a few roses planted by the door.  my home was sentient.  this home was my friend.  and now i had to say ‘good bye’.

i parked the car outside and composed myself.  i sat, gripping the steering wheel, and looked into the garden.  a garden where roses grew.  roses that my late father planted.  a garden where ghosts of little Kathryns played.  i could see them all so clearly.  i could see a seven-year old Kathryn, with long blonde hair, playing with her little black poodle and giggling happily.  i could hear her.  she was truly happy and oblivious to the black clouds that would darken her future skies.  i saw a teenage Kathryn sitting on the back porch steps, on a hot summer night, with girlfriends from school – music blaring out; and i could see her saying ‘good night’ to old boyfriends.  i could see her returning home and the joy in my mother’s face, beaming, as she reached out her hands to welcome her, whether that had been returning from a trip to Sri Lanka or a trip to the local shops… my mother, she was always like that. always happy to see me home, safe.

but today she wasn’t there to welcome me.  sadly, she is now in a care home.  dementia has her in its vice-like grip and i cannot do anything to pull her out of its clutches.  she is slowly disappearing from me and, in some strange way, saying ‘good bye’ to the home was like saying ‘good bye’ to her because she, too, was home.  i have no idea where that home is now.  but i have my own home, life, love and career and i am happy.  i am happy that she could see me grow up and become the woman that i am today.

but today…

…today was the hardest day.

with a sigh, and heavy heart, i got out the car and went into the garden, fumbling in my numerous pockets for my key, whilst trying not to spill the hot coffee i had taken with me.

that garden. that garden was where i played as a young child. it was in that garden that my father taught me how to skip.  it was in that garden i played with my rabbit, Benjamin. it was in that garden i would twirl around the clothes pole until i was dizzy and giddy.  it was in that garden that i would sunbathe and it was in that garden that i would often sit and read on warm summer nights, drinking in the heady fragrance of night-scented stock that my father had planted beneath my bedroom window.

my father.  i could see his ghost too. i lingered by the old garden shed and i swear i could see him in there, through the small dirty window.  i could see his weather-beaten face. he looked as though he was working on something.  as i recall, he would spend many happy hours in that garden shed, pottering around, making hand-sculpted wooden toys and odd boxes for me to keep my secrets in.  or he would be sharpening his tools, the lawnmower’s blades or cutting the neighbour’s kids’ hair.  he was always busy but he always had time for good people and animals.

i could see the ghosts of our dogs. i could see them running about the garden and jumping up to welcome me home.

there were no little dogs to welcome me today.

i climbed the steps and put my key in the lock and turned it open.

the sun-filled porch was warm and the air was musty and hot, like a hothouse.  my mother’s bird of paradise plant stood alone.  it took seven years to flower. i am glad she got to see this happen.

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the back porch as we called it, even although, technically, was the front of the house, was a place where i would sit with my mother on lazy summer Sundays.  we would sip iced lemonade and play Scrabble, or we would talk until the small hours of the morning.

there were so many ghosts here today…

i opened the door to home.  the staircase was first to greet me.  a staircase that was not just a means of getting upstairs, or  downstairs.  this staircase was an old friend.  a place i would retreat to when i needed space from family gatherings.  a place where i could just sit and be alone with my thoughts.  thoughts often broken by the family dog licking my hand.  that staircase held so many ghosts…  as a child that staircase was a pirate ship, a jungle, an alpine mountain, the Empire State Building and a spaceship… that staircase was anything and everything that my childhood imagination could envisage.  my friends and i played on that staircase.  we would slide down it, head first… racing each other to the bottom. we would do this countless times until either my mother’s patience or the skin on my knees wore thin.

latterly, that staircase had a stair-lift.  that had now been removed but the scars remain:

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the carpet, discoloured; and holes in wall-papered walls where its fixtures once secured a safe means of aiding my mother’s mobility.

the dining room was bare.  the dining table and chairs were gone.  table and chairs.  table and chairs where once we all sat around together to eat many a family meal together.  ghosts of birthday parties.  so many candles and wishes.  so many Christmas dinners and crackers pulled. so many NYE parties, and so many times i sat at that table with my friends. so many ghosts here today – all seeking one more seat at that table.  i could hear laughter and voices from the past.  so much joy.  all that remains now is faded wallpaper and cobwebs, with patches intact where pictures once hung.

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the dining room now empty and forlorn.  a room where there once was so much love. so much laughter, and tears.  a room once filled with life and belongings now empty.  a room where, as a young child, i would play with my friends.  the old dining room table was not just a table.  in the wilds of childhood imagination, it was a Sherman tank… a spaceship… a tree-house… a cave…  or a place to hide when i hurt myself.  i used to run and hide each time i hurt myself, as i was scared of pain.  there was no table to hide beneath today. and i was hurting.

i took a deep breath and stepped into the living room. the ‘living‘ room. there was no life there today. it was empty.  boxes of stuff sat in the centre of the room waiting for someone to make a decision as to what best be done with them.  a lifetime of stuff, now in boxes waiting to be discarded.  my mother, the hoarder.

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before the wall unit took pride of place in my family’s living room, there was a piano. our family home was always filled with music.  always filled with music, love and friends.  so many family gatherings. so much joy and song.

this living room… this living space was once alive and filled with laughter; with love; with breath, now lay empty.  loveless.

the old gramophone was, as a child, the core of entertainment.  more so than the television. music was a big part of my childhood.  the house reverberated with music and song, and i am sure i once heard it sing along. but not today.

i decided to take the old gramophone home with me. i have nowhere to put it, as yet, but it pains me to see it end up on a landfill site somewhere… unwanted and discarded as junk. to me it was worthy of saving, of salvaging.  it was something i could cling onto as many hours of my childhood were had listening to scratchy old ’78s.  jesus. what will become of them?

i look out across the street. houses, where friends once lived and hear the music that we all once took great pleasure in listening to.

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and then there was the fireplace that my brother built, when he was learning how to work with stone and brick.  it quickly became the heart and electric hearth around which we sat.  me. family. friends.  i would sit by the fire, on a cold winter night, basking in the incandescent warmth of fake coals and play solitaire or read; or fall asleep curled up like my dog, faithfully by my side.

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but now the fireplace is cold. it offers no real warmth today.  i could turn it on, but it’s not ever going to be the same.  things have changed. my life has changed and like this house… this home, i feel it emptying of something irreplaceable.  is this preparation for her death?  is this symbolic?

this living room. this living space once filled with breath. once filled with laughter and love now lay empty. as i turned to close the door, i took one last ‘snapshot’ of memories but all that remains now is lampshades, covered in dust – the only tangible reminder of those who lived here lies in the minute particles of their skin as they slowly shed their mortal coil; and indentations and footprints upon the carpet – impressions of what once was there – a coffee table, sofas, armchairs… the shuffle of countless footsteps.  footsteps that once danced, but now are crippled.  these impressions will soon be gone and a new family will make this home.  fuck.  i hope they can make as many happy memories as i have accumulated over the past forty years.

but the ghosts don’t want me to leave. they are liveliest here.  they beg me to stay.  i watch them dance and play, and walk around and through me,  just as i have walked through this house.  this home.  am i a ghost now, too?

this was once the liveliest of spaces. now it feels the most empty of all the rooms; except, perhaps, for the chambers of my heart.  i linger and hear distant voices: my mother singing; my father’s laughter; old Hank Williams records, crackling.  someone, please return the stylus to the start because i, too, feel so lonesome, i could cry.

and cry i did.

i hear someone play the piano… badly.  i see the ghosts of old friends and family, baby nieces and cousins from Shetland.  i see conversations dance before me;  i can smell the sound of the old projector of when we would have family gatherings and plough through troughs of old photographs and super8 home movies.  i can smell the perfume and feel the smiles of beloved aunts.  i see so many bad choices of wallpaper.

there have been many tears, over the past forty years and more.

so i closed the door and broke down.

it feels like a loved one has died.  for so long, this house was the only home i knew.  it was where i learned to walk and talk; where i learned to read and write (thank you, Mum – for equipping me with these skills before i started school);  where i also learned how to take a photograph, roller skate and jive;  how to ride a bike (thank you to my eldest brother, home on leave from the Royal Air Force, for his patience and determination); and how to skip and knit… and kiss.

it is where i learned about life, love and loss.  it is where i now learned about myself, that i am, perhaps, not as strong as i once thought.

i exhausted myself of tears, wiped my face with trembling hands and picked myself up off the floor and continued on my quest to say goodbye to this loyal friend; to say ‘goodbye’ to this house and the ghosts of former Kathryns… the ghosts of all tomorrow’s parties.

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before heading upstairs, i ventured into the kitchen to pour myself a glass of water.  but there were no glasses. no cups.  no cups overflowing with love and hot tea.  and so i sipped the cold water from my cupped hands.

our kitchen was small, but functional. and always clean and tidy.  and there was always the fragrance of fresh laundry hanging in the air.

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upon returning home, from anywhere at any time, my mother would most likely be found in the kitchen.  she loved to bake and used to bake the most incredible scones and cookies.  i remember, as a child, following her around like a greedy pup – waiting for her to let me scrape out the remains of the cookie dough.  i can still taste its sweetness.  sadly, due to illness and depression, she hasn’t baked in a long, long time but i can still smell that warm aroma of toasted sugar and chocolate.

i look out through the net curtain to the house across the street where one of my closest friends grew up.  Linda.  we were the same age and looked similar:  two little skinny waifs with long blonde hair and huge eyes.  hers green, mine blue.  she was my soul mate and to this day, although we don’t see as much of each other as we perhaps should as life is short, when we get together it is like not one day has passed since we last hugged each other.

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i see the ghosts of these little blonde girls, playing on roller skates or bicycles or running with kites.  i see ghosts of them as teenage girls, standing on her doorstep and discussing what to wear to the next high school dance.  i see it all: pages of those old teen diaries coming to life and i reminisce, with a smile.  but where has the time gone?  it seems like only yesterday.

i remember the Belfast sink by the kitchen window and how, as children, many of us in this street were bathed in the sink.  this was mainly for convenience, i think… i hope!  i remember the teasing of friends as those who were allowed out later than my own curfew would stand by the window, and laugh and point; and me gesticulating wildly and shouting back at them, laughing.  they would only laugh until it was their turn to be the spectacle in the window. oh precious memories.  my friends and i still joke about these moments to this day.

food was a big part of our family life and social gatherings.  for many years, and much to the chagrin of my mother, i had no interest in food and she, my father and brothers tried everything from cajoling me, bribing me – even ridiculing me – in their attempts to coax me into eating.  i had become a worry.  a talking point.  i received a scolding from a red-faced aunt.  still, i couldn’t care less about food.  i wasn’t interested.  my cousin once highlighted to me that i once went through a phase of only eating food that was white.  jesus.  what a little freak!  i would only eat haddock fish, boiled potatoes, pickled onions, milk, cauliflower or lean chicken breast.  it was a  major concern.  so much so, my mother took me to the Doctor who duly examined me but seemed more preoccupied with the length of my eyelashes and my precocious stare than my incongruous diet. it was a relief to all when i became a teenager and becoming more interested in food.  food and boys.  i realised that the two can be fun. and so i learned to cook in this kitchen.

it was here that i also learned about the loss of another kind of friend.

i remember the dove grey and sky blue chequered pattern on the tiled floor. i remember finding one of our family dogs, Bonnie, lying dead there one Sunday morning.  she had been ill – more ill than the Vet had realised.  i remember the pain in my heart and the sound of my own shock and grief.  i remember curling up beside her – just as i had done so many times before by the fireplace – cradling her cold and lifeless body in my arms and seeing a trickle of blood weep from her little black nose that i loved to kiss.  i remember the sound of my heart breaking.

and as i close the kitchen door, i hear that sound again.  as fresh and raw as it was that Sunday.

and so i ventured upstairs, one step at a time.  it’s strange, but the wood of the banister felt unusually warm to the touch – almost like skin.  it felt as though this house… this home… still had a pulse.  it was like she was still breathing, and breathing with me.  as i climbed the stairs, which seemed to be endless, i noted stairway walls anointed with the oily marks, from repeated hand placements; and the faded frames of blank images, where once pictures hung, often at odd angles. unambiguous; these empty spaces will remain, until my home’s new occupants paint over them.  they are, today, the only proof  of our lives here.  they still, in a strange way, adorned the stairway – or gateway – to the quieter spaces in this home. spaces where meditative rituals took place: the brushing of hair before bedtime; the bathing; the faint mutterings of my mother’s prayers and the dreams. what dreams may come now is anyone’s guess.

i pause and take a deep breath, then step into my old bedroom. immediately, i am greeted by the same funky pink plastic lampshade i chose when i was seven years old. a lampshade i once so sorely wanted – now faded, jaded, dusty and discoloured.  that pink shade saw many a dream and was a comforting pink cloud of solace on many a sleepless night. a pink cloud of optimism, at a time when my grief for my father completely overwhelmed me.

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it was here, in this room, on this bed, that i was when i first knew real darkness.  it was here, one Sunday morning in May, that my mother came to wake me to tell me that my father had died.  it was as if someone took the sun from my sky.  it was as though all the light from life was sucked out.   as though the fires inside were extinguished.  those screams of anguish and grief, i could still hear them.  they were deafening.  they are now recorded in the very fabric of this room.  they still deafen and defy.  if i were to touch those walls, i would still hear those screams,  screams like those from a wounded animal.

my old bed, still covered with the furry horsey blanket -a gift from a favourite aunt, looked small.  and yet, at some points in my life, this was my island, my haven – a place to retreat to and listen to the radio or to write in my diary, or a place where i would go to just to think… or disappear.

i removed the clutter from it and lay down on the bed with a box of old diaries, i kept as a teenager, and thumbed through them. teenage tales beneath a pink cloud brought a little light and humour into an otherwise dark day – despite the sunshine outside.  i felt a smile break my fall.

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i opened the old built-in cupboard and was immediately transported back in time. a time where i collected Ladybird books and erasers.  although the cupboard was now empty, i could see my white ice-skates hanging up, and i could momentarily hear the slice of blades on ice; i could see, in my mind’s eye, my books – all lined up neatly; stacks of magazines, scrapbooks and old Polaroids.

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i could also see a complete collection of ‘Family of Man’ magazines i collected a child. i was precocious. how many 9 year-old girls do you know that have such an avid interest in anthropology at that tender age?

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a gentle breeze carried voices of children, playing outside in the sunshine, through the house.  i followed the voices into the toilet and was touched by the sight of a picture of the sun my mother, in her early stages of dementia, had drawn and stuck fast to the toilet wall with sellotape.

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it made me laugh out loud.

i ran my wrists under the cold tap and shook my hands dry, blotting  the excess water on my jeans as, for once, there was no fresh towel.   the children’s voices seemed to be getting louder. i followed them into the bathroom where i found the net curtain billowing softly in the breeze of an open window.  the bathroom felt cold and airy; the blue dolphin patterned wallpaper, faded and peeling.

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the old 1970s bathroom cabinet was open and empty. it once held a collection of toothbrushes, all in various states of fray; tubes of pile cream and minty fresh toothpaste, squeezed until every last drop was used, as though they had been passed through a mangle; bottles of clear Avon nail polish, with the caps screwed on squint and stuck-fast; a tub of cotton buds;  a tin of Germolene ointment; and a box full of discarded dentures.  like i say, my mother – the hoarder.

the upstairs landing, once filled with the fresh smell of pine-scented steam from hot bubble baths and the sweet stench of baby powder from habitual dustings. but now, only a strange smell of stale toiletries and cosmetics lingered there.  no fresh smell of pine. and no steam.  both the house and i had run out of steam.

i felt weary. exhausted.

standing at the entrance to my mother’s old bedroom, i caught my own reflection in the dressing table mirror.  i looked empty. i looked lost. i looked dead.

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i could not bring myself to enter.  i could still smell her perfume.  i realised then that i was beginning to mourn her, even though she was still clinging onto life. but that smell of perfume.  Youth Dew.  it was her signature fragrance.  it is not a scent i care for, however, at this point in time it was the most beautiful aroma. it filled my lungs and evoked many happy memories of special ‘mother-daughter’ moments in this little room. this room used to be my room, as a young child.  a room where my mother would sing me to sleep, or lie beside me and stroke my face until i fell asleep when i was ill. it was a room once filled with toys and dolls.  fuck.  how i hated those dolls. i used to ask my mum to chuck them in the cupboard each night as their dead eyes scared me.  feeling brave, in the throes of that memory, i opened the cupboard.  i was relieved to find it empty.  no dead-eyed dolls glaring back at me.  just empty space.   yet in the mirror, it was my own dead-eyed doll expression that would now haunt me.  taunt me.  scare me.  scare me of my own mortality and the harsh realisation that our parents are not immortal.

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my mother’s wardrobes were now empty.  this was a task i could not bring myself to undertake but never voiced my concerns.  my sister-in-law took it upon herself to remove all my mother’s clothes and donate the best of them to the charity shops that my mother believes are worthy.  i cannot begin to say just how much i appreciate my sister-in-law’s interception.  it was a very mindful and kind thing to do.  a task that i think, in hindsight, would have broke me completely.

with a heavy heart, i sat at the top of the stairs and cried so hard that i thought i would never be able to stop, cradling myself in my arms.

this was the hardest day.

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Words & Images (c) Kat McDonald 2017

dedicated to my mother.  they say home is where the heart is.  she has my heart. she is, and will always be, my home.

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for my birthday, i had a tattoo done of a little drawing she did of her and i… she says she doesn’t recall drawing it on my leg. [smile]

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i intend to have her ‘doodle’ made into a necklace for her to cherish… as a ‘mother-daughter’ thing.

Today in my heart a vague trembling of stars and all roses are as white as my pain…

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“Hello Mum…” i say

from closed throat
as i choke on tears
of the inevitable.

she is slumped
on one side.
three pillows.
three pillows hold you
and support you as
you gaze through me
with eyes dim
and full of antipsychotic
medicine.
“medicine”
medicine that has taken
my Mother and held her hostage.
it seems dark in here, in there.
there is precious little light
here now…
and it is fading fast.

i wipe the tears from my eyes
and the drool from her chin.
‘medicine’ they say.

her hands, the skin – so soft, flaccid
and thin
like tracing paper
delicate like a trace
of life… where is that spark?

where is that fire?
that spirit?
that beautiful soul?
where is my hero –
where is she?
where did she go?

“oh Mum…” i say
and hold her hand, tight.
i don’t want to let go.

“Mum? Can you hear me?”
i know you’re in there, somewhere…
do you hear me?
do you hear me, crying in the night for you
like i did, as a child,
when the monsters would come
into my dreams.
i need you, Mother.
i need you – but i can’t find you.
i can see you but
you are no longer here,
in my world.
where are you?
where did you go?
i have so many questions, Mother.
so many questions…

“Let me sing to you…” i say, choking
on dread.
i can barely breathe. gravity is
crushing and caving my chest.

i can see you, but
you’re not there.
do you hear me?
please, come back to me.
do you want to come back?
is it better where you are?
away from the grieving for the lost one;
away from the pain and prison of illness
and isolation;
away from the four walls that house you;
away from the loneliness of not hearing
or remembering…
“Oh Mum…” i say
“come back to me…”

come back to this world
where we wait…
where we, your flesh and blood, wait
for you to return.
but…
looking into your eyes, i can tell
that you are
not coming
back…
are you?

Oh Mother.
you are unaware of how my mind
tortures my heart
as i think of you,
now a prisoner of the bones
and flesh that house you…
… and your smile.

i watch you smile at me,
your mouth quivering,
frail… failing.
i think of your voice and
how you loved to sing.
is there music where you are?
because you love music and
you love to
sing…
sing for me, Mother.
sing a song for me
to comfort me –
just like you did when
i was a child.
sing out loud so i know you are there…
so i can follow your voice…
so i can find you.
i know you are in there… somewhere.

where did you go?
you left so quickly.
your eyes are shadows.
your eyes, once teeming with light,
now tired.
tired of seeing.
tired of seeing this
broken slideshow of your life.
do you see me?

do you think of me,
your youngest child.
your youngest daughter.
do you remember my laugh;
my face;
my name?

where are you, Mother?
i wish you could return
so we could take a walk
through the woods
and talk, like
we used to.
where are you, Mother?
i wish you could return
and brush my hair and
you could tell me all about where
you have been… and
what it’s like there.

because…

“i miss you, Mum…”

i seek a moment’s comfort
in knowing in your fugue
state of mind
that you are, perhaps, blissfully
unaware of
what this world has become
without you.

and yet… i am full of fear:
fear of knowing that this is the end;
fear of knowing that you are alone… there;
fear of knowing you are struggling, perhaps,
to return… clutching thoughts
with only fragments of this
and that
and this reality; with only
broken
and dis-
jointed memories and
not knowing
what
is
real.

are you lost?
or are you rambling through
the forest of your mind?
lost in that deep, dark forest.
do you know where you are?
or are you lost – in a manic
panic –
desperately searching
for a way
to come
back.

if you could, would you find your
way back
to me?
to us?
to the world you have left behind?
or…

are you happier in this sedative dream?

what is it like there, Mother?

sleep does not come easy to me these days.
i lie awake, listening to the sea and
think of you, drowning… choking… fighting
for breath… searching
for the familiar… a lifeline… to
fight against the black water
and return to us.

Oh Mother. what am i to do?
what am i to do, without you?
i am not yet ready to be an orphan.
sure, i am a grown woman
but you are my mother.
you gave me life
and now i look
towards the end
of yours.

Oh Mother.
are you too far gone?
somewhere… in that frail
and useless body
i know you exist.
i know you are in there…
but…
i can’t get to you.
i hope you can hear me?
hear my thoughts?

i hope you can hear me, Mother
as i have not abandoned you.
i am right here.

i worry that in this pergatory
you can see us… see our tears.

“why is it so dark in here?”

is it dark where you are, Mother?
is it?
i wish i could let some light in.

i wish i could just…
i wish…
i…

if you find light in your darkness, Mother,
don’t be afraid.
i have not abandoned you.
i am right here.
i will always be right here.
i hope you find some light
in your forest…
“it’s a beautiful day today, Mum”
“the sun is shining…”

what is that sound?
oh it’s my own voice.

(c) Kat McDonald 2017

img_2083

– watching someone you love be consumed with dementia is heart-wrenching… especially so when that someone is your mother… the one who gave you life and light and love.
it’s hard to watch your world become slowly starved of that light as her life slips from her, and you, with certainty of lengthening shadows and loss, can do nothing but wait.

and that weight is unbearable.

today, my heart was broken… more than i ever thought possible.  my Mother had not been allowed any visitors for almost a week as she, sadly, had to be sectioned for her own safety.  today was the first of me seeing her in a little over a week.  the change was, inevitably, a huge departure from the soul i last saw.  she is fading fast, like roses.

mum

my mother, aged 15

mum3

my mother, a keen photographer it would seem…

mum1

my  mother, on her wedding day…

mum4

my mother, with my lost brother, William, who died 10 weeks before i was born. he was 18.

Title borrowed from one of my other heroes… Federico Garcia Lorca:

Autumn Song
November 1918

[translated by DK Fennell]

Today I sense in my heart
a vague tremor of stars,
but I lost my way
in the midst of fog.
The light trims my wings
and the pang of my gloom
will moisten the memories
at the font of knowledge.

All roses are white,
as white as my sorrow,
but the roses are not white
that have snow on them.
Once they dressed in a rainbow.
Besides there’s snow on my soul.
The snow of my soul is
kissed by flakes and scenes
which disappear in shadow
or in light when thought of.

The snow falls from the roses,
but the soul’s remains,
and the grapple of the years
makes a shroud of it.

Will the snow melt
when death takes us?
Or will there then be other snow
and other roses more perfect?
Will there be peace among us
as Christ teaches us?
Or will there never be
a solution to this question?

And if love cheats us?
Who will resurrect us
if twilight buries us
in the scientific truth
of Good, which perhaps doesn’t exist,
and Evil which flutters nearby.

What if hope gives way
and Babel ensues,
what torch will light
the roads on Earth?

If the blue sky is a fantasy,
what will become of innocence?
What will become of the heart
if Love has no arrows?

And if death is death,
what will become of poets?
and things in a cocoon
which no one remembers?
Oh sun of hopes!
Clear water! New moon!
Dull souls of stones!
Today I sense in my heart
a vague tremor of stars
and all roses are
as white as my sorrow.

letting go: the right time to die

kat-mcdonald-aged-2

i remember, as a child, everything being so tall… perhaps it’s my earliest memory.  i remember everything being above me… the dining room table… what was there?  the kitchen work surfaces… the bathroom sink, where i would struggle on tip-toes to wash my hands… the book case… the ceiling…  the shelves in my bedroom, stacked with toys, all just beyond my reach… and the sky… the Heavens… seemed so far away in both distance and time.

i remember walking through a forest of legs.  i remember my mother’s legs.  i remember holding onto them in places familiar and places new.  i would cling to them when i was scared, unsure or feeling lost amid the voices and conversations i was not yet old enough to comprehend…  lost, amid the cigarette smoke and the laughter and the music;  lost, in another world, an adult world,  a world i couldn’t fully feel at home in, but home it was.  i remember that with one stroke of my mother’s hand upon my head everything would feel better.  and i loved it when she sang to me.

i remember looking up at my mother, admiring her… how pretty i thought she looked with her hair curled and shining; her face smiling down at me with so much love in her eyes. love, tinged with sadness.

oh, i knew that she loved me. i knew that she cherished me because she told me that i was precious.  precious because 10 weeks before i was born, my mother lost a son.  a son called William, he was 18 years old.  he was just a boy. a beautiful young boy.  a boy that my mother said i looked like.

i remember looking up at a particular photograph.  i remember wondering why the boy in the photo made my mother cry and wondered if the reason she often cried when she held me was because of him, or me.  i remember, one day, taking that photograph and stuffing it face-down in a drawer.  i didn’t want my mother to be unhappy any more, and the boy in the photograph seemed to make her unhappy.  all of the time.

she went crazy, tearing open cupboards and drawers… then she found it.  she asked me why i put it ‘there‘…  i told her.  and, again, she cried.  it was then she told me the story of William: the brother i never knew.  the brother who she would, understandably, pine for for all her days.

time, forever the paradox, hushes that memory and that day seems so far away – in both time and distance.

today i went to visit her in hospital.  she is 90.  she is frail.  she is small.

today her eyes are still tinged with sadness, but they still teem with love when i walk in the room.

she is a shadow of her former self.  she is not eating and is barely drinking.  she is not well, neither physically nor mentally.  i wonder if she is just biding her time here with us. i wonder if she is simply tired of the struggle… tired of the pain… the loss and the hopelessness.  has she given in?  has she lost the will to continue on, in this cracked and useless mortal coil?

she tells me she’s done, yet she asks me if i’m happy.

“yes!!” i say… with resounding cheer in my voice.  “i am very happy.  the happiest i have ever been”

… and yet upon hearing the resignation in her voice, i am the saddest girl on Earth.

as i fold my arms around her bony frame, i am reminded of my own mortality and the cruelty of death and loss.  i feel like i am losing her and if i hold her too tightly, she may just disappear from me altogether and leave me in a blind panic.

a panic.  just like a time when i was a little girl, shopping with my mother and father, and losing her amid a strange, deep and dark forest of strangers’ legs and loud voices, and hideously patterned floor.  i remember looking… searching… frantic for my her, for her legs to cling to… for her hands to stroke my head… for her voice… that song in her voice.

i was lost.

at a loss, and lost – as i feel right now.

but today, i am taller.  my mind, still curious, is now awakened to the weird fairtytales that were once adult conversations.  the smoke has cleared and i’ve learned to dance to the music. i have found my voice and i have travelled to the other side of the world.  i no longer search for her legs to cling to and hide behind… oh… but what i wouldn’t give to be able to be a child again… for one day… to be, once again, with my able mother and have her hold me and tell me everything is going to be alright.

because it’s not…

… she isn’t going to get better.  her body is failing and her mind is permanently on vacation; it has a one-way ticket out of here.

i wish I could keep her here, now… or in that memory… but maybe i am not enough… maybe my brothers… her grandchildren… maybe a visit from her other daughter…?  or  maybe… maybe our family is not enough to keep her here.  i mean… how could it be? it’s incomplete.  someone is missing… someone vital… someone who could have sealed the cracks.

tonight, i stood tall and gazed up at the ceiling… there are cracks in the ceiling… some big, some small… many irreparable.  just like those memories of childhood, when i would gaze up in wonder.  the mystery is no longer a mystery.  the cracks no longer hold mystery;  she is no longer a mystery, but yet i marvel at how she managed to go on after such loss.  i know what she wants.  the cracks are beginning to show. they are deepening stress fractures from bearing such a load.  life. loss. death.  death of a son.  death of her parents.  death of her sisters and brother.  death of her husband and my father.  death of friends.  death of her able body.  death of hope.

but her mind is, strangely, liberated.  i take comfort in that.

sitting side by side on her hospital bed, haplessly covered with a stained blue blanket, we talk.  she tells me she’s done.  she tells me she is tired.  she tells me things that only her eyes can convey.

as a grown-up, i now understand. i get it. but oh it is hard to bear.  hard to hear.  hard to accept. but not hard to comprehend.

she is trapped inside ‘this useless body’ – she is imprisoned. imprisoned in ward 3.  imprisoned in her dementia and silent world.  it is no wonder she prefers to escape with sleep.  sleep ‘to pass the time until…’

‘until what, Mum?  elevenses? visiting hours?’ i ask, choking on my own throat.

[the big sle..?]

but her mind is on holiday, she changes direction, and once again i am that little girl lost.

so… should i patch up the ceiling… could i patch it up?  could i patch her up?  if only i could, yet i wonder…  if i should?  i feel as though i am losing her, little by little, crack by crack and splinter.

maybe i should let her go…  or have i lost her already?

 

(c) Kat McDonald 2017

 

 

 

 

death is not pretty

proxy2

we all must die.
there is nothing
more certain
than Death.
today, on a bus ride,
i drove past Death.
i drove past
a graveyard
where i saw him;
where i saw more
than most; the
full-stop and
finality.

row upon row;
purchased and plotted
and boxed.
pick your spot
for all Eternity.
pick a plot,
south-facing,
to make the most
of the sun, but
Damn, these cold winters.
colder than cold, this is
the coldest cot.
row upon row
of the sofest turf
laid to rest
upon the resting.
Rest in Peace.
please…

please…
paint a picture
of the prettiest garden.
a garden of sorrow,
where rememberings grow
with each grave
visitation.
their memory haunts
our hearts but…

… what of the truth?
oh the sweet fragrance
of roses and tulips;
the pinks and whites
and yellows.
paint me a picture,
a pretty picture,
so i do not think.
so i do not think
of what lies beneath,
masked by perfume
and bequeathed bouquet;
masked by wreath
and the wrath of grief.

paint me a picture
of the pretty
and the sentiment
so that my mind
does not dig down…
down… down…
into the open mouth
of the hungry grave
where soil feasts.
down… down…
to sodden wood
and slipping skin…
down… down…
to rotting flesh,
purple and green-black
and bruisey.
down… down…
where pretty and
sentiment no longer
smell like Eden.

down… down…
where row
upon row of bloat
and twisted limbs;
where skin splits and houses
different life
that feasts
upon the flesh;
colonising cranial cavities*
where once dwelt
memories
of childrens’ laughter;
or hoarding in hands,
now gnarled and broken,
that once gave
a lover pleasure.
this different life
emerges…
crawling…
gnawing…
craving the putrid
and the putty.

inhabiting the shell
engulfing…
devouring what once is still
loved and whole.
paint me a pretty picture
please
so that i may forget
what i know
but…

… what of the soul?

words (c) Kat McDonald 2016 / image (c) Sally Mann – one of my favourite photographers

decomposition

 

*when my father died this was, for me, one of the hardest aspects of grief i, a 13-year old girl, had to comprehend. it haunted me for many years.  i can cope with the terror-visions now, but only just.  writing about it helps, i am sure i am not alone in my thoughts on this matter… is the body merely a shell?

The other Robert.

a dark and seriously twisted tale of psychopathy…

… meet ‘THE OTHER ROBERT

Robert lives alone in a house with all the windows boarded up on both sides. Windows are bad. The lighting in the house is always dim and carefully positioned to avoid casting any shadows. S…

Source: The other Robert.

 

they

Ravens-by-Masahisha-Fukas-002

who are they?
who are these
old souls,
that walk among us,
clad in black feathers?

do you see them?
do you hear them?
because they speak to us,
in ancient
encrypted
dialects.

and they are watching,
waiting…
waiting for our Death.

and they speak of us.

corvid,
in cabbal and clique
they gather
to scold us:
yes.
to scold us for our own
trite flights
of fancy;
our sycophantic
fanciful worship
of false prophets.

they mock us,
laugh at our ineptitude,
our ignorance
and vapid existence.
Shhhh!
if you listen… you too
will hear them…
chattering among themselves-
hooded and
clandestine
in their plotting.

i see the way they look at us
with incisive intel
and devisive intent

but who can blame them?

we are lame.
cripple and incompetent.
our cognition,
dissonant.

i know we have failed,
as a race
we fell from grace
could this be their
coup de grâce?
but… here’s the caveat:

they never forget your face…

so you and i
try
to make this world a better place;
little by little
we whittle
and strive
to enhance this life
in this space
and time
we call ‘now’.

words (c) Kat McDonald 2016
lead image: from The Solitude of Ravens by Masahisa Fukase, taken before he sadly plunged into a coma…

the other image, found on Rebloggy – apologies for the name of photographer remaining unknown. damn you internet!!

Sirius

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

a cracked rib. a thorn in my side. [fuck!] seering pain. seeing stars. [don’t move, Kathryn… just close your eyes and breathe…]

i yearn for sleep. a sleep unbroken. the legs feel like sand, heavy; but head and hands are light as air.  the mind, coiled like a cobra in a basket. waiting. the imagination, untethered like a cloud, drifts eagerly above and beyond. the body, grounded, upon a bed of cotton and fur* but it may as well be a bed of nails. i cannot recall my last seven hour sleep. it has been weeks of dotted hours. the air i breathe is lilac to the touch.

prescription painkillers and a scribe are all i have in sight. they are all the entertainment i have tonight. this pain. driving me mad. but the visions are nice. my write hand, seemingly in zero-gravity, struggles to stay down upon the page. inside, i rage. i am invalid. the worst kind of invalid. i will bite. it is going to be the longest night. [you think this is trite, don’t you? fuck you!]

oranges illuminate the world outside. so pretty. the gentle hum of traffic in the distance is a not altogether unpleasant accompaniment to my own breathing. all is still.

i look up at Sirius with his head bowed; pining the death of his master, his starman.  [after all, all that is left are dying stars to illuminate this life… now that our brightest is gone]

“are you lonely?” i yell.

his voice is thin and white; but i hear him through my skin.

(c) Kat McDonald 2016

image: NASA, of course.

*faux, naturally…

 

hands up who remembers their own birth?

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lights.

micro flashes of neon spark behind the eyelids. i close my eyes tight… tighter. the colours blink and blind. they dance. they sparkle, streak and fluoresce. it’s a beautiful sight, despite seeing blind.

from my bed, i can see deep space – seemingly endless darkness. darkness and dancing lights. these are not fairy lights to furnish my festive mood, these are galaxies that shimmer. these are nebulae. with my eyes closed, i feel i have my back to the sun and i am staring out into deepest darkest space. i can see 13 billion light years into the distance, into the past. i can see the birth of the universe itself. it feels so close. tethered to my bed, if i could snip the birthing cord, i would float off into deep space. i would lose myself there, for sure. but lose myself in my thought.

and what of our own mythologies? these constructs of self-imposed mystery in which we clad ourselves. the fables of self-perception and the myriad of different selves we create by thought, and the thoughts of others. do these other selves exist in alternative universes? of course they do. the self i see is very real. you will, in your perception of me, create another Kathryn. how many Kathryns exist and co-exist and collapse and collide into one another? are they real? what does your Kathryn look like? she will differ from mine, but she will be real and have her own back-story and mythology. what colour are her eyes?

and what of the tiger lillies and sugar-coated almonds of memory? so many memories exist. so many memories yet to be born.

hands up who remembers their own birth?

i once had wings. i once could breathe underwater. but that was many many years ago.

we humans are dangerous. we love, we maim – with words and actions. we destroy. we share, and we covet. we are greedy and self-serving. we could face our own extinction and not care. what do the animals think of us, and the zoos… the volitional cages we exist in? materialism. we are driven by materialism. and these frames… time frames, mainframes, wire frames and picture frames. pictures, we all see differently. the colour blue – my blue will differ from yours. we could learn so much from animals. yet we wittingly protract our souls. we must nurture our creativity and not lose that childlike innocence. cognitive dissonance. we are blinkered. we do not care about anything outside of our periphery. but we should care.

the pills are really taking effect now. am i dreaming? lucid dream. these dark thoughts steer the subconscious to terrifying places. the mind now a post-apocalyptic holocaust.

the lights have gone out. no indoor fireworks. no cute furry bunnies or pugs. no giant strawberries in this field. my mind is no longer the fun fair, or childhood tree-house.

it is a barren and arid place… i stand barefoot upon the baked and cracked earth. a voice calls my name. i recognise the voice. i walk towards the source and find an old lady, in a rocking chair, sitting with her back to me. she has my mother’s hair, and voice. she calls my name: “Kathryn…”

i stand in front of her. she is my mother, yet she has morphed into a giant ant.

[Morphine+Burroughs has proven to be a horrible combination]

she fixes her eyes upon me. her feelers grope and fumble. on six limbs, she grapples towards me, touching me. i recoil at the sight of her. what has my mother become?

i take a step back, she advances. it’s a strange dance.

she spits at me. the hot fetid acid burns into my side. it hurts. it hurts like Hell. i scream. but my voice is silent. i scream. i howl and yowl, like a wounded animal, as the acid bubbles and dissolves my body. the stench is indescribable. the pain unbearable. the light is fading.

i writhe and twist in agony, retching and spewing as i watch my own body dissolve in a pool of blood and bubbling flesh. my strength is dissipating. i can barely move. the neurotoxins have paralysed my being.

EmpireofAnts

she motions to her army.

soon, i am being feasted upon by one hundred ants. giant ants. i feel their spit burn into me. the pain. the seething pain. their armoured bodies are overwhelming. the sound of the scuttling is terrifying. they are powerful and i have no strength to fight. i am eaten alive. i feel their pincers, bite. sharp. they pick at my bones. the sound of their gnashing and grinding. the sound of my own flesh being peeled from my bones like the sound of tearing bedsheets. i cry out. my voice cannot be heard above the crunching of bone and the fizz of melting flesh.

no more lights. only darkness.

only darkness exists now.

only darkness.

(c) Kat McDonald 2015