We Are Fragile Things

Yes, our people have done the greatest things.
They’ve explored the deepest trenches,
Climbed the highest mountains,
Even travelled to the moon and back.

But we can be fragile things,
Broken by folly and fault,
Taken by tide and turbulence,
Wrought by death and accident.

And we can be mended,
Healed by truth and trust,
Bandaged by season and time,
Recovered by friends and family.

We are fragile things
Broken by loss and fixed with love.


Kintsugi (also known as kintsukuroi) is the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with lacquer dusted with gold or silver. You may have seen these bowls or vases and they have these beautiful veins of colour across them, where the pottery has been put back together.

This art inspired this piece. I love the idea that something strong, like a bowl or vase, can be broken quite easily, and while one might toss it aside, the other fixes it, and does so with such care and talent. The finished result, arguably, has more beauty than it did before because of someone’s talent and time and love.

I had a thought. While people have done tremendous things, bigger than we could imagine, for our planet and its people, they too could have these golden seams. They may have been broken or hurt before, but their recovery, reached by the help of others, only made them stronger and more magnificent!

Grand Grandparents

Knowing I had a few weeks of summer left, before the new semester started, I took a week to visit both of my grandparents. My Grandpa, Old Tin Boot (that’s what we call him – it’s a long story) lives far up north whilst my Grandma, dear Milly, lives on the south coast. Since I had spent two weeks on the surf and sand, it made sense to visit Grandma first. It had been quite some time.

Grandma is one tough granny. I don’t think she’s a malicious bone in her body but she’s notorious for her temper. She throws horrendous threats to the squirrels that help themselves to the grains in the bird feeder and she conjures horrific insults to the postman who wedges her parcels through the letterbox, crumpling every order into a misshaped cardboard polygon. But it never went more than that, and her slurs were never within an earshot of another person. Except for us, of course, but we’re family.

I asked her a question. I asked why her and Grandpa split, back in 1943.

“I’ll tell you, but only once,” she said. Her cigarette flapped on her bottom lip with each syllable like a tiny, glowing maggot. “Your grandfather and I weren’t made for each other. We never should have been together. I’m not sure why we ever married. Now, we shall never speak of it again.” That was that, apparently. It was rather the taboo subject, to talk about their past relationship. Mother told me never to mention it. Grandma never spoke of it before, and any questions were quickly shut off. However, I had caught her on a good day, for she told me that much, and that’s the most I ever knew.

Grandma’s a great cook, and she’s aggressive with her preparation. When she dices, the blade hits the cutting board fast and hard. That poor onion, it shrunk so fast and seemed to melt under the metal. After she scooped the lot into the pan, she began rapidly slicing the bell peppers. The knife, held tight in her old hand, went through the orange and red flesh with ease, producing sharp slithers that rocked on the wood when freed from the body. The rib shavings and seeds flew out either side as if they were spewed from a combine-harvester, some hitting the floor in tiny tings. Her cuisine never met her hygiene, as the food was garnished with her tobacco smoke; I didn’t look forward to tasting it later.

While I wasn’t entirely sure what she was preparing us both in terms of food, she made herself very clear in her words, repeating three times “We were too different.”

She hadn’t seen Grandpa for fifty years, never heard from him, never spoke to him. They met, they married, they gave birth to my mother, and split. Some relationships aren’t meant to be, and I’ve grown quite content with that fact. Better to have two happy people, separated, than argument-fuelled, polar opposite parents who can’t stand to be in the same room as each other.

Grandpa, on the other hand, was calm. I don’t think he’s ever raised his voice, let alone shown any signs of anger. The Thompson boys threw a brick through his window and he only mustered a shrug. It’s not healthy to be so calm all the time. Frustration builds in anyone, it must. I found it hard to believe, how he was. When I saw him two days later, he spoke the same words. We were down at his allotment, picking green beans and courgettes, spring onions and beetroot, when he told be about his past. “Your grandmother and I, it was a mistake for us to be together. We are grateful for your mother, of course, but that’s that. No more questions, youth.”

Not either of them wanted to talk about it. Looking back, I know it’s only fair. It ruptures my gut thinking about my past partners. No good came from it, and I regret I let curiosity find its way to asking them both the same question. I should have listened to mother. Nothing came from it. It didn’t matter.

Despite their differences they so adamantly proclaimed, I loved the small similarities. They both had this ruthless nature with food. Grandpa was tossing the beetroot into the wheelbarrow. The bulbs bounced in and around the metal with harsh thuds. He ripped the spring onions straight out of the ground with full fists of dirt and slung them over his head, not caring where they landed. Whichever green beans weren’t ready, he picked them anyway and dropped them into a pile on the woodchip path. Just like Grandma with her slicing and dicing, commanding the vegetables to uniform and submit to the blade, telling them where to go. When they rolled, she clawed them back, held them down, and split them into halves, into quarters, into eighths.

After spending a lovely day with them, they both had this gentle side that bloomed, just once, in our short time together. Grandma was extremely delicate with the parsley. She gently chopped it with kind, soft, silent strokes as she grouped it with her fingertips and thumb. She lightly lifted the pieces, cupping them in the palm of her hand, and sprinkled them onto supper. Grandpa, on his hands and knees, nimbly picked his spinach leaves as if they were egg shells, and placed them into the hand basket. After, he neatly nourished the naked stems with cool water whilst singing an old blues song, one I can’t now remember. They turned to me, and despite not having seen each other for half a century, they shared the same advice. It’s as if they both said it at the same time. “Be careful with the greens, they easily bruise.”

Patterns In The Wood Grain

Uncle Ted spells newspaper headlines to his niece
As he spreads his toast with butter.
“Malcolm has come in last again,” he says,
“Fifty quid straight down the gutter.”

Our tough, soldier Mum cooks lunch for the in-laws,
Dousing salads with strong vinaigrette.
She seasons the meat with rock salt and pepper,
Whilst roasting the chunks of courgette.

At six years old, in her own little world,
Daisy has nothing to worry, no reason to complain.
Before the table is set, she traces her fingers
Over the patterns in the wood grain.

Life in Season – Summer

Life in Season – Summer is part three of a four part series. Please click here for part one and here for part two. The final chapter will be published next week. We hope you enjoy it!

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When you’re alone, it’s hard to believe in love. Whilst it married your neighbours, Mr and Mrs Bran, you had to listen to their arguments every night, which dampened your hopes that it could ever happen to you. The slamming fists, the shattering plates. You knew it was expressed in poetry, in literature, but this never convinced you when the words refused to move your mind, soaked in alcohol and clogged in smoke.

You spent your time at the bar. You drank next to the old men, those who ran the gas stations, the bakeries, the water sewage systems and the polling stations. The fights were a regular thing. Alcohol rings like a wrestling bell in these people and within an hour, you were between two or three men, who were flexing their muscles and throwing curses. You were never first to throw a punch, but when they knocked you off your stool, you fought back. At least once a week, you left the bar nursing your knuckles, with blood on your shirt.

One night, on your way home, you saw two men following a girl. Her steps became rapid as theirs became strides, like vicious, hunting hyenas. Before they wrangled her purse from her hands, you pulled them back. Two blows to the head, one to the gut and a kick to the groin, and they bailed, scampering off into the dark on limping legs. “Thank you,” she said. It was then you were reunited with Alice Meadows and it was then, as you helped her up from the ground, that you found your friend.

She worked in the library, stacking shelves and serving customers. As you sat on the grass of Newland Park together, drinking strawberry milkshakes, she told you how she loved to be among the books. When it was quiet, she’d dive between the aisles, scoop the best stories into her arms and indulge from behind her desk. It was her little world she could escape into.

It was then she thanked you again for saving her that other night. She placed her hand on yours. You were happy to have saved the girl, but you never guessed she would save you.

She took you home one day, and she fed you. She watched television with you, she drank coffee with you. She got you outside, she got you in clean clothes, she got you in clean habits, she got you running on weekends, she helped your posture, she held your head high, she made you laugh, she brightened your mood, she strengthened your spirit, and most importantly, she understood you. She read you like a book when you opened up to her and knew exactly what you needed. She was there for you.

One day, whilst helping you clean your room, she lifted your mattress and found beneath two hidden relics of your past. As she held your Playboys in one hand, your face went red. “You’re still a boy,” she laughed. She picked up The Masque of Anarchy, analysed the cover and began to flick through the pages. You explained to her how your Father gave it to you, and how he explained the meaning behind it when you were confused. You told her that he called you a lion. “You are a lion,” she said, and for the first time, she kissed you.

Before Alice, your life was at a minuetto pace. Tiny steps of bad habits. You thought your life was like stagnant writing. Repetitive stanzas your days, repeating lines your hours, and nights were rounded off with the rhyming couplets of alcohol and tobacco. You were anchored with depression and you had lost the will to live. You felt as if that boulder inside of you was locked in place, unable to move or grow, victim to the erosion of despair. But when Alice pressed her lips against yours, that feeling inside of you dissolved. You shook off the chains like dew and embraced her warmth, her kindness, her love. This was life in season.

You spent your days together. You took walks in the park, you shopped together, you went to the cinema, and you listened to the music from your childhood on rainy days. Every Saturday, you took a blanket to the fields and lay beneath the stars, counting constellations and connecting the dots. “I like it when it’s like this,” she once said, “When it’s still. When it’s calm. When the sun’s gone and the moon has his little moment to shine, to let us all know he’s there.” You returned her smile. “Lights out,” she said.

That summer transformed you. You were healthy, your mind was clear and you felt like you could breathe. With this clarity, you spoke to your mother and apologised, for the things you had done, for the things you had said. While she cried, she understood your anger, your sadness, and how life had been harsh to you. She hugged you for the first time in fifteen years.

On Tuesday, July 18th, you went to pick up some flowers for Alice for her birthday. There’s a florist in town who bundles them together, arranges them in delicate vases, tulips, roses, magnolia. You selected the perfect bunch, each petal fresh and vibrant, each bud rich in colour. On the way home, you stopped by the jewellers and picked up the ring you had chosen months ago.

As you approached the end of your road, you knew life was about to change once again, as you ran your thumb across the ring in your pocket. A person was sat on your doorstep, sporting an olive mohawk with a toothpick grin, and a greaser jacket dotted with metal studs. You recognised him as you got through the gate, that’s when you knew it was true. Billy Ross was back.

Life in Season – Autumn

Life in Season – Autumn is part two of a four part series. Please click here for part one and here for part two.

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Your Father rests in Johnson Cemetery, next to his father and his father before him. At the time, death was heavy on your mind, and you too hoped to be buried there, beneath the fresh grass, amongst the daisies and daffodils. Every Tuesday you went down and cleared the autumn leaves from his grave. You spoke to him, told him about the new poets you’d discovered and the new poems you had read. We are Seven, by Wordsworth, was one you studied, hoping it’d help you with the loss; you couldn’t find the strength to subscribe to its optimism, no matter how many times you read it. You were above ground, Father was beneath it.

One night, the Bartholomew kids vandalised the graves, you knew it was them. The joints by the tombstones, the sneaker prints in the dirt. You spent the day picking up empty soda cans, empty beer bottles from the empty, reckless youth. That evening, you followed the eldest one home and threw a stick through the spokes of his bike; he hit the ground hard, the gum flew from his mouth, a tooth bounced into the gutter. You grabbed him by his shirt and threatened him; he shook in fear, he soiled himself and you left him there to weep.

Your mother found out. You knew she would, she had to know where you were, every second of every day. She faced a toothless, limping boy with an angry Mother at her doorstep but they couldn’t force an apology from you. In an attempt to extinguish your anger, she seized control of the house and soon, your life. Overnight, poetry was eradicated. “It’s not good for you,” she said; she threw away your literature. Anything in rhyme or prose was thrown on top of the casserole and beetroot salad you didn’t eat, stomped down by a heeled shoe and hurled into the Sunday garbage truck. You found a cross above your door and a Bible on your bed; it went straight into the bottom drawer. She never found The Masque of Anarchy, hidden underneath your mattress, along with a couple of Playboys, but the house was void of books and art in an attempt to tame your iconoclast persona.

It was a mystery how Father, kind, sweet and gentle, managed to marry this woman. You knew she never liked the way he read to you each night when you were younger, but never thought it would go to this length in his passing. You never accepted her as blood, despite holding the same build, the same eyes, the same frown. You held your atheistic views whilst she had her Christian values running through her veins, five generations thick; they were fierce, they were strict.

You joined the army at the age of eighteen. Whilst sat at the back of the bus on Ronaldson Avenue, your bag between your legs, you saw Alice Meadows sat the on edge of the fountain. Her pink dress made her shine like a flower amongst the hard, concrete buildings. She waved and you waved back. “Goodbye Alice,” you said, through the thin sheet of glass.

You sat next to Patrick Wilson on the journey. He introduced himself;  “I’m Patrick, I’ve got a nervous disorder.” You shook his hand, his sweat coated your palm. He explained that joining the army was the only choice for him. His family had very little money and this was his only future, to fight for his country. You lied and said you had the same reason, but deep down you knew it was to escape your mother and her regime. A lion cannot be caged.

You found your tempo in the rigorous routines. Making beds, cross country runs, weapon assembly, orientation, survival trips in the woodland. You felt as if there were a small stone inside of you and it grew with each drill, with each order, to become a hard, masculine boulder. You were the only one who never flinched when Sergeant Angus spat in your face. His booming voice at the end of the night was oddly calming, and it switched you off. “Lights out, cadets!”

You stuck with Wilson during the training. He admired you, although at the time, you didn’t know. You shared jokes and stories from your childhood. Wilson had it rough, but he never let it get him down. He was cornered by Adam Pear and Edgar Mow down by the creek on a morning run. You fought them off; they never laid a finger on him. The thrill of the fight excited you, throwing punches, blocking fists. That boulder inside you shattered the glass cannons of the young boys. You felt strong, you were strong.

But Wilson feared the world of combat. He kept saying to you he wasn’t ready, that there wasn’t a man to emerge from within, nor would there ever be one. On Christmas day, you found him in the lavatory. Blue face, blue toes. For the first time in his life, Sergeant Angus spoke with kindness and sympathy as he tried to calm your tears and soothe your senses. “I’m sorry, cadet. It’s never easy and it never gets easier. You’ve got all of us with you. We’re a team.” He spoke like Father did; he looked like him, with an anchor moustache in a perfect trapezoid beneath his nose, and emerald eyes. However, his words never repaired your broken shell. Time slowed to an andante pace, and it halted when they couldn’t get you out of bed. You signed the papers, you packed your things, they sent you home.

Your room was different when you returned. The Bible sat on your bedside table, the cross above the door was bigger, and the curtains were a bright beige instead of the juniper you liked. They were horribly thin and let through the sunlight.

You tossed the Bible onto the floor, pulled out a cigarette and you hit the whiskey, hard.