Sheena Blackhall

Gold Star - 4,859 Points (18/8/1947 / Aberdeen)

Cleaning The Apostle Spoons Et Al (22 Poems) - Poem by Sheena Blackhall

1. Cleaning the Apostle Spoons
Once a year, the apostle spoons were cleaned
In Springtime when the heavy dining table
Lay under its fleece blanket like an altar
Newspapers placed on top to sop up spills

Three generations round the family silver
My podgy fingers, mother's, grandmother's
Cradling the spoons like cherished smiling babies
Those strange, robed, tiny men on gleaming stems

When I gazed into the bowl of the shiny teaspoon
My face distorted, clown in a fairground mirror
Frightening, until she clouded it with her breath
Making a game of the apostle scouring

Who needs quails' eggs, if granny's broth pan's full?
I sat by her lap, watching the mint grow tall
Grandmother's love was rooted deep's a thistle

Who needs the wide world if your shelter's stout?
I sat by her knee's safety. All the while
She peeled potatoes, cannie, in a basin.

Her fingers busy, busy, sewing, knitting
I was her limpet, little toddling shadow.
Her daily shade was my squat company
Her riddles, rhymes, her hummings and her shushings
The soundtrack running in my childhood background

In bed, my legs dug into her broad back
I breathed her smell in, Bible, whisky, sweat
Love, warmth and blessings richly mixed together

Her stories flew like birds around the room
I was tossed hay in the pitchfork of her laughter.
She was the sun in the passing storm clouds of childhood
The frail spine of a book much loved, much handled

A little thing like death now lies between us
She holds the darkness back, like Cerberus
Both then and now, her love my firm foundation

2. Salvador Dali on Salvador Dali
When I paint the sea, the sea roars
The others splash about in the bath

I seated ugliness on my knee,
And almost immediately grew tired of it.

The first man to compare the cheeks
Of a young woman to a rose
Was obviously a poet;
The first to repeat it was possibly an idiot

What is an elegant woman?
An elegant woman is a woman who despises you
And who has no hair under her arms

Intelligence without ambition
Is a bird without wings
Each morning when I awake,
I experience again a supreme pleasure
That of being Salvador Dali.
There are some days when I think
I'm going to die from an overdose of satisfaction
The sole difference between myself and a madman
Is the fact that I am not mad!

The thermometer of success
is merely the jealousy of the malcontents.
Let my enemies devour each other.

3. Dandy Disraeli
The Earl of Beaconsfield, Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) was a social reformer, author, and Britain's first Jewish prime minister

Disraeli was a dandy and a Jew
Suffered a breakdown, took a travel cure
Wrote novels which aroused a great to-do

Trained in the law, his politics were blue
He loved to smoke a hookah, like a Moor
And once he set a goal, he'd see it through
At 35, in debt, he sought to woo
A wealthy widow, still with some allure
And in his fashion, to her he was true

To parties he wore clothes of every hue
Bejewelled fingers like a firefly's lure
Foes and admirers to him, quickly flew

And he was twice PM, first in the queue
Passed fairer laws, determined to ensure
Good lives should not be lived by just the few

He won controlling shares…took the long view
Of Suez, though his critics called him boor
He made his queen an Indian Empress, too

And when he died, how crowded was each pew!
Such wreaths of primroses, pale gold and pure!
No longer the outsider, parvenu
His fame as a reformer will endure


4. Pensioner
Pensioner is a pinched, cheeseparing word
Living on rented time, in the rickety final years
With holes in them, like leaves ravaged by ants.
It smacks of blanks for words, misplaced
Like spectacles, or a reason for getting up
The eyes scanning obituaries, with a shiver

Its nails are coarse and yellow, constantly thickening
It is absent from female TV presenters,
Passed by, like slack-kneed mares put out to pasture

Nobody wants to rub it next to their groin
Or caress its breasts. It counts out every
Meal with pills and wheezes

In jobs, it's pushed aside by the thrusting young
Make way! Make way! cutting the dead wood down.

It is a fingerhold on the handrail of the Titanic
Delaying the splash, the bottle green icy fathoms


5. The Terminators
A gunman wearing a gas mask set off an unknown gas before firing into a crowded cinema, killing at least 12 people and injuring at least 50 others, police said. Witness Jaime Marshall, who was in the cinema at the time, thought the shooting was a practical joke until she saw the bullet holes in the wall. Another eyewitness, Obed Sanchez said that at first he thought the 'explosions' he heard were a 'practical joke'. (Denver shooting at Batman screening: 20th July 2012)

Round the trees in the park, rat-at-tat
Three little boys simulate death by bullet
In the cool air of spring, as babies gurgle in strollers

The civilised planted trees, like sleek Rolls Royces
Overlooking this crash of mini- bangers
Stand aloof to this pretended massacre

The daffodils do not shout, or feign belligerence
Or feign slashing their neighbours to the ground

Boyish play-acting, aping the homicidal,
Remark the doting parents
Is only a healthy release of male aggression

Which is why nobody batted an eye
When the mass-assassin entered the darkened cinema
His rat-at-at bringing a blizzard of death


6. The Half-Filled Cemetery
My memory's a half-filled cemetery
Out of my mind's windows
I see the familiar dead
Rise dressed as themselves

See, there is the dark haired poet
Sharp-suited, his flirt's mouth smiling
Promising kisses and honey

There is the mentor, his thoughts like
Wood-smoke lodged in my head forever
And three young brothers I taught
Who never grew up.

Like worms cut in two, these visions multiply
Thoughts, conversations, moments
Partings and greetings
See, here comes my brother, the conjuror
Pulling music out of his hat
And my grandmother Lizzie, kneading love like dough

There are cherry trees in blossom in this cemetery
The graves are deep in clover
So inviting

7. Napoleon to Josephine
You kneaded my heart like plasticine
I was putty in your hands
Where were the kid gloves
When you dropped me?

8. A Temporary Tenant
I am a temporary tenant of the world
I am a lighthouse in its shipping lanes
I do not warn, rescue or destroy
I am a watcher through Life's windowpanes


9. Alba the Pantomime Horse
It speaks Scots, English, Gaelic or all three,
It won't be ruled. It likes to range, untied,
Cursed Caledonian antisyzygy,
Has claimed its soul, you see
Though schizophrenic, it still has its pride
For William Wallace vowed it should be free

It tears itself apart eternally,
An earthy Clydesdale with a kelpie side
It sends its finest sons across the sea.
Its rider is tattooed explicitly:
Love-Hate, a Mr Jekyll, Master Hyde,
A Lowlander with Celtic ancestry
When will it unseat curbing history?
When will it stamp its hoof and turn the tide
And change its past defeats to victory?

Yet it's a steed of ancient pedigree.
Given its head, its seed, blown world-wide
Might stay and labour for their home country
Not chase the rainbows of some Eilden Tree.


10. Questions
Where do you come from?
A river as old
As Lethe and Acheron bitter and cold

What do you dream of?
A meadow of hay,
Where linnet and swallow
Trill Life's roundelay

Where are you going?
A place known to few
As secret's the firefly
As fragile as dew

What do you weep for?
The chances not taken
Good choices adandoned
Long lost and forsaken

Like a doorway staved in
Like a sugarbowl broken
Better such grief should be hidden, unspoken


11.An Alleyway in Chengde City, China
Shacks lean together in the alleyway
It is morning, rats run off as people waken

Here, walls are cheap and shabby
But people smile in the chilly yellow sun
They are clamouring round the noodle sellers
The steaming woks of food
There is laughter, banter, crying out of wares

In my handbag, I carry my Western
Medical armoury, immodium,
Malaria tablets, sun block, cholesterol pills
Family photos and money in small notes

The workers of Chengde alley have somewhere to go
Have a purpose, criminal or legal
Are as lively as crickets

A woman stares at my window, holds my gaze
An exhibit in a zoo. But who is the caged one,
Tourist or honest citizen?


12. The St Kilda Archipelago Soay Sheep
Since Viking times, sheep
Have settled here, sailing in
With the Norse in their dragon ships

Their human neighbours needed more than sky
More than the dizzy cliff tops could provide

Sheeps' needs, however, are starkly minimal
And so they stay, their small deaths
Open their sides to the wind like ruins.

13. Nocturne.
It is 2am. The single mattress
Seems to stick to the sheets
Yet I persevere in the pursuit of sleep

Night moths beat a weary retreat to the shadows
The house at the end of the scheme
Is standing empty, it tenant lately deceased

She, unlamented woman, conquered sleeplessness
Death being the permanent cure

Now, they're airing her house-
The windows are wide to the moon

Her coat lolls an arm from a bin liner
Nobody'd buy her cast-offs
The youngsters hated her
As well they might

Young Monica, standing innocent
Under the streetlamp with her beau
Shocked dumb by her sewer mouth

‘Gae hame, ' she screamed at the girl
‘Yer faanie maun be sair wi aa thon birzzin.'

14.Chanting a Mantra
I am chanting a mantra
Over and over, a chain of words in Pali

It feels like I'm eating spaghetti
One piece at a time from a single curling strand

I walk down the street incanting it
The sounds skipping beside me like loyal puppies

When I chant it beside the sea
All the little waves leap up and clap

When I chant it in the woods
The foxgloves nod their heads

When I chant it at the moon
The stars look very solemn like precentors


15. Full Stops
Joseph wanted to be a pianist
Now he sells cars for a living

Mrs Adam's favourite son
Emigrated, dropped off the family map

Champagne left on the table
Loses its fizz once popped

A husband looked at his wife
And suddenly wanted to leave her

When the baker collapsed
He fitted into his coffin
Like dough in a tin

16. The HMS Royal Oak
Within ten minutes, the great ship tipped and sank
Explosions ripped her open,
Waves rushed in and she listed heavy
Balls of on-fire cordite zipped along the ship
Burned her sailors alive. Survivors drowned

Silent, the German U boat slipped away
Mission accomplished, back to a Nazi welcome
Hitler crowed like a bantam. The war, just six weeks old

Now this war grave's covered with sea anemones
With dead men's fingers
The water is cold and green
Fishes play in the ribs of the skeleton crew


17. Letters from Home WW1
Letters from home told of casualty columns
Of newspapers scanned with worry, of prayers
And love, and how the children missed them

They came with parcels of soap, of chocolate,
Of fags, to be opened by muddy hands
Where bodies served as sandbags
And brown rats feasted royally on corpses

Some letters remained unread,
The intended recipients jerking on the wire
Like dead crows peppered with shot
For target practice

After the roll call, the telegrams
After the telegrams, grief


18. A Question of Science
Can an elephant jump or gallop?
How fast can a T-Rex run?
How long is a zebra's memory?
Are there microbes in a bun?

Why does a firework crackle?
Do pterodactyls dream?
Can beetles walk on custard?
Why does a snot turn green?

What's liquid body armour?
How's canine toothpaste made?
Why does a lizard have three eyes?
Are jelly fish afraid?

19.Poeta est in Silva
The poet is in the woods.
Currently, she is a bird
Whose flight never ends till it drops.

It is the business of birds
To fly, they are winged creatures

The poet's little flights of imagination
Rustle the leaves for a moment
Snap a twig or two

The bird does not stop her flight
Because it is Sunday
Or she has reached the edge of a leaf

The nodding heads of trees never
Freeze like Uccello's hunt scene
As the poet-bird passes through
Trailing her comet's tail of poetry
Within a whisker of a larch

The poet is in the woods,
She is not a nine to fiver
She is not a cuckoo clock
With a wind-up spring

The air moves, and she rises


20. Exit Music for a Dead Musician
Ego must die, when the duende comes,
Up from the past through mouths and hearts long dead
Music arises, swelling tide of blood
A cri de cœur of passion, rich and red

Let aeroplanes fly off, let boats arrive
Wherever men can travel, music goes
No narrow coffin ever held a song
A coronach's more powerful than a rose

When the embroidered linen is set out
The shining knife lies by the marriage cake
Then, when the piper leads the couple in
A dead man dances to the Ceòl Beag


21. The Charge of the Movie Brigade
Look! From the Gods to the upper circle
Virtual reality has crossed the line

Riders whose horses thundered over Europe
Pour from the painted screen

All the dead soldiers, putting the spur to their mounts
Re-enacting, over and over, battles, bombing, bloodshed

The audience has caught fire,
A banker down in the stalls, battered by rifle butts
Bleeds into his popcorn, his right eye blown
Deafened by gunfire, women cower in the aisles

A tiny bassoonist down in the orchestra pit
Is squashed by a cannon wheel
Careering by, stage left

It'll all be showing twice nightly with weekly matinees
Only the characters change, the plot and the war's location

No one bows to the audience after a war
Steps forward and confesses to muffing the lines
That might have averted it all
The tragedy is, that no-one faces the music

22. One Lump not Two
My dear woman, have you actually met the writer
Not that one should judge
But really, her agent should muzzle her

Oh, there goes X, noble but washed-up
His partner's a real little asp

Knocking at fame's door in dreadlocks
Isn't that Y, last year's lauded versifier?

If only he'd died when he'd written his first,
His obit would have been ‘A Trier'

And there's old B, the critic
Whose reviews are mind-numbingly dire…

A lover no-one wanted, he wrote from the heart -
A pity it was a transplant


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Poem Submitted: Monday, August 27, 2012

Poem Edited: Tuesday, August 28, 2012


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