Sharing A Retreat - Poem by Sheena Blackhall
Alice was once my room mate for a week.
As silent as a feather, and as light.
Her hair was clipped and pale as lotus petals,
Her face was pretty, oval, egg shell white.
Proust, Sartre, Heaney, Gray, her daily bread,
Poetry was food to feed her sparrow bones
Alice's voice was snuffled undertones
Cat-like she'd clutch and pick loose jersey thread.
And round her bed, a litter-line of cups
Stone cold, half drunk, abandoned herbal tea
Her wisp of gold hair round the bathroom plug,
The Anti-christ to tidy folk like me.
She held her breakfast bowl, like a hot coal
Warming her two cool hands
Wrapped slimly round the base like pleated bands.
She was a china doll, pale beauty at the dining room's periphery
Yet when she rose and walked across the floor
Men's eyes looked up above the buttered toast
Followed her flip-flop exit, most attentively.
Someone had walked straight into Alice's soul.
Maybe they knocked, or not.
But they'd been in
Smashed happiness, self worth, self confidence
Peed on the precious flame of innocence
Oh they'd enjoyed themselves, a right old wrecking spree
Trashing a gentle Alice, all too easy,
Easy as kicking a weakling, cowering, pup.
I didn't choose to look behind her eyes
Wasn't my job, my mess, to tidy up.
I'd hear her breathing deepen, rasp, and catch.
The lock of dream was turning in its latch
Falling asleep for Alice must have been
Like walking into a tunnel towards a train
And being hit...Again. Again. Again
She whimpered such unspoken, private pain
Like a cold cur, rejected in the rain.
Should I have crossed the floor, to comfort, hold her?
Shattered the nightmare. Simply touched her shoulder?
Somebody else's problem-student daughter?
Contained, restained, unbending,
I was relieved the holiday was ending.
Yet, I often remember Alice, as you'd recall
A scratched plate on a tray, flat note in a song.
A picture, squint, a wet umbrella dripping in a hall
I did not knock, shake hands and meet her grief
But in each sob, I knew her heart was rending.
Where Alice is today, I hope she's mending.
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