Glimpses Part II

I tousle my fingers between the faded photographs and rest my eyes upon a couple in the Neonatal ICU. Their faces beam, as the mother cradles a tiny baby, beside an incubator. It was the first time I had been able to hold my son, after his traumatic birth.

I recall very clearly. It was a long night. I had been in labour for many hours, my husband at my side. I had coped with the gas and air until my pelvis was an air raid in Syria, then resorted to an epidural. Needles inserted into my spine were more palatable than the penetrating waves of my shrapnel womb.

Many hours had passed, and still my baby kept his debutant entry an uncertainty. I was sick of the midwife poking me in areas best left in darkness, but this time there was a sense of urgency. His oxygen levels had dipped dangerously low and almost immediately there were announcements over the tannoy, alerting the medics to the need for an emergency caesarean.

Everything happened so dramatically, and I felt like a character in an episode of Casualty. Doctors in green gowns peered beneath the blanket that was preventing me from watching them slice into my pelvis. I am not perturbed by blood and felt disconnected from the moment of my son’s birth. My husband had barely had time to put on the ‘scrubs’ before the doctor yanked my son free from the womb that was suffocating him, smattered with blood and white, waxy vernix.

I waited for briny lungs to protest, and the room to fill with stridence but the silence was a requiem. The trepidation was tangible. I do not know what happened in those missing moments. Perhaps my baby wasn’t breathing at all. Perhaps the doctor had to resuscitate his weary lungs, thinking there would be another angel that night.

I only saw my son for a second, swaddled in blankets, big eyes taking in his new world. I knew there was a fighter within, that he would get through any obstacle life would hurl at him. He was whisked into an incubator and left to cook, while I was left to nurse a bruised womb.

You

I missed you this weekend. I missed the feel of your pasty, doughy body curled up beside me on the crumpled sheets. Wetness between my legs, deluded dreams in my hoodwinked head. You, my inebriated trainwreck, breathing asthmatic whisky fumes, and stealing my innocence. My red lips had bled onto your cheek, seeking words, seeking I love you. But I don’t think you did.

I only wanted to see what was on the disc. It’s not that I don’t trust you, but when your father was a cheat, all men are manipulators. I am not a misandrist, but I know you have parked your car in many places. You disappeared, flew off to Dublin, left my bed cold and barren. Carelessly left this disc lying around, next to the single dirty plate beside the empty spirits glass, and the tear-stained tissue.

I didn’t know what to say, really. My tongue had cleaved to the roof of my mouth, and I felt nauseous. I don’t know why I was surprised. Fidelity was never your strongest virtue. A naked woman screamed out at me through the computer screen, poised like a seedy hooker, flesh spilling out from lacy bras and French knickers. I couldn’t hear her voice, but she was American, you said, and the silence of her dissonance screamed at me.

I am not inhibited or prudish, but I don’t want to feast my eyes on another woman’s genitals, I am not sleeping with the enemy. “Perfect pussy’ you said, and you may as well have shot arsenic arrows into my heart. You didn’t know the meaning of pain, as you never did hurt. You just went on collecting broken hearts in jars, and notches on the headboard above your bed. I still loved you.

Spurn Point

Spurn Point is an ever-evolving tidal island, the Land’s End of Yorkshire, its iconic peninsula curving between the North Sea and the Humber Estuary. It stretches for three miles, this oasis of sand, shingle and clay, washed down the coastline from Flamborough Head. It is easy to become one with its isolated beauty whilst meandering along windswept paths, the sea air lodging in your lungs and the dew of an early morning settled like peridots over the wild terrain.

The 1895 lighthouse punctuating the terrain, with its black and white stripes, is a bold statement of its time in a place where ships could fall victim to the hazards of the sea. It is a necessary man-made intrusion in a place where humanity has relinquished control to the petulant tides. Originally lit by oil, in 1941 – during the second world war – the lighthouse was converted to electricity. This allowed the beam to blaze briefly for the benefit of the allied ships and convoys before falling again into a blanket of darkness, refusing to betray the lives of the sailors.

The coastal artillery batteries, erected during the First World War, are still visible – great, concrete structures which once housed quick-firing guns as the fighting raged and the enemies attacked our shores and seas. Great, grey monuments – a testament to the courage and bravery of our ancestors.

I had been born in Hull in the late 1960s, and as a child, had explored the length and breadth of the East Yorkshire coast with my grandfather. It is a fine region, steeped in history, with a rich shipping culture going back many centuries. There was the brutal whaling trade which saw many lives lost. The undauntable fishermen brought in their hauls to the docks near my grandfather’s house, risking their lives for the fresh Friday haddock on our tables. I had merrily sailed on the Yorkshire Belle alongside Flamborough Head, jigging along to the ‘pirate’ fiddler’s cheery sea shanties; hauled my contesting lungs up the steep inclines of Robin Hood’s Bay; gazed at the scarlet-cheeked glass blower as he formed the sticky mass into a Whitby ‘Lucky Duck’; shrieked in giddiness as the surf of the incoming tide fizzed over my sand-kissed toes in Withernsea; slid and stumbled over the slimy rocks at Paull, searching the pool for reticent sea creatures, stirring as I swirled the water.

But I had never been to Spurn Point.

Way back before the birth of my child, we were reckless and free, caught in the vision of our rosy-lensed love. Twice a week you would cruise over to Scunthorpe in your Vauxhall and whisk me away on a romantic adventure. You were a keen fisherman, and this day your car was brimming with rods and fly hooks, maggots, and bait. We made the long drive over to Spurn Point, through the meandering back roads and across the Humber Bridge, observing the flamenco light catching the crests of miniature waves.

The island was accessible by car, at low tide and we drove over the grassy tracks, parking up a short stroll from the lighthouse. The fishing gear was heavy and the ground shifted under our sturdy, leather hiking boots as we marched our way towards the grassy bank. You sailed down the incline, like a well-oiled machine, whereas I approached – tentative, fearful, doubting. As soon as I placed my boot on the bank, I lurched forward, like an astronaut hurtling into the cosmos. I slid down ten feet, jostled by dusty rocks and clumps of grass!

The shore was stony muesli: shingle, in shades of grey, beige, and brown. My ears crackled with the arid sound of crunching soles, as the tang of salty moisture settled on my tongue. Sizable cargo ships speckled the hazy horizon, breaking up the dull monotony of this featureless shoreline. You already had your hands deep into the tub of maggots. They had a distinctive, meaty odour that churned my stomach into last night’s dinner. You had the stalwart patience that I lacked, insisting on silence. The sea surged with its age-old lungs, and the circling gulls’ cries splintered the moment of tranquillity between us.

There was a flurry of excitement. Your eyes flashed – steel knives in their now-cavernous orbits. Your arms lurched towards the hungry surge of the sea, as you yelled ‘I have a bite!’ Your frantic hands span the reel, as a creature thrashed around on the surface, reluctant to be hauled out of its watery home and into a vicious death. I had empathy for these creatures. Eating a plaice, in a Michelin-starred restaurant, is detached from the moment of the creature’s demise. But you stated, coolly, ‘That is the circle of life.’

We gazed at the expanse of the sea – the sanctuary of life, yet also the harbinger of death. How many sailors had succumbed to the waves? How many lovers had stood at the shore, waiting for their hearts to return? How many enemy bombs had fallen into the water around Spurn Point?

We embraced – lips crushed together in defiance of the cruel ocean. It was an act of mercy, the last time you ever saw the sea. This year we will scatter your ashes and you will be reunited with the place you loved above all else – the sea.

©2021 Sarah Drury

Don’t Say

My son is autistic, and now he is a teen, he is battling all sorts of demons. I wrote this poem to express how I feel as a mother.

Don’t say my child is slow.
Don’t say he will be pushing trollies around
Tesco car park, because he has big dreams,
Don’t say he won’t work -
will be milking the system and scrimping on benefits,
while his confidence wanes.
Don’t say he will be sitting with some bitch-faced PIP woman
ticking boxes ‘cos he can lift his arms above his head 
and stumble 100 metres on the parapets,
Don’t say he is not disabled ‘cos he can spell 
High-functioning Autism, and read 
the precautions on his night-time melatonin.
Don’t say.
Don’t.
Don’t say my child doesn’t care,
that he lives inside some insulated igloo, that 
strange boy who doesn’t kiss his mamma, and retracts like
a snail into his shell at the slightest touch,
Don’t say, when he drags me across the high street
to pull my last pennies from my purse for 
the homeless man who has no legs, just a crutch,
that he has no empathy - when he says 
if he won the lottery he would
put a roof over the street sleepers and make sure
their stomachs were happy.
Don’t say.
Don’t.
Don’t say, ‘Have you seen Punch and Judy, where
you are Punch and your mum is Judy?’, 
‘cos he used to thrash with his fists and I 
was the pad taking the hit and 
turning the crimson canvas into rose pink.
Teacher, who the hell do you think you are?!
Don’t say that he is spoilt because he would smash up
toys and hurl chairs at walls and make holes in
plaster and scream,
and scream,
AND SCREAM – 

because he was 9 in his head, but 18 months in his heart, and
the psychologists with their fancy words
sent reward charts and hugging pillows and resistance bands,
and false hopes and shallow dreams, in educated hands
Don’t say.
Don’t.
Don’t say that he should be walking to the shop,
that he’s nearly 15 and a big, tall tower. 
That I wrap him up in cotton wool when he should
be free, like a windswept wildflower,
and he calls me a helicopter parent but 
he knows no danger and 
is not wary of strangers and 
the gangs would have him, and there are 
hidden knives and luring drug dealers,
and I feel the fear – that 
his vulnerability will be a smear on his
safety - that one day 
he might not make it home. 
Don’t say he should look you in the eyes,
that he should say thank you to the bus driver in
a confident voice,
when he shrinks if anyone speaks to his face
and mumbles to the floor if questions take the place
of his introverted haze.
When he didn’t talk properly until he was eight,
that his throat swallows his words like smashed glass bottles
and his mind hangs on to the fragments of hate. 
Don’t say.
Don’t.
Say how he shines when he feels loved,
Say how he speaks with eloquence when he’s telling you
about his fans, air volumes, velocity, diameters,
Say how he writes stories with vivid imagery,
how he crafts words and weaves plots,
Say how he rolls his eyes and shrugs when the other kids
are being kids and he is not,
Say how his mother loves him and has fought like a valiant warrior,
Say how Autism is not a barrier. 
Say he CAN do this.
Say he CAN do this.
Say he CAN do this.

Don’t say my child is less. 
Don’t say.
Don’t…

©2022 Sarah Drury

Marbles

Glass spheres, all colours, wrapped 
within our dirty-nailed fingers,
50p a bag if mum is feeling generous. 

The chill on hand is biting frost, Arctic,
smooth as an infant’s tongue suckling on
its mother’s milky breast. 

We crouch, striking, poised, 
lured by potential in the weathered, grey,
metal drainscapes, bumpy and foot-scuffed.

With dirt on our curled fists, we send 
the marbles hurtling into holes, 
sliding into victory, these treasured balls

taking hits from bravado and
not wanting the shame of being the loser,
nursing the loose cannon.

© 2021 Sarah Drury