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My mother the Surrealist

  • 14 October 2019


Selected poems


Five poems from a sonnet sequence


I wanted to sing opera, but the notes

were always better in some others' throats.

I bought an old guitar to learn to play

and practised till my fingers hurt each day.


I turned to the piano and I tried.

My aunts and uncles laughed until they cried.

I borrowed a bass saxophone and blew

until the neighbour's Doberman howled too.


My cousin played French horn and told me, 'Well,

if anybody asks, you play like hell.'

I then picked up a violin and found


a cat on heat emitted the same sound.

I wanted to play flute and clarinet.

The world does not seem ready for me yet.




The voices of two women in the train up to the highlands

rise in volume and insistence as we leave the coastal plain.

The younger: 'Mother, they're not Germans. I said, gerberas,

they're all around the farm. Just wait,


you'll see them from the window of the lovely room

we've set up for your stay. A field of gerberas in full bloom.'

'And are the Germans all in uniforms, then, dear?'

'No, Mum, they're flowers. Flowers don't wear any clothes.


They're lovely blooms. They're simply called for someone German.'

'Dear, I don't want naked Germans in the window.

Alec fought them, as you know. He didn't like them.'


'No, Mum, flowers. They're not Germans. Mum, just listen,

we've got gerbera growing all around the house.'

'So why do Germans want to come in bringing flowers?'




My mother the Surrealist lived in a liminal zone

like the mood of a great bank foyer

or a grand hotel's palm court where former lovers meet

and find each other noble: mythic space,


from which she said an owl and a cat in a boat

had declared, to the sound of small guitar,

their love and plan to marry.

Where did she learn feline speech?


She told me how a band of beast musicians

went to Bremen, and a cat had gone to London

to investigate a Queen, and how a small boy had been


counselled by the cat that seemed to turn up

in each story, that if he turned back, he'd thrive. I checked;

he did. So what was there I could not love about her?




In Tarkovsky's Solaris, the hero's long-dead wife

is resurrected in his mind and in reality,

repeatedly, no matter how he tries to face the fact

that she was mortal, and she died, except


the evidence of breath is so compelling.

How that movie plumbs the pitch of grief,

the horror vacui when some loved person dies.

My parents went. Some friends as well.


The world is smaller for their loss.