My Mother’s Voice



In Thornbridge Road I can recall
the treadle Singer in the hall
that through the years all silent stood
beneath its polished arch of wood,
for all those years (we were not rich)
it never sewed a single stitch.
When passing I could spin the wheel
and rock the rack of trellised steel
and see the needle flashing fast
with unseen stitches from the past.
What finery it must have sewn
before its needle turned to stone
before the heart that made it good
was locked beneath that polished wood.
What memories it sings to me
when as a child I roamed so free:
and yet inside my burning brain
my mother forged an iron chain.

My mother’s voice, my mother’s voice,
my mother’s voice, my mother’s voice,
it screamed inside my spinning head
squeezed down my eyes on seas of red,
went on, and on, and on, and on:
my mother’s voice has never gone.
The same old words went round and round
the same old phrases ground and ground;
it drove me down dark avenues
with blackened skies and blackened views.

Swift above the crooked stair
with gilded rods, I trod the air
lest secret voices in the wood
creaked out the place that I had stood,
straddling the turning flight
one silent moment of the night
listening in the frozen air
to hear my mother’s voice down there.
With trembling limbs and trembling heart
across the hall I made a start
and creak by creak the front room door
I swung across the swirling floor,
and there the kitchen’s acid light
beneath the door cut through the night.
An age I listened in the glare
my ears alert, a vacant stare
until my heart could take no more:
I opened up the kitchen door.
Not on the unlit oven’s sill
for broken heart or broken will
as she had said, had said, had said
before she drove me up to bed.

Not laid with eyes in sightless stare
with fumes of gas among the air
but snuggled to the oven’s heat,
upon the sill her frozen feet
discarded shoes upon the floor,
a vacant look – no less, no more –
a novel balanced on her knee
blind and oblivious of me.
Too late I tried to close the gap,
she turned and caught me in her trap
firstly with her startled eye,
then a shrill and raging cry;
like the wind I quickly fled
up the stairs and back to bed.

She could have held me for a while,
scolded with a gentle smile,
warmed me by the cooker’s flame
then tucked me up in bed again;
yet as I shivered in the cold
afraid that she might come to scold
I quickly warmed inside my head
to know my mother was not dead.

Years later when she vent her rage
I stood my ground inside her cage
throwing back the smothering cloth
released the rage, released the wrath,
feeling the strength that comes with age
let go the words trapped on the page
and flexed the power to incense
aware at last her poor defence:
but quick the victory drained away,
her eyes grew wild, her face turned grey,
a manic smile had curled her lip.
Then crazily with frenzied grip
she tore her hair, she sliced the air
and flung herself in frantic flare
into a gruesome manic dance
her arms awry her legs askance
until with awful moan and roar
she crumpled to the kitchen floor.
Frozen I stood with panicked stare
to see my mother lying there.
(The smell of sweat surrounds me now,
her white-flecked lips and glistening brow.)

No more I dared to taunt her then,
I kept my peace, I kept my pen,
I drove the pain into my heart:
her raving tore my mind apart.
In such a way she forged the chain
that trapped the anger in my brain
and turned the love she could not share
into a rage beyond repair.
My mother’s voice, it drove me out
to range the streets for miles about,
for seven miles I’ve blankly strode
to kill the sound, to ease the load.
On times when she worked far away
I’d lie in bed throughout the day;
when she was home I’d creep outside
and range the country far and wide
and only when the stars were high
and gas lamps haloed on the sky,
with fog horns booming in my head
I’d wander safely home to bed.

In Thornbridge Road I can recall
my mother’s presence in the hall
where always she has silent stood
beyond my aching heart of wood,
and all those years her secrets hid
beneath a locked and polished lid.
When passing I could spin the wheel
and rack her mind of blunted steel
and see upon her face flash fast
the bitter memories from the past.
What happiness must she have known
before her heart was turned to stone,
before the heart that made her good
was locked beneath that polished wood.
What memories had she locked out
of times she never talked about
when too in her own burning brain …
my mother forged an iron chain.


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