The White Feather

Her eyes gazed directly at his downturned face.   She felt herself smile as his cheeks reddened and his words began to form, halting and at first imperceptible.   “I did that”, she thought triumphantly to herself.   Made this man blush and stammer, showed him up for what he is in front of all these people.   Out here, on this corner.


But he’s not really a man is he?   If he were a man, he wouldn’t be here.   He would be away, with a regiment, fighting for me.   For all women.   Like the recruiting posters said, if he neglects his duty to his country, one day he will neglect YOU.   He’s not a real man.   Rather, a coward.   The white feather she had just thrust towards him had drifted to the ground.   Harmless, gentle.   Yet able to wound like an arrow straight to the heart.


Which is exactly what it is, she thought.   The weapon of her righteousness, her just cause.   Her confidence was rising with every passing moment, drawing its strength from the weakness of the man before her.   I can’t fight but this man can.   My voice is silent where it matters most.   I can’t make things happen, I can’t stop the enemies.   But he can.   So why isn’t he?


“Women of Britain say ‘go’”-that’s what the other poster said.   He must have ignored that as he’s ignoring me.   And I’m one of those women.   Well, nearly.   Old enough to be out of school but only just.   She drew her shoulders back further, tilted her chin.   She suddenly wanted to look older than her years, more sophisticated.   More of the world.   A woman.   Take on this coward of a man, that’s what a real woman should do.


“So why are you not in khaki?”.   She tried her best to sound strident.   A warrior.   One without the voice which counted but with righteousness on her side.


He could give her so many reasons.   How he’d got to Mons.   How adding a year to his age had got him to Ypres.   Places whose names he could not pronounce, his education had finished 3 years before he reached those sodden, filthy trenches and the likes of him didn’t need to be told about the world.   His sort didn’t need to know about the power struggles, the colonies, the war machine.   Just about numbers and letters and God.   Until the men who run the country decided it was his duty to serve it, in that dismal ground, far away.   In hell.   No sign of God there, though heaven knows, he’d implored Him enough.


He went in with the lads and retreated with them.   Lay on a blood-stained blanket as his fever rose and fell.   Go home lad, they said.   You’ve done your part now.   Your ma will be pleased to have you back.


The man who had seen so much and the woman who did not see, no matter how much she looked.   Both voiceless and powerless, she the woman and he the working man.   Doing as they had been bidden by the men who run the country.   Who led them from behind to the fiery pit.


The feather rested, as neither of them could.


Acquainted With The Night

I can hear the noise of silence,

See the colours of the dark,

My mind sees things my eyes cannot,

The past and the might-be future.


I am tired but sleep doesn’t come,

I cannot think of anything but my mind swirls with thoughts,

I cannot plan but the questions seeking answers still come to me,

Alone in my space, yet constrained on all sides.


Speculation takes my peace,

Imagination takes my joy,

My mind’s eye is steely, full of spite,

For my daring in dreaming, it seeks revenge.


I know that monsters walk at night,

The “hidden people” go among the living,

I am my own worst fear,

My mind against me.


I am acquainted with the night,

Fighting the dreaded, not wanting to be prey,

I want to escape, tired of the battle,

I want to sleep, my mind a friend.

What’s the Moon?

It comes out at night, the opposite of sun.

But it’s there in the day too, sometimes with the sun.

Sometimes they’re friends and sometimes not.

One’s bright and warm.

The other’s just there.   Or not.   Or changes shape.

Some things change and some stay the same.


I was told once moon melted.

Because of orange soil.

I imagine it fall from the sky in big drops.

Melt like cheese and fall,

But where?

Where would all that moon go?

And how did it get back to the sky?


I like the moon, I have the feeling it doesn’t always do as expected.

The sun is good, stays the same.

The moon seems to do what it wants.

Comes out or hides away, whatever the time.

Chases the car, no matter how fast we’re driving.

Has a man who lives there.


My cat likes the moon,

And she doesn’t always do what’s expected either.

Goes out all night and sleeps all day,

Doesn’t want to stay in the warm house.

Comes back wet and with the night’s hunting.

A cat like the moon, following her own way.

My School Swimming Hat

Soft and smooth and supple in my hands,

Smell of plastic against the chemically clean air,

My name in black felt tip,

It’s my hair to protect against the water,

But no protection against my fear.


It grips my forehead, presses my ears,

I feel the red mark forming round its rim,

I feel my eyes redden with tears,

Time to get in,

To feel cold water.


I fear the water in my nostrils,

The sting, the choke, the splutter.

I fear the lack of a base on which to steady myself,

The calming rail to grab.

I fear the ridicule and sharp voices.


I am not one of the athletes, the sportswomen,

Who collect glory in so many ways,

Who slide through the water, their second home,

Their limbs practiced and breathing easy,

Their self-assurance keeping them afloat.


I am awkward and clumsy like the hat,

Almost from another era,

Lacking style and fashion and elegance,

The useless barrier, giving little cause for hope,

Almost unnoticed and drifting further.


The canvas on which my life is stitched,

Has changed, stretching slowly as stitches grow,

Finding new directions,

Colours rigid then blending,

The tapestry grows.


The needle certain then changing direction,

Threads seem to follow but then,

Their path they choose in another plane.

Never the same appearance close as from a distance,

The whole greater than the parts.