My poem Visit, highly commended in the Brian Dempsey Memorial Competition, 2017.
My mother’s in the kitchen as we knock and enter.
We’re expected. Except for the kisses and silk-grey hairdo,
she’s unchanged. Her dewlap cheeks are warm.
After passing through health checks, teabag squeezings
and the week in headlines, we occupy the lounge.
Inviting us to sit, she hunts out coasters.
Our talk begins again. Inside its structure
– tape loop or formula – I’m invisible,
standing at the window, observing the small boy
with shadow self and hideouts, surrounded by branches
on the wrong side of the shed.
Or jumpy on the beach,
crowding the camera in shorts and sandals
with background wheel and dog.
She’s present tense. There are briefings, shopping trips,
reminders, exchanges with my partner
and updates on sale price and improvements for the house.
I nod and question, while the picture widens,
taking in the photos of groups on sunlit lawns,
hands on glasses and cars driving off
and the all-white faces when the shutter sticks.
My first, while cornering, legs together
pressed on leather, ridge-marked to a rash.
Backseat in the Austin, I knew I was stuck;
one false move and the flesh might tear.
Hitting a pothole, the camera flashed
on a door swung back, air scooped out
and darkness spinning like vinyl.
Everything stopped with the talk-shouts that followed.
Or remained in outline, a moment in waiting,
imagined often when trying not to look.
What the eye doesn’t see.
Next in the glare, running the lawn,
bared to a grin, with trunks and mud splats
in a blown-up pool. And the dream-shots later
of shoulders peeling in low-cut suntops,
eyeing the wasps crawling through jam.
Then off-cuts held up: the frost-palms and ferns
caked on glass, the black brass weights
held in the balance by Fairy-soft hands,
the sewing attachments tangled in a drawer,
the skin flaps, nail splits and door-trapped fingers.
Don’t look now.
Finally in the dark: the slide around the corner
and catch in the breath as the boy jumps sleep
to stand peering out through flesh-wrapped curtains
dream-lost and floaty in deep cold water.
And now we’re standing, talking by the door.
There are items to pick up, smiles and promises,
timings, and next week’s visit.
When we leave, it’s late.
On our journey home, the headlights cut a line.
We follow back the thread.
Inside the beam, bordered by darkness, the road runs forward.
Outside that, we’re surrounded by things we can’t see.
Visit is about living simultaneously in two worlds: the materialist, routine view of life that sees everything in ‘common sense’ terms, and the childhood lightbulb moments that connect us to our deeper, imaginative selves. One world is fixed, conventional and reductive, the other is dynamic, finding risk, intensity and strangeness in everything. Self-understanding involves seeing both.
ABOUT LESLIE TATE’S BOOKS:
- Love’s Register tells the story of romantic love and climate change over four UK generations. Beginning with ‘climate children’ Joe, Mia and Cass and ending with Hereiti’s night sea journey across Oceania, the book’s voices take us through family conflicts in the 1920s, the pressures of the ‘free-love 60s’, open relationships in the feminist 80s/90s and a contemporary late-life love affair. Love’s Register is a family saga and a modern psychological novel that explores the way we live now.
- Heaven’s Rage is a memoir that explores addiction, cross-dressing, bullying and the hidden sides of families, discovering at their core the transformative power of words to rewire the brain and reconnect with life. “A Robin Red breast in a Cage / Puts all Heaven in a Rage” – William Blake. You can read more about/buy Heaven’s Rage here.
- The Dream Speaks Back, written by Sue Hampton, Cy Henty and Leslie Tate, is a joint autobiography exploring imagination and the adult search for the inner child. The book looks at gender difference, growing up in unusual families and mental health issues. It’s also a very funny portrait of working in the arts, full of crazy characters, their ups and downs, and their stories. You can buy a signed copy of The Dream Speaks Back here