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Ten years

On 1st December it will be ten years exactly since Jenny suddenly became severely ill. Ever since that day ten years ago, she has been unrelentingly acutely ill. She comes very close to death every day. It is a horrific life for her.

She tries to do something different each year to mark the anniversary of her becoming ill. In previous years, she has written about her illness and how it affects her, about why M.E. research is so poorly funded and last year she wrote a list of her Favourite Things.

This year she has come up with the idea of #PoundsForPoems to raise money for M.E. Research UK. The idea of #PoundsForPoems is that for every new poem of Jenny’s (published below) that you enjoy reading, you donate a certain amount to M.E. Research UK via Jenny’s fundraising page that has been set up for this purpose. For example, if you like 5 of her poems, you could donate £1 for each poem, giving a total of £5. But obviously, feel free to donate as generously as you are able.

Due to the severity of her illness, it has taken 5 years for Jenny to gradually write the 20 new poems below by painstakingly tapping out the words with her thumb on the touchscreen of her iPhone. These are ALL of the new poems that she has written since her poetry collection Rainbows in my eyes was published in 2009.

We hope that #PoundsForPoems will have raised lots of money for M.E. Research UK by 1st December so that she will have something to celebrate on her 10th anniversary of becoming ill.

High quality M.E. research is catastrophically underfunded and is desperately needed. The lives and futures of patients like Jenny depend on research being done. Eventually, we hope for a cure to be found. In the meantime, patients are acutely suffering and some are dying.

So without further ado, we proudly present the launch of Jenny Rowbory’s new collection of poems, entitled ‘Then the whispers started’. Get donating: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/poundsforpoems

 

 

All the following poems are copyright
© J.K.Rowbory 2014 – All Rights Reserved
No part of these poems may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior permission of the author.

 

Contents:

Song of my heart
The art gallery
Returning to St. Felix
Look up
The Cosmic Pied Piper
It started as a whisper
X marks the spot
They did not know
Netball: Wing Defence, WD
The depths
Nineteen
Gethsemane
Good Friday
The dead star
The diamond tower
If I were to cry
Mayday
The beast
The ancient place
Then the whispers started

 

Song of my heart

A miniature person inside my heart
sings of pencil sharpener shavings
and climbing branchy trees,
of digging sand boats on Frinton beach
and hatred of peas.
She sings of teddy bear weddings
and imaginary worlds,
of penny sweets
and rainbow swirls.
She sings of joke shop spiders
and football in the park,
of water pistols
and Murder In The Dark.
She sings of ice-cream van jingles
and medals on Sports Day,
of swapping stickers
and the sinking sand at Blue Anchor Bay.
She sings of frog welly boots
and jumping in puddles,
of blackberry picking
and netball team huddles.
She sings of making clay dinosaurs
and coming top of the class,
of waving at people in traffic jams
and trying to avoid baths.
She sings of surprise parties
and school Bonfire Night,
of water flumes
and the best paper aeroplane in flight.

This miniature person’s voice
resonates out with every beat.
This is the sound that my heart makes.
This is the song of my heart.

 

The art gallery

“Stop.”
That single word from my lips
freezes time
and all of the people in it.

I wander, weaving mesmerically through
the suspended human bodies,
viewing each person
and the pose in which they have been frozen:
the motionless expressions on their faces,
the halted gestures and actions
of their statued bodies.

I walk over land and water
to see each exhibit,
touching the temple of each head
to read their thoughts and feelings,
to watch their lives play like a film in my head,
to search their souls.

Eventually I finish.
I have viewed the entire human race.
I travel back to where I started and
two red buttons are before me:
one of them unpauses humanity from its stasis,
the other detonates the whole Earth.

I press the button on the right.

 

Returning to St. Felix

As the red brick front entrance
arches into the cloisters,
everything is familiar and yet unfamiliar,
the same and yet not the same,
the air dense with memories
and with the heady scent of silent echoes,
of ghost voices, smiles and laughter,
the flagstones still warm and sweet from
our long-gone hurrying footsteps.

Each corridor and stair,
each classroom, bannister and wall
hum with the happenings of the years,
with all they have witnessed.
I press my palm to each one,
the electricity of the past
buzzing up through my arm
to slam my chest
with a lightning voltage of emotion.
The weight of time
since my hand was last touching this exact spot
is heavy,
its tug sharp and strong and sad.
I resist its pull
so that I am not sucked through the wormhole
from the present into the past,
a vortex that only exists in this place.
For they say that it is not healthy
to clutch ancient history
so closely to your heart
or to hold it in your mind
as freshly as if it happened yesterday.

So I wrench myself away
and let myself see that
Change has been busy here.
It is not the place I once knew.
The school is slicker and renovated
but there are no remnants of
our unique presence,
our warmth and fun,
our hijinks and happiness;
our glory is forgotten.

And yet,
this place was once home;
it has a strange hold over me still.

 

Look up

They watched her swing across the night sky,
using the stars like monkey bars,
propelling herself across the black.
Their feet were cemented to the ground;
all they could do was watch,
straining their necks backwards
trying to glimpse her
as she swung across the night sky,
using the stars as monkey bars.

 

The Cosmic Pied Piper

There’s a sweet music
on the breath of the wind
dancing in and out of earshot,
sometimes louder, sometimes faint,
an irresistible calling, tugging,
as if being drawn towards a kiss.
Can you hear it?

There’s a sweet whisper
in the quiet place,
a static tingling stillness
tickling the ears of the soul,
a soft tender nudging
as a gentle wave caressing the sand.
Can you hear it?

 

It started as a whisper

It started as a whisper:
a rustling in the trees,
a murmur in the streams,
a stirring of the bees.
The trees passed it to the birds
and the streams to the fish,
the hummingbirds beat their code
with their rapid wingbeat swish.
The howler monkeys heard
and hooted their echoing calls,
sounding out over treetops
and deafening waterfalls.

The silverbacks beat their chests:
a signal to one and all
to gather for a council,
every creature large and small.

Each of them felt it,
every one on edge,
so they sent a toucan off,
having made him take a pledge
to decipher what it meant –
this whisper in the wind that stirred
restlessness as it went.

So off the toucan soared and raced
high above the jungle,
honing in on the sound
as it grew from a whisper to a rumble.
It burgeoned from a rumble
to a loud engine roar
as trees shook in the distance
and then fell to the floor.

Our toucan circled in,
for a closer view,
but it was chaos, thunder and metal
into which he flew.
THUD.

Limp, he fell to the ground,
trying to transmit the warning
with his final wheezing whisper.

It started as a whisper…

 

X marks the spot

“X marks the spot”
croaked the tall man with a large shovel
to the sweaty, sticky group of experts
all hunched over their maps.
Only the young girl didn’t have one
so she strained on her tiptoes
to peer over the fat lady’s copy
but it was quickly snatched away
(“You wouldn’t understand anyway”).

Off each person strode,
into the island’s jungle,
all going their separate ways,
all interpreting the strange maps differently,
leaving the girl standing alone.

A soft-white butterfly danced around her;
as it flew away she chased it
through the undergrowth,
leaping over a fallen tree,
until it disappeared at a gentle waterfall
but no matter – she threw off her shoes
and sploshed happily through the cool stream
until she sprang out into the open
onto a grassy outcrop overlooking a winking ocean.
Looking down at the sparkling drops on her wet feet,
she noticed she was standing on a black cross.
“X marks the spot” she whispered.

 

They did not know

Hers is the infinite scream,
hers is the eternal roar,
the kind that rips the stitches
from the seams that hold the
universe together.
The world unravels;
the holes grow wider and wider
and suck all matter into their oblivion.
Hers was the infinite scream,
hers was the eternal roar.

 

Netball: Wing Defence, WD

It is easy for a P.E. teacher
to spot the girls who are good attack players,
those who score the goals and
whose aim is extraordinarily accurate.
It is easy to spot the tallest girls
and dump them into the team,
even though their height may be their sole value.
It is harder, and takes a special sort of teacher,
to notice those who excel at defence,
those girls who always intercept
the ball and the opposing team’s centre pass,
those girls whose marking is so tight
and speed so great
that they can prevent their markee
from touching the ball for the entire match,
completely blocking them out of the game:
an achievement which often only the
marker and the markee are aware of,
an achievement which brings a
unique sort of internalised gleeful satisfaction,
an achievement which is the result of
an intense focus and concentration,
a quiet persistent ferocity.
No glory or recognition
but gladly done.

 

The depths

You do not know the depths, my friend,
you do not know the depths.

You cannot reach into the depths from outside,
you cannot reach me here.
Your hand, though outstretched,
can never be met;
you cannot reach into the depths.

You cannot extend your heart to mine,
our hearts can never meet,
for the depths are too far, too deep,
you could never know just how low they go.
My heart alone in these depths.

You cannot jump down to the depths, my friend,
you cannot join me here,
you cannot stand beside me,
for I did not jump, I was stolen and chained.
No, these depths I bear alone.

The depths, the depths, the depths.

 

Nineteen

She kept count of the number of houses,
remembered the names of the places,
made a list of them in chronological order.
There was something tangible about it
written on a page.
She tried to recall the layout of each house
and each of the bedrooms in which she had lived,
but the blueprints shape-shifted and wobbled
in the far corners of her mind,
not able to remember them precisely.
For one or two,
only the core feeling of the house remained,
the details having slipped through time,
unreachable now.
Shards of herself were left behind,
embedded in those nineteen houses,
in those places, in those faces.

 

Gethsemane

I close my eyes.
My translucent form drifts into the past
from the bed where I’m lying in the present
and I’m back in that garden with you.
My ghost self glides into your body,
occupying the same exact place in time and space
as you.
Kneeling here,
we reside within each other.
My heart cradles your heart,
beating as one.
We wait together,
the rest of the world falling still – distant and alien
while we hold our breath
and try to beat back the panic.
If it is possible, may this cup be taken away from me
we plead over and over,
desperation and distress
overwhelming the soul to the point of death.
Then the horror of reality:
we are not going to be spared,
we are not going to be rescued,
not this time, not right now.
We are loved
but we are not going to be saved from this.
And it hurts. It doesn’t feel like love.
Each breath stings with grief.
I know this territory well;
my soul is the perfect companion for yours tonight.
We hold on tight.
Your heart cradles my heart.
We are one in Gethsemane.
If it is possible, may this cup be taken away from me.

 

Good Friday

I rattled and shook
and shook and shook
the bars of my cage.
God did not let me out.

So I went to war with God.

I rattled and shook
and shook and shook him.

I howled at him
and raged at him
I cursed him
and I flayed him.
I hurled rocks at him
and far worse at him.
I jumped on his back,
strangleheld his neck,
vowed to not let go
until he demolished
the bars of my woe.

I rattled and shook
and shook and shook his shoulders,
trying to shake it into him
to do what I want
to be who I want.

“Crucify him! Crucify him!”

 

The dead star

[Light can take millions of years to travel to Earth from stars in far away galaxies; a star could have died a long time ago but at night we still see the light that it used to shine.]

A ghost twinkle is all that is left of me.
You can see my past,
up in the night sky,
even though I shine no more.

A ghost twinkle is all that is left of me.
You can see my legacy up there,
my I woz ‘ere graffiti
burned across the universe,
even though I shine no more.

A ghost twinkle may be all that is left of me
but you can see my life
emblazoned up in the black.
And how I shone!
Just look up and you can still see,
see my glory,
even though I shine no more.

 

The diamond tower

It had always been there:
the diamond tower.
It looked like it could only have been created
by magic –
impossibly tall,
smooth and seamless,
slender and gleaming,
a solitary building
that could be seen from anywhere in the lands,
rising far above forests and mountains.

An old woman
lived at the top of the tower
in the Singing Chamber,
looking out through clear diamond walls
over the realm.
It was said that she had lived forever,
it was said that she had lived there always,
protecting the lands,
healing the people.

The old woman never stopped singing,
not even for a moment;
the diamond tower
projected her songs
out across every land.
Her voice was the sound
of wind in the trees,
of the susurrations of the streams,
of worms burrowing through the soil,
of bubbling lava.
Entire galaxies swirled in her eyes,
each strand of her wild mane
was made of liquid silver.
With her songs
she could stroke the waves into submission,
persuade illnesses to release their grip,
cajole cracked and parched land
to spring forth life once more.
Her melodies
seduced the sun to rise every morning
and tamed the moon at night.

It was said that she had lived forever,
it was said that she had lived there always,
in the diamond tower,
singing her songs,
crooning sweet lullabies into the ears of atoms.

 

If I were to cry

if I were to cry forever
it would never be enough
for all I have been through
it would never be enough
to cry forever

 

Mayday

The heart screams
on its own behalf
and on behalf of the rest of the organs and cells.
I hear it but I already know;
it is not me they should be telling.
I funnel their piercing cries
and stream them upwards, outwards, downwards,
every which way,
using my body as a beacon
to transmit their SOS signal
to anyone who may be listening,
to anyone who may be able to save them.
Nobody has answered the Distress Call
and still we wait,
every cell of the body united
in excruciating suffering,
roaring in unison:
MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY.

 

The beast

I want to kick
I want to roar
I want to smash
I want to soar.

Let me go
leave me be
let me rest
set me free.

I will scratch
I will claw
’til you let me out
of that door.

I want to fly
don’t you see
what this is
doing to me?

I will shout
endless rage
to release me
from this cage.

 

The ancient place

Come back to the ancient place,
where there is a silence into which
the world cannot intrude.
No more frenetic flailing or
desperate searching
in the emptiness.
There is only darkness there.
Come back to the ancient light,
soft and white and calm.
Come.

 

Then the whispers started

In the deepest, darkest pit,
where there is no day, only night,
the blackness is so black
that he no longer knew
where he ended and the darkness began.
Did he exist?
Or was he the darkness himself?
Time passed,
all alone in the darkness.
Then the whispers started.
Not audible whispers
but whispers that spoke inside his soul.

I love you

He felt nothing.
They were just words to him,
empty words.

I love you

He was unable to feel love.
It had always been so,
even before the pit
and the darkness,
even back then,
no matter how much someone told him
how much they loved him,
he never felt it in his heart.
(Did he still have a heart,
a physical body,
down here in the depths?
All he could see was darkness.
Was he a disembodied spirit
floating in the blackness here?)

I love you

He was incapable of feeling it
or processing it
or believing it.
He knew that he was unlovable.

I delight in you
I celebrate you

Celebrate?

Your being, your existence –
I celebrate it,
I delight in you

I’m in a pit. A pitch black pit.

I am here too
I am in this pit with you

A pinprick of light appeared.
Was he imagining things?
No, there really was a light.
He had forgotten that light ever existed
down here in the darkness.
The pinprick grew into an orb
of soft yellow light
that flew straight into his chest,
surrounding his heart
(he did still have one then after all,
he noted)
and he glowed with its light.

I love you

The words didn’t feel quite so empty anymore,
his heart had begun to feel permeable,
like it might somehow be possible
to eventually let the orb of light
that surrounded his heart
actually into his heart.
He could feel its warmth even now,
seeping in through the (previously blocked) pores
of his heart wall.

I am with you in the darkness
I delight in your being
I delight in your presence

No. NO.
It wasn’t true.
There was nothing in him
to be delighted over,
nothing in him that could be celebrated.
He was worthless;
how could anyone delight in him?

You are good
You are a good thing to me
I celebrate you
I delight in you

Finally these words broke into his heart,
finally these words had life.
For the first time
he let himself entertain the notion
that there might be a day
when the constant stream
of condemnation and harassment
with which his own brain bullied him
would be overpowered and overthrown,
that there might be a day
when he would be persuaded
that his soul was not to be despised
but valued
and delighted over,
that there might be a day
when he would be able to feel
the love of another for him.

But no.
It was too much.
It was unbelievable.
Could it really be true?

I love you
You are a good thing
My love is fierce and inextinguishable
I will sit here in your heart
and my love will burn away
the damage that was done to you.
I will burn away the lies
that you came to believe to be true –
the lies that burrowed into your soul
and whispered to you,
telling you that you were bad
and undeserving of love.
I will hunt down each lie
and flame them out of existence.
I will tell you of the wonders I see within you,
I will tell you again and again and again
until you come to believe the truth
instead of the lies.
For I love you
I delight in you
and I say that you are good.

That is how there came to be light
in the deepest, darkest pit,
that is how there came to be light
where he thought light to be impossible.

 

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Donate to #PoundsForPoems via Jenny’s fundraising page here: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/poundsforpoems

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