We came home and said nothing

Stuck in the hospital room

in silence then

and now

a wordless car journey

remembering the words spoken

and what they meant

not just for now

not just for the normality before

but for later and tomorrow

and perhaps next month

We said nothing

I put the kettle on

a cup of tea helps sometimes

everyday actions as we try to make sense

Barbara Hughes August 2021


I saw your face

heard your voice

caught your eye

and moved up close

kissed your lips

held you tight

and would not let you go

this is us now

you and me

till the kiss ends

or love fades

our gaze shifts

our arms drop

and we leave it there

Whenever the media report the murder of a woman or a woman and her children, by her husband or partner there are certain words used that in some way minimise or explain the murder. Words like snap, provocation, nagging, unfaithful, denied access to children and many more. My mother, two brothers and I lived with a man who snapped on a daily basis and to such an extent I used to think he would kill us all. Not a premeditated killing but a ‘snap’; a not knowing when to stop ‘snap’; a rage rising so far and then a ‘snap’; a punishment that was seen as deserved ending up as the death penalty ‘snap’.
This is a list of some of the things that made my father ‘snap’:

spilling gravy on the white table cloth,
leaving sleeve(s) of coats or blazers tucked up,
not putting shoes together in pairs neatly beside each other,
walking between dining room and kitchen clearing the table and being caught between the two rooms and thought to be eavesdropping on an ‘argument’ between him and my mother,
leaving a tin of polish and duster out instead of putting it away,
leaving kettle out instead of putting it away,
not making the bed properly,
not leaving things (assorted and varied) as we found them (this applied equally to my mother),
looking at him,
coming into a room and waiting for him to notice and waiting too long,
disobedience – this covered many things including tone of voice, expression on face, not looking sorry enough,
talking in the back of the car when he was driving,
‘making a mess’ in the car according to his definition of ‘mess’,
not washing up properly whatever his definition of ‘properly’ was that day,
doing anything without asking permission no matter how trivial the matter,
speaking without permission
any noise he didn’t like that day
asking to change the channel on the television whether he was watching or not
wearing anything that made me or my mother look like a ‘tart’ according to his definition
defiance – this could be anything he decided was defiance (see above for disobedience)

There were many many more misdemeanors all needing his attention and punishment. The punishment could be a sharp slap; a fist; a pushing against a wall, doorway, furniture; a dog’s lead or belt; hands round the throat; hair pulling; rape; sexual assault; staring; ignoring; humiliating; sexual innuendo and sexual conversations; flattery; coercion onto ‘his side’ and so on – and on and on.
He had his position and the Navy plus his height and strength on his side, we had each other and we held on very tightly to each other.
I get tired of people asking me what his childhood had been like. Had his father been violent? Yes his childhood had been traumatic and yes his father had been very violent and I would have sympathy for him had he not chosen to behave in the same way and more.

She sits in the corner of my mind

The Critic

I have seen her on the settee at the edge of my vision

or coming into the room but moving before I can fix my eye

The Critic

Following me around

at my shoulder

moving if I turn my head

She watches me listens to me

I can see her noting down faults

wrong words impatient looks and tones

writing them down to read out to me later

She knows me well

The Critic

Has been with me from the first chastisement

the first moment of embarrassment

the first realisation of saying the wrong thing

in the wrong way

with the wrong look on my face

It’s all there in the notebook

The Critic takes pleasure in my misery

my embarrassment

my mistakes

And there is so much of it

She can sometimes take a whole night

or a whole day to recount and remind and point out

I do challenge her and tell her to leave

I know who she is where she’s come from

I have brought her with me

created her

She’s originally from a him

But she feels safer somehow

Barbara Hughes

11th June 2021

High up on the landing

there’s a little window

for no reason at all

It’s too small to let light into the hall

and I rarely notice it

 But today I did because it was broken

I allowed a few reasons

through my head

But none of them led to a plausible answer

so I gave up

 I might never know whether

it was a misguided bird

one of the boys who play out there on skateboards

throwing a stone or other missile

or an air pistol aimed at the bird

But it’s broken

 There are problems

fixing it will be expensive

and I have no money

so it stays broken

letting in sound

letting heat escape

What if it falls out or in and

I lie in bed and worry about storms and high winds

at three o’clock in the morning

the broken window metamorphoses

into the Whole of Life

A small broken window is now

Money problems

Heating and noise problems

Small cracks may become bigger and shatter completely

My life will be broken

An insignificant useless window sums up my life

and I cry at the smallness and futility of it all

 It is now five in the morning

and I pull myself together

I am in awe of the power of three o’clock in the morning anxiety and

step-by-step apocalyptic imaginings




Just a passing moment

A breath of air on my face

reminds me of something I can’t quite recall

and the moment has passed

Looking out of the window a cup of tea in my hand

a quick flurry of snow and then gone

Catching someone’s eyes as I pass them in the street

a connection a recognition a nearly smile

A wren in the garden I thought was a brown leaf

left over from winter blowing across the path

On a dark grey clouded day

a break shows me enough blue sky

The cold smoky familiar smell of a November night

crowds my head with memories

then gone for now

The sweet soft smell of cut grass

Leaves in autumn

Raindrop Racing down the window on a wet afternoon

An old song pulls me back

Glancing in the mirror above the sink I see my mother’s face

My daughter looks at one of her children and I see her father

A passing moment of a memory allows despair to wrap me up

and I try to let it pass

How much of life is made of passing moments

All the emotions in a brief encounter or thought

The lives of my children

My life

The earth is millions of years old

I am a passing moment

My friend asked me out one night for a drink

work colleagues she said it’ll be fun

after introductions I sat down

and saw you

just a little tingle inside

when someone moved you came and sat beside me

we talked and laughed and brushed hands

later you walked home with me

came in for a cup of tea and stayed

for the next six months we loved

and I told you secrets about

why I get scared

and you comforted me and promised

I was loved

and I loved you

for the six month anniversary

we went to that pub again and sat at the same table

and brushed hands

and tingled

you went to get some drinks

but you were gone too long

I found you round the corner kissing someone else

I whispered Happy Anniversary

and left

Walking home I promised myself

no matter how much I tingled

I would not trust again for a long time

and I cried

The Beginning

On a dark icy February night the sea moves slow and sluggish

There is no wind and the air sharp

catching-back-of-the-throat sort of coldness makes shivering a necessity

There are no night-walkers or stragglers on the narrow streets and

the houses stare out towards the dark rolling water

only a few lights shine from the sea-front façade and

the lighthouse and harbour wall frame the scene

backlit by the winter moon

There are people on the beach

What are they doing

this laughing shouting hand-holding pair

lip-kissing nearly lovers

lost in this new love and the taste of each other

After a boast at the party

he is up to his waist in the February sea

and only Ireland stands between them and the Atlantic

The landscape holds them – this is a moment

This is one of those life-changing moments

she holds her face between her hands shakes her head

and falls in love

Now a choice has to be made and

there will be pain but

in that precious joyous passionate moment she decides and

pulls him from the sea

and holds him

Barbara 2009

It was not a waste of time

our love

It lasted such a little time

then died

But I remember every time

we loved

and the pain of every time

I cried.

I cannot forget the times

we shared

Nor will I regret the time

we lost

And for all the lonely times

I am prepared

I’m glad our paths in time

were crossed.

That was our time and that love was true

I would not change that time or love

Would you?    

November 2007  

new boots and pantisocracies


I had drunk so much coffee I was shivering as if something
inside of me was about to go off I stopped to stare
out of the window watched a plane fly over so loud it frightened me
reminded me of the fear of a nuclear attack which is as real to me now
as it was when I was a child

the phone rings telling me I can get solar panels and later another
about a new boiler paid for by the government the government.
the one that doesn’t care about people dying from poverty
and humiliation old people who are starving can’t heat their homes
single mothers who have no one to look after their children

while they are working unable to progress past sixteen hours
people with learning difficulties whose families can’t cope with them
at home with no break the nurses who get paid less…

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