In front of me she did roam
Slowly but I was not surprised
Her dress a bridal one
Almost taking her balance
Chestnut hair flowing in the night
Windless though it was
Something not quite right
Her face too veiled for evening
Sweet words carried on the wind
A bell clanged dull and dank
Terror now my belly did find
And of a sudden I realised
There were no feet striking ground
A floating woman was what I now saw
My eyes drawn to feet turned round
Toes point to me and blood went cold
My evening jaunt did wait that night
For she was sucking in the light
Drinking souls if she could catch
My door was barred lock and latch.
©Ailsa Cawley 2022
Written for Folktober hosted by Paul Dragonwolf
I stand here awaiting you
Walk towards me slowly until
You can see me unhidden against
The trees that shelter my form.
I’m here in plain sight daily
But do you listen?
As the Bodach awaits you
Do you think I cannot see?
What do you expect as I encompass
Your being, first left, now right
Lifting your face to mine
Your body shaking in fear of a fate
But it cannot tear itself away from me
My eyes see into you through you
shiver at the Bodach’s understanding
Wish that you were not called here
This day, time, hour into the forest
Day has turned to night
Seconds into hours and you will
Yourself to leave and yet
Until the Bodach says aye ye go
You are here at the Bodach’s Will
Never after this can you jest
At the power he holds as you did once
You shall smile weakly knowing
The Bodach shall bring to him
All and any he wants
Those woods become his army
You are less than an ant under him
You no longer doubt his power.
©Ailsa Cawley 2022
Written for Folktober Challenge
Slowly, quietly the days creep forward
The nights darken with ever faster depth
What were skies of varying shades
Suddenly deepest navy or ink black
That nothing can penetrate.
The chill in the air passing through sunshine
As everyone remarks on Autumn’s arrival
Pulling a coat about them for warmth
The fire set to warm their bones
As they wonder if it’s too soon, just yet.
Walking they see the leaves a justification
As greens have scattered to jewels
Rubies among the rubbish the child kicks
Playing in a park where everything crackles
And the only thing growing are toadstools.
The luscious promises that autumn gives
A whisper of leaves on breezes
The words called down since forever
Saying that everything will begin again
If we but only wait patiently.
Written for @Paul Brookes Autumn poetry challenge
Picture Prompt from Punk Noir magazine
I climbed through the hole in the wall, it’d been used as a get away so many times to escape the police. Years ago. The market was disused and nobody would find me here. If they did I knew what would happen. I’d seen what happened to the people that crossed these guys. It wasn’t pretty.
Keeping low and slow all the way through there wasn’t a sound, except my heart going faster than I knew possible. But there was only the steady plink, plink, plink of water coming through a hole in the roof and hitting the uneven floor.
I stopped just for a second to catch my breath, knowing that once I got through the main doors it was a sprint to the river and I couldn’t afford to take it slow or careful out there. No stopping for breath then.
The last pillar. I knew this place too well. There was still a stain on the floor where the last guy in here, bled out. It wasn’t cleaned up, so mottled brown stains were on the floor. It’s probably still there to this day. Part of me felt semi-safe, the other not at all.
Rounding the last pillar, I knew I was feet away from escaping. But the doors were open. I could see the pier, but I shouldn’t have been able to. The hairs on the back of my neck warned me to take care.
I was dazzled as two car headlights went on. Like looking directly at a firework the lights blurred my vision. A figure emerged from it, one I recognised well. Disbelief ran through me as I heard the words ‘End of the line, Charlie boy’ as my wife pulled out a gun and fired.
©Ailsa Cawley 2022
You told me that I was above myself
With friends who had dreams
Of things you didn’t understand
And nor should I
Things were shrunken into the uniform
Sludge brown of your world
Every time a green shoot showed
You’d STAMP on it until crushed
Broken you’d say
So intent were you on the world around you
That you didn’t manage
To break my imagination and
I hid it down so deep until I left
When I unleashed and unlocked
The galaxy I’d kept hidden from you.
©AilsaCawley 2022 inspired by Anjum Wasim Dar – Galaxy
I look forward to seeing all my friends
We will play and sing songs
Our words will not need to be measured
Like steps to safety
One day, one day
My family said one day
I yearn to dance with my grandfather
But he’s gone away
I don’t know where to I’m starting
To forget little things
One day, one day
My mama says one day
Hiding in the walls with my aunt
My parents are both gone
A long holiday they said
Fear in their eyes as they spoke
One day, one day
We will come home, one day
Separate from everyone I lived
Like the rat they said I was
Everyone is gone and still
I tell myself the same thing daily
One day, one day
We can go home, one day.
We will burn the yellow stars
Sing songs for the ancestors
Eat and be joyful
Hold one another as I leave earth
One day, one day
When we are home, one day.
-©Ailsa Cawley 2022
In the middle distance
There in the distance I see the shape
A person wanders hillsides they should not be on
Something stops me from checking
A shiver, a tingle down the spine
As they dance and weave disappear
Between the trees.
They are there then gone and reappear
A pale light beckons as an imitation moon
Caresses the earth and the air
I am drawn to a place I’d not usually go
Their presence pulling me on a chord
I cannot see but it’s there, human to human
She dances on tiptoes between the wooden guards
Of the sparse forest that shelter her from life
The world as it is has grown to crowd her in
She needs to inhale the scent of the trees
Touching their bark to prove there’s something
Outside of the small world she’s trapped in
Without escape, or pity wanted she trudges
At this moment all she needs is the company
Given by the trees
Without question or need for answers
I leave her to her solitary dance.
©Ailsa Cawley 2021
The Ghosts of Duntulm Castle
You will I’m sure have heard of the ghost of Duntulm Castle. I’ll specify which I mean, as there are a few keeping one another company. If each of them wailing can be classed as companionship.
The one I mean is the nursemaid who was set adrift in a boat, as punishment for the death of her young charge, who fell from the window of the castle and was killed.
This is what really happened that night and beyond.
She was indeed put on a boat to be dashed to death on the rocks, or starve, whichever came first. The chance she would go mad is not an impossible one either.
And yet, she was not killed. Nor did she drown or any other gruesome thing hoped at the time.
In that boat, on that night, she learned that stories were true. That dreams she’d long had were not just dreams. The images in her mind last night existed.
As the boat drifted away she sat there, calmly accepting of her fate. Spiteful voices on the shore came on the wind, desperate to see her panic set in.
Once she realises there’s no food, or water she’s going to panic. Once she notices that she’s adrift with no oars, and no way of getting home, she’s headed into a storm and certain death
On and on the gleeful voices went, happy to watch another suffer. It meant that today they were safe from the wrath of the masters. The blame was apportioned elsewhere. Joining the mob meant safety. And the boat sailed out of view. It was dark early that night and the baying crowd were disappointed that they could not watch longer. The sun set, blood red in the sky and the near darkness plunged straight after it.
‘What was that noise?’ One of the villagers said, knowing what he’d heard wasn’t human.
‘Ach, it’s the dogs, the foxes maybe. What’s wrong with you?’ Laughed his wife, still wishing she’d seen the girl panic at least. A new song to waulk the tweed with tomorrow. Yet, the wilful girl denied them that.
He looked back towards the sea but saw nothing there, as he expected. The noise lay ahead. At the edge of the copse of trees, that led to the home they shared.
They hurried along, for who wants to walk in the dark?
Stepping into the copse he stopped as he came face to face with the noise he’d heard. A wolf. It looked balefully towards him, or so he thought. He tried to push his wife behind him, but she was too busy complaining about this and that. As quickly as the animal appeared, it was gone. Not an apparition, it just slunk quietly away. Lifting it’s top lip in a silent snarl, and it’s eyes flashing red, terrifying the man.
When he tried to explain to his wife what he’d seen she laughed.
‘You’re afraid, husband. We were not sending out some demon there, just a stupid girl. But, if you keep saying ridiculous things, we’ll be the next on a boat to nowhere. Do you hear me?’ She hissed in his face. He felt her spittle spray his cheeks like a mild sea fret. He looked back towards the water and as expected he saw nothing. Except on the shore what appeared to be a pair of shoes. But, of course, could be the kelp that dragged under the boat. He would check tomorrow.
They carried on home. She feeling her husband was afraid of shadows and filled with anger at him. He sure she couldn’t see what was in front of her, but resigned to it.
The next morning dawned cold and bright. The air was fresh and crisp. Winter was on the way.
On his way to the shore to check on the shoes that haunted his dreams, the man crossed again through the patch of woodland and looked carefully for the wolf, of which there was no sign.
His feet carried him a little faster to the shore, and he licked the salt from his lips. Felt it pulling his skin tightly. He loved this feeling.
Looking out to sea there was a seal playing. His eyes must be playing tricks. It appeared to be waving at him. Much as he knew it was foolish, he returned the wave. The seal disappeared from view.
For eight days the man returned, each day the seal appeared to wave and on his return wave, disappeared. On the ninth day he waited and seeing nothing, was about to leave. However, he heard a voice beside him that told him something he’d long suspected was true.
The shoes he’d found on that first day. He’d moved them and hidden them within the rocks.
‘Thank you for putting my shoes in a safe place. You are indeed a friend of the seal women. Do not be afraid, but never decide to swim out to me. You will surely drown. They will say when you’re old and beyond, that I haunt the castle. I’m not dead. I will return on the night they set me free, every year. My wolf is of no harm to you. He merely howls at the injustice of men. However, I am free and happy’
He made to turn, but feeling the wind pushing him forward heard her. ‘Please do not look at me. I wish you no harm or torment.’
For many years, the man returned to the shore. Sometimes there was a seal and sometimes not. He never confided in anyone, not even his wife.
Just before his own death, and long after his wife had passed on, he returned to the shore. Knowing that this would be the last visit here, and certain that the seal or the woman or whatever she was, would be long dead or moved on. Yet, he hoped that he might see it once more. There further away than usual, or it may have been his aged eyes was a seal and he was certain a hand raised in the surf. Long after she was gone he sat on the shingle beach, a huge stone his seat. His eyes drifted to the castle as darkness fell. He knew he should go home, but he felt rooted to the beach. Soon he would go home. Soon.
There at the window from where the boy fell, little changed, was the girl who had been set adrift. Next to her, the wolf. Her head was thrown back and she emitted an ecstatic howl. The wolf joined her in pace and she stroked it happily. They both looked directly at the old man.
He was found the next morning, by local fishermen on their way to sea for a catch in their small boat. He had a small satisfied smile on his face. In his hand he held a pair of shoes.
Yet, to this day on a calm night you might hear her, wailing for the loss of her friend, if you listen carefully. Listen more carefully still and you might hear the old man sigh on the wind.
©Ailsa Cawley 2021
The last night
I should feel relieved that you’re finally going. And I am. Except I don’t really believe it, yet. From first being honest enough to say the words that I want you to leave and go back to your place there’s been a barrage of bloody everything. Texts from you. Your sister. People accosting me in the street. Outside the church. For fucks sake you’re a grown man. Accept it and leave me the fuck alone.
Haven’t you done enough?
Alternately, I’m angry then numb. I haven’t totally broken it yet. I’ve felt like I was in a glass bubble for so long. I can see the outside world, but I’m isolated from it. Increasingly, frighteningly isolated. Like the glass gets thicker and I’m stuck here. With no-one to turn to because the world seems to see a different face.
The affable, jovial even willing-to-help church attending member of the community.
My friend phones daily, my lifeline.
I’m avoiding other people because how can I break their vision of you? It’s not me to do that. And who wants to be effectively, the victim? Admit you were conned? The emotional blackmail is driving me crazy. From anger to tears you don’t fucking stop and I know that goes into following me, too.
I’m paranoid? Really? Am I? I saw your car. I know it’s registration like I know my own personal details. It turned up last night, outside a friend’s house, headlights on full beam and dipped between cars behind me as I walked through the roughest estate I know. Less scared there than I am of you.
I went to work today. Spoke with another friend. You don’t know she’s a friend. Not really. Just that she’s an acquaintance who is kind. Except I now know someone else believes me and it’s another chink in that glass bubble.
Crunch, crack, bit by bit. Her reaction took me by surprise. Something about getting that piece of shit the fuck out of there and to keep a weapon by the bed. I will do that tomorrow.
Curtains shut and getting ready for bed. A small defiance. But I have the key back. So, I have my life back. Finally.
Your car passed five minutes ago. You’re going to your house. And you put the key through the door earlier. A text short, abrupt. You’re picking your things up at a time convenient to us both.
I can get into bed, sleep as well as I can. I’m jittery. I tell myself you have no access and I’m being silly.
I’ve changed the bedding to get rid of the stench of sweat and alcohol that makes me gag. Still I can smell you. You linger like burned food after it’s gone in the bin. Except this is stale and threatening.
I breathe slowly. The doors are locked. There’s only us here. Myself and my daughter. She’s in the bedroom before mine.
And I hear a noise downstairs. You’re imagining it, I tell myself. Know I’m not. No I’m not. There were no lights shining through the curtain. I could just be scaring myself with shadows. Know I’m not. Oh fuck.
The stairs squeak occasionally. I know someone is in here. And there’s only one person it can be. You said yesterday you would surprise me. Your path around the bed I follow with my eyes shut. It’s the smell moving with you. I feel the dip as you sit on the bed. Hear you remove your clothes. You lean over me. Chuckling. At me or to yourself, who knows?
I daren’t move. Whatever you are here for, you’re so drunk that it won’t last long I tell myself.
Know the key being returned was symbolic of the power. A lie. Another fucking lie to add to the list.
You lean over me. Breath disgusting as it hits my face. Im not going to move. The smell of sweat, strong lager, mixed with brandy and mints. You must have seen your daughter. Lately, every time has meant you in a temper. A teenager no longer willing to worship you. I pay the price. The air crackles with danger.
My daughter is next door and I won’t scare her. Whatever happens to me I’ll get over. I can’t yell and scare the shit out of my child. She’s a brave little warrior who’d try and defend me. End up hurt.
You lean over me ‘I know you’re awake’
I don’t reply. Concentrate on steadying my breathing. Hope you’re going to fall asleep.
‘Bitch, I know you’re awake. You’re all the same. Move on when it suits’ you flick my nipple and I force myself to stay still. Calm as I can. Try to slow my heart down. Your hand grabs my left breast.
‘ I can feel your fear’ you whisper ‘you are awake’
Your hand slides away and I hope that you’re going to sleep. Your next words are the worst I’ll ever hear.
You drag your hand roughly down me and utter
‘I’ve always wanted to kill a woman’ fingers tap my neck, and the blood pounds in my head.
Bored of no reaction, you turn over and go to sleep. I don’t move.
All night I lie there. Awake.
It’s only a few hours before you get up for work.
The usual 5am like nothing is wrong. Like last night didn’t happen. You kiss my forehead saying you’ll be ‘home’ later. I put on an extra bolt after you leave. Rusty but working.
I go upstairs and am sick. But my child is safe. I feel myself shivering. It’s not cold at all. I acknowledge it is shock. Yet, I don’t have time for it now.
Today I’m getting the locks changed. The baseball bat my friend offered me too. Im furious and scared. A mixture even I know is dangerous.
©Ailsa Cawley 2021
As a star
As a star
You watched me there at the window
Laughing at my dreams, hopes
Of something you couldn’t see
All of it unimaginable in your world
Where nobody thinks they can try
And break from the normal drudge
You weren’t watching on the day
I looked up transfixed at the beauty
Even though death was what I saw
A shooting star burning bright
Dust, burning rock dust shining
In it’s death throes
And I knew then if a stardust can glow
Show the world it’s glow in dying
Mine had to shine by living
Written for @PaulBrookes wombwellrainbow ekphrastic poetry April challenge.
Artwork by Jane Cornwell