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  • STEVE COOKE AATA

A SALAD OF WORDS

A Collection of Poetry and Short Stories

by Keith Salad and Val J Chapman


An’ All That Jazz

She sat on her bar stool,

It was late in the night,

And the glow from the lamps hit her red hair just right

As it fell and it tumbled

Right down to her waist,

But the red dress she wore barely covered the whore she’d once been.

At the click of her fingers

The barman appeared.

He’d been doing that for too many years;

Shaking her cocktails,

Shining her glass;

Hovering, waiting, ‘til she made a pass at him.

With her long legs crossed

On the tall bar stool

He watched, as she sat,

And one strappy shoe would

Nonchalantly tap to the rhythm of the blues,

But when she looked his way he could see the melancholy hue in her eyes.

And the piano pieces tinkled

In the corner of the room,

As the piano player’s fingers tickled ebony sounds that matched her mood.

And with the light in her eyes now dimmed

By the gin and her loveless life,

She’d have one more Manhattan for what did it matter now?

Then the clock on the bar

Read a quarter to three,

And he knew very soon she’d be leaving him be,

At the Two J’s Jazz Club

Where pianos played,

And lonely whores often got laid to rest.


Val J Chapman


In the Absence of Words

In the absence of words

There is a void which nothing else can fill.

You will have nothing to say,

And I will have nothing to tell.

In the absence of words, how can we express

All the hope, regret, love that we feel?

And how then can we know who we are

And which or what is real?

A sentence can be a string of pearls,

But in the absence of words, just a string.

And your voice would tell me nothing

Without the song to sing.

A word can make a world of difference

If written when the time is right,

So speak out your pearls of wisdom

Or, in other words, just write,


Val J Chapman



The Art Class

Fifty-Something ladies draw a circle round the table,

Brushes, pens and pencils poised with hope,

While sixty-something men, always the minority,

Make background noises to their feminine music;

Artistic license in harmony.

Relating to each other with laughter and amusing quips,

Their brushes dip and flow on silent paper,

Creating images of the future, reflections of the past.

Experience makes its mark to last

Forever on life’s sheet.

With hazy hues of softest sunset

Or laughter lines in model’s face,

They trace a picture of collective calm

Which no alarm can shatter,

And no brush marks can erase.

Good teaching draws out latent talent,

Astounds unsuspecting pupils alike,

As with brittle acrylics and pastel palettes,

They amaze each other with their prowess;

An unknown quantity of the past.

The colours of women, the ambience of focus;

Total, engrossing, empowering.

Yet with all-knowing self-awareness.

Traumas, troubles for the moment swept aside,

On hold until tomorrow.

Pen and ink has linked their timeless journey,

Their many days of sacrifice and tears,

Leaving white space now for relaxing times,

And room to grow in autumn years.


Val J Chapman



Catching Him

I catch him, out of the corner of my eye,

Glancing across the table between courses.

And there’s the inkling of a smile, endearing.

And I feel the love between his sighs.

I catch his hand, out of the love I feel

Coursing through the veins.

And there’s the tingling of the lightest touch,

And I feel him holding my breath.

I catch his warmth as I reach out

To feel the heat of his heartbeat.

And his energy trembles through

The flickering candlelight.

I catch his thoughts

Floating through the ether, thinking alike,

And know he can already taste

The sweet longing of dessert.


Val J Chapman



Flavours of Childhood

Warm baked muffins from the baker’s

A hot sixpence in my hand

Doing errands for my Mum

Making castles in the sand

Splashing through muddy puddles

With tramping Wellington boots

Snow and whispering snowflakes

Hearing the owls hoot

Sounds of the sea, collecting shells

Feel of summer’s cotton socks

Sound of the shrill school bell

Fresh-smelling summer frocks

Trembling tummies on school days

Shyness, hiding from the boys

Who shouted on the red school bus

And made a lot of noise

The toffee factory down the road

And the smell of new boiled sweets

Shouts of noisy children

Playing in the street

Catching tadpoles in the stream

Paddling pools and sailing boats

Then winter’s frost, smoky coal fires

And putting on our winter coats

Motorbikes and sidecar rides

And bicycle pedals with blocks

Picnics on the tartan rug

Sitting on the rocks

Rolling down the hillside

Amongst the wild summer flowers

Always playing in the sun

And leisurely carefree hours

Val J Chapman



Footprints in the Snow

Footprints in the snow,

Here they come, there they go,

Leaving their mark

In white snow, stark.

Dazzling white

In bright sunlight.

As people go

There’s a memory in the snow,

Leaving a trail.

Postman with the mail;

Cyclist on a bike,

Make their mark, like

Dogs’ pads, cats’ paws,

Horses’ hooves, birds’ claws.

Boots and shoes all fuse

With tyres and wheels,

Toes and heels.

Snow clouds over

And snowflakes cover,

Filling each print,

Leaving not a hint

Of where they go.

Lost footprints in the snow.

Val J Chapman



En Famille

I have been truly blessed indeed

To see you grow from that once elusive seed,

To complete the family that means so much.

For me, the ultimate finishing touch.

For you have come to mean so much,

The true extent you may never know,

Until that day comes along

When you have a child of your own.

Your gift to me, of unbelievable worth,

And still so shiny and new,

Demands my unconditional love,

And this is my promise to you.

For each beautiful smile puts a glow in my heart,

And its brightness lights up my life.

And I shall cherish you throughout this time,

And love you dearly for as long as I might.

I will wrap around you my cloak of love,

To protect you and keep you from harm,

And have you know I will always love you,

No matter what you may do.

My home will always welcome you,

As an oasis of peace and calm.

And I want you to know you can come to me

And be cradled in loving arms.

My life has new meaning because of you;

I could not have asked for more,

And I will give you all I can give,

Until Old Father Time knocks on my door.


And when I hear that fateful knock

And can no longer be by your side,

I will watch over you from the shadows,

And lead you into a life of promise,

To be confidently carried with happiness

And all your dreams fulfilled;

Sending you joy and peace forever,

And beyond, until the end of never.


Val J Chapman



Unborn Child

We had a little spark

Which might have been a flame

Her glow lit up the dark

She didn’t have a name, except Child

We had a little spark

A rosy candle glow

She didn’t have a name

And now we’ll never know

The place where unborn babies go

Is called the Never Never Land

She never had the chance to grow

So she went to play with Peter Pan

Nobody grows old in Never Never Land

Keith Salad



Footsteps of Time

Footsteps rain across my brain

And count the hours each day

Stilettoes, flip flops, sandals, brogues

Accompany early morning rain

No electronic buzz or radio

Awakens the likes of me today

No cup of tea, no friendly voice

Just anonymity

Barely a glance from passers-by

But maybe there’s the smallest chance

I’ll hear the ring of coins ker-ching

And cast a grateful glance their way

I count the coins in father’s cap

The one I took from home

But now only my alms reach out

So mine now, all I own

Dog still asleep with chin outstretched

Upon the bare cold stone

I stroke his head as soulful eyes

Say “when can we go home?”

There’s not enough for food today

We’ll hang around though, eh boy?

There has to be another way

There has to be

Val J Chapman



A Forgotten Tragedy

As well as all the men who fought, animals also played their part.

Eight million horses, mules and donkeys died

And only 62,000 thousand returned;

One animal for every four men.

So let the four–legged warrior’s sacrifice be known;

The significance of horses in the bloodiest warfare in history.

It’s the forgotten tragedy of the Great War.

No horse of less than fifteen hands

Would carry crucial supplies and ration carts,

Ambulances and ammunitions.

The wounded on stretchers placed on carriages,

Through constantly shelled and muddy conditions

Where four wheeled vehicles failed.

A soldier holds the reins of his trusted steed,

They share a bond like no other.

Pitched into the line of fire, conditions dire.

They were caught up in mustard gas attacks,

Though often fitted with equine gas masks.

But soldiers left their horses unchecked

And the worst was not artillery or gunfire threat

But infection, disease and malnutrition;

Colic from misfeeding, saddle sores,

Thrush, rain scald, laminitis;

The list is endless.

And soldiers would charge their horses into battle,

Often resulting in both their deaths.

They endured unimaginable suffering

Of things most hateful to them:

Violent noise,

And the bright lights of bursting shells

On those most sensitive eyes.

And the terrifying smell of blood.


Despite their undeniable strength,

The horses were no less vulnerable

To the dangers of the battlefield.

And in those battlefields, the Somme being only one,

They were sometimes left tangled in barbed wire

In front of the trenches, to die alone in no-man’s land,

Or wandering aimlessly through the sodden landscape.

Such a senseless loss of life.

And for the few thousand who didn’t lose their lives,

Most were slaughtered, fed to soldiers,

And the luckiest resumed their former lives, traumatized.

Around 8 million horses, mules and donkeys died.

They didn’t take sides.



Val J Chapman



The Somme

Can you hear the shells incoming?

Is your name on one this time?

Can you feel the fear/ It’s numbing!

Is your skin burning like lime?

Bullets screaming past your ear

Will the next one be for you?

Can you exorcise the fear?

Oh God! Help me. Oh, Jesu!

This is more than man can bear

This is hell upon this earth

And for those for whom I care

I must prove what I am worth

Me and farm boys from the Shires

Heaped upon war’s funeral pyres

Names like Harry, Dick and Tom

We’ll have no cowards on the Somme

Keith Salad



He Always Brought Flowers

He always brought flowers, even the first time we met

On a date we’d arranged on the Internet,

Along with tales of his wife who’d died, he said.

I was sorry, I said, for the life he’d led.

A large tip for the waitress then; generous too.

I’d like us to meet again, he said; how about you?

We started to meet on a weekly basis

While he spoke of himself and his Cheshire oasis.

A five-bedroomed house, rolling lawns,

Housekeeper, gardener, places abroad.

Two kids still at home but doing well.

One son at Sandhurst, I thought “bloody hell!”

Seats at the opera then, suit and tie.

Holding hands, feelings running high.

Hobbies of cycling too, he told.

The Tour de France, maybe we could go.

There was a chance he could get away in July,

Catch the last leg. I was happy and didn’t ask why.

We climbed the Eiffel Tower, we sailed along the Seine

We strolled along the Champs Elysées in the pouring rain.

He met all my family; I never met his

Though he’d said that I could, but the difficulty is

His son who had been very close to his mother

And it could cause problems, you understand, meeting another.

He was often away, abroad or on the road,

Though he always brought flowers when he came back home.

He didn’t have a landline which I thought was very strange;

Only a mobile with a long list of names.

Who were all these people? I felt I had to ask.

He said ‘Not to worry’, just his business contacts.

But why didn’t he answer my calls when I phoned?

And why did I always go home alone?

My many questions were always batted away

With a promise of forever together someday.

But my voice was just a whisper which he hardly ever heard,

Even though my emotions were soaring like a bird.

Alarms were ringing somewhere but I didn’t want to hear

And so I hadn’t listened when friends had said “stay clear”.

But I couldn’t do it now, I knew something was wrong

And he may never hear my unsung song.

The fingers of time were drumming loud.

Happiness hovered but it was an elusive sound.

Then someone found me his address, they found a landline too

And I needed to ring it and find out what was true.

It was very strange but reality beckoned me

Although being strong it was very hard to be.

My heart began to pound and I started to fear

Exactly what he might say, but I just had to hear.

And so, brave but trembling, I picked up the ‘phone,

Hoping we could talk and that he’d be alone.

But now all the flowers he gave me are dead

And there was just his recorded voice which said

“Sorry, my wife and I are not at home.

Please leave a message after the tone”



Val J Chapman



Home

The streets of home are paved with comfort,

Where familiarity falls like rain all around,

And printed memories in black and white

Recall me to its rightness.

I trawl the shoreline of my memories,

Collecting the shells of time gone by,

And the voices whisper like waves

Lapping soft and quiet in reminiscence.

Home is where these memories were made

To form and shape my life.

From here the net was cast across the miles,

With the knot at its centre holding fast.

And when the final thread is broken,

It will still tug me to its source;

Back to the place where I was born,

And to where I shall return when life has left;

To that safety net of home.

Val J Chapman



I Am

I am strong, but I am also weak

I shout, even though I whisper

I am silent, even though I rage inside

I am tearful, even when I am joyful

I cry, even though I am happy

I am happy, yet I am also sad

I am confused, even when I understand

I am confident, although I am trembling

I shiver, even though I am warm

I am scared, though I know I have nothing to fear

I am grieving, even though you are living

I am living, but I am dead inside

I look, even though my eyes are closed

I see, even though I am blinded

I am loving you, even while I hate you

I am sorry, though I have no regrets

I miss, you even though you’re here in my head

I am winning, even though I have lost

I am me,

Without you

Val J Chapman



I Wish I’d Said

I wish I’d said it at the time

The time when your life was leaving

Leaving me, our family.

I wish I’d said it at the time.

Our life together flashed before me

A kaleidoscope

Images of you, of me

Scattered, as if thrown from a tree

Leaves everywhere, in disarray.

Or a jigsaw, the box of life thrown into the air

Its thousand pieces landing everywhere.

What do I do, what do I say?

How do I continue without you here with me

Our life is scattered, shattered now.

I wish I’d said it at the time

When you were with me still.

Though so ill, you couldn’t see me cry,

And why you’ll never know,

I wish I’d said it at the time,

I love you so.

Val J Chapman



The Landscape of Life

In an old writer’s cottage I sit and I think,

And consider my life which went by in the blink

Of an eye, and a wink

Takes me back into life’s deep, dark kitchen sink.

If I could only paint the landscape of my life;

Its earthiness, worthiness, its growth.

And the grass which constantly grew under my feet,

And each kissed and missed opportunity sweet.

I can drift away in the mists of my time,

As I dream from my old stable door,

Away from the landscape I encounter each day,

To see Ashworth Valley just rolling away.

I would paint all the flowers which petalled my life,

With their pearls of wisdom all told,

And the trees which branched out to reach me

As I struggled to trudge through the weeds.

Now horizons have widened, my vision is clear;

I can see all the woods through the trees.

And new blossoms unfold into perfect profusion,

As I walk my landscape with no disillusion.

Val J Chapman



Me and the Moon

By your white light I am brushed and

Freeze-dried by your aura, I lie,

As a life drawing or a china corpse.

With the goodnight kiss of the constellations

And the hug of the Great Bear,

I am eclipsed by your vivid crescent

To sing a stark duet in the darkness.

You hover far above that virtuoso dog at midnight;

Deliver the postman in your misty morning face;

Slay dark clouds to cotton threads.

You oversee the world, sustain the stars; rule the tides.

You are my method to avoiding madness.

I am anchored by your gravity.

I touch your ageless texture, absorb your eternal light

And, suffused by your boundless energy,

So my bright day begins.

Soar the galaxies, climb the clouds;

Collect the stars around you.

While, moonstruck, I climb from my weightless coma

With the belief that, like you, I can ride the skies.

I am your fallen star.

Val J Chapman



When the Sky Hits the Ground

Somewhere between life and death

Is a place where complete forgetfulness

Lies waiting for the darkness to drop.

Frail and ever failing, falling

Over invisible threads of time,

This cruel journey begins.

Gnarled fingers play their silent music,

Worn out feet tap their unheard rhythm,

While the future makes its final decision.

Life’s quality now in question,

It’s a place where every suggestion

Is met with a frightened frown.

And this is where I found the signpost,

Turning left at reason

And right at common sense.

Everything is now a mystery.

I can’t recall my family history;

Its face is unfamiliar now.

And while I wait for the sky to fall,

Through conscious confusion to unconscious delusion,

Today, at least, I’ve remembered to forget.

Val J Chapman




The First Frost of Age

Touched by the first frost of age

Winter’s tears dampen the diary page

Affairs once fateful

Now matter not

Showers of rain

The ache of nostalgie

No longer pain

Look back, rue the past

Forgive yourself, nothing lasts

Come so far, so far

How far to go?

‘Til age with winter’s drifting snow

Covers my footprints.

Keith Salad



Forgetfulness

In a tightening girdle of memory

My world’s contracting fast

I hold the pictures close to me

And deny the facts

I forget, I forgot, I forego

The luxury of regret

Nostalgia not for me

I waltz to the faint echo

Of someone else’s music

In a fog of reverie

Keith Salad



Winter Haven

The wind, winter sharp, blows through leafless trees

Its bitter bite threatening bronze autumn days

Soon frosty fresh breath will be clouding the air

And curtains shut out the dark of the night

The rain showers down on grey school days

Pelting umbrellas of red green and blue

Their hue a stark contrast against leaden skies

Making day almost night before it is due

Drenching the gardens where summer has left

Fading colour and bare bark of trees

The leaves all have fallen, become crisp and dry

In crackling carpets of gold and green

The shivering cold of early morning

Feathering frost on window pane

Lakes and ponds become shiny glass

Where children skate in boots and scarves

The skies cry in frozen flakes

Drifting down on farms, fields and lanes

To cover the country and stifle the sound

And beckon you home at the end of the day

To flickering firelight, warm gold liqueurs

Glowing embers to warm frozen fingers and toes

Forget dawn’s icy light and watery moon

In the welcoming warmth of your haven home