A collaborative poem from Julia Webb and Maggie Mackay




I dream you alive,
that I wake to find you flying
round my bed. I am not surprised,
though I remember your bulk,
your papery skin, as if
it were only yesterday.
This new alive you is warm,
soft and light as a tropical breeze.

This new alive you is warm,
a rich abundant thunderstorm,
a flutter, skirting my eyelids,
a whisper in that lilting voice,
you steady on the bedpost,
one brief hover. You remind me
of hugs, scolding, the squeeze
of your hand, Scottish drizzle,
August heat on the turn.

August heat and the soft hug
of your voice reading aloud
at the kitchen table.
The words rise and fall
until the room grows dark,
yet neither us can bear
to break the moment’s magic;
the air is strangely alive.

Alive, if only!
In midnight black I sing
Humpty Dumpty with Daddy
as you float along the ceiling cornice –
a balloon slowly expiring
in your least favourite colour – green,
pearls for tears around your neck
Your pots and pans resonate
drums and spoons.

Drums and spoons –
your cast iron pots line up
like cauldrons on butcher’s hooks.
I stand on your red chair tipping
flour and sugar into a blue plastic bowl.
Remember the day we ate a whole bowlful,
scooping the mixture with our fingers?
I see us zooming in and out
of damp washing on broomsticks,
our voices raised in hymn.

A hymn lifts you through the ceiling,
presses roof tiles upright,
glides over rows of lime-green cabbages,
Joy’s Mum’s rhubarb wrapped
in the Evening News on our doorstep.
The church stump tower reaches
for you, but the wind pushes
your song on. Afraid of heights
you drop onto a thundercloud.

Dad’s face is dark as a thundercloud
as he smokes his pipe,
in front of the Nine o’clock News,
while you scrunch poppy-red tissue
for giant paper flowers,
or sit at the living room table
humming, your sewing machine
pelting along at full throttle.

At full throttle your seesaw
feet rock the pedals,
around the table a tangle of chiffon,
sashes, buttons and odd-bin beads
in glass bubbles, knitting needles
trimmed with rows of baby blue.
You guide me through life
just as you slide fabrics under
the speeding needle, zigzagging sometimes,
onwards towards sensible living.
You are my Queen of Dreams.

Queen of Dreams, you dance
out of the mirrored wardrobe
dressed in your sixties cast-offs –
those multi-coloured beauties:
silky mini dresses and satin lined capes,
flimsy finery for our ‘dressing up’.
Your eyes black, heavy with liner,
your lipstick, cherry red.

Cherries in the Snow bursts
across your lips, strands of wispy perm
stray wild around your ears,
you hiccup giddy gulps of sherry
behind a creased napkin,
push varifocals up your nose,
call after strangers with familiar backs.
You drop jigsaw pieces as you wander,
blobs of colour  – summer blooms, hand-painted cups.
Perched on the wall outside your church.
you hum How Great Thou Art’

You hum How Great Thou Art’ and Billy Boy,
guitar balanced across your knees.
Your bungalow is rainbow chaos,
you issue orders from your bed,
fret about what’s been ousted from the fridge.
You rummage through carrier bags
but can never find exactly what you need –
your best teeth, your reading glasses,
that last birthday card from your Mum.

It’s your birthday. A June rose,
sweet and sharp-thorned,
you say: ‘you shouldn’t waste money on me.’
Your wheelchair wobbles
on the North Berwick green,
but you crave the sea air.
We fly through the garden centre –
pick geraniums for a summer you’ll never see,
land for lukewarm tea and chunky chips –
your favourite – those childhood naughties
soaked with salt like the Forth.






Julia Webb is a graduate of UEA’s Poetry MA and a poetry editor for Lighthouse. She lives in Norwich where she teaches creative writing. Her first collection Bird Sisters is out now from Nine Arches Press.

Maggie Mackay is a final year MA creative writing student at Manchester Metropolitan University with work in a range of poetry magazines. She is a co-editor of Word Bohemia. (www.wordbohemia.co.uk)

Note: Julia and Maggie met online through Jo Bell’s Fifty Two workshopping group. They edited the poem via email, Skype and phone. They are hoping that soon they will meet in real life.

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