Three poems: A hard name, Chameleons, Damaged

A hard name

There were reds under the beds
when we were growing up
and someone at school
always ridiculed my name
the name of the woman spy
frozen in a cold war movie.
It has been a hard name to carry
a hard name to explain
but sometimes it starred in a ballet
and took the impossible leap
or came up in Dostoevsky
only to fall in quiet despair
softly at our feet.
I lived with it then
I live with it now.
It keeps its hard edge
in the language my parents
never quite mastered.



Now that my parents are gone
the voice inside
has changed to something
less disturbing
but I am still the strange chameleon
caught in different lights.
In childhood
I believe I was their colour and their light
before I took on different shades
to match an outside world
where they were only shadows
of the people they had been.
I never saw their real colours
I only asked myself
why they were so washed out.
Now that they are gone
I see them differently.
I see them young.
I see them in the people who have come
with other children.
Despite the camouflage
I spot chameleons in my class
the shades of shyness
the flash of angry reds
the old confusion about
the shape of us.
Now that my parents are gone
I tell myself the stories
that I hardly listened to
in a time of growing up
when I was
only half at home.



We took their damage and ran with it
or tried to run away from it
but still
we carried it into adulthood
the tarnished trophy given to the also rans.
When we were children it was a thing
staying in the house
it was a lodger in the built-on room
where the past was kept
silent but for the telling creaks
made by someone
walking on uneven floorboards.
Now I tread these polished floors
and the trophy sits among a hundred books
safely shelved
or so I like to think.
I take my pick of old biographies
that change with every telling
but I know that each remembering
is another scab to pick at.
Occasionally I listen
to the other stories of my generation
children of the damaged
gathered in the same circle
weaving the same wreath.
And every story that someone else is telling
makes ours a little easier
in the convivial moment over the glass of wine
in houses built of different memories
we nurse each other through the old pains.
And still the damage sits at every table
refusing to leave when the coffee is served.

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