In a middle weekend of last month’s poem-a-day jobbie, came a challenge that at first made me mad. Enough to want to bail, really. A craziness of composing with the use of just two vowels. At breakfast I asked B., really, what have I signed up for here… parlour games? (I can’t write ‘parlour games’ without doing so in David Mitchell’s voice.) And in a huff I said, ‘oh, if I must’, and at least got B. to pick the vowels, to distant myself from this further – and pass me the barge-pole and watch me not touch this.

E and A. Thanks for that, at least.

Afternoon. I sat in the sun with a cider, while she did her ten thousand steps.

And it all came. The laughing, ridiculous trip of it; fluid and fun. Something I remember Malcolm Gladwell writing in, I think, David & Goliath*: a story about candidates squinting over poorly-printed, small-type test papers – how they fared better than those with perfect copies. That there’s something to be said for having to make the mind work at the conditions whilst having it work on the task. Desirable difficulties, Gladwell cites. ‘Liberating constraints’, I glibly classify; but I recognise the usefulness.

In the ‘it now exists’-ness of the 30 written things, ‘Heartbreakers’ is one of my favourites. Because, I think, it is made of true recall, made in turn, and turned, by trickery.


Cathy Ellen – that’s me mam. Leeds-made;
west and travelled east: the tram
and the day she met me dad, and the pram she tells
was taken at the Arndale Centre café. St. Theresa’s,
where Father Kearney dreamed and dreams;
lads and lasses dressed as Tatler centre spreads –
eyelashes deeply mascara’d lamp-black. Mere feet
away, angels, restless – flap featherless arms
and embrace that Great Gardener’s cemented face;
secret and bereaved; empty glasses, tears and lace
as far as the eye – perfect green eyes – can see.
Her leather jacket weathered as a shed; caressed
and re-dressed, and – yet. The facts:
battered by Barnsley, then away at Newcastle;
Arsenal, Chelsea, Derby, and the beer-crazed Wednesday
at Aberdeen and Rangers. Car passengers remember
Allan Clarke, Bremner and Madeley, Reaney,
Harvey and the Grays: then later, Strachan and always,
always, Gary Speed. Stacked newspapers
have the heartbreaker news.
We Are Leeds, We Are Leeds…
The lad’s left arm bears three self-made tats:
“LEEDS”, “MAM”, and “HATE”,
and a dagger, and a heart and a space
reserved, he says, when he next has the cash;
a dead classy banner and “ENGLAND EXPECTS”.
Back at East Ardsley – between Wakey and Leeds.
Mam’s late, and Dad’s never there. Hard as steel
and battle-scarred – daft as grass and
engaged at each and every match-day’s end.
The last lass stands apart.
She always had that ready hand at the handbrake.
Endlessly, cars passed as we sat there: a layby –
me and her. A tree, a fence.
Speechless, sat and watched a wren make
a nest – and then afterwards fly away: all that, and – what?
An elegance that never stands a chance:
the same, nameless neatness that states
we’ll never have a baby.
Well, that was the same day we heard he was dead.
And that’s when we knew that what we expect
and what we plan, and even what we make,
may never happen. A wren leaves a new nest.
And we leave hearts a perfect mess.

Heartbreakers 1.1   ___________________

Writer’s Digest Poem-A-Day. April 18th 2015

*David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants, Malcolm Gladwell, Penguin, 2014


About Stevie Mitchell

I come from a long line of cartoons and beer. I was once peed on by a tiger. Hoping the resultant super-powers are yet to come, cos if these are they, then, grrrr....
This entry was posted in Creative Writing, Poetry and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Heartbreakers

  1. weebluebirdie says:

    A damn fine poem. Glad you sussed that A & E were the vowels to go for! I hate getting a pile of I’s in Scrabble.

    • Thanks! Inevitably I’ll club myself over the head by trying this with the other vowels – and should probably just get it over with – but, yes, I got lucky with these two for starters. (IOU is one of my favourite 80s pop tunes.)

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