Life: Seven Breaths

Nana is unconsciously breathing.

 he sits
on a blue plastic chair (breath) hospital bedside, her white hair, all to one side,  thinking she’ll be annoyed (breath) when she wakes
with her hair all to one side.

A nurse explains that though not present
Nana may be (breath) able to hear.

The nurse leaves and Nanas breath stops

(Too long)

Then starts hurriedly, then settles down
A nurse explains it is Cheyne-stokes breathing. He can moisten her lips like this. She wets cotton bud out of  white plastic cup, carefully draws bud across Nannas dry lips like painting a line, with water.

He searches web for clues

Nanas breath stops

(Too long)

He paints a line

Typically, over a period of 1 minute, a 10-20 second episode of apnoea or hypopnoea occurs (breath) followed by respirations of increasing depth and frequency. The cycle then repeats itself.

He talks to her, each day

(Breath) Remember the white Sunderland farm
where you were born, Nanna. Stories round its courtyard fire at night. Perched on your Dads horse and cart, delivering milk down streets your Dad knew everybody coming out with jugs.

Nanas breath stops

(Too long)

He paints a line

(breath) Grandad a railway porter laughing with his mate as you and your sisters struggled (breath) with luggage
 to Knaresborough B&B. You got together following evening at River Nidds spectacular ‘Down Mexico Way’, river boats all multi (breath) coloured lit up

(breath stops)

BirminghamWartime Munitions worker, you hated it, all (breath) dirt and grime, but got to see Grandad, (Railway worker in North Wales, but mostly hospitalised).
Returned Sunderland (breath) pregnant with mum. Later Grandad told you no more kids as he’d had mumps.

Paints a line.

Harrogate, Mum (breath) persuaded you to buy detached house. Starbeck Coal depot, weighing lorries in and out. Later you cleaned fridges, stocked shelves, on till at M&S. Grandad, (breath) black bike, black metal bicycle clips delivered post. Did Littlewoods football coupons, Spot-the-ball on a small (breath) laminated brown kitchen table.

Paints a line

Sunday dinners smallest room, tables out into hallway weighed down with feast. Nights friends, (breath) played Newmarket, Yahtzee. Holidays abroad, Germany, France, Brazil.

After mum, only daughter died of Cancer, Grandad (breath) Alzheimers, messed bathroom, bed, till he died, too.

Paints a line

On your own, (breath) I did shopping, sorted bills, admin. We chose (breath) nursing home where you fell into unconsciousness, packing to return home.

Nanas breath stops.

Too long.

Too long.

Too long.


It is a strange trick.

Hear distant sound on road see car lights up close.
Bright white headlamps run at angle to security camera.
We’re not allowed Teevee. This is better.
We control our point of view.
controls in old pit managers office.
One camera bolted to one leg of pit head gear. Another on corner of our flatroofed office.
pit stack is silhouette.
golf course on outskirts bright till 11. A high point.
We walk down long well-kept drive at 3.30 look at orange lights
of villages/ towns spread out below. call them diamond necklaces,
they’re broken.
Looking through lens
cars all light for a second.
One brightness

separates into two distinct blazes. follow their drive past
see two become one again.
Sometimes with car behind another, one becomes four.
cameras only see shades black/white.
One by one cameras will stop working and controls taken away.

Sometimes local police comes for coffee. Chat on crimes committed in town.
We wait for our inspector turning into drive,
exit back way. make it look like we’ve been patrolling.

Dust : Seven Breaths


His son said His (cough) annoying cough, in every sentence, up with the phlegm.

In Sixties, a child (cough)  I kept at him ‘Have a drink of water, Dad.’

In retirement (cough)  he climbed Lake District moutains up through forests, Ben Nevis, coughing every sentence.

2000s  specialist asked (cough) whether he had worked with Asbestos.

‘Only cleaning boilers when (cough) I was young.’

Asbestos dust thickens (cough) his lungs (pleura), diffuse pleural thickening, drying  lungs (cough) branches and twigs


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Apple Pie, Seven Breaths, Free

At Eight at the top of Forest Lane playground, climbing frame A bigger boy Pushed him ‘You’d better Run Because I will smash your face in’ So he ran down, his laughter echoing down Forest Lane Weeping out of breath

To his mothers cul de sac arms

Aged nine, Darrington C.of E.
school playtime down around
grey gravel playground breathing hard

boys chase girls, grab girls, red faced,
girls giggling, stroppy,
out of breath

boys herd girls down stone steps,
between stone walls, up against black
wooden gate

Apple Pie shaped school entrance
they called The Apple Pie.


Kerry Fretwell, prettiest girl in school,
nicknamed Froggy, eyes glinting
at him he’d catch his breath

as she chose boys to take
a lesson in kissing
with her apple pie lips
behind prefab

he wanted her to choose him,
if she did he’d run a mile
out of breath

Bartholomew Street, after Ian McMillans Tempest Avenue

Vern half way down collects wood
for his fire, leave it out front
Leave out anything metal Gypsies at top have sharp eyes,

Stan, two doors down
wants his radiator gone.

Dave next door holds ladder
while I look at roof tiles
and shares homemade ale after.

Our roofers knew man who murdered
a man
at bottom.

I thought someone murdered
at top but our lass swears
he was only badly beaten

Old gent Tommy three doors down
quiet when his wife died last Summer

Put thumbs up when I cleared
his path of Snow last Winter.

Pear tree in back garden bagged
up by them all when ripe
as too much for our lass and me.

Goff Oil: Seven Breaths

At thirteen, he was lucky

not to be goaded down Goff oil, spithole: steps to cellars outside

in playground lads hawk up spit goff on you laugh at you

Holgate comp black blazer tie pristine he was unlucky to have same name

as Cock of school so gangs would face him, one lad poking him in chest

 ‘Cock of School, cock of School’, till stepping back he fell backwards over gang lad crouched down onto wet, damp gravel to their echoing laughter.

At Sixteen listened to Led Zep, Rush at their houses now he was sat at front of class while teacher out of room they threw screwed up paper, pens, rubbers, board rubbers at him

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Reinvent Remains

Reinvent remains.
As Security Guard
protect valuable rust, walk redundant coal Washers
who’s decaying steel Washers frame a site a village.
observatory to some guards,
ancient paths across compound.
bomb sites after a war, wpid-img_20140428_100650.jpg
adventure playground’ for kids throw stones at unused Washers. A guard shouts ‘Oi! Bugger off.’
Accuses them making wasteland useful
An art gallery: artists,
photograph pencil record outline, display remains. wpid-img_20140428_100603.jpg
pits filled in.
Soon bulldozers remove inappropriate make an industrial estate.
spoilheap remains
invented as an ordinary hill. Every year while it grew
ancient footpaths raised.
Redundant miners and their dogs haul upwards now stare down at flatroofed units
potential industry.

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Family Historian (Author Unknown)

We are the chosen. In each family there is one who seems called to find the ancestors. To put flesh on their bones and make them live again. To tell the family story and to feel that somehow they know and approve.

Doing genealogy is not a cold gathering of facts but, instead, breathing life into all who have gone before. We are the story tellers of the tribe. All tribes have one. We have been called, as it were, by our genes. Those who have gone before cry out to us: “Tell our story”. So, we do.

In finding them, we somehow find ourselves. How many graves have I stood before now and cried? I have lost count. How many times have I told the ancestors, “You have a wonderful family; you would be proud of us.” How many times have I walked up to a grave and felt somehow there was love there for me? I cannot say.

It goes beyond just documenting facts. It goes to who am I and why do I do the things I do. It goes to seeing a
cemetery about to be lost forever to weeds and indifference and saying I can’t let this happen. The bones here are bones of my bone and flesh of my flesh. It goes to doing something about it. It goes to pride in what our ancestors were able to accomplish. How they contributed to what we are today. It goes to respecting their hardships and losses, their never giving in or giving up, their resoluteness to go on and build a life for their family. It goes to deep pride that the fathers fought, and some died, to make and keep us a nation. It goes to a deep and immense understanding that they were doing it for us.

It is of equal pride and love that our mothers struggled to give us birth, without them we could not exist, and so we love each one, as far back as we can reach. That we might be born who we are. That we might remember them. So we do. With love and caring and scribing each fact of their existence, because we are they and they are the sum of who we are.

So, as a scribe called, I tell the story of my family. It is up to that one called in the next generation to answer the call and take my place in the long line of family storytellers. That is why I do my family genealogy, and that is what calls those young and old to step up and restore the memory or greet those who we had never known before.”

Author: Unknown

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