Pratibha Castle

Pratibha, whose prize-winning pamphlet ATriptych of Birds and A Few LooseFeathers is published by Hedgehog Press late in 2020, began writing poetry in 2010. Her poems are featured in The Blue Nib online, as well as anthologies and print publications including Indigo Dreams’ magazines, Reach and Saraswati;Fly on the Wall: Chaos edition. Her work also appears on Words for the Wild and Bonnie’s Crew online sites. Winner of the NADFAS Poetry Competition 2009, she has shortlisted in several poetry competitions. Her poems are inspired by a love of nature. Much of her current work draws on experiences of growing up in 1950s England, the child of Irish Catholic immigrants. Images from her many trips to India, and the psychedelia of early 70s Notting Hill also creep onto the page. Her earliest experiences with writing included winning a Cadbury’s short story competition, aged 9, and writing and directing a school play at 10. There was a long break before she returned to writing relatively late, graduating from the University of Chichester aged 61 with a first-class honours degree in English and Creative Writing. Retired from singing and holistic therapies, Pratibha remains a keen gardener, apart from those occasions when the Muse calls.

Drowning

Waves suck in,
cast out, yank you
off your feet, pummel
empty of breath; thresh
you into the shingle. Down,
down. Throttle of panic.
 
A plea bubbles from your 
mouth, heart pound shout
gobbled by the swell.
Brighton pier-posts 
wobble in watery
smog, a crab
fluxes into sand,
other bathers a jungle 
of blurry legs, blasted-
speaker mumbles, squeals.
 
 
Suffocating.
 
 
Breath wrung out 
of you the way your 
mother’s tough love
wrung out the sheet she 
scrubbed rinsed scoured till 
her hands were scalded red with 
washing soda, effort. Puddles 
on the draining board, floor, 
her apron; faded pink 
and gold flamingos 
soaked through 
to the quill from 
all that splish splash
sluice to erase a stain 
stubborn as sin that even 
coaxing and crooning, the salt 
tears she wept throughout, 
parching her to a whip 
of winter skirmished
kelp, did little 
to appease. And 
the blight of that day 
stayed. A haunt in her eyes
you puzzled over, like the blood 
on what you’d thought a blameless sheet.

Glittery Like Stars

Roses drooped, rain drunk, 
the day Mammy dragged 
me to the taxi, 
 
Golly Molly in my arms, Daddy
left in the street, shrinking
like a pricked balloon
 
or magic spell gone
wrong, to a full
stop of a dot 
 
and when the taxi 
turned the corner, 
in a flash to vanish. Till
 
three years on, at close
of school, streets awash
with autumn, he reappeared
 
beyond the scrolled iron gate 
of St. Martha’s Convent, 
Finchley, not
 
a heart’s leap from
Aunt Lizzie’s flat. In his hand,
a peace offering. Squishy, swish;
 
gold foil all aflutter with green
mauve butterflies; knotted 
tight with a spangly bow 
 
neither he nor I 
could loosen. His eyes 
when I wouldn’t talk to him, 
 
glittery like stars. Those 
same stars that wet Wednesday 
in the hospital, brilliant still 
 
though his universe was fading
fast. Their shine forever
doused as he lay
 
in a froth of blue taffeta and pine 
at Dillistone and Wraights, 
light years past regrets. 

On Reaching Heaven

Your eyes the bubble sparkle
of a Moet sláinte, you’ll
float across in that
cherry cardigan
you favoured
towards the end.
Stuck at home, you
toasted the hours with
a click of needles knitting
socks for friends. I dropped by
or phoned less often than I later
wished though that last time I brought
the cake. A treat we’d baked together years
before; your warm hand on mine
steering the heart beat symmetry
of the wooden spoon through
an anarchy of icing sugar,
butter, splash – or more,
depending on the mood –
of Camp coffee.
 
The spill of your
song fizzing
the shadows
of the basement
kitchen as I jammed
together sponge open
hearted as your love.
 
The glory of walnut halves tallied
one to ten onto my palm
to be set with caution
on the buttercream
glaze. Baked
in honour
of the day,
the sun with its
celebratory gleam,
unseasonable. Tenth
of the tenth. The date
you and I each entered
this world and that you
even with your sixth
sense never guessed
would be the day
you’d leave.

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