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POEM: Fixed Stars by Matt Bryden

photo credit: MLazarevski via photopin cc
‘Fixed Stars’ was an attempt to pin down some disparate memories and to describe how my mother seemed to have found contentment during a visit I made to her from York. The poem has many different endings, but all of them touch on having space to be yourself.
A voice with room to break,
she didn’t spill from the mouth
but spoke from a well-bottom,
with more water to take the fall of light.
Happy in the dark, sat on 
the porch looking out
at the garden, at the stars …
… she was never more calm.
Rid of church, children…
she had no one to deal with
but herself.
And she found herself,
The title is taken from Sylvia Plath’s fantastic ‘Words’: ‘From the bottom of the pool, fixed stars / govern a life.’ 

Fixed Stars

 by Matt Bryden

When I asked my mother,

over my pencil and paper,

why we went to MIND

coffee mornings at the local drop-in centre

she said it was a place for

people who were mentally ill.


I thought we were visiting

people who were mentally ill.

I did not think she was mentally ill.


Colin, a friend from the centre,

came to the house a couple of times.

I didn’t like her alone with him,

walking the Woolworth strip of Penge.


He moved stiffly,

and when he handed me

green plastic soldiers

in the garden, he bent from the waist.

He stopped coming round

after an overdose of heroin.

Now when I see people with a limp

I think of needles in veins.


At Bethlem, my mother was in a wheelchair.

I had been told to behave,

running along the polished halls.

Her hair had a sweaty knottedness.

When I asked her how she’d been

she told me she had been in a fight

but it was okay, they were friends now.

It was something I could understand,

women fighting.

I wondered if she was in a wheelchair

during the fight or because of it.


Back from school early

after Miss Terry had poisoned the class

by putting blue colouring in the milk,

I found her asleep,

the curtains drawn, air heavy with dust.

Each night we put out cereal bowls.


At the Wimpy bar I could not place

those colourful cartoon characters

on the children’s menu, a world unto their own.

A man turned round from his seat to ask the time,

I could see his beady eyes

and eczema-pitted skin.

When it came time to pay, her bag was gone.

I described him to the police

and they laughed at my imagination.


The house at night was silent.

My dad’s words echoed

into the dark room, wet with character.

His key opened the door but the chain was on.

As he reached round to slip it off, my mother

slammed it against his architect’s hand.


Sat on the back porch, in the dark,

looking out at the garden, at the stars,

she was never more calm,

the rainwater tank brimming

and the cat padding in and out of the house.

She had no one to deal with but herself.

Matt Bryden has published a collection of his poetry Boxing the Compass, published by Templar.


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