So much of my life—indeed of anyone’s life—is concerned with communication. It’s something, of course, which many of us have as the core of our work—from salesmanship, advertising, journalism, and the performance arts to my own specialty of psychiatry.
Communication—or the lack of it—is particularly evident, of course, between the sexes. While I don’t entirely go for that “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” idea, it has its merits!
So here’s a little contribution—call it a pocketful—from some of this preoccupation. We start in the Elizabethan age, with a poem I wrote in my years of total obsession with all things textiles (which continues to this day!).
Twentyone Tudor Ladies
Twelve Tudor Ladies are Sipping Sirops on the Terrace.
Munching Morsels of Marchpane, they Sigh,
and Eye the Tudor Gallants
Parading in the Maze.
As they Gaze they long to be Pursued
and Persuaded to a Pavane
or to a Galliard, two by two.
Six Ladies, very neat, are Sewing Silently on the Lawn.
Garments gilded with Galloon are graced with Gillyflowers –
Burlesqued Festoons, fooling the Bees,
who murmur their Summer Tunes
to Marigolds beside the Pool.
Ivory Oversleeves of softest Lawn
swirled by the Breeze
uncover curling Stems and Blackworked Leaves.
They Spangle and Speckle and Seed with Knots,
not sowing of Plots
but the Silken stuff where their Knot Garden is Sewn.
Here is shown the Pleasing prospect of an Arbour.
A Tranquil Harbour where three Ladies, all alone, partake
of Caraway Cake, Comfits and Candied Cherries.
Tendrils and Berries of the Trellised Vine
Quaintly combine with Peach,
each with each Plait, Pleach and Twine,
marvellously mimicking the Filigree Laces
framing their Faces.
Dulcimer, Flute, mellifluous Viola da Gamba are playing Beautifully,
by Beckoning Beds, made up
with Sheets of Heartsease, sure to please,
Pillows of Pinks, covers of Chamomile,
and Damask Roses for Valance.
Those Ladies on the Terrace are Peeping Privily at the Gallants,
Ogling and making Artful Designs on them.
But though the Ladies on the Lawn and under the Arbour
keep their Eyes down,
All Twentyone of them drown
in Desires for Amorous Dalliance.
Now follows a more up-to-date, if universal, poetic account of what can change and go wrong over the years. I have only performed this a few times, as it needs two voices, so I suggest reading it aloud to yourself—unless that will make you sound weird to anyone who happens to overhear you, even the cat.
Stalemate: A Prose Poem for Two Voices
SHE: Who are you? Are you my Persecutor?
HE: You know me. I’m your Protector
SHE: I want to get out. Please, let me get out!
HE: You can’t. You mustn’t. You will be hurt. Don’t you
remember—we made a bargain?
HE: You wanted my help. You were frightened and you asked
to stay in my cellar. You asked me to look after you.
SHE: I don’t remember.
HE: I agreed to feed you, and look after you, and take out your
SHE: I spend my time turning the wheel that grinds wheat into
dust. I’m starving. I’m dying. My hair has gone grey.
HE: Why are you complaining? Don’t I bring you three good
meals a day?
SHE: Why do you persecute me? I want to be out running like a
deer through the evening dew. I want to sing the moon out
of the sky and bite it till the silver juice runs down my chin.
HE: Your feet will get cold.
SHE: I want to pick the stars from the grass and put them in my
hair. I want to comb it till it shines like diamonds and
rubies and pearls.
HE: Your hair is a nest of snakes. You turn men to stone.
SHE: You never told me that before.
HE: You have to wear a veil and go covered at all times, with
me for your mirror. You’ll never find anyone else to protect
you from yourself.
SHE: Stop persecuting me. I want to find the den of the wolf
mother and suckle her cubs. I want to howl wolf flesh onto
my bones. I want to feel earth under my paw pads.
HE: You are dangerous!
SHE: I am howling in this prison.
HE: I know. The neighbours think you’re mad. You’re giving us
both a bad name.
SHE: I’m kept in prison, and I’m howling. Aaoooohw…aaoooohw!
HE: It’s very unfair. You pretend not to know me but we made a
bargain. You empowered me to act for you. Look—I have
the bond here.
SHE: I was young then. I didn’t know what I was doing.
HE: They all say that.
SHE: I never said I would stay here forever. I never promised that.
HE: I never asked you to.
SHE: What if I said I wanted you to release me from the bond?
What if I asked you to let me go?
HE: Why don’t you try?
SHE: Please let me go.
HE: The door isn’t locked. You can go anytime you want to.
SHE: But if I go what will happen to the mill? I have to make the
golden river that flows from your cellar door. What will
happen if I stop turning the wheel?
HE: If the wheel stops there will be no river of golden dust any
SHE: Then the children will starve. How cruel you are!
HE: How can you say that?
SHE: You’re sending me away. You would let the children starve.
HE: You are old. Your hair is grey. You haven’t ground
anything for years.
SHE: It’s the thought that counts. I could grind all the wheat in the
world into gold if I wanted to.
HE: Why don’t you do it then?
SHE: Because you said that my hair was a nest of snakes.
HE: I’m sorry.
SHE: Sorry isn’t enough for what you did.
HE: What must I do?
SHE: You must stay by the door and act as my messenger. You
must keep carrying out the golden flour I grind. It’s for the
HE: I can’t! You don’t grind wheat into gold anymore. There is
only the grey dust and the emptiness. I want to leave you.
SHE: You can’t.
HE: Are you my Persecutor?
SHE: No. I’m your Protector. Don’t you remember? You had no
fire, no breath, no life. I agreed to stay in your cellar and
grind the harsh wheat into flour every day, to keep you and
the children alive.
HE: I want to ride a great horse through the wilderness carrying a
golden spear, shouting a challenge to the sun.
SHE: You’ll fall off.
HE: I want to climb the ivory mountain and fly on the backs of
eagles to the end of the world. I want to discover their secret
nests and bring back wisdom in my saddlebags of red leather
set with silver clasps.
SHE: You have to stay by the door. Who else can carry messages
HE: Why do you persecute me? Why don’t you come out and set
SHE: I choose to stay here.
HE: Let me go! I want to stride through seven seas carrying a
club made of an oak tree, blowing ships before me with my
SHE: We made a bargain.
HE: I was young then. I didn’t know what I was doing.
SHE: They all say that.
And now a modern take on the same subject. How I have finally realised a little personal wisdom—that there may be more happiness in accepting defeat over this difference between the sexes than in remaining at odds with the ‘other’.
Don’t Say a Word
How has this happened to me? No! I do not know.
I who so much love words and use them well
and longed to hear you speak them to my heart,
Have learnt the joy in your long speech of silence.
We both explored the ways that words will find escape –
we use emojis, stickers, innuendo, gifs on a phone.
Anything but words! Camouflage meaning, shifting, slipping into night,
painfully shared by fingers overlarge for such an instrument.
Yet we create a music for us both, find meaning from the air.
So, my best friend, you’ve found your refuge! all unknowing
– it is the sweet, quiet darkness in my silenced heart.
I meet you there! I put my finger on your lips, whispering “shssh.”
I feel your lips move upwards in a smile, warm with the moment.
Your arms encircle, pull me close, silent and wordless. Better so?