Cornelia Bullen-Smith

/ as…

autumn turns to ruin numberless dreams
of fruitful trials,
end is defined as end, days numbered by
the invisible nibbles of time. Marking crossings with o u t,
about-turns plummet then run dead.
Thinking ahead, sinking on slitherslide, I weep : Oh
keep me on, reap me not now,
I long for life! Free me for one final
spring or so. Spare me once more, one silly summer
of  frolic, one lusty love. I beg for hope’s horizon to be adorned with
days unnumbered. Steadied thus I shall succumb, creep towards winter, heart
…first and perhaps ://

Cornelia Bullen-Smith

My empty nest syndrome
(analysis at 55)

I chanted to my sparkling wisdom of the here and now,
fearing lightning, yet longing so for stormy thunder.
eyes closed, I summersaulted smartly into disappearance,
entering the breathless void of de-boned shoulder tasks.
Hoping that

I might attempt  again again again to dance into my life –
a baby butterfly, drizzled with a zillion kindly stars.
sprightly, I might slippy slide on new beginnings
into the joyfilled garden of life’s wonderous possibilities.
Hoping that

or maybe sooner
I shall gently jiggle the kaleidoskope of hope
abandon myself to living in the lushness of lovely wonderful me’s,
multifocal, colourfully glowing, revived, complete.

Cornelia Bullen-Smith

Why I didn’t make it to Venice

“Charles, darling, so good at making plans. A holiday! How wonderful.  What a treat!”
This is Belinda’s voice you hear fluting through the rooms of our castle.

A family outing is on the cards and Charles, generally accepted to be the offical leader of the pack, has been excited, bullish and clear for the last three months. ‘Venice for all of us. Three generations in one car. Culture, is what I want to show the child. I’ll drive. It will be a wonderful experience. Basta!’

Belinda, my kuschelig mama, over the years the recipient of innumerable bouquets of red and yellow tulips, dishwashing and other little helper services, hugs and poems, presented with a big smile, a big thank you and the ever rekindled hope that this padded image of myself might love me. It is this mother of mine who has, beneath the songs of traditional praise, kept her cards to her bosom.

‘Will this be safe?’ she asks. And: ‘Will you cope, dear Charles?’ all the while folding towels, counting underpants and shirts into his suitcase, muttering ‘I don’t want to go!’
Charles has been hard of hearing since he returned from the trenches. So she can mutter loud enough for me to hear. Sharp enough for me to remember. Often enough for me to make her wish my fight.

Of course he is the king of kings, a celebrity in our conventional industrial small town, the man who walks into any shop, any restaurant and greets to the left, to the right. Most know and respect him: Charles, the man who came back from the war with impaired hearing, an arm missing and an ego to build. Wrapped in teenage ugliness, I walk to heel, short sighted, anxious to please. He introduces me to his colleagues as if I’m his missus. You could think he’s proud of me, my father.
Belinda stays home quite often, is mother hen to the rest of the offspring, pats, pecks, cooks and washes. ‘I’ll always be on your side,’ she whispers when we’re alone, when I cry in despair and fear of him, ‘always.’

So we set out. A trip in two stages.

A family holiday is what we’re doing. Picture book stuff, first stop: Italian Alps. Grandparents, grandchild and daughter exploring a mountainous paradise, half-way to Venice. Staying in the farmhouse, dog-earing hand picked memories from thirty years back, sticky sweet, selected for primary colours of family unity and bliss.
The breakfast taken in a large room, includes carefully counted slices of cold meat, cheese, buckets of second grade coffee. Milk. This is a dairy farm.
We have the corner table with a bench along two walls and chairs on the other long side. Belinda and the grandchild sit on the wooden bench, cushioned by dark green and yellow flower patterns, Charles has the head space, overlooking the salon, ready to greet other guests coming in, ready to spot the left over cheese and wurst, ready to flirt with the waitress. Ready. The chair next to him is mine.

That’s where I let off the bomb that morning. ‘Papa, we, my child and I, don’t want to travel any further. Let’s stay here. Let’s have a lovely time, then go back home.’ Speechless, his face goes black, his eyes shoot daggers, Belinda sugar-creams her coffee, sighs motherly, winks at the child.
I become invisible.

There is sharp air drafting through the yellow door into their room.  He’s propped up by quilted cushions, the king holding court, Mr Justice himself. Belinda is moss on the velvet armchair in the corner.
I stand erect, holding my one hand with the other, secretly gasping for air.
Finally I kick the door closed, keep things more private, protect my child in the other room. My heart twins my stomach in a knot.

‘You!’ He slices the air. ‘You and your interference. Always your interference. I’ve planned this for months and you know it. You thief! Robbing me of the pleasure I want to give the child.’
My mouth is cottonwooled, my throat’s full of straw. My eyes flitter with sparks of neonlight. My ears are full of the kreisching of thousands of crickets.
No movement from the moss in the corner.
‘Papa, please, we like it here. Let’s just stay and have a nice time.’
No clucking from the mother hen. Not one cluck.

I give her another chance. ‘Look’ I bow to the king ‘I am so very grateful for the opportunity to be here with all of you. It will be so strenuous for you to drive us all the way to the coast. You’ve done so much, giving us this wonderful time, this splendid experience.’

I insert a pause. She could nod now, blink, she could just glimpse in my direction. Black silence snakes from her face onto her chair, around the room, into my beggar’s heart, strangles.
‘Out!’, taking his hand off his heaving chest, indicating PAIN, he’s pointing.  ‘You.are.a.disgrace!’
Even as I crawl towards fresh air, I listen for her breath. Without a whisper, she locks the door after me.

Cornelia Bullen-Smith

Load shedding

The shirt was a tight, white, cumbersome affair. Part of the hated uniform.
The fair ground, his play pen for now, was at a Saturday high. Peter, his name tag read in blue writing. Ice-cream Peter in bold letters. A casual.

‘Strawberry – str a w be-he-rr ry!!!!!’ pushing the fruity sounds out like in the song from Porgy and Bess. He’d always fancied that part of the musical. Judged the whole performance by how that particular singer could hop over the notes and make it sound sexy. While he’d been living with Clare he’d made her watch it twice. Back in the day when the sun still shone out his arse. Before Danny showed up.

‘Strawberry, str a w be-he-rr ry!!!!!!!’ – the cadence brought attention, so he followed it up with ‘choco-choco-chocolatttohhhhh vanillllllllllllll la!’ Tickling his tongue around the l.
‘Come and get your flava!’
Damn shirt.
‘Here you go superman, one chocostrawberry tower for you’.

It had been Danny’s plan of course to set up operation on this fairground in the middle of town. Danny the mastermind, Peter the bitch. This would be their big coup, practised and finetuned over the last nine months.

His cell peeped twice – five minutes to go. Aim for the ghost rides. He pushed his sunglasses down from his head over his eyes, kept his head down. ‘Be invisible dude, more invisible than normal’ Danny had threatened him a hundred and twenty times.

Better not serve anyone for now, just make it to the ghost rides on time. He stepped into a puddle, winced, pushed on, socks squooshing in his black sneakers.
Two minutes. Don’t sweat, don’t look back.
This had to work otherwise he had no hope in hell of ever getting out alive. Danny would hammer him if he messed up.

He was in place, spot on time when invisible Danny kicked into action for ‘lights off’, the show stopper! Generators coughed, rasped and were strangled into silence, the rollercoaster died upside down, the roundabout horses did another half ‘up’ in their slow trot, gave up. Silence. Fairylights blinked in surprise, closed their eyes.

He heard his breathing as he moved forward towards the goulish face of the ticket booth at the ghost rides. Counted to 30 very slowly. By 13 the screams started.

Children yelled, mothers first laughed hesitantly, unbelieving, then
‘Jonny, where are you?’
‘Mommy’s here!’
‘Lizzy darling …?’

He stepped around the puke-green flaked cheek of the witch’s grimace. Had practiced this by the river at night. 27, 28 and moving in.
It was where Danny had said it would be. He fingered the box, exhaled, farted a stinker in relief. Everything was as he had been told.

No announcement – Mr.Uberboss was away for the week-end, no one else would have the brain power to look for the loud hailer. Now people were beginning to scramble like blind mice, shouting for each other. Cell phone torches danced an unchoreographed firefly ballet. Some youngsters still laughed the haha of young bulls running against a wire fence: ‘yo man, don’t touch me like so, ooi!’

He forced himself into slow-mo, slid the box into the ice cream cart, plop on top of the cherry ice, then made for the deserted toilets.

Fuck ice-cream, he really wanted a drag now. His gums were dry, his teeth like cardboard soldiers battling a mouth full of dry pronutro.

The lights came on when he heard the first cop car sirens. The toilet mirror was small, smudged but sufficient. He used the battery powered pocket razor, took time to cut and clean his fingenails, washed, got changed and arranged. The music had started blaring again, loud voices and laughter around all corners. Time to move.

Danny was slinking around the Strong Man near the parking lot, looking smart in power jeans, not giving anything away. Not seeing him either although he was close, taunting fate.
He walked slowly, swinging his hips, thinking of Clare on a night out, taking small steps.
He’d chosen the blue bag with the strong leather strap although the loot was only paper weight, fitting in snugly, promising a foothold on the bottom rung of the escape ladder. It went with the outfit, the bag.

‘Lady! Can I give you a lift?’
He turned his head slowly, almost smiled, said that would be lovely, thank you, stepped into the Merc.
Danny lifted the Strong Man’s hammer, passing time, waiting for Peter.

Cornelia Bullen-Smith


Night. No one will visit.
Lie still. When the wind is perfect
gaze to sky like this – is
wonder, is gratitude, is love.
Adrift when the wind sings
my mind oozes all squooshy things.
Wind, I say, what did you
see today? You! Have you seen my
daughter? Heavenly child,
is she alright? Night, is she one
to gaze to sky like this?
Gaze to sky like this. Humbled. Be.

Cornelia Bullen-Smith

My writing this year was like … jumping.

Jumping into an adventure, forgetting to leave expectations on the edge.
Instead: opening my mouth at every occasion, letting big words jump out, unchecked.
In February it was “The Novel” and many days of solitary confinement, desk, laptop, coffee, wild ideas. Coming. Going. Jumping. Some sentences arm wrestled into submission, pinned down onto the screen, into the memory of a machine.
Creeping along, unseen, was Loneliless. Isolation. Finally visible as the dragon of dispair, spitting fire: Usssselesssss. Ssssstupid. Full Stop.
Recovery. Downscaling…’Just one published short story!’
More walks, more contact with speaking creatures, dramatic increase of radio listening ‘for inspiration’.
Then –
joyfully jumping into the outside world. Getting involved ‘out there’, desperately hungry for human contact. Starving. Taking notes. But often not.
Another panic. Another dragon.
I’m hovering, hunting, gathering.
Suddenly too many responsibilities, not many to do with writing. Although ideas become sparkly again, written words appear stale and clumsy.
Jumping back in fear of the ‘too much – can’t do’, hopping on one foot, stalling, looking for a pen. E v e n t u a l l y, after painful struggles, jumping forward again.
This leap with eyes and soul open,  mouth closed. Sometimes.

Cornelia Bullen-Smith

i’m telling what i see

saying hello to strangers, asking for direction,
luck itself sits down quite close to me
nudging me towards my desk.

doubtful targets, darts all blunt;
wading through the muck,
pushing me out of inertia,

catching the b-flat when all other notes have faded.
can glimpsing catch the music of the truth?
colours flirting, words are laughing –

long gone and scattered ash to ash,
i’m telling what i see