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> > > Claire McLaughlin: Remembering Blue

Claire McLaughlin shares a selection of poems from her forthcoming poetry collection 'Remembering Blue', to be published by Survivors Press in autumn 2014. Her work is infused with a sense of the losses and the gains that come with the experience of impairment.

photo of two robins engaging with each other on a tree in a garden

Photo © John McLaughlin

I loved poetry and stories from an early age, and after reading English Language and Literature at Oxford, went on to have a career as a commissioning fiction editor with magazine and book publishers. Later, I trained and qualified professionally as a counsellor, working mostly in a voluntary capacity in a variety of agencies. 

I have always been a lover of poetry but it is only in the last twenty years that writing poetry has come to be a major focus in my life. Later this autumn – at the precocious age of 71, I shall have my first poetry collection published by Survivors Poetry, who have given me the invaluable experience of being mentored by the poet Debjani Chatterjee.

Impairment has come to me in two ways. I was diagnosed with a degenerative condition of the retina in my early twenties, and between the ages of 40 and 55 lost first my peripheral vision and then my central vision. I have been blind for the last fifteen years. 

In my teens and twenties I also had long, unexplained periods of clinical depression. In middle-age, I had the extraordinary experience of remembering, in therapy, how I had been sexually abused as a very small child. Both these processes – the gradual complete loss of eyesight, and the recovery of deeply damaging childhood experience – have had a profound and continuing impact on me.

A vivid emotional life, coupled with engagement with psychotherapy, both as a client and a practitioner, have driven me to write about how I feel about disability and impairment, my own and others. And feelings can change, which is exciting. 

I hope that, among other things, that as well as the devastating effects of sensory and emotional damage, my poetry describes the gifts found along the journey.

Three of the following poems, Mrs No-Eyes, Abused, and Going to see the Therapist, will appear in my forthcoming poetry collection, Remembering Blue.


Mrs No-Eyes

I am becoming Mrs No-Eyes.
Looking out on life, I see a misty blankness
even at night; my nights are pale.
It makes me wonder, Is this reflected in my sockets?
Do others, looking in at me, see only eye-white,
a blank and misty ball?
I am the blind white worm, which,
weaving and weaving on its eyeless stalk,
yearns to experience, strives to envision,
longs to see.

I remember our road, after rain
- Pavement, houses, a tree or two, the sky.
With washing, it came up lovely,
the colours as fresh as the day they were painted,
the substances – slick paving-stones, soggy brown fence,
moist soil, sodden rain-dropped grass,
stained pebble-dash, wet slates, white window frames,
their dark glass shining darkly – these differences
jumped off the page and zinged into my eyes,
Making a million brain cells snap, the body’s nerve-net tingle.  
Alive!  The butchered fingers of next door’s lime tree 
claw up into the urban overcast
and all the feelings in the world are there:
agony, defiance, shame, humility,
Acceptance, gratitude, love, joy.

I remember the eye that saw these things,
black on blue-grey on white, the hypnotic double disc
perfectly centred on its centring ball,
poised between parted lids.  On the soft black
sometimes a tiny window was reflected; the dove-grey iris
was dappled like the sea, and echelons of light
made a far stairway to what inner worlds . . .   

Oh peerless eye 
through which my mind could permeate what is, 
what is could enter and invest my mind,
what shall I do now you are sheeted over
and life itself seems stopped?

© Claire McLaughlin

Jolly well see

Coral pink.
And next to it I’ll have green,
a smoky olive green.

Yellow. Bright yellow
of a cotton sundress no fair-skin should dream of wearing –
but does. And next to it, brown,
brown of my daughter’s eyes when she was small 
- dark, lustrous, shy.  

A rose pink silk blouse
I used to wear with a tailored suit
of fine slate-grey wool.

Vivid turquoise-green.
And next to it, wickedly, 
I’ll have deep purple.

Blue. Summer sky blue,
with pretty white flocks browsing 
that heavenly field. 

So sucks to you, God. 
You thought, didn’t you, that blinding me
would take the lovely colours away?
but they’re safe in my memory, and I’ll never, never  let them go.
So jolly well see!

© Claire McLaughlin


Under your skirt
above the knee
under your jeans
I always see
the swell of buttock
and the slide of thigh
the yell of sex
that blasts my eye
murders my hearing
razors up my gut
oh door of memory
that will not shut
the small heart fractured
long ago
that could not bear
to have it so

© Claire McLaughlin

Going To See The Therapist

Waiting at her front door, distractedly,
I saw her through the window of a room.
Beyond the dappled glass I saw her loom
As fish loom in the dim vaults of the sea.
Oh, then I felt such love, though when she stood
A moment later smiling at the door
And we were face to face, my own face wore
Of course, just the bright, empty smile it should.
But I had seen too much, not eyes but heart
Had glimpsed a world where I could never come,
Swim of a life in which I had no part,
The lit green rocking of her deep-sea home.
     So I went in to take the client’s chair
     Hoping to hide my love and my despair.

© Claire McLaughlin

Old blind woman in her garden

Fresh frail flesh of flowers
my fingers feel
-    cool petal, soft nap,
-    rag of damp silk –
-    my skin on your skin, your life meets my life
-    in close encounters of the third kind.

Little parsley plants
are like great elms,
a frizz on top (where rooks may roost)
of a single shank with one spindle arm.
basil seedlings,
tiny, bold,
hold out big ears
to hear what life will tell them.
Young corianders are green girls,
gawky, graceful,
smelling helplessly of sex.

Heat of the unimaginable solar bonfire
reaches through space, a thousand million miles,
to warm my cheek
here where I sit on my slatted chair.
And I remember how raindrops looked
trembling on the washing-line,
each glittering globule
pendant in its fragile membrane.

© Claire McLaughlin