For Vincent Van Gogh, 29th July, 1890


Image by Abigail Elizabeth Ottley

Sometimes it happens that moved by some trifle
the flood-gates of the heart will seize fast.
Then tears that seemed foolish become a great flood,
a passion that defies all explanation.

In the very young you may see it sometimes
when they throw back their heads and howl,
their plump cheeks red, their eyes screwed tight,
their small fists like windmills through the air.

Do not think it naughtiness. It is no show of mere petulance
but the human condition that has touched them.
They cry their frustration with a world so cruel
that it will not let them have and be.

And the elderly too who have least time left for tears
will weep at the slightest provocation.
This may be what love is: to be touched,
to be pierced by this well-spring that has no end.

Yesterday I watched as three baby rabbits
frolicked after sunbeams in my garden.
Such a tenderness engulfed me.
Later, this morning, I counted only two.

Now, this same evening, a summer storm rages.
It tears at the beauty of my poppies.
My heart bleeds to see them crushed.
As you say, my friend, this sadness never ends.


© Abigail Elizabeth Ottley

Of Spiders and Threads


Image by David Rowland
By narrow light
of thin, hooked moon
a busy spider spins
to turn to grace
her public face by fair
and private means.
A silver spool, a pool
of pearls, and rubies,
deep as hearts are dark.
Such are the jewels
a spider keeps to bless
her precious work.
Then inch by inch
comes creeping dawn
when spider’s midnight
toils must cease.
The fruits of all her
labour this bright
opal’s fiery face.
© Abigail Elizabeth Ottley Smith



Lee Shore


Image by David Rowland


I remember the day the tied went out,
with my toes in shifting sand,
the day we walked by the restless sea
with our backs to the huddling town:
when the salt breeze lifted up your hair
and I failed to understand
that, on this day, the sky would fall
and the stars flee underground.

We strolled from crop to rocky crop
across the sun-streaked shore,
and laid our fleeting tracks of time
where none had been before;
and I called to you above the wind
but it chanced that you did not hear;
for you turned your steps towards the waves
and I was left standing there.

Perhaps it was the sea’s complaint
that rose and fell in your head;
perhaps, it wasn’t me at all,
nothing I did or said.
I like to think you didn’t know,
that it took you by surprise,
the day you shook the heavens
till the stars fell from the skies.

Abigail Elizabeth Ottley (previously Wyatt)

Ice Age


This time we more than disagree;
the air between us is arctic.
Though I hear the snow shiver
and the ice groan,
there is little hope of a thaw.

I search your face anyway
for signs of spring;
the poppies on your lips still flower;
but your tongue tears
at the root of my mouth,
and your sharp eyes.

Beginnings, Endings and the Mess in Between

At midnight on New Year’s Eve, a little mellow but by no means inebriated, I looked into my partner’s eyes and uttered these fateful words:

‘The last six months have been so difficult, 2013 really has to be a an improvement.’

What cavalier optimism and monstrous folly! I really should have known better. What madness possessed me to tempt fate by making such a statement?

Barely twelve hours had elapsed before I found myself slap bang in the middle of one of those domestic ‘situations’ that simply defy explanation, where, even if people are interested, even if they want to understand it, the whole crisis is beset by twists and turns so intricate and so numerous that any attempt to follow the logic of events is doomed from the start. In the end comes the consciousness your friends and relations are looking at you strangely. They begin to exchange sidelong glances and then to roll their eyes. Finally, they start looking for reasons not to talk to you in the first place. Happy New Year, they beam cheerfully but they turn away in confusion as they take in first your pallid cheeks and then your sunken and red-rimmed eyes.

The exact nature of the crisis I am not free to disclose but that in itself does not matter. The important point is that these recent upheavals, much against my will, have taken me back to a period of my life I had though consigned to the past. Now I have asked myself: Did I do all that I could have done? Did I behave selfishly or with the interests of others at heart?  Am I to blame at all and, if so, how far am I culpable? How much of this present misery should be laid at my door?

All these questions are far from easy to answer: memory is notoriously unreliable and there are few people remaining now whom I might turn for an opinion. Of the main players in the dismal little drama that unfolded two decades ago most are no longer emotionally or geographically available; indeed, unbelievably, as I would have thought then, two or three of them are dead. But what would they say if I were here and I was able to ask them? Would they offer comfort and reassurance, telling me I did everything I could? Or would they look me hard in the eye and tell me that I always had this coming, that I should consider myself luck for getting off so lightly for so long? I do not – perhaps I cannot – know and yet I feel nothing if not guilty. Forgive me, then, my friends and acquaintances. if when you see me this month, my New Year greeting sounds hollow and my smile doesn’t quite reach my eyes. x