Fabulous Phoebe

By Robbie Frazer

(Scene 1)

There she goes bang on cue, hair up, made up – at half past two!
She’s stepping over litter like a heron in heels to steel some feels
with that feller from the baker’s with the really nice wheels.
She’ll be back before hubby’s home that’s for certain.
Freshly baked bread for her beast of burden.
Lock-down Laura we call her in our smaller ‘just the four of us’ group.

We left our lives on the big screen, stepped out of our films
to sit in rows in this panelled scene, here we are, nattering boxes
of the boozed and the botoxed: three silver foxes and me.
My neck looked old, but… I noticed my hair’s growing back. Am I paroled?

He texts me now. He’s only in there! Still in jimjams at this time, watching the world
from two metres, chewing on chips with sips of wife-beater, he calls it.
I’m sheltered but he’s on his helter-skelter of pill popping and non-stop channel hopping.
I won’t go shopping! He asked me to go! Jaw dropping, I know. I said so.

Look at the sky though, isn’t it blue! Young, true smooth air. Not run through
like an old teddy bear, with white slices through stitches into its belly.
No planes slicing lines a thousand times from here to New Delhi,
from Berlin to Boston, ha! from Stansted to Sitges!
Oh the beaches there!
I walked streets in bare feet there, pulled peaches off trees there!

It’s bluer than blue. Deeper than sky blue. Like water, like sea blue.
I remember his eyes drew me in.
What was his name?
waltzing me
guiding me
tracing my
salty lines
all the way

holding me
hiding me
riding me into the sand

(Incoming text sounds)

Oh, hello it’s the slumbering grouch. What now for the King of the Couch?
The Loafer on the Sofa! The Yeti on the Settee! What next for Mister Text,
the man of my dreams, another beer for my dear who is bursting his seams?
What next can I do for you, sex if you want me to, how would you like it?
Once more on the carpet with yesterday’s food, by that bowl of old beans
under last week’s jeans, the crushed-down cans and chop suey greens;
pushing me down onto shag-pile brown oh, go on then, make me a queen!

I’m a princess in this tower. A royal with no power to leave. I need to weave my hair,
plait into rope to fling into the path of a passing knight. No hope of eloping for me this night.
I did have dreams before he kissed me (so well) and well,
that’s history written for that smitten fool.

Is this all I am? Her sad mother’s daughter, a pauper that ought to just sort her sad life out before I reach for the rope. Perhaps I need to find water to hose down this slaughter of hope?
He gave me a slap for moping about. He said I’d cope, that he’d blacken my eye if I cried.
Yet somewhere, the planet breathed in. Planes fell out of the sky, the streets became ancient tracks again, silent and sunlit, cutting into unlit towns with no one around to see it.

I need to leave, but as what? Into what new dawn?
Everyone out there is armed but most don’t know they’re killers. Milling about,
just chilling out, killing time or making a shilling but packing some ammo for me.
I’m going out tomorrow for mister’s essentials: gin and pot noodles, tobacco and beer.
But I tell you, I have layer upon layer of fear.

(Scene 2)

I went out! A breeze! I had forgotten how air moves when freed.
Out there it invaded me, a silky assault. I turned and walked to the trees.
My roots were exposed like stocking tops and I was a scandal of grey
like I’m out in my slippers or wearing no knickers right in the heat of the day.

I cried when people tried to avoid me, keeping their distance in single file, throwing a smile and once in a while saying hi. Some frowned at the ground before stepping around me,
the distance between us, the width of a car, the length of a laid-out man.

I watched a woman under a tree with skin as white as icing, lying on scented sheets,
blinking through petals as her kids high up were shaking down pink blossom bedding
for her, a wedding for one.
She saw me and threw me a shawl of laughter, daring me to wear it.
I did and fires blazed in me. I could barely stand, dazed by it.

In an instant I was four, on the back of my father’s bike, tucked into a bucket thing,
his sea-blue jacket billowing, I traced its smooth curve with my finger, pressed my nose to it, lingered there, he smelled of ginger bread from the picnic. I let the wind own me.
I had cold knees and it pleased me that I suffered in silence, all grown up.
This sky and this wheezing Earth, he said, had once known love.
Love-locked, he said and called me his fabulous Phoebe.
Earlier I had hidden in wildflowers and cowered down wearing a crown of buttercups, supping up summer. He was coughing even then.

Is it just me that wants to stay longer? Shall we entwine the earth for a second time,
like a twice pulled vine re-laying its tracks?

I came back through town. No one’s around: the dealer, the dancer, the healer, the chancer, the singer and actor, the building contractor, are no longer selling or buying, performing, supplying. We’re home alone with our small private banks.
When the money stopped moving, it sank.

But I’m thinking of another trade. Another give and take exchange
– not one weighed down by obligation –
but a homemade liberation of something we all possess that spreads a splendid …
infection. Yes!

Like a virus in a whispered chorus of tiny kindnesses
that pass through porous masks, glide though gloves,
to settle like petals on the wholly loved, or loved enough.

We don’t need more money. We don’t need more love. We just need to pour out
what’s there, to let it flow where it will, carefree, downhill.

I do have fear. Out there, in here but I’m clear that I need to steer away from him.
I’ll grieve my lost life but I need to swim in that flow again to retrieve my soul, to glow again.

I am the silent insurgent with mischief in mind. In each hand I hold little kindness dockets.
A gift to slip into two pockets. One for you and one for me.

I will leave this place. I don’t need hope, I need a hand, I need to flee. Be free.
That’s the decision by this detainee. That is what I will do for me.

And what of you? What can I do for you? I have no special powers, no vocation,
no rare qualification. But if you get my situation, if my scene is known to you,
if your liberty is due, I’ll find friends to help you too. That is what I will do for you.

That is all most of us can do:

do two things.

How about you?

Robbie gave up business when the only suit he could still fit into was eaten by moths. Prior to middle age, he’d spent his time doing strange things with weird people from all corners of the world: including being held hostage on a Karachi camel, evading Khmer Rouge gunfire over Phnom Penh, surviving the 9/11 attacks and fending off kompromat-seeking furry Muscovites. He’s writing a book about finding meaning and purpose in midlife.

He published an acclaimed short collection of poetry in 2020 containing some prize-winning works and is currently creating films of poetic monologues, including Fabulous Phoebe.

I wrote the poem during lockdown in the UK. Pretty much the whole country was confined to their homes and I responded to the isolation by reaching out to friends and family for their thoughts for a poem. The central theme that came back was that of ‘the abuse of the feminine’; the increased instances of domestic violence against women contrasting with the fortunes of ‘Mother Earth’ which was breathing easier than the rest of us.

I decided to turn it into a short film monologue and sourced an actor and crew purely through internet searches and phone calls.

As soon as we were let out, we needed to be quick but all studios were closed.

To adhere to social distancing guidelines, we could not employ a full crew so elected for a stripped down team of 3 – the actor, the makeup artist and the filmmaker – who used an iPhone. The filmmaker has a young daughter who is extremely vulnerable to Covid which made things particularly tricky.

We found a small flat in south London on Airbnb and filmed there. Everyone was socially-distanced and wearing masks, and food and disinfected utensils were separated into different areas of the tiny Victorian kitchen! Windows had to be continually opened and then closed when filming. Traffic noise and the Heathrow flight track caused problems in post-production because external noise couldn’t be managed.

But we got there!

The film is being used to raise money for Olivia Colman’s favourite charity, Tender, which educates young people about respectful relationships with a view to eradicating domestic violence at its source.

Robbie Frazer

Writer and Producer

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Josa Keyes
2 years ago

Enjoyed both reading it, and the reading video. “She’s stepping over litter like a heron in heels to steal some feels”

Poetry and Covid-19 ARCHIVE (This website archives the over 1000 poems submitted by over 600 poets, and viewed by over 100,000 from over 125 countries during the Covid-19 pandemic, June 2020-June 2021). Thank you to all who took part in the Poetry and Covid project.

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