Janz Duncan

< Back to Issue Five


Mother in Prayer

Alone. She sat alone. Body slanted, feet barely touching the cold cemented floor. Still head bowed. Eyes closed. Hands clasped, between them a well-thumbed Bible.

On the edge of the double bed once shared with Father (now deceased), her tiny 4’11” figure all but eclipsed by the hard lumpen surface she sat upon.

To her right, a wall of cupboards painted a sick yellow green. Her pretty wardrobe with mirror reflected no live thing: emptiness, nothingness, facing only an iron window frame painted a light shade of cream. The window was open, but nothing moved in the still hot air.

It was mid-afternoon. Outside it was humid hot. Inside, her northeast-facing room felt cool, like a church vestibule.

She sat like this for hours. As like a statue in its forever sleep. I wanted to call out, “Mother, are you alright?” But I would not disturb her contemplations: her prayer, her communion with God.

Even a gentle touch then would have awakened those beautiful brown eyes.

. . . But not now, for she is with God.

Author’s Note: One cannot read another’s mind, but Mother’s faith in the Lord was invincible. I caught her many times praying silently, wrestling with the behemoth that would eventually kill her. It was Alzheimer’s Disease.

Grandmother preferred chrysanthemums anyway

I hold the rose,
a many-layered confection cupped in my hand.
Dreamed a dream.

In the twilight between wakefulness and slumber, my grandmother arose.

I see the dark wood planks polished smooth by
generations of anatomies:
mine added to those – tiny hands, small feet, and a delicate shuffling bum.

Between the legs of a giant iron bed grandmother created a space
filled only with two – and, maybe, three – things: a lumpy cotton mattress, a kapok pillow,
and the Siamese that some nights slept with me.

“Just for you,” she said.
They were mine.
Just for me.


I bend my head
and see one curling petal
marred by a crease.

Shadows are gathering. Will it storm?

Slashes of light filter through half-closed shutters:
they dance on grandmother’s one remaining breast – drooping pale-white, unclothed in
tropical heat.
Why didn’t it sweat?

I lay my cheek upon that breast, absorbed in the “thud, thud” of her heartbeat.
“Ah Mah,” I queried. “Why do petals fall?”
The thunder BANGED.

She drew me closer, swept her palm across my brow –
tenderly smoothed away
my child’s beads of salt-tinted sweat.


I check the rose
enclosed in my palm.
Its fragrance is sickly sweet.

I smell her like yesterday: her essence Johnson’s baby powder.

The Tok Tok man has arrived.
“Quickly! Kah meh lai*!” she called.
“What’s your choice?”

Rising through the purpose-made hatch in her burnished floor, a basket of delights.
The steaming aroma of fish ball noodles preceded.
“Savour them,” she said.

Small teeth bit into juicy white balls.
Their briny-sweet spray lingers on my tongue.


I never saw her go:

these rose petals which
in my memories

Let me breathe in their fragrance now
before it’s too late.


Today, I dig out jewels –
those larvate memories that made me.
Twisted their locks.

Then I recall: grandmother grew limes. And she preferred chrysanthemums anyway.

*Hurry up, come! (in Hokkien or Teochew)

Let it rain on me

I hold an umbrella:
stand there like a soggy scarecrow.
The cover was not for me but for my father.

Father grew orchids. He was devoted to them.
He loved his garden so much
he would tend it under driving rain.

I follow Father like the proverbial puppy
wagging its increasingly water-logged tail
begging small crumbs of acknowledgement.

None came.

Mother shouted from the door: “Come inside!”
Lightning strikes. Waves of thunder roll, sound streaks bouncing haphazardly to
roil upon gigantic darkened clouds in ferocious skies.

I stood patiently, dripping with storm-tossed raindrops that
pepper me like so many stone chips from Brother’s pellet gun.
We look like drowned rats.

I try hard to hold the umbrella aloft.
My arms are fixed like a statue’s yet tremble of their own accord.
In my head a mantra: “Protect Dad. From the rain.”

I think of our Merlion spouting water from its mouth.

My silhouette follows Father around his garden: two stick-thin 9-year-old arms
Small hands grip my flimsy child’s umbrella to
shield his sodden shorts-and-singlet-clad frame.

Mother is calling again. “Come inside!”
I cannot.
NO! I will not forfeit this . . . this rain-drummed beat, a child’s heart wish.

I shake my dripping locks hard – like the cur which flings
casting far into the wind.

Rain shards drive stakes between us. They surround us like the bars of a cage.

Janz Duncan lives with her husband in the Lake District National Park, England where they have a Bed and Breakfast (https://bownessbedandbreakfast.wordpress.com). During spare moments, she enjoys writing and walking with her husband and rescue Great Dane. Her work has appeared in Trouvaille Review, Burgundy Balloon and Highland Park Poetry.

Photo by Dids on Pexels.com.

Next (Charles Eggerth) >
< Previous (J.V. Sumpter)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.