#metoo

The night you grabbed me in the street
Uber said,
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The night you grabbed me in the street
my friend was visiting
from Peru. As I left she clutched my face and told me
she loved me, and she was glad
I existed

The night you grabbed me in the street
there were no taxis.

The night you grabbed me in the street
I had almost not gone out because I was
sleepy, and it was
a long metro ride to find my friends, but they said
please come
so I put on a pretty skirt and some
red lipstick that made me feel
bold
and in the end we had so much fun, I danced
until 4am

The night you grabbed me in the street
I had just got off
the night bus, where I had been thinking about
how Margaret Atwood said men are afraid women
will laugh at them, and women are afraid men will
kill them.

The night you grabbed me in the street
had been so happy

The night you grabbed me in the street
I was hurrying home thinking about
the man who just stared at me for 20 minutes at the bus stop and
the man who had run across traffic to say
mademoiselle, can I stay at your place tonight?

The night you grabbed me in the street
you spoke to me first and when I did not answer
you called me obscenities and when I kept walking
your friend shoved me and when I kept walking still
you ran after me and grabbed my arse

The night you grabbed me in the street
was only the second time it’s happened to me. That’s how I told it to my friend,
the next day:
only the second time.

The night you grabbed me in the street
I turned back to look at you in disgust but I did not
break stride, or
tell you off, or
grab you back
because flight seemed the least dangerous option

The night you grabbed me in the street
I felt sick and scared and ashamed
and then grateful
that it was only a shove and a grope
and I wondered how you felt or if you had already
forgotten

The night after you grabbed me in the street I did not
dance,
or jog,
or walk
through the city I have made my home.

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love in the time of read receipts

What’s in a Tinder bio? That which we call a match,
By any other name would look as hot.

I saw that you were perfect, and so I swiped right. Then I saw that you were not perfect and I went back to swiping.

‘Tis better to have Googled and found,
than never to have Googled at all.

No sooner met but she texted,
no sooner texted but seen,
no sooner seen but not replied,
no sooner not replied but she asked seven girlfriends the reason.

The course of true love never was Instagram-ready.

Shall I compare thee to a doggo meme?
Thou art more lovely and more heartwarming.

See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand!
O, that I were a filter upon that face,
That I might touch that cheek.

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched,
unless you remembered to take a screenshot.

A heart-eyes emoji is a lovely trick designed by developers to stop typing when words become superfluous.

If music be the food of love, here’s my Spotify.

We’re all a little weird, and life’s a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we tag them in animal videos and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.

Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two Whatsapp accounts.

I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to go Facebook-official.

Absence makes the heart grow iPhone-dependent.

You text, I text, remember?

 

With sincerest apologies to William Shakespeare (repeatedly), Angelita Lim, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Helen Keller, Ingrid Bergman, Dr Seuss, Aristotle, Richard Curtis and James Cameron

good advice I have not taken

we sit vigil for the rainstorms that
dance and die
beyond the railing, leaving us
misted over with the force of their passing. I,
red wine lips and cold feet,
pick the stuffing from your mother’s sofa as we wonder
how manatees breathe, and
what it’s like inside the mind
of Donald Trump.

You drift into my lap and then
into sleep, your breath weaving through the leg hair
I forgot to remove because you showed up
dripping
carrying merlot and a promise of adventure
and I followed you into the night.

I do not close my eyes until after the sun cuts open
purple clouds to bleed light
across the sky and over the planes
of your quiet face.

 

She says,
your skin is tired. Are you getting
enough sleep?

 

The wine lingers, but we give it
no quarter. I am taking you surfing because
you’ve not yet learned how it feels
to stand and fly
at the same time. In the roar of the sea
my mind is quiet, listening only
to the taste of salt
and the slipperiness of your skin in passing.
The brown fades from my hair but it will turn up
tomorrow on my shoulders and strewn
across my nose

 

She says,
now’s the time to start: to prevent wrinkles
you should avoid the sun

 

We lie winded under palm trees and you say
promise me we’ll come back even when
our knees don’t bend but
our backs do
and we’ll eat fish and chips and ice cream
for breakfast
because we can
and I say
promise me
you’ll want to, even when
you’ve forgotten who I am

 

She draws a potion from the pocket
of a tie-waist coat that is just a foot of sleeve
away from a straight-jacket.
Apply this, she says,
it’s anti-ageing.
And I pay her for it because I am no better
at saying no than I am at
taking sound advice.

what if

I am undone by your curls. You were
an email signature, a conglomerate of curt responses and
inadequate explanations that I pieced together
into something safely less than human. I never considered
your hair until it manifested before me
golden as the day was grey, as though it had
sucked the sun from the sky.

Yours is a mind of lines and tables, and yet
from it grew an unkempt narrative that wanders
and sweeps
and perplexes. You are talking about rules while I am
wrapping white knuckles around my gaze to haul it down
from your lush heights.

What if we what if I
store them here plunge my fingers
assign them there sink my face
how would that work?
how would it feel?

Bayeux (fem. pl.)

I spent the 2016 D-Day commemoration weekend in Bayeux, Normandy, walking the length of the Tapestry and visiting the landing beaches and watching the parade roll past. This odd little suite of poems was the result. 

the liberators

They rode in on the backs of iron women, who
birthed their false bravado into
mud and terror, to see them again only
when they were bloodied, loud with pain or silent
beyond it.

They named the trucks after women, scrawling
Rosemary across windscreens and thinking only
that they rode them, never
that they were borne.

 

the embroiderers

we were three amongst 626, or more if you counted
the dogs and horses, the trees, the ships – all of those
outnumbered us resoundingly. Still, two of us had names and one
a story that survives: not bad,
you might say. We were Queen Edith, consort widowed, deathbed adjacent,
face unreadable. We were Aelfgyva, smiling?
at her certain cleric, but why she is there you do not know,
and we were a mother fleeing fire or perhaps
being devoured by it.

were we only three because those three said
all you thought to say? After all,
after 1000 years,
what would you add to
wife, mother, victim, infuriating mystery
(whore? witch? spy?)

except that you have not counted the stitches, in which we are
legion
we are pinprick and strand, we you
cannot see, we who
wove you into history

 

#weareallAelfgyva

“…we need to account for the prominent position given this woman.”
J.B. McNulty, “The Lady Aelfgyva in the Bayeux Tapestry”, Speculum, 55 (1980): p. 666

we need to account

there are almost as many theories as there are men, embroidered
through academia. You are 230 feet of
furrowed brow, earnest focus, perhaps in your weaker moments
seeing yourself in deerstalker and tweed examining clues, for
the Mystery Must Be Solved.

Three woman. The other two we know their purpose: one is flesh and
tears, written into noble books, reassuringly triangulated
between husband-king, brother-king and father-earl.

The second is a symbol, the bearer of children and of
Fear, running from the fires of war, the furious march
to victory. She is the sacrifice which
must be made; she serves her purpose.

What is your
purpose
Aelfgyva? You whose name we are forced to know but whose usefulness
we cannot define

for the prominent position given

who says we didn’t write her in? we silver-tipped magicians, heads bent
over tiny weapons making gorgeous battle on your
glorious war.

who says she received and did not take: her hands are
after all outstretched (you assumed
in supplication or benediction)? Between sinner and saint there is always
saviour

this woman.

The foolproof way to find her is to look for
the penis, you can’t miss that. There is no body
of work devoted to pinpointing his identity, the little man
with the articulate genitalia because when you’re
one of 623 it seems you get to keep your privacy even when
you’re naked in public.

Look heavenward from him to her, the jewel
around which the trinity rotates: consort-victim-mystery,
Queen-pauper-other; wife-mother-Aelfgyva.

Look carefully, does she bless or beg? Does she smile and if so
is it in welcome or placation? Does he
caress or strike?

Or is the answer
All of the above? Aelfgyva: active verb, plural noun,
infinity to the power of woman

You thought there were three and that three would be
enough and despite yourself you were
right.

 

the reenactors

each year, the iron women come back to Bayeux,
still bearing, filled now with
playactors who lean out of windows,
fully committed to their roles, and invite me
to climb on board, darlin’
and I, fully committed to mine,
choose not to spit back:
I am not your spoil of war

finals season

He asks, do you follow football? And I say
a little, yes,
because it’s easier than trying to explain:
your football is a language I do not speak and yet
I want nothing more than to watch it with you, to transform
into a thing of clenched fists and screams and to
mean it; ask me along and I will commit to
your team in a way I may not ever
commit to you.

Do not ask me if I care; show me
and know that if I do not already,
I soon will.

I wonder if it is a matter of belonging, if
that rowdy partisan bunch becomes a
village where a wanderer can find a home: for 90 minutes I am
with my people simply because
I exist.

Maybe it’s just nice to care about something that does not
really
matter, to submit to a passion that does not threaten
to undo me, to crave, sinews stretched in longing,
an outcome that I can still
live without.

Perhaps it’s a welcome salve for the
irretrievably heterosexual
(all that muscle,
all that sweat, all those men caring
so unguardedly) but it might also be a refuge for the
genteelly alcoholic: one does not really
follow
without also
indulging.

I fear it is a steam valve for a
subterranean violence, for the obscene and the
furious within me, for the eternal ugliness that
traipses in my shadow and that threatens
, if not pacified by flesh on flesh,
(blood bin, biff)
arbitrary vehemence

but is it, at last, an arena in which to partake of
all the fearlessness I will never possess? A place of
unrepentant physicality, of feats of endurance and where pain
is embraced, digested,
possessed
and finally overpowered,
a place where to break,
eventually,
is to be expected,
and where a hundred thousand voices shout the names
of the brave and the bold.

inside voice

7:09am
get up, it’s late
don’t snooze
you idiot
layabout
read your emails
check your messages
no one’s answered, they all wish
you’d stop writing
get up
why’d you stay up so late?
why’d you drink so much?
you make awful decisions
do your stretches
what’s happening today?
this weekend?
what’s for breakfast?
turn on the news
you idiot, you’re uninformed
get up
make a list
you’re late
you’re an idiot

8:15am
message that guy
fraidy cat
take some initiative
message him, no not like that
or that
delete that
you idiot
don’t let him know you’re keen
he’ll be repulsed
just message him, you spineless hag
he won’t reply
he was so relieved to get away from you
why’d you talk so much?
everyone knew you liked him
pathetic
you made them uncomfortable
you’re an idiot

9:05am
why’s she looking at you?
what’s on your face?
did you put on a shirt?
she thinks you’re foul
suck your stomach in
you should wear makeup
you need to run more
you need to eat less
you’re hideous
you’re late
they regret hiring you
they wish you weren’t here
say hello
suck your stomach in
don’t interrupt
they think you’re an idiot
what are you doing today?
what are you achieving?
what are you doing after work?
you should have done that yesterday
you’re an idiot

1:43pm
suck your stomach in
don’t laugh like that: hyena
teeth and desperation
they all hate you
you idiot
say something, contribute
don’t just stand there
awkward giant
suck your stomach in
tone it down, you’re making a scene
you child
you’re an idiot

3:19pm
what if Donald Trump wins
what then
what can you do about
how hateful the world is
you need to limit waste
you need to recycle more
the oceans are dying
the bees
you don’t care enough about the bees
you’re so narrowminded
find credible sources
read other perspectives
you’re wrong
you’re an idiot

7:28pm
my God, stop talking
he hates you
suck your stomach in
he can see the hairs on your face
he’s disgusted
stop trying
you’re an idiot

10:51pm
you’ve drunk too much
they all know
they’re judging you
you look like a f—ing idiot
you’re a f—ing idiot

3:06am
why are you awake?
you will never be loved
you’re an idiot

10:17am
get up, it’s late
what did you do last night?
you’re an idiot you’re an idiot you’re an idiot

 

 

Author’s note:

For as long as I can remember, this is what I’ve heard inside my head just about every waking minute of every day, except when I drown out the voice with intense physical activity, or with alcohol. It wasn’t until my late 20s that I came to understand this horrible voice didn’t come as standard; that not everyone had one, and that I could combat it. That what I was experiencing was anxiety.

This is the sound of high-functioning, manageable anxiety. I’ve had access to support – both professional and personal – when I’ve needed it. And I’ve been able to understand more about my brain’s strengths and weaknesses, and how to manage them. I believe that talking honestly and openly about mental health is the most powerful first step to ensuring everyone who needs that support – particularly those for whom mental health is much more complex and difficult – gets it.

And so, for World Mental Health Day, I’m being honest by publishing something I’ve written numerous versions of over the space of a year. It’s terrifying. But maybe in some small way it will help.