1995

The square was crowded with the
coffee shop gait of foreigners
leaning away from their ordinary.
 
Me too. Awkward on the shoulder
of a world class coxswain turned
irritable technician who
 
wanted to return to the luxury coach
with or without me. We were.
Young, tasting the flavours of this city
 
between training sessions, basking in
UV strip lighting before the shadow of
my escalating paranoia snuffed it out.
 
Breathe. He said, grinding his teeth
as he hoisted me into a seat
then moved further down the aisle.
 
The month after, I befriended the dawn
we flirted for almost six months
sharing brown bottles of all kinds.
 
Twenty years on
 
I still hear birdsong
between my ears
 
at night
 
sometimes.

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Telegrams from the 1970s

Written several years ago but recently dusted off at an event (via an iPhone recording due to my absence in person – love technology) connected with the Folkestone Triennial which has brought it back to the forefront of my mind.
 
BARBIES LINE UP IN A ROW STOP KEN SCORES THEM OUT OF TEN STOP HE LIKES THEIR LEGS STOP HE LIKES THEIR TITS STOP WHICH ONE OF THEM IS GOING TO WIN?

 
It was the heyday

of Miss World and Girl’s World

women were educated

from the get go

to go get a man
 

bag yourself a husband

juggle double standards

be the debutant

be the sweetheart

be that plastic dolly

with a university degree

and a double D up top

 

smash glass ceilings

fight for equal pay

try to break the mould

but first and foremost

be a mother and a home-maker

 

and in this girl’s world

it was essential to remember

that He’s in charge

 
CHILDREN ARE MESSY STOP FAR TOO LOUD STOP WHEN DADDY IS DRUNK DON’T ANSWER BACK STOP DON’T MAKE A SOUND

 

Blackbirds pull worms

out of his head

in the blue light

 

he stumbles over coffee

stomach churning

darning holes snagged

on his drinking

 

as dawn shakes

and paracetamol

rattles and rolls

 
he will put the brakes on

when mum leaves him

 

DO AS I SAY STOP NOT AS I DO STOP DO AS I SAY STOP OR NO-ONE WILL EVER LOVE YOU

 
Lipstick smart and desperate

she flaunts a large glass

of Chardonnay to

hush the dots and dashes

flashing in her head

as she Elastoplasts

her missing parts

 

with a husband

with a swinging cot

with a new kitchen

with a black labrador

with a wrought iron clock

for the mantlepiece

 

Until the night she meets a man

let’s call him Ken

he likes her legs

he likes her tits

he wants to score her out of ten

so he offers her a lift

then stops the car

 
SOS TOO DRUNK TO SPEAK STOP SOS THINKING STOP CQD DO AS HE SAYS STOP CQD SINKING

 

Blackbirds pull worms

out of her head

in the blue light

 

she stumbles over coffee

stomach churning

darning holes snagged

on her drinking

 

as dawn shakes

and paracetamol

rattles and rolls

 

she puts the brakes on

learns that every day

holds a new beginning

 

she finds hope

she grows a voice

she knows fellowship

she learns self-respect

 

but she never forgets

that sweet little girl

so badly glued together

with messages made from

dashes and dots

 

Our eyes meet

she flashes me a smile

because it’s not the

seventies any more

and telegrams are

obsolete

 

STOP

Size

I have never loved my body
tolerated pieces of it
at times
 
I like my eyes
and the way my smile curls
but overall
 
displeasure is
easier. Though oddly when
there’s less of it
 
and all my clothes
become a relaxed fit
there’s an uncomfortable
 
satisfaction
no matter what the
cause. It really is
 
the ultimate
oxymoron

On the anniversary of my grandfather’s death

Little bird tapping on the window (Edna Johnson)
 

Words get lost in her throat

like the days of the week

and the name of the man in the

picture frame next to a

little bowl of sweets religiously

offered to every visitor

still immaculately dressed

by Marks and Spencer

good manners, money and a tie

always went a long way with Edna

our land army girl. Her music hall

piano skills, her tall tales

the glint in her eye and her glee

as she tucks a tenner

into my palm to ‘treat yourself

dear’ are long gone

but this final time, I’m blessed

we eat crisps in the sun

and I’m eight again, sitting with

Alex, Zak and Dan watching

Batman on a Saturday afternoon

in the small TV room

while she and Johnny hold court

at the Anchor

until a little bird tapping at the

window brings us back

I wrap her tighter in her blanket

and wheel her inside
 
 
Substitution (Johnny Johnson)
 

of karmic debt paid 

You were soft charm
and hard sparks
and so was I
 
Together
 
a hurricane
the best of times
 
We were rare
and roared like angels
who had come home
 
But mirrors sharply expose
any and all
of our unresolved pain
 
We can use the nails to build a life
or to seal a coffin
 
and sometimes healing arrives
after a journey has come to an end
 
So now I’m a new beginning
 
I’m whole on my own
I can hold my own
and because of us
I know I can love my own too
 
and I’ll always hold onto the echo
that beats in time with you
 
Thank you for being poetry
 
and in another life
I might be lucky enough
to again run into my other half
 
Then perhaps we can sit together
under the Bodhi tree