Given my poetry pamphlet is now sold out (thank you to everyone who bought a copy), I thought I would record the poems for my much-neglected YouTube channel. Here is a transcript of the first one,
Quickened pain, surprising me
out of all birth plans
and breathing techniques
and the crickets of the TENS
machine crawling up my back.
I had woken early
completed the lists:
paired socks, as my pelvis
pentangled like pulled knitting.
And all too soon
the burn, the squeeze, the heft
was beyond unbearable
you released –
a tide of meaning
into the world.
My last born.
Completing this compost
Never forget how you came:
child of mine.
Never be afraid to labour, and
never push down pain to places you cannot feel it.
In between the published works –
the novel that did OK
a story in that collection put together by MA students,
a poem here, a poem there
the joy of a short-listing
the folder of ‘no longer on submission’ scribblings
there is the ‘other’ stuff.
I couldn’t fit it all into the bookshelf:
hours spent tinkering with broken friends, instead of broken sentences;
days spent with Netflix, instead of cutting, instead of copy-pasting;
weeks spent holding the cat, instead of the pen
piggy-bank empty and smashed. All spent.
Tears leaking from the hot water tank
shredded text messages used for mouse nests
reams of progress stacked, dormant
still in their polythene. Sterile blank pages.
Where is all the work I could have done
if other people had been
kind? accepting? loyal?
had trusted my life had to be lived this way?
Someone suggests an update to some legislation. It’s kind of controversial, from some angles, so they do a consultation. Over 70% of people respond and say ‘yep, sounds good.’
They decide not to update the legislation.
And if it was just this, I would be fine. I mean, it’s paperwork. It’s disappointing, it’s not surprising.
But it’s not only this. It’s the 18 month wait for your kid to be seen by someone who knows less about gender than you do. It’s the four emails a week to school because people are deliberately misgendering your child and then claiming they are entitled to their opinion that there are only two genders. It’s the memories of the times you couldn’t walk down the streets of your own village. It’s watching your child become more and more withdrawn. It’s news like this.
‘I take zero damage from zombies, dungeon slime and cochineal beetles.’
How lovely! I thought. Wouldn’t it be great if you took zero damage from life?
If we could go through life without hurt feelings or hurt bodies, no diseases or chronic conditions? Never having a heart broken. Not getting that cold that starts as a streaming nose, turns into a throat full of blades and then a chest like a tight sleeve straining to let air through. Never caring about what other people think of you. No coughs that just won’t go away. No aching limbs, no migraines, no scary diagnoses, no chronic pain, no broken bones. No death, no grieving.
Do we have to feel pain to experience love?
So, if anyone’s looking for me, I’ll be in Terraria. (It’s a computer game.) I take zero damage there.
Today I have been thinking about … fear.
These are not tinylife fears, they are fears of the bigger picture. Our whole world. Fears of biglife.
When people who divide, rather than unite, are given power, I fear. When men are accused of violence against women, and appear to get away with it, I fear. (What are we saying to those considering similar violences?)
When I hear about stickers promoting a Far Right group on the railings my children pass on their way to school, in this tiny village –
When it looks like we have forgotten, or don’t seem to care,
about how far we’ve come, about where we’ve been,
Today I hold my children,
and I try to be brave.
Because this fear is likely to deepen, to harden
and may split right open and apart.
I am watching
the refugee video
It’s a list of the things people took with them.
One nappy, the actor says.
And my son calls
from the living room
He is in the living room
of my house.
I am in the kitchen
of my house,
watching the refugee video
on my computer
in my kitchen
of my house.
One nappy. Phone, sim card.
Wrap them in a plastic bag,
pay all you have,
get into a boat
with your children, and …
In my house,
in my kitchen,
my son is going out.
Later, he will come home.
Later, I will lock the door
of my house.
Fall asleep, in bed.
I’ll be warm. Home.
And I’ll vaguely remember
On my computer.
Today I have been thinking about…darkness.
I’m not talking about the darkness of winter or the darkness of the depth of the night. Well I am, metaphorically. I know, I know, she kept to the positivity thing for what, two months?
When you go to bed dreading something. You wake and it’s already happening: you are powerless to stop or even impact it. When your voice on social media merely echoes the voices around you. You all know that decisions have been taken and that they are wrong, but those who represent you don’t give a damn. When those with power refuse to recognise the futility of the full circle, terror mirroring. That’s when it feels like darkness reigns.
It is difficult, at these times, to lift your eyes to glimmers of light.
But we must.
They are there.
At the top of my list of eternal hope is a tidy house. I’m not a naturally tidy person, so as a practical hope it is fairly pointless, but interesting as a symbolic one.
Sometimes, I read that hope as symbolic of the failures of a working mother: the inability to lay hands on the most recent bank statement or the vital leotard is proof that I am missing my maternal (and uxorious) Key Performance Indicators. This makes me cross.
At other points, domestic untidiness seems to mirror the complexities of work and the multiplicity of these current academic KPIs, many of which seem out of my reach. That makes me melancholy. Both make me mutinous.
What to do? Reject the completely-internalised cultural hegemonies of domestic space and professional achievement? It would probably be easier to just tidy the house.