So writing poetry about animals seems to be a thing I do now. This is a follow-up to how they teach you about living, dedicated to the tiny furball I’m now responsible for keeping alive, healthy and happy.
how they teach you about yourself
i want to tell you
about those who came before you
who shaped parts of my heart
and left gold and green eyes there.
i want to tell you
that my temper is frostbite and silence
and i fear the limits of my patience
and that i might not love enough.
i want to tell you
about my discomfort with vulnerability
and how it stems from anxiety around
my lack of capacity for gentleness.
i want to tell you
about all i have broken and ended
and that i do not believe i deserve
to be relied upon or needed.
instead i calmly allow you
to carelessly dig through my skin
in the quiet hours before morning
and know that i will treasure these scars.
This is for anyone who has ever lost a four-legged family member. Animal companions occupy a unique space in our hearts and our lives, and losing them brings a unique pain. Don’t ever let anyone tell you “It was just an animal”. There is no such thing as just an animal.
how they teach you about living
you start to treasure scratches
on furniture that you will never
polish away and small pink scars
on your hands that you wish you
could stop from fading.
the place where a bowl of water
used to sit and the hem of a
too-long curtain that was once
a bed become small altars to fill
the new empty spaces in your life.
you count your remaining years
with lifetimes of smaller animals
as units of measurement and your
comparative longevity feels less
straightforward than it used to.
worse things have happened and
are happening and will happen but
there’s a special kind of grief
reserved for the loss of something
so gentle and unconditional.
you decide that you will be fine
tomorrow but you can’t go to bed
yet because it’s too quiet and you
can still feel the heartbeat that
slowed beneath your hand.
This poem has been living in a works-in-progress folder on my computer for quite a while because I wanted to wait until I no longer felt the way it described before I posted it. Sometimes when you leave a place, it takes a long time and a lot of work before the place leaves you.
you did this to me and i
couldn’t even hurt you back
all i could do was leave
i don’t know why it took
more than a decade to understand
you didn’t take anything from me
but instead shaped a part of myself
that i still can’t look in the eye
your name is the hollow vibration
of a bomb detonating
it’s not like that now
it doesn’t matter
it was like that then
and i’m like this now
In the years since this morning
Bruises have blossomed
I’ve become fiction
You’ve become d u s t
(I don’t know what any of it means. It just arrived in my head like this. Make up something interesting if you want)
the dream, it began
with one of my teeth falling out
and the others were bent like gravestones
toppled and tilting in the weak mush soil
of bleeding gums
the room had blue tiles
half-bleached white in an
aching permanent noon
like a bathroom
in an asylum
in a film
(in a dream)
the mirror was cracked and hanging at odds
my hands were burned and blistered
and my fingers twisted, broken and set
trees and branches, rusted nails
i touched my face and the skin melted and dripped from it
like paint that takes three attempts to open the tin
(with fingernails, with a knife, with a chisel)
something festering and silently toxic
one by one, the remaining teeth came loose
my tongue agitated the rotten stumps
but there was no familiar pleasure
in the final twisting free
i laid my broken teeth
with their blackened roots
to rest in a red velvet pouch
and knew that i was no longer
i miss the girl i almost was
she sits lightly on the edge of the bed
at 4am and brushes my hair back from my
face with a touch like spiders’ footsteps
her breath is like ice and
her wishes are weightless
she wraps a strand of promises around
her fingers and kisses me goodbye again
with lips like polished crystal
she waits for me at crossroads
she is always cold
– – – – –
I know I usually post poetry without much explanation or context, but I want to talk about this one a bit.
First of all, anyone who knows me well or reads this blog regularly will notice the weirdness of the use of the word ‘girl’ in relation to myself. It’s not a label I feel fits me at this point in my life, partly because of my age (are thirty-six year old ‘girls’ really a thing?) and partly because I rarely gender myself in this way at all. That said, for most of my life it was like “Well, everyone else looks at me and thinks ‘woman’ so I guess that’s what I am”, regardless of how I actually felt about myself. So yeah, it feels a bit strange for gender-ambivalent me to say ‘girl’ but I wrote this poem quite a few years ago and I don’t want to change it now, cause for whatever reason it felt right at the time.
The fact that it’s not recent is also important. For a long time, I didn’t feel like I was really over the eating disorder that had been a big part of my existence from childhood until my early twenties. It haunted me like the ghost of something I could have been, which is what this poem is about. I’m happy to say that I’ve recently started to recognise that I am genuinely, fully recovered. I look in the mirror and see what is actually there, not some terrifying shape-shifting nightmare of myself. I enjoy cooking and eating food and it is not attached to any feelings of guilt or shame. I used to wonder if I would ever reach this point, so it’s a big deal to realise that I have.
I guess this poem is a tribute to someone I might have been but also to someone I was for a very long time. The people we’ve been are the building blocks of the people we are and I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t also been that person.
you danced wild around the fire
all flames and pale skin in the biting cold
then you shivered beside us
grinning, eyes flashing dark
we climbed the hill in time for dawn
your hair dyed acid green
face shining through a delicate rain mist
i’ve always wanted to, you said
you told us the extent of it
which we kind of knew, but not the immediacy
the streetlights had halos that night
cloaked and painted, you carried your burning torch
you asked if i would find out what everyone thought
because it would upset people coming from you
i always was good with the difficult questions
i told myself it was still theoretical, or at least not imminent
last year you had a party, just because
you said, we’ll have another one, after
we didn’t speak of what was still to come before
there are warm sacred places that will always belong to your smile
For Garry, the most beautiful spark, who burned briefly but brightly.
this is only archaeology now
and these are only ruins
of your lingering wasting away
a razor-wire moat of cold rusted ocean
and your bitterness, your sickness of soul
your silence still poisoned the ground
but this is only archaeology now
atlas no longer stoops nor strains
and there is nothing left to uncover
i ran through myself
through the glass
through your hands
through the night
to this morning
to this mourning
glasses half full
and the bottles half empty
i fell in love
fell against table tops
fell down the stairs
and fell into this
blackout and breathlessness
waking to silence
your coma my medicine
sunday is breaking
and something is broken
blood dries and eyes open
you sleep until 2pm
and i have time to dream
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
I feel like I should give this poem context.
I like to explore darker, subversive and challenging themes in art, whether visual or written. I don’t believe that art and literature have to be aspirational, inspirational or positive all the time. I don’t believe that art should be followed as instruction. It is there to be interpreted and understood subjectively, as it is created subjectively.
So, for the record, this poem is not autobiographical. It is a work of fiction. It is also not about a perpetrator and a victim. No gender is specified at any point. Take it from the person who created these characters and facilitated their brief appearance in poetic form that the violence is equally given and received, sexual and desired, although not intended to be a representation of the safe, sane and consensual BDSM/kink community, and not necessarily framed by an emotionally healthy relationship.
even broken, you are beautiful
even shattered and stricken and falling to pieces
and i don’t mean beautiful like your hair or your
body or the symmetry of your face
i mean beautiful like your soul built from sighs and
screams and rage and wonder and the sum of all
you are, and you are beautiful.
i would wrap you in words like stardust and
honesty and in promises like sacred and
shining and something like divinity and you
would roll your eyes and nudge me with
your shoulder because again i have said
too much, and you are beautiful.
this too shall pass and other misused platitudes
and saccharine reassurances until the days that
will sting less and ache less and lift you up instead of
weighing you down and the clouds will clear and
other cliches, and you are beautiful.
between these days and those days remember
there are tales of a patron saint of lost causes and a
goddess who is never not broken and there
is you, and you are beautiful.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
This poems works best when read out loud.
Recently, a few of my friends have been going through challenging times for various reasons and it reminded me how difficult it can be to say the right thing, or at least not the wrong thing, and how easy it is to fall back on tried and tested things-to-say-when-someone-is-unhappy. While I was thinking about how much I wished these lovely people weren’t suffering, I ran into two things online that attached themselves to my train of thought – Jude the Apostle (via Wikipedia) and Why Lying Broken in a Pile on Your Bedroom Floor is a Good Idea (via Elephant Journal).
I am a follower of neither the Catholic nor Hindu faith, so I hope I haven’t horribly misappropriated either of these figures by referring to them in this context. I’m not suggesting that people should borrow religion when they’re unhappy (or that they shouldn’t, cause hey, do your thing however you want to do it). I just found it interesting that these two should appear in my field of online vision at that moment and they landed neatly into the difficult final lines of a poem I was working on.