To my hands
When I slid into the world,
you came out clenched, like two walnuts,
then you gradually uncurled, finding your way
into mouths, eyes, porridge.
Later you wrapped yourselves round stubby pencils
to form my first As, Bs and Cs.
A few years on, I gnawed your nails
in my worried teenage mouth,
and your fingers made discoveries
in the slick coral heart of me.
Soon you moved fast enough
to make boys spill their seed.
You balanced cigarettes, held soggy joints,
trailed in rivers beside lazy boats,
fanned out like angelfish
as I swam in the South China Sea.
You wielded an editor’s blue pen:
insert, rewrite, delete, stet.
Later still, you learned to type
on an Amstrad’s qwerty keyboard,
sent faxes, never mastered texts,
graduated to desktops, laptops.
In between, you rubbed off cradle cap,
tested milk – too hot or just right,
wiped babies’ bottoms, smeared on cream,
combed thistledown hair, snapped poppers,
did minimal washing and ironing,
waved tall sons off to university.
You are still labouring,
pecking away on keyboards –
more stiffly now.
Your veins form a relief map.
Your papery skin has lines
that gather on your finger joints.
At night I often wake
to find you tightly clenched.
Published in Aesthetica Creative Writing Award, 2021
The saddest birdes a season find to singe*
In Spring 2020
we heard them all –
not just strident gulls
but blackbirds, meadow pipits, larks,
sparrows, starlings, cuckoos, doves.
As traffic faded
birds grabbed the microphone –
and they were full of the joys.
They laughed and shouted,
strutting like Jagger.
Behind our locked doors,
we bit our nails,
washed our hands,
watched news reports,
waiting for our feathers to grow.
*From ‘Tymes Goe by Turnes’ by Robert Southwell (1561–1595)
First published in Tymes Goe By Turnes: Solstice Shorts Festival 2020 (Arachne Press, 2020)
While swimming, I noticed
a dark speck floating in the pool.
A wasp, I thought. Probably dead.
Not wanting to risk a sting
I cupped my hands below, and
whooshed water and insect aside.
Beached on the tiles,
the wasp heaved rhythmically.
A shipwrecked sailor
One umbrella-spoke leg
repeatedly tried to unfurl,
a limp wing attempted to open.
Two little movements that
sent it spinning: a one-oared boat
Using a leaf as a scoop,
I gently placed it on dry tiles,
then swam a few more lengths
and returned – to find it
still at last.
First published in Shooter Literary Magazine, Issue 12, 2021
Also published in Best New British and Irish Poets 2019-2021 (Black Spring Press)
Trying to edit the Holocaust
I delete a word here,
smooth a phrase there,
remove the repetition, modify the tone.
The material is too raw.
We must present it in a form
that can be easily digested.
The pictures must be carefully selected.
They mustn’t be too gruesome.
Our readers mustn’t turn away.
It’s too important –
this generation needs to know.
Books and websites are all we have.
Even the truth must be packaged.
It’s paid work –
and I try to do it professionally.
Yet every now and then
I hear echoes of another story:
the one my mother told me, of her childhood.
The day her Lithuanian father
opened a letter that made him bellow
like a wounded bull.
The day he heard
that his parents, brothers, brothers’ wives
and children had all been shot.
That story was also illustrated
with photos of the dark-eyed relatives
He planned to earn enough to bring them all to Africa.
But history caught them, and their bodies fell
into the pit.
Under the pile of corpses lay his friend.
When night fell, he fled, then sent a letter,
via the Red Cross, to a Durban address.
Years later, after the war,
Grandpa’s friend returned to reclaim his house,
and was murdered by his ex-neighbours.
No uplifting end to that story,
just a final deletion.
Yet – here we still are.
First published in The Journal, Issue 55