30 Poems


30 The Woman Factory

the women hang
skin tones – fair to cocoa
no magnet based
interchangeable heads
with seven inch oral capacity yet
uniform legs spread,
gel implants in buttocks
and gravity defying breasts
for an ultra realistic feel

soon they’ll get one of the
58 custom nipple options
highly realistic eyes
with optional veins
choice of pubes
black to blonde
(the default is a total shave)

hand punched eyebrows
make up, wigs
and one of many styles of labia
with exotic names like Elektra
vaginal units, fixed or removable
or a transgender converter
with limp to extra large
for a permanant silicone erection

elf ears or vampire teeth

the women will be carefully packed
shipped in crates
and won’t age or have opinions
or not fancy it
they’ll always fancy it

remember to store by hanging
in a neutral position
from the provided neck bolt
and after use
flush the cavities
with warm water
and antibacterial soap

29 – the politician on radio 4

says the veil is a literal barrier
to integration, speaks with a voice
that is a literal barrier to integration
speaks like he knows that literal

barrier – the inside of Eton’s doors
sounds like he’s a member
of the sort of literal barrier club
where you’re literally invited, voted in

sounds like he might be all for
estates where developers are obliged
to put in some affordable flats
as well as nice ones

nice ones with those literal barrier lobbies
and a literal concierge, nice literal lifts
and the other ones
with a shit door near the trades entrance

28 – She Brings Tulips

they are satin in one light
velvet in another, all leaning
away from each other in the red vase

stems perfect as glossy straws
leaves curled and pointed
they are egg yolk bright and plum bright

and pink as a pulled down lip
some just beginning to creak open
pointed petals parting, some tight as beaks

in a week they’ll be laying
their heads to rest, bent down,
blousy as bridesmaids’ dresses

27 – After The Car Crash

I got to know the taste of blood, the warm
volume of it filling my mouth, running
down me blotting out one white number
on the red sweatshirt I loved, on the front:
one pocket and the number 44.

Blood tastes like metal I can tell you that.
After Hillsborough, the donor appeal
I went along, of course I did, got my
finger stuck with a sharp and watched
as my blood drop hung there and wouldn’t fall.
Not heavy enough to do any good.

Now I have to supplement with iron,
spoonfuls of metal direct to my blood.
I never have recovered from that loss.

26 – Chuck It, Dear

we have thrown out
the white cat soap dish

the gloss finish of the glaze
snarled, peeled back

it cannot be kept
we can’t keep everything

and her voice across years
tells us, just chuck it dear

photos surface, the two of them
on a hillside, the grandmother

the grandchild, coats tied
by the arms round their middles

the things inside hearts
don’t lose their gloss

her voice across years
still potent, telling us

25 – what we call it

we call it tube of chores
we call it rustbucket, tubthumper
we call it hulk
we call it breathe in so I can get by
we call it why are you in the bathroom so long
we call it sit in a row
we call it take the bedroom door off, why not
we call it wobble when you get on
we call it collapsible bucket
we call it the way to be here, round the corner
we call it this carpet, original 70’s, got to go
we call it you have to get on well to spend
this much time so close together
we call it orange formica
we call it empty the wee bottle
we call it queen wasps waking up
we call it thank god for the new curtains
we call it a place people want to come to
we call it don’t write to us and put things like
that in bold, we know it’s 40 years old
we call it open the windows I’m roasting
we call it really, why did I decide to live here
we call it new water pump
we call it we still seem to be afloat
we call it leave the fiddly bits of painting to me
we call it a lot of new lingo
we call it two kettles, one for tea
we call it hand the baby in and put him on the table
we call it bobby sands varnishing
we call it yes, I really do live here
we call it don’t worry nettle ground beetles are harmless
we call it looking across the wharf at the day boats
and wondering how they’ll fit all those people
and all those provisions and that slab of lagers in
we call it look, the neighbours have got woodchip
we call it not really still in the wind
we call it love

24 – How Far I Haven’t Walked

here’s how far
I haven’t walked today
to town
out of town to the train station
through the twisted hot air corridors
of the underground
around the british museum
or the tate modern
or into the hills of derbyshire
I haven’t walked up
peaks or munros or cairngorms
or even the short hill
to the roundabout
or over the rickety bridge
where they’re bringing down
trees for the new bypass.
I’ve walked nowhere
just out with the dog twice
in my slippers
I’ve been very busy
in my head.

23 – I Was With Him

It was meant to feel like coming home
instead there were disinfectant mats
like thick meadow grass at the airport
and a bin that instructed ‘all dairy products
must be deposited’ and I’d just alighted
an easyjet flight and I was with him.

The cottage was meant to be a fairytale
not damp stone hunkered by the road
the beds thin, mattresses unforgiving
and only two singles as stingy and mean
as hearts, a stone sink cold and hard
as a heart and I was with him.

It was meant to be a week of bliss,
by Wednesday I was in tears.
The roads saddened me with the grass
growing in the cracks along the white lines.
They led nowhere and we had to
turn round and I was with him.

It was meant to be romantic,
but instead I felt mad, it was me
not the cows and the smoking ban
had just come in and in all the pubs
they actually turned and looked
at us and I was with him.

22 – Ovaries

One knows
is bowing out
glows with virtue
letting the weeks stretch.
It’s dignified & dressed
in some Edwardian lace number,
high necked
doing the decent thing.

The other’s all over the shop,
goes in fits and starts,
a Catherine wheel
spurts just when you think it’s done,
a last wheeze of sparks
bangs out exhaust like some cartoon car
in hand drawn puffs.

I’m spinning on hormones,
a canoeist with one paddle,
a bird with a shortened wing,
flying in circles
wishing they’d get their act together
but sort of admiring
the one that won’t toe the line.

21 – Two Wedding Rings

the first one
he sent back with our daughter
who handed over
he didn’t need it any more

it’s lost now

the second
is titanium, you take it off at night
yesterday, halfway to work
you realised

said ‘I’m not married’
you’d forgotten to put it on
I watched you wrestle
with your want to turn round

go all the way back for it

20 – Asshole

Since we played in Ljubljana last December
visiting there to see my nephew, your son,
your cousin dancing in the maddest western
thing I’ve ever seen I can’t stop saying it.
Deal all the cards. First one to the dealer’s right
Lay, one or two or three or four cards the same.
The person after has to lay higher
but the same number. A three on a two,
a four on a three, Twos on twos. Ace is high.
The whole family packed in a flat a bus ride out
eating packs of bacon at one sitting and the young ones
going out on the balcony for fags and laughing
about things us older ones probably wouldn’t get.
But we remember being the young ones. Smoking.
The city is a beauty in December, a river with three
bridges, we walk in the crisp air and sit outside bars
on furs, wrapped in blankets, heaters at our knees
and wonder why England doesn’t do this. We feel so
European sitting here but the Slovenes speak to us
in English before we’ve even said a thing in shops.
We look English. We must be so very English.
One of our party (pregnant, sober) she’s in charge
keeping her beady eye on what we’re laying down.
The first one to lay all theirs is the winner, the President.
The last loses: the asshole. One loses once, ‘Asshole’
we all say, pointing. The President is smug. Sitting there
with nothing to do for half the game. The Asshole gives
her best card to him next round, he gives her his worst.
She loses again and someone says, ‘it’s like a pair of
sunglasses but each lens is an asshole’ and when she
loses a third time, ‘it’s like a set of traffic lights but each one’s
an asshole, red, orange, green’. That person is pleased
with these jokes. That person is me. And now
every day I’m saying it. Asshole, like the American way
not Arsehole like I’m English. Like I look like I’m English
before I even speak. Asshole. Asshole. Asshole.
Calling the dog, Asshole, shouting it to all the asshole
drivers and saying it fondly to my husband. ‘Asshole’
I don’t know when it will stop.

19 – Boat Painting

Some days you are just
too busy painting your boat
to write a poem.

18 – Birth Day

This day I wake
and in the warm place

of just waking, the halfway
between wake and sleep

the Neverland
I think of all those years ago

when I was, right now
still inside you, like a message

in a bottle, curled & quiet
an avocado’s stone

a pip, a butterfly caught
between two cupped hands.

It was women’s work
that got me out, held me up

and there was your caught breath
released because I was fine

more than fine, perfect.
A relief.

17 – Ancestry

the water today is dark
I’m thinking of my family tree
reaching branches back

I’ve been looking
for my father’s father’s father
hoping he’s an Irishman

but there’s no place of birth
no census record inked for him
so I’m adrift on black water

still English through and through
and soon, if I’m not careful
not European, however I feel

16 – Letter To You

A tyre on the motorway looks
like a black dog lying there.
A paper bag is a brown cat.
On a boat roof a ceramic
duck and pole – a leaf blower.
Is that a doctor with a
doctor’s bag I asked. It wasn’t.
I thought I saw you, the exact
angle of your shoulder which
sets off in me a response like
jangling in all the nerves of my
solar plexus but it was a
homeless man, looking in a bin.
I’m annoyed my solar plexus
has forgotten all that happened.
The damp patch on your ceiling was
a witch’s profile, scared the kids.
The shadow of the clematis
against the window a dancing
hand giving us all the finger.
And now my memory is playing
these same tricks. People say we met
at a party near Deptford Bridge
in 1983 and I
don’t believe I ever went there.
I’m afraid of things that look like
other things, what I’m forgetting
but I don’t forget you or what
I thought you looked like and weren’t.

15 – Alf – One Month

You’re wearing braces
to hold up tiny trousers
which can’t fall down
you’re a long way from walking.
A stripy shirt.

You’re lying arms up.
Hands in little fists. Arms always up
like you’re reaching for something
like you’re saying, me, me!

Like there’s some anthem on
and you’re raving through the night
eyes little half moons
slices of lemon, you’re looking
like a baby now not the small old man
who was born and lay in our arms
like he’d travelled from a planet
where people shrink in age
more than they do here.

You’ve got socks with spots
and elephants on the toes
and you’re staring out
from the photo like you’re
just, just about to smile.

14 – Bull

stared down by the fearless girl
all 3.5 tons of him
she’s hands on hips, a slip of a thing
shows the unbending will
of girls, her skirt, her ponytail
moved by the wind
she’s all motion standing still
the sculptor beefs
she’s made his work a villain
work he dropped, cocksure
without a permit even
the fearless girl’s not having it
she’s standing firm, makes space
for women who aren’t there
among the swinging balls of wall street
in all the other boardrooms
of the world, round all the tables
they’re talking it
charging at things
making cuts
she’s a red rag
she means it

13 – fordite

from years of car paint
on production lines
upon layer
upon colour
up on racks
automation’s efficient robot arms

workers chipped it off
if you polished it
of paint showed through in
like something precious
just a build up
a rack
a factory

12 – Like Her

You didn’t like her.
No reason,
she was that type.

You felt bad.

She had all the things.

You’ve liked people for less.

You didn’t like her face.
You’ve liked people
with worse faces,
loved them.

She was kind,
you saw that first hand.

She did things in the worlds
you did things in.
You forgot twice
you were meeting her
like your mind
just wiped her off.

She was a fraction loud
(though you’ve like louder)

just went on too long
(though you liked someone who
came in and talked about herself
for 23 minutes without stopping
before she drew breath and said
‘So, how are you?’ You timed her.)

You just didn’t.

11 – ‘You never see a baby pigeon.’

Because the pigeon is a good parent
rock dove, stowing its squabs in high nests way
out of reach not letting them fly the nest
for 40 days and nights, twice as long as
other birds, feeding them a fatty burp
of crop milk til they’re fledging, its own size.
Pigeons proliferate, fat on success,
hiding their young in plain sight, we could learn
a thing or two from the pigeons – how to
stick together, wear a grey uniform,
to flock and perch on the narrowest ledge.
Make no mistake the pigeon’s got it made.

10 – Bro

Honey monster, bear, Mr. Invincible
got our dad’s superhero build
calves like rugby balls and the old man’s
blue stare, you liked to say
you could turn a woman’s nipples hard
just looking at them.

Old silverback, you. Got our father’s feet,
his hands, his hair thick, steel grey waves.
But you’re the man who wrote off our mother’s cars,
every time there’d be trees down on the back roads
there’d be ditches in places they shouldn’t be.
Surprising places.

I always think of the storm
that night, my mother ironing, me sitting
under the ironing board both of us listening
to the howling wind, me scared for myself
that we might take off like Dorothy
and I know now, her for you.

Breathalysed twice pissed as a fart
but passed because the trick our dad said
was to breathe really deep from the time
the cops pulled you over.
Sometimes on the road at night
I practice those breaths, sober as a stone.

Say to my mother, don’t worry
he’s fine, I’m breathing in for him.

9 – Fleas

We’ve had fleas before, relentless
the vacuuming six times a day
the way they hopped onto bare legs
when we went in the bathroom
how when I was googling fleas
one jumped on the screen of my phone
that was so rude – so we’ve learnt
and today, dog scratched her chin
could have been innocent, an itch
but we, after days of saying
the temperature’s up
jumped right then to the cupboard
had everything out, summer things
stocked at the back, sun cream
buckets and spades, some hats
sandals and the flea stuff
a tiny tube from the vet
because the little bastards
got immune bouncing through
the treatments, dropping their eggs
to roll into every corner and wait.
He holds her head, I part the hair
between her shoulder blades
and drip. It’s liquid gold this stuff
costs so much but I remember
how that hot spell, I cried
defeated by the fleas, not up to it
swore, through tears, never again.

8 – Living At The Wharf

Until you live on water you don’t see
how no water is the same day to day
or how watching water change takes up hours.
I like it best when it stands mirror still
reflecting the buildings and all the lights
faithfully so another wharf is hung
below the real one and the other wharf
upside down, is the better one, it glints
it’s the place where all the things you ever
wanted are possible, the place you’d go
back to if you could split the world each time
you’d gone so wrong and you could start again.
On other days the underworld is marred
by wind stippling the surface so edges
blur and it could be the place you went when
you had no grip on life, no certainties.
And always there are the fish, fast, breaking
the surface for flies, crumbs or each other
fast as darts making you look but only
see where they’ve been, ripples spreading across
the wobbling picture of the underworld
disturbing it, like memories you can’t
quite get but disquiet you anyway.

7 – Three Ones

one is a dark tree, one a sandy rock
& one the moon

one lifts his baby up
makes him dance

one comes back home
dazzles with kindness

one goes out into the world
like the warrior she is

one cried til I wondered why
anyone had one at all

one smiled and charmed
all the people in the street

one, nearly three told me
you’re breaking a little girl’s heart

each of them are the ones
I held all night in my bed

skin to skin, building resilience

6 –  The Man With The Toy Kaleidoscope

He’s the piratical captain.
The Big Cheese.
Up there looking out
through that jazzy cardboard tube.

Seeing, through the prism
of his self importance
turning and turning
the kaleidoscopic world.

Across the village
across the war memorial
the archeological dig
across the community library
staffed by volunteers.
It’s his little society.

He’s seeing over and over
the fractured repeat
of his own brilliance
spinning glorious
right there
held up to his eye.

5 – Sex Music/Music Sex

Who was it told me
that after sex he danced
naked in front of her
(Massive Attack, a dub remix)
dick swinging
level with her eyes.
It was his bliss, she said
that embarrassed her
being too private
even after all they’d done
for hours
with and to each other.
Him, eyes closed, inside himself
she couldn’t bear.
She left, never went back.

4 – Road Trip

Now the shoe is on the other foot
and the other foot is on the gas
and we’re heading down the M1
on her time, her schedule
not mine.
She’s not my baggage, my knapsack
my spotted hankie on a stick
my pack up, my snap,
the contents of my pocket.
She’s a woman with a job
a firm grip on the steering wheel
snaking in the fast lane
shouting ‘there’s 3 lanes asshole!’
But we’ll sing Grease songs
Well-a-well-a-well-a ah! Tell me more
Tell me more, did he get very far?
Arguing who sings summer nights
so high and whose timing is wrong
(mine) and she’s telling me when
she might have kids.
And the road goes on and on
and on.

3 – Heyday

I didn’t see
it was my heyday,
at my mother’s table
with my new laptop,
with my daughter
just fourteen
still straightening
that corkscrew hair,
both of us pulling faces
at the red eye
of the built in camera.
I didn’t know
I’d look back from here
and see my glossy hair,
the line of my chin
feel sad.
Not for being older
but because I didn’t see.
It was the last time, too
at my mother’s Easter table
and we didn’t know it yet.

2 – Finger

it is the type that makes you want to be rid of rust,
because rust rises through the paint
and it’s the type that scratches at things until they flake
and fall, the type that can’t leave a spot alone
picking and picking at it all day so it reddens
the type that catches its nail under the lifted corner
of wallpaper and works it free until it’s something
you now have to do something about
the type that puts itself where it shouldn’t be
wheedling in, the type that asks questions
it doesn’t want the answer to, where any answer
will cause pain, either way, the finger forms
a question, perfect for this, the type of finger
an old woman has that gets right into your ribs
when you are not ticklish by anyone else
the type that knows tickling is power and sinister
the type that rings a bell on a house and keeps
itself on the bell too long, so already whoever is inside
is cross before they open the door
the type that’s never heard it’s rude to point
the type that imagines how it would be to have
an eyeball on the end to look round corners
or under beds or into things it shouldn’t see
the type that wags at you making you feel
like a five year old and so damn mad
you could bend it back on itself so far
you hear it break

1 – Alf 2 Weeks 6 Days

He’s a fortune cookie. An egg.
A book written in invisible ink.
He’s a tiny door with a golden key.
He’s a giftwrapped bright surprise unfurling
hands like an old man, unfilled.
No bracelets of fat, no smiles yet.
He’s an unknown destination. A bud,
a chrysalis so self contained,
looking around with serious eyes.
He’s a locked safe, a bomb
a magic spell to change the world.
We are the people he will know.
We are the ones who love him.
He’s a held breath, a secret.
A clock that’s wound.
He’s an onion,
a tight packed wad of notes.
He’s a light, a tricycle,
an unclimbed tree.