Three poems by Jess White

I listened to Halsey

I listened to Halsey’s speech at the women’s march.
I’ve played it at least a dozen times.
Thinking how every woman has a story just like hers, just like mine.

How I cannot think of a single woman who has; never been catcalled, never been touched by grubby hands.
I’m the biggest believer in equality, a daily advocate for all rights not just women’s rights.

Yet when I wake up after my drink was spiked, when I hold my best friend after she was raped walking home, when I read yet another story about a woman being assaulted, if feels like women have no value and no voice.
Like it really is a man’s world.

Every night I walk home with my keys in my hand.
My mum gave me my first rape alarm when I was twelve.
When the #metoo campaign began, so many women spoke out.
I hope that maybe times were changing, yet all I see is people asking:
“what were you wearing”, “were you drunk”?, “take it as a compliment”

When can we reclaim our bodies?

When can we decide who enters them and who does not?


“I didn’t know you had a dad”

“I didn’t know she had a dad”
What should I have said at family gatherings?
While you talked about how your Dad woke you up with breakfast everyday, should I have told you how our Dad was passed out on the sofa every morning?
How we woke him wondering whether we’d be graced with Jekyll or Hyde that day?
You counted the slices of toast on your plate, I counted empty glass bottles on the floor.
In our house there were always three green bottles; Jacobs Creek, Yellowtail and Barefoot.

“You never talked about him”
Lets share our childhood memories, reminisce on our pasts.
When you were searching for your homework, football kit or school supplies every morning, we would search for twenty pence’s hidden behind the sofa
Praying there would be enough for twenty Superking and one box of red.
I don’t drink red wine, I can still taste his hangover on my lips
And I don’t eat baked beans but for years I spent my pocket money on them, so we could eat while he ate a liquid diet.

“You didn’t see him that much”
Did you see the decade of calls that rung endlessly?
The messages not always returned
All the “Sorry something came ups”at the last minute?
Did you see how I threw away all my moral stances?
How we switched from fleeting meetings in coffee shops to hours in the pub?
Just so we could talk?
How he never understood that I could only drink one pint to his three?
How he would text every other Sunday and I would ring every other week in the middle of the afternoon knowing there was a 50/50 chance he’d be sober?

“You weren’t that close”
When I was three he taught me French
When I was five he taught me to ride a bike
When I was seven he taught me that books are medicine for the soul
When I was nine we danced to Leonard Cohen in the kitchen

When I was eleven I asked “Daddy why do you drink”?
And Daddy told me he was sorry but it would always be his first love.
At seventeen I walked away, at nineteen I went back
At twenty-one I waked away, at twenty three I went back.
When I was twenty-one we held our own little graduation party, then it didn’t matter if he got drunk.

“Did he mean that much to you?”
The best night of my life was the night he spent four hours in Wetherspoons with me, asked my hopes and dreams.
He studied photos of my hobbies, travels and life.
My favourite part of adopting our cat was how his face lit up when he met her.
Every time we moved house I asked him round for dinner, but dinner never came.

When he died my phone flooded with messages of how his face beamed when he spoke of us
How he told everyone when we found a new job, new house, achievement and I hope every day I had made him proud.

I study the photos of the better years each day, pondering where it all went wrong.
I talk to him everyday because maybe now he’s watching.

“Your world hasn’t changed that much”
He died too young to ever hold a grandchild
Too young to drunkenly dance in the corner on my wedding day
His Sunday text no longer tells me he’s okay
Every time I pass a Wetherspoons I think how I would buy him all the damn red wine if it gave us one more day.
And I have learnt of the trauma that made him pour wine to his lips each night
The demons that he never shared, hidden in his drunken mind.
My heart hurts for the pain he never shared.

“I didn’t know you had a dad”
Tell me what should I have said?


Unlearning all those bad habits:

When we started dating, I asked him if I could wear my hair tied up, I asked him if I could pierce my nose, I asked him for a list of all the friends I’m allowed to see, the places I can go.

He stares at me, he tells me that I am person not a gadget to control.
You see before you, he told me that girls should always have long hair so even in the gym I’d never tie it up, clouding my vision the same way love clouded my mind.
He said pretty girls don’t wear piercings or tattoos, so when he finally left I got five piercings and three tattoos.
They still weren’t as painful as that year with you.
He told me that I was too close to my best friend, he told me he kissed someone else because I loved her too much.

I still ask him now, you see I am still struggling to learn how to be a person and not a possession.
He tells me that I should learn how to enter a room on my own, that I do not need to message him that I have rung the doctors, put the bins out or made myself some lunch.

I’m full of bad habits, I’m so used to being a puppet that I do not know how to hold the strings to my own life.

I know he hates that my wardrobe is a multitude of colours, and his closet is nothing but black.
He asked me once why I was wearing sportswear to a restaurant and wonders why there is a hundred bobbles around the house.
But slowly I’m learning that this is okay.

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