You think she thinks you’re stupid
and that she’s always mocking you.
So, take the time to point out her flaws,
correct her errors. Bring her down a peg.
That stupid bitch has got it coming,
thinking herself so much better than you.
Just look at all the mistakes she makes!
Remind her how often she screws up.
It’s not as if she was abused for years.
It’s not as if each moment of her life
has been lived as an outsider, facing
hatred, rejection. It’s not as if
she admired you, looked up to you,
thought you wonderful, longed for your praise.
Not like she’s afraid to express herself
and so communicates in awkward jokes.
It’s not as if your coldness cuts
deeper than any other knife she’s known.
Not like she’s crying in a corner,
believing herself unworthy, unwanted.
Nah. She definitely thinks you’re stupid,
and is always mocking you, that cow.
It started in childhood. That low hum
of disapproval at our parents’ mistakes. We tried
to tutor them in a humanity they wouldn’t understand.
Sacrificed shiny-shoed futures
to make art in run-down houses, underground bunkers, drink
cheap wine around trashcan fires. We fell in love,
grew up – in vegan squats and railway carriages – dogs
on strings. Saluted the sun, that solstice-pink sun.
And now, there are armies (or will be), and bombs.
Now there are others – obeyers – with drones. Now
they will round up the sick and creative. Our
minimum-wage jobs? The first to be cut.
Outsourcing. Empathy is a chain –
with it, they will choke us, bind us. Throw us aside;
one day we will long for those trashcan fires
woodsmoke and starlight,
those childhood nights
spent tip-toeing around a passed-out parent.
We were supposed to change the world, weren’t we?
We were supposed to see,
with the clarity of strong young hearts
and good education,
a better way of being.
21/11/1983 – 16/10/2006
I never knew you, not really, not in the way
that others did: that sharing-dark-thoughts
and communal experiences of CPNs, units,
tubes. But I admired you. You had something
I lacked: independence, courage. I craved your attention.
When you died, I cried. Played that Lou Reed song
over and over. How could I possibly do this
if you couldn’t? I absorbed the details, struggling,
feeling ever-more like the outsider, unwanted tourist.
One storm-night in Dunstaffnage I stared at gerberas
through smoke-warm windows: your favourite flower.
I read your poetry and was torn apart,
my own sink filled with roiling heartsblood.
One man saved my life with a single kind word.
Someone I trusted far more than she deserved
said, “not EVERY suicide goes to Hell.”
So I left my people. Just for you. And ten years
is such a long time to unpick all the strands
of abuse, trauma, body dysmorphia, body dysphoria;
acrid taste-sting over the toilet bowl. But I did it.
Bleeding and crying I claimed my body my own.
I wish you were here. There is no ending
to a story that’s ended. It hasn’t been an easy decade,
but I really wish you’d been here for it.
I’m sorry I called you a crazy bitch
over and over. I’m sorry that I knew that something was wrong
but didn’t trust my instincts. I’m sorry
for my shrieking rage, the way I blamed you for the way
he chose to fetishize you, and abandon me.
I’m sorry for discrediting your intelligence,
dismissing you as spring-bunny fluff. Denying your maturity,
without noticing the immature one was me.
I’m sorry for the way the lights of your stage
highlighted scenes of my insecurity. I’m not sorry he loved you, not at all,
but I’m sorry he harmed you.
I’m incredibly sorry I couldn’t protect you.
I’m sorry that my pretentions of competence —
and all the bluster of my claimed elevations –
gave me no useful way of sheltering you. I’m sorry his desire
left so many wounds. You deserved
a much softer love. I can see why he liked you;
loved you, even. I understand why he placed you above me.
But he also chose unhealthy, disturbing obsession.
You chose to be yourself. I actually wish he’d loved you more;
wish he’d showered you with tenderness and humanity.
Your honesty soothes me. You put me to shame –
healing me where I couldn’t heal you. There’s much I can learn
from your courage and grace.
Life is so mercurial and strange.
You’d eat an orange during the lunchtime lecture:
self-care ritual, your daily half-time.
I marvelled at how you never made a mess.
Eat fruit in public? I wouldn’t dare. I’d
get squirts of juice all over my skin,
stain my notebook with pips and peel
I could barely sip from the water bottle
definitely not speak until spoken to. And
do you remember how I used to eat dinner? Push my food
into a corner. Shoulders hunched over.
Look at me and scowl a little. Shake your head, purse your lips
in faint disgust. Just enough,
to make me shrivel further into my seat, hating myself
for my anxious unhealthiness.
I don’t belong here.
I’m not good enough.
I’d start keep pieces of fruit on my desk
for days, even weeks. Waiting for the office to be empty enough
to eat in peace. Sometimes the skin would go rotten before then
and I’d lever them shamefully
into the bin.
Years have passed. I eat my orange like a wolf eats a deer.
Eyes feral, juice gushing, teeth sunk into flesh. Changed from haunted prey
into hungry predator.
You’re probably still peeling your half-time orange,
indulging in unchanging rituals,
and shaming a whole new uncertain generation,
as I speak.