Rush / Rash

In which I face the future

I feel this need to gobble things up. Consume them before they disappear from existence, seize them in a spasmodic clutch that crushes as much as it holds. 

Why the rush? 

I suppose the future feels empty in its uncertainty. The potential it holds seems like so much Fool’s Gold when compared to the sure gleam in the seam of the present. I seize the day, uncaring that my clumsy grasp might cause a hundred futures to wink out, wriggling threads extinguished without a second’s thought.

I get told to relax a lot. Chill out. Go with the flow. See what happens. It turns out that this doesn’t really have any effect on a mind outraged by the paucity of knowledge available when told to make decisions. 

And so I hold onto today like the Earth might turn its back on the Sun, refusing to bring it back around. I feel everything now, in case the future is a burnt out carcass hosting only maggots of misery. 

Sometimes my grip releases. Hands go slack and shaky with the fear that those terrible futures might mean that there’s no point in consuming or clutching. There’s no point in holding on.

On those days, when my brain coils tightly around itself and digs its jaws in deep, I need someone to slip their hand in mine and clutch me as though the Earth might spin no more. As though those future threads mean nothing compared to the need for a clumsy grasp today. 

And on those days I’ll realise I don’t have to rush alone.

Let there be

In which someone listens

Being truly listened to is like standing on the edge of a sudden void, lit by thunderous sunlight and held in a silence so keen that moisture hesitates to evaporate. 

I fall into that void, cold fingers fluttering behind me like wings. 

And for the first time, I don’t curate my stories. I don’t shape tales to coax forth smiles, I don’t polish my thoughts to present their best side. And I don’t tuck the things that cut me out of sight. 

I keep tumbling, tears creeping into the corners of my eyes to burn at skin.

And then there far below, I see light blossom in the darkness.

Strands dance on lightning feet, orbiting each other before flying outward in a new direction. They hum with pleasure at the feel of the listening: words suddenly caught by an ear and held in the brain with the touch of gentle but curious neurons. 

Those strands weave as they go, forming a billowing net with edges that ever expand as words of understanding and tenderness wrap warm arms around my own. 

The void becomes a safe place to fall, the silvered net a constant assurance. 

All is let go.

Baggage

In which I realise I’m not exempt

I fear I’ll be transmuted into a millstone – rough around the neck, with an interminable grind that erodes temper and tether. 

I’ll become sickly sweet, cloying and claggy even as the mouth gets rinsed again and again. 

I’ll be a duty, one to tick off each day with a plummeting stomach and stiffening shoulders.

I’ll be an unreachable thorn latched in a once smooth flank. A ball and chain without a lock. An albatross that was shot without understanding just how heavy it would feel once wrapped around the neck.

And mostly I fear that all the while, I will know. 

Unbridled

In which I count the ways that I love you

She’s a no holds barred, shits ungiven, unbridled pillar of purest sass. 

She’s got more eye twinkles than a children’s poem, a laugh that’s seen you without your trousers, and a tongue that can choose to dice you or nice you.

Mountains cower at her command and slink off at the jab of a finger; chaos parts before her, scrabbling frantically to order at a single glance. 

She’s got a heart that gives and gives and gives, and she writes no return address on the back. 

Her love feels like the rise of the sun on cold skin, a warm pair of arms after years at sea.

She’s hidden in plain sight so only the luckiest can see her. 

I’m so glad I could.

Bad bet

In which I’m really appreciative

It’s a lot to sign up for: 

The cancelled dates, 

The midnight wakes,

The fact that there’s nothing to do but wait.

There’s the job I left, 

The dances I missed, 

Those times excuses were forced from your lips. 

There’s the rattle of medication,

The waiting lists marching in endless succession,

And the journeys made in a single direction.

It’s all in the knowledge that there is no, ‘and then’.

There is only this. 

You signed up without pause,

So for you, I’ll add the small print:

You’re signed up until ‘a lot’ is too much.

Even keeled

In which I send my love

It takes hundreds of miles for her to feel free. 

To chisel away at those layers of sediment worry,

Until she gleams beneath.

It takes a bitter wind to steal away her fears.

To rip at eyes and skin, until there is no room left to dread,

Only a world narrowed to a single, simple opposition.

It takes a problem solved to remind her of power.

Amid all those wicked chains that whip wild at the future,

This, alone, is in her hands. This she can do.

The sky folds down on every side,

Slicing through the heartstrings that she gifts so easily.

No longer pulled by faraway hands, she rocks on her feet, 

And takes her moment.

Sloshing organs

In which I navel gaze

In this bag of sloshing organs, something is awry.

It snuck in one night, to creep through shadowed muscle.

Pain shudders from every pad,

While fairytale sleep wends around its tail. 

It curls around my cheekbone,

Burrows into my back,

Nestles against my hip,

And savages my body.

It is a shy beast, this creature, eluding test and scan.

Trace undetectable.

Aside from the outline burned into my life.

Every action considered:

Every seat snagged, sleep grabbed, bus taken, Tube ridden,

Food eaten, song sung, every stress, cry, laugh, love – 

In this bag of sloshing organs, something is awry.

Hatches unbattened

In which I find someone I had lost

A boy I once knew slouches cock-sure on a ratty red velvet sofa.

A decade dead, but still in those tight jeans, legs crossed, grin in his eyes.

I never grieved for him properly, unable to puzzle out just how long forever feels.

But tonight, I curl under his arm, head to a bony shoulder that no longer exists,

Pressed against a heart that pumped kindness with every beat.

He laughs at the girl who never knew how to unbatten hatches,

Who snarked from behind razor wire fences

That she hoped would cover a permanent state of panic.

A different person sits beside him. 

She’s better at opening heart to heart,

Letting others see her weep without shame,

Allowing feelings to flow even when her mind screams. 

He, who never had the chance to grow older, 

Already knew how to do all those things a decade younger. 

It turns out forever feels longer every day.

And ‘never’ ties a weight to your heart strings,

So they plumb a depth ungrounded.

I’m going to stay here a while longer

Next to a boy I once knew, on a ratty red velvet sofa.

Dentally challenged

In which I choose my words.

Some have sensitive teeth. 

Enamel worn by the acid of life and the fracturing punches thrown by fate.

To you, who life has rubbed until all loss devastates, I’ll tell only tales of romance before it cracks, never stories of the broken pieces.

To you, so weighed down by clouds of darkness that you cannot carry mine too, I’ll give only the gossamer and tuck away dragging tendrils of sadness.

And to you, for whom feelings are glowing iron between icy teeth, I’ll give only carefully cultivated words to amuse, shorn of the emotions that tumble alongside.

I’ll brick away my broken pieces, my tendrils of sadness, my tumbling emotions, and keep each of you from harm.

But remember, there is more to me than meets your tooth.

Brinicombe

In which we remember.

When Brin begins to play, the storm holds her breath.

As the notes flicker across the skyline, she throws her head back and howls with delight.

Black waters dance to his pick, throwing themselves against rock to the rhythm of his feet. 

And the wind chases the melody across the heathers between the headlands. 

Ah, how he plays. 

On such nights, windows are latched fast, Agas lit, and lights burn low.

On such nights, rain taps on single-glazed panes with a constant beat.

On such nights, Brin leads the storm.

And dances on waves.

White enough

In which I contemplate skin

When I was little, my skin was nearly white enough for my Chinese family. 

‘If you got rid of your freckles you would be so beautiful!’ they would say, whitening cream in hand. 

When I was older, my skin seemed far too white – a failed attempt to inherit my mother’s tone, the smooth brown that delights in sunshine and burnishes with ease.

Now I opt out of the hunt for sun, at home in the bioluminescence of my father’s skin.

And yet increasingly I feel disquiet. This pale passport allows me to elude assumptions, it is an all access pass to no questions asked. 

And the world doesn’t check the blood running beneath.

My half-blood friends whose dice rolled brown are forever asked where they’re from, forever questioned why they’re here.

I think of those times when they wrenched away children who were ‘white enough’. Those times when you might be less of a dog if your luck ran pale. Those times that seem to be circling back around.

And I hear the ‘Go Home’ howls, see the snarling fever as it spreads.

One day I might be lucky that I’m nearly white enough.

And for the first time, I fear that my family are not. 

Miracles

In which I consider the nature of hope

This is the gap filled by gods.

Or if not gods, then magic.

Or if not magic, then convincingly futuristic sounding “medicine”.

Or if not futuristic medicine, then convincingly ancient sounding “medicine”.

This is the gap that bleeds hope.

It exists in our minds alone. The world gives little care for concepts like ‘unfairness’ or ‘undeserving’.

The world just is. And sometimes we cannot trace our patterns of meaning over its contours.

The gap is vulnerable. It wants to be filled. Like a child it reaches for anything that comes into its vicinity.

And there are always those with a shark’s sense for blood.

They will circle when hope cries out, carefully brewed oil of snake or poisoned apple in hand. They wear a mask of utmost sympathy, and speak with the zeal of one with absolute fact at their back.

And what can hope do but reach for a taste?

Charms, crystals, prayers, herbs, mysterious energy reading machines – just a little more, just a little longer, one more day-month-year. The cure lies just around the corner.

‘Lies’ being the operative word.

The gap hungers, whimpers, so tired of the ache of hoping yet never quite fulfilling.

Yet if we let gods, magic, mysticism, or alternative medicines pass us by, what balm can soothe the gap?

I fill my gap with my own absolute insignificance.

With the scale of this planet, the solar system, the galaxy, the universe. With the incredible statistical feat of my existence. With the duration of my life against the age of the Sun. With the breathtaking beauty of a world that will continue to rotate uncaring and unaware of the motes that scatter its surface.

It is here that I find comfort. Meaning in the absolute meaningless of space. For all that humanity builds or destroys, our wars, our discoveries, our loves and joys, those we laud or despise, we are but a blink. Everything we know and discover is incredible, and yet utterly insignificant against all that we do not know.

My gap overflows. 

And though this may not find cures or solutions, there is a peace that comes with perspective. Yes, I am insignificant. But how wonderful it is to have the capacity to think that thought. 

How lucky I am to have my blink of existence.

Iceberg

In which I had to go out

Chalk sketch of a lion by Isla Kennedy - Medically Unexplained

I went to choir on Thursday.*


* Actual process:

1. Wake up and scan through body. 

Is there cramping? [Y/N]

Will this cramping escalate and prevent you from going? [Y/N]

If “Y”, message choir director. Experience extreme guilt. Skip to step 9.

If “N”, eat, then take painkillers. 

2. Are you still cramping or has cramping started since this morning? [Y/N]

Will you have to take (more) painkillers? [Y/N]

If “Y”, half an hour before taking them, eat to line stomach in order to avoid gastritis.

3. Are you still cramping? [Y/N]

If “Y”, eat, take painkillers around an hour before getting on the bus.

4. Make sure you bring a vomit bag, tissues, water, more painkillers. 

5. Select the bus seat least likely to induce cramp of the ones available. Do not get on the bus if there is no seat. 

Sit bolt upright and as still as you can. 

Simultaneously attempt to spread out and wedge yourself securely.

Manspread without upsetting the person next to you.

Try to relax.

6. While in choir, hydrate, relax, and roll shoulders.

Sing.

7. Are you still cramping? [Y/N]

If “Y”, during the mid-practice break take more painkillers. 

8. Is the cramp getting worse? [Y/N]

If “Y”, get off the bus early and walk the rest of the way home. 

9. Is the cramp still bad? [Y/N]

If “Y”, move pillows and duvet to the floor.

Eat to line stomach.

Take painkillers.

Apply ibuprofen gel.

Apply ice packs.

Move plastic bin within arm’s reach.

10. Leave food and water on the floor nearby in case you need to take more painkillers in four hours’ time. 

11. Attempt to sleep on the floor. 

12. If cramping escalates, wake in four hours, eat, take painkillers. 

13. Apply hope protocol.

The Truth

In which I ponder the importance of being earnest

Pencil sketch of a crab by Isla Kennedy - Medically Unexplained

The kids I taught were obsessed with The Truth.

A poem on mixed race identity.

‘Yeah, but is it real?’

A novel on the Great Depression.

‘Yeah Miss, but is it real?’

An entrail sucking demon from another realm.

‘Yeah, but -‘

They’re a Greek chorus with a brain-liquefying song.

I still wonder why it was so important

That the world be carved into truth and lies.

Why reality held such value,

And fiction was Fool’s Gold.

‘Anyone can say anything, isn’t it.’

‘And, like, if it didn’t happen then it don’t mean nothing.’

I fumbled for justifications,

Explanations of allegory and escapism,

Imagination and interpretation.

I cautioned that reality was often subjective,

And that ‘based on truth’ was not truth.

I was petrified by Medusa stares.

(I took the coward’s way out:

That demon and its fiery realm were definitely real,

That’s why they spell it ‘Real-m’.)

I suspect my former charges continue to split the world asunder,

And eye fiction with suspicion.

But in a world such as this,

With reality so surreal,

I hope they’ve come to detect

The lies that lie in The Truth.

Ode to Ibuprofen

In which I dwell on a love lost

Pencil and watercolour sketch of a snake eating frogspawn by Isla Kennedy - Medically Unexplained

I was young when I met you.

I, sixteen, and you sixteen in a pack – so strong, so reliable. You seemed so available back then.

I couldn’t get enough of you. Ignored the murmurs from my family, my friends.

I needed you.

But your sugar coating was skin deep.

You turned my bowels into burning pipes of doom.

O! The diarrhoea!

The tender eruptions of our love!

My stomach filled with the broken shards of our promises, and inflated till it tried to escape my chest. Vomit stained my nights.

My stomach in my mouth, I had to let you go.

Many years have grown between us now. I watch others flirt with you and bite back warnings. They will learn.

He sleeps now, my Morpheus, he doesn’t know I once loved another. He is a gentle tonic after your burning love, for all that he is slow to respond when I call him.

You, oh, you were my first love.

I wonder sometimes, if I were to meet you again, would we be as once we were?

Sweet sixteen and the pain of the world washed away.

But my digestive system belies my heart.

My guts have never forgiven you.