Weigh In

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I think the sickness may kill me. In this pale room
of shivering lunatics, one girl
dashes off, belly round as a mango
to puke in the ladies’ toilets. Unsupervised,
she heaves and coughs, splatters the tiles
with half a breakfast buffet. Dark swirls of cola.
Cold pizza she’d forced down her gullet, and a slab
of sponge cake on nobody’s birthday.
Blasting cool water, she scrubs hard, sniffing
her hair and her hands, smuggles gum to her mouth
as though she were replacing a tooth.

Another is busy drowning herself with a half-gallon
of mineral water. Glugging and swallowing,
barely noticing the cool sliver of a boy beside her.
She drops the clattering bottle, gasps, and suddenly
I want to take her into this awkward cradle
of elbows and knees, fatten her up like a lamb.

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Burnt Toast

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The kitchen reeks of stale arguments

and bacon. She glances up, horrified,

rasher dangling like a sock between her fingers

as I show up, half-chewed

in my father’s oversize fleece.

Between us, all you can hear

is the sound of a butter-knife scraping.

Oiled fingers. Burnt toast. She offers,

eggs me on to eat. I say, calmly,

no thank you, it’s burnt

as she stands, arms crossed, watching me

shred cucumber into fifty wet pieces,

slide tomatoes around my plate,

not knowing

 

how I have trembled all night

like a mole in the dark, dug up

my ribs, my pelvic bone, squeezed

the soft bits like clay.

There, I say, and glare at her,

waving my bare fork as evidence.

Swallow a cold frill of lettuce.

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Night Shift

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I have stooped with a dustpan and brush
in the kitchen all night: pooled glittering shards

of beer-bottles, crooked stubs of John Players’ Blue
scattered like amputated fingers. Done everything

I can to stay awake. My mouth reeks of coffee–
sticky-black, glued to the bellies of jars,

stained rings on windowsills, yesterday’s paper.
Knuckle-smudged under my eyes. Piss twenty times

in one night. Stretch, cook in gummy-eyed stupor,
sit crooked at the table. I cry, still holding my mug

and forget to boil the kettle. My shadow moves
from grey to mauve across the kitchen wall

and turns the TV up. Smiling gorgeously
in her crimson shirt, a newsreader tells me

a foreign time, assures me that this is the world
and wishes me good morning, good morning

in the dead of night.

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Cawl

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It was the smell of my childhood: hot stew,
warm heap of floured rolls
you cut for me, buttered
  then closed in my fist. I complained
my mouth was burning,
pressed my tongue to the soft blister
left by potato and juice. You took the spoon
from me, cooled a cube of swede with your breath.
I trusted you, took a shy bite.
Older now, and hairless, you tear cheap bread
with a bored hand, sigh quietly over your spoon
  and pretend to eat. I spin a thin ribbon of leek.
Nothing in common between us now
but a bowl of chewy lamb, our unpalatable small talk.

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Mirror

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Her eyes remind me of staring down
  into the dregs of a cola cup
left in a warm sink,
  that same unremarkable shade
of wet rust on a bicycle frame.

If I had loved her, I could have told her
  that her eyes looked remarkable
in the wasting light, those thin rays
  quietly aging our shadows.
Perhaps I could have described to her
  the woody shade of almonds
scattered in somebody’s fist.
  The burning cap of a field mushroom.
  
I stare and stare back at those eyes
  until the steam hides her away,
and all I can see is a faceless blur
  shunting about the bathroom,
grappling for towels.

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Clearing Out the Single Room

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I found a thing or ten of yours.
My sister with a stranger’s face,
I scrabbled for any piece of you
I could save from the rubble
of your life. Pieced the lost months together
beneath that perilous chandelier
you’d chosen, plastic and shocking pink.
The light shattered into a thousand sequins.

Down on my hands and knees,
I snuffled you out like a pig.
Mascara stained the carpet
as though someone had tripped
in a pair of dirty stilettos,
charring the sticky fibres
of the rug you blazed upon
night after night,
cheap body sprays pressed
to a sickly splutter
to cover your late cigarettes.
Ashes still stuck in a musty fur
at the bottom of every handbag.

It’s like one minute you were gone
and then out of nowhere
there you were again,
an oversized child
screaming out of the sock drawer,
the washbasket, howling
at the top of your lungs
from the fug of a dead slipper.
A fake eyelash clings to my finger
and says to me, look, look–
and I see you
clambering out of the boxes,
little girl with a weird shape,
clawing the lollipop moon.

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Portrait of the Artist as a Young Lover

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They would be tittering together now

with their horrid bodies close,

their arms and legs and throats

as brown as berries.

She too wants me to catch hold of her.

I could hold her and kiss her, he thought–

put her straight-haired, heavy head

on my shoulder, brave enough at last

to hold her cold hand in its glove. 

The lank brown horses knew it 

and shook their bells, anchored among 

the hulks of houses and the snow man

with the broken back collapsed.

Her chest moved up and down.

 

Her rough body, bottle-legs,

grew from a few words.

Laughing from the shelter of the chapel

into the darkness, this heretic 

with his hand on her breast

opened his eyes with a nervous impulse,

saw the town in a daze spin by them.

There was never a young lover

who didn’t love the moon, they said,

pecking each other like gulls in the air,

dirty as Christ knows what. 

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