Burnt Toast


The kitchen reeks of stale arguments
and bacon. She glances up, horrified,
rasher dangled 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 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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Panic Bird


He’d gone on and on about the dog
in meticulous detail. We drank coffee
I shouldn’t be drinking:
freshly-ground, heart-thumping
  and trembling spoons
as he described this creature
loping towards him, wet-tongued
and black as a galleon, massive paws
  eclipsing everything–
his mouth, his dinner,
his speechless clock
and its rolling, perpetual hours
  of moonless silence.

But the black dog didn’t come.
He stuck up his snout at me,
  padded away
and instead, the big red bird
made its roost
upon my shoulder.
The red bird,
its cawing, feathering,
panic I can’t switch off. At night,
cracking one eye
like a hatchling, the cackling Freud
on his sparrow-legs
of nosebleeds, leaks,
  red feathers
glued to my skull. And so
I take up insomnia
as though I were taking up knitting.

‘Nice glass of wine,’ he said, pouring,
‘to make you feel better,’
so here I am, blinking up
through the wide-bottomed glass–
  buzzed out of my brains
in these four walls white
as rubber gloves
and my panic-bird huge
as a thumping heart
never going to sleep.

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What she was eating

smelled too alive,

as though it would flap

clean off the dish– 


the silvered, reeking bass

salt-scaled, widened its gluey eye

as she pronged it, tore it

with a pointy knife


crunching through salted skin

and slowly took a bite.

Her husband sat opposite

like a fat apostrophe, creamy belly 


thrust out, bobbing for more.

Chewing on a hunk 

of shiny lamb, he eyed her plate

until she offered. Down


his fork dived 

and zipped off again,

snatching a gobbled bite ,

mint sauce still smeared 


like seaweed

across his gullish lip.

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In the old house we could have been soulmates

not sisters. We chained ourselves in daisies,

your face a little flower-head turning

to find mine. My head could have been a whole summer.


On cold winter mornings we roosted like hens

in the same bunk, sharing blankets.

Today we won’t share the same room.

Puberty had you empowered. Your breasts sprouted


under your school-shirt like bobbing apples;

bra-straps tightened, the skirts hemmed up

little by little until your bare legs stretched for miles.

Once, I showed you long words in books 


and your sticky small face was enchanted. Now when I read

you scoff on your lipstick, smirk through a cigarette.

Pretend we are passing strangers. 

Sometimes I think of you falling into mirrors, 


your hair a new shade every week.

Draping yourself around dangerous boys and stretching

your nude legs in cars. I question water and blood,

conjure the monkey-faced toddler hung across Daddy’s shoulder,


stretching her fat hand towards me, making sounds 

like an aeroplane engine. But even then you dealt in mischief, 

squeezing the cat, sliding out of windows, tugging my hair on the pillow.

You still hugged me in the grass. 


I passed your new house this morning

and thought I might say hello. 

You caught my sad eye across pavements

and looked back down at your shoe.

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When it comes to issues,

they’ll tell you: better out than in.

In the counsellor’s room,

locked safe on the highest floor,

tissues frilled out of a box

where perhaps before me

someone had flailed


with a clumsy hand, seeking

sympathy, tugging Kleenex

as though they could plug it

the way cotton balls stuff

a tugged tooth.

It is like tugging teeth too,

this stripping yourself down

to the bones, sobbing striptease–

telling all–


like cutting a stuck bandage

to show him your stickiest wound,

this other human

almost understanding 

with a slow nod

and a green clipboard,

how despite myself 

I tell him things

you could not imagine,

not you, smiling over

your toast,

your oily fingers


rubbing newspaper corners,

humming to yourself,

oblivious as rain,

dabbing crumbs

with a wet thumb

as I measure cold milk,

suck on a dry spoon,

starving again–

before waving you off

with a frozen hand,

turning up here

in this secret room,

my slim void


hungry in my arms 

as a baby.

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She meets my eye, yawning,

hair bright as a plate of lemons


and tells me to take a seat

with the others, pill-faced


and waiting like hungry children,

soothed by beady capsules


to heal us quicker than Christ.

A handful to settle her nervous tic


where her husband, wrapped at home

in a makeshift deathbed


gorges on daytime TV—

anaesthetized, sighing out


big words, serotonin

his grey and mushroomed brain,


this man-sized baby, rattling bottles,

wailing for water and pills.


Is this for yourself, madam?

Rain blisters and pops on the door.


A name is tossed out like a sandwich-crust

as I wait my turn, eye the cool blink


of dark bottles, elixirs,

bored ladies in white


diamond-mining the shelves

for the perfect cure


to rock me to sleep at long blue last

on the night-train circling my skull.

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There are several ways to deal

with things like this. First of all

I turned his absence into a dress

of crushed peach, wore his sailing shade

against my hip. These sad impressions

of the body, silk islands.


I avoided the danger, flesh-coloured 

skirts on the thigh. There are 

other things I could do.

I could cradle his heap of clothes

like a soft baby. I could drop them 

down the stairs, arrange them

into his shape. Kid myself

even though he’s dissolved into must

and collar-starch. Leave his scent 

forever on the staircase.


I could take off my shoes in the evening

and bring his dead shirts to my nose.

Feel the weight of the world in my arms.

In the nights, under moon-cracked skies

I picture him somewhere below her,

have him lit like a searchlight. I think of him 

as I cling like a lizard,

skirts screwed in someone’s fist.

I think I can do this now.


I don’t even notice the door click shut,

his wrecked and shaking return.

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