Dry

He lives alone because his bed is a viscous pond
Sleep finds him under grey algae with the gastropods
and the rubbery tendrils of aquatic plants
Not a friendly place for a field creature
The damp slicks the fur dark and gummed
Where it should be light, teased by the wind

He lives in the high-rise twilight zone
With the vapour and the damp
Mycelium fronds
The fog fermented fumes and spores
I don’t visit
I look after my liver and my lungs today
Keep my grass-dweller feet dry, breathe deep and run,
And he looks after himself

Things

Nowadays,
(On the days when my chest feels like it’s full of water)
Instead of hiding,
I’ve taught myself to look for things that don’t pinch,
When everything else feels both sharp and sickly and my own clothes catch like rasps against my skin
Things that feel like home
Milk jug in a box of old things, green,
Mine for 50p
I live within it,
Climb inside the warm belly of its friendliness for a second
and feel safe

I used to feel guilty about this, because you’re meant to teach yourself not to love things that way
Not even things that are alive
But you know, I no longer care for that
Because heaven knows I need somewhere to put it all
So I’ll pour it into biscuit tins and jars if I have to
Load me up with them!
Pack them onto every shelf and corner so I can bask in their happy shadows
and when the time comes,
Throw them into the box with me and set us all on fire

Bin Day

Some days I am just about ready to put myself out with the bins
Sick with such eye-rolling disgust I can’t look down at my own hands,
never mind in the mirror

Then I remember it’s not up to me to throw myself away
because I belong to you,
and even when I cannot fathom why, I can just about believe you want to keep me

So just for today
Even though it feels laughable
I’ll tell myself I am a precious thing
Worth keeping
Worth mending in the morning

Nebuchadnezzar

Met an old man on the way to the sea,
He wore nettles for clothes
And bells on his knees
I wanted to hide but he spoke to me,
“On my life, I was blind – but you I can see.”

With these words, the nettles were gone
And his skin sprouted feathers as black as a swan’s
My aversion sank from suspicion to dread
As the wings of a buzzard burst from his head

His lifeless body fell forth to the ground,
And all of the clifftop convulsed with the sound,
If only, if only, the sight I’d forget
The colour of blood from his corpse as he bled
White as the hair on the aged man’s head

I’ve brushed soil from his grave
But in my dreams
He walks in the garden with his beard of bees
Writhing in madness as deep as the seas
As Nebuchadnezzar crawls on his knees.

On Again, On Again

The rain smells like his aftershave
He pulls me against the spine of a tree to shelter
I look up, smiling
He says he still loves me so much it makes him feel sick

Later, the carpet’s talking about him
About the time he got friction burns from making love on the floor
I can’t do a thing,
I give in and lie down on it, pressing my ear to its whispers, listening to its heartbeat like I’m lying on the belly of a giant bird

Later. I roll onto my back and lie like a shipwrecked man taking his last look at the sky
Who do I think I am, with the booze and the tears and music on?
No one’s watching,
so turn off fucking Mac Demarco and get off the floor

A long time after
Walking in the park, no longer having a cardiac arrest when I see someone’s hair that looks a bit like his
And yet it goes on somehow, doesn’t it?
Like the gentle rising and falling of the bow of a boat in the wind and the waves
Like the soft, rhythmic swelling and sinking of a fox’s chest as it breathes
On and on, almost as if time didn’t stop moving the second I left him

Temperature

You’re burning hot when you sleep, he said, it’s giving me nightmares

I get up
The shower scalds me at the temperature he’s been boiling himself in
I need it on the cold side
Like the cold sea under the sun in the evening
To play pins and needles with my skin
It’s one of those jaw-lock, sick, creeping, tingling, bad-dream days
I want to take my head off and give it to somebody else
My hair has wet his dressing gown in dark grey pools between my shoulder blades
He’s still sleeping

I’m dreaming that I’ve jumped into the water
The light is rippling on the surface
I’m in shock
I’ve come back to myself
And it’ll all be okay, it’ll be alright now
I’m underneath the water
Falling through green leaves, the quiet green trees
The still, dignified scent of the soil
Pine and birch
Listening to the rushing silence
Of the forest floor, cracking sticks and nettle stings
This is where the horses go when it’s raining, someone whispers
The light is green, green and gold
I’m just falling
Falling and falling and falling

You’re burning hot when you sleep, he said, it’s giving me nightmares

The Lion

In the smoking garden at the Princess Anne
I met a lion who was dressed like a man
He wore heeled boots and a long black coat
And a soft silk shirt that tied at his throat

Breathing smoke from his blood-red mouth
He asked if I frequented this house
His voice was deeper than a pharaoh’s grave
A velvet wasps’ nest he’d taught to behave

I said before now this place was foreign
But now we’ve met I’ll come more often
I told him his mane wasn’t short of perfection
And it made him purr like a petrol engine

My lungs had never spread so wide
Till I met his eyes and looked inside
They’re poorer because they refuse to see
This inferno of love – the lion and me

Garden Chairs

I try to just be happy to have known you
Like they said to
But it hasn’t got easier

So I ponder that perhaps time isn’t really flat
Somewhere you’re still sneaking us sweets for breakfast when you go to get the paper
Watching football, dancing to Nick Cave, making stew
You’re in Vegas getting married to the love of your life
Kissing your babies on the head
Even just driving me home — I hope that somewhere I’m in your soft, easy company
I hope you’re telling us your stories in the garden

But that gets dangerous because I can forget
And start to think you might be there to say “Hey, kiddo” next time I knock on the door

Perhaps it’d be easier to just be happy to have known you
If you were old when you went?
I try and compare, and find it’s impossible to say which empty garden chair by the back door in the sun is worse
There is nothing to measure, nowhere to point to which hurts more or less
Only this ever-fresh, yawning loss
Only a lightness, an open space
Only something missing, hands that reach out and come back empty

I am trying to just be happy to have known you
And I am, I am
Even in just my small way
Especially to have loved you so spontaneously
And because of who you’ve left behind, so much of you, the same uncomplicated kindness
I am happy to have known you, and proud too
But I am sad that you’re gone
Sad without much wisdom or gratitude, I’m ashamed to say
And I wonder if any amount of trying could make that change

Blood & Water

First she was an almighty thing
Who from a formless raging sea
In that exquisite unimaginable darkness
Made heaven’s roof itself
And hung the earth and stars like majestical baubles from its canopy

From her belly
From the serpentine, muscular tendrils of her hair
Came every new thing under the sun
The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals
From her mouth came those immortal words, “I AM!”

He wouldn’t have it
There was too much power in that unthinkable mystery
So he made her vulgar
Unclean, subhuman
Soil without seeds
An afterthought
A piece of broken rib
Incomplete, haemorrhaging, defective
A bleeder, a wound, a hole
An object of the most visceral disgust

We’re told to forget the power that is ours, and ours alone
But we remember
And try as he might he can never forget
That a woman made him out of blood and water