Four Poems

Thanksgiving

As if by accident, I find my head
washed up window-side of his bed.
After all that fucking, look!
the sky’s still pinned up.
His nose is longer with his eyes shut.
This whole time, I’ve been holding,
squeezing, wringing, folding,
bending, nodding, thank you,
God, for giving me someone who makes me hold
my breath. I will be so light
upon his life he won’t realise
he’s kept me.
I’ll leave not a mark
on his pillow, papers,
knife, DVDs or wineglass.
What blessing
Only when he is sleeping
can I breathe out. So deep
my ribs come up like a ship.

Other Women’s Babies

Over Canada / or two hours of frozen waves I assume is Canada / I’m surrounded by babies / so many babies / Mum, do you remember X / the one you sometimes ask after / the one who knew to bow for you / call you Ma outside that bookstore / Yes / him / the one with the son / well he came to carry me over them all / they were the eighth sea / they were that song that’s supposed to be reserved for God’s love / you know the one that goes / so high you can’t get over it, so wide / Mum / you can’t even fathom / so many babies / all in a pile / all the babies ever born / or all the ones never born / clamouring / wailing for me to choose / pick one / Now I know why you said not to hold other women’s babies / carrying a child not your own means wahala / X folded me to his chest like / I was the last deckchair of summer / He walked that walk men walk when they’re doing something noble / He set me down in a town square / left me there / I was encircled by three witches / they dripped oil on my forehead / tried to teach me a new and diabolical language / James / our James / walked out of a municipal white building / stood at my side / he’d been sent by you or higher / to escort me out of that square / past the city limits / his spirit was strong / it came in waves / the three witches did not / or could not / stop us / leaving

Four Poems by Rachel Long

steve

was the black one mum
must’ve bought him for us we
wouldn’t have asked for him
he was ugly of course he fancied
princess barbie but princess barbie’s
blue sparklies were strictly for ken
we’d make them have s.e.x
surfboard chest against pert rock
breasts slap and click of
plastic against plastic we’d make
steve watch dip him in
the bath to cry
ken would beat steve up
for fun till past bedtime
we’d wake to find steve sprawled
on the daisy carpet
butt-naked the beatings got worse
slashes across rubber legs face
coloured-in all red the beatings
got more frequent quickly before
school before mum sees under
the dinner table it got so bad
even dad complained his
lawnmower was jammed
on closer inspection
a tiny pair of shorts charred
torso

Shamehouse

She’s 6, I’m 8.
Or she’s 8, I’m 10.
Either way, she’s small,
I’m massive. We sit
cross-legged in her red
& yellow playhouse.
The whole thing is fabric.
The numberless front door
velcro-locks. Either side,
two tiny windows; daytime
is a material we can’t see out of.
I say, Take your knickers off.
Or we crawl in knickerless.
I don’t remember seeing
a daisyed heap beside us.
Maybe we’d planned this.
Or I’d planned it solely.
Likely there was no plan,
just bored of playing church
or schools.
Now, I touch you, then
you touch me.
No, I don’t want to.
Why not? You have to.

She gags, yours is hairy,
monster
. She dives
to tear up the door. I grab
her ankle. It’s normal!
Mum checked
with the school nurse
– who
curlicued a fingernail
into my elastic, peered inside
& catapulted them back,
disgusted.
Yours’ll be a monster soon.
Won’t! Just you.

True. Between her legs is
so light and clean. Please.
She tilts her head, weighs
this new power she has
over me, under this
red roof.
I touch hers quickly,
a brush so light
I could say I didn’t
mean to, not really.
When she doesn’t
scream, I take her
little hand, guide it
towards my ugly.

Rachel Long is a poet and the founder of Octavia Poetry Collective for Womxn of Colour, housed at the Southbank Centre. She is co-translator of O Martelo / The Hammer by Brazilian poet and activist, Adelaide Ivanova. She is co-tutor on the Barbican Young Poets programme and Poetry Fellow of University of Hertfordshire.

Real Girls

October, 2019

On projection in three stories, four poems and a sequence of poems. Featuring illustrations by Birdie Hall.

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