Dear Sultan

If you woke up, still you, but gay,

You’d be the same in every way.

No less rich or strong or bright,

No more wrong and no more right.

You’d still feel joy, excitement, fear;

You’d still grow older every year.

You’d still know love, and cherish those

Who wiped your tears and kissed your nose.

You’d still have interests, hobbies, jobs.

You’d still feel grief’s chest ache wrench sobs.

The only difference might well be

In who you love: the they, she, he.

And yet you, Sultan, have declared

That those, who only love have shared,

Deserve to die.

And when they do, they must feel pain:

Bone-breaking, cracking, smashing rain

Of stone that flies until you fall.

Until there’s no love left at all.

I see you; but I do not see

Your heart and your humanity.

Something Rotten

Smug in the trappings; wisdom and time,

Smile like a child’s plastic jewel.

You finger our lives.

 

Gilded treatment hides the reaching rot,

Leaving only musty cloying

Damp to warn us off.

 

Smile and smile and still be a villain:

Hidden in clothes of congruence.

Wolf walks in wax wool.

 

Delicate footwork skates thin ice.

Mask slips; screech within

And fall into the pain of unloved skin.

Depression

I just forget it’s you that pulls me down.

I sometimes think it’s me, that I am bad:

A useless mother, weird, a waste of space,

A coward: lazy, pointless, going mad.

 

I just forget that you wait in the wings

For your first chance to sing about my faults;

You wait with sweaty palms and gritted teeth

To mock me, shamed, before the real adults.

 

Then, suddenly, you speak your words in flames,

They dash across the blank grief of my mind.

Your drawl, smooth and familiar, shrinks my spine:

And fondled, touched, my memories unwind.

 

With glee, you fling my laughter to the dogs;

Achievements, skills are torn, mocked and defaced.

You hop and dance and kick salt in old wounds;

You push away the ones I once embraced.

 

So under this internal, cruel abuse,

I cower, cringing, knocking my scarred knees

And, jeering, spitting, come your playground friends:

A crowd of puffed-up bullies. Angry bees.

 

The first is Shame, who laughing, climbs my back

And, forceful, presses down my thumping head.

She covers my white eyes with rancid claws

And calls to Guilt, who comes with heavy tread.

 

Before them, I am naked and alone.

I search blind for a person I once knew.

But, sickly sweet, it’s Suicide who comes:

Seductive, painting death in a new hue.

 

So sudden is the onslaught, I am lost.

Her subtle voice, that slides beneath my skin

Is leaking poison, spreading, gaining ground.

It wants the very root of Self within.

 

I stop. That core is fragile but it’s mine.

To build it I’ve worked hard on self-reflection.

It’s taken years of honesty and pain

And anxious re-starts when I lost direction.

 

I will not give it up, despite your taunts,

Although you’ll hide it from me for a time.

For I have grown within a seed of hope:

And from it springs a ladder I can climb.

 

You told me I was making their lives worse.

You told me just to leave the life we shared.

But now I’ve found the friend within myself.

We will outgrow you. Soon you will run scared.

Panic

Like a swarm they descend

And hover out of reach

But the buzz and hum

Screech in my mind’s ear

Is all too near.

 

Losing patience, my hand goes

To snatch one from thin air,

Stroke it in my palm.

Care: to halt its stings,

Love: its fierce wings.

 

Becalmed, I rest in sweat-

Wet respite from their roar.

Shiver on my skin.

Corner of my eye.

They multiply.

 

Spinning like a child’s toy,

Hands shaking, hold them back!

I haven’t got the

Knack. They crawl around

On human ground.

Hook

No I could never wash myself enough.

I do not wish to be a British girl

And yet I’ve had the good of empire wealth

Hard won by others’ hands and others’ health.

So in complicit luxury I kneel

And kiss the feet of those we used to steal.

 

In sweaty filthy dark we chained you down

In service to our tastebuds and our crown.

We trod you underfoot with polished heel

And gave you numbers so as not to feel.

 

No ‘sorry’ now could ever bring to life

Your children or your grandpa or your wife.

No ‘sorry’ now could ever make you feel

The way you did before he made you kneel.

No ‘sorry’ now could ever bring back days,

Or clothes, or food, now lost to British ways.

No ‘sorry’ now could take back words that stole

Your childhood; spray paint insults take their toll.

No shame, or guilt, or ‘sorry’ now could clean

Our monied hands of their blood-sugar sheen.

 

And even now I sit in candied bliss,

In clothes that maybe felt the slaver’s kiss

And drink my tea and wonder where it grew

And if the one who grew it got paid too.

We tend to think of slaves as those who died

Long long ago, brought here by whip and tide.

But slaves are kept in farms and brothels here

They live today in pain, exhaustion, fear.

 

No I could never wash myself enough.

I do not wish to be a British girl.

And yet, if I’m to take rich empire gains,

Then I must wear its rancid greedy stains.

It is not much to pay for what we took,

So I will hope to hang from history’s hook.

 

I do not wish to be a British girl,

Great Britishness: it makes my white toes curl.

Poem: Semantics

How the words work: matters to me.

The way they sound, where they ought to be,

The tone of voice, the click of tongue,

The silence when the words are done.

Tell me you didn’t hear, that it doesn’t matter,

That I’m over-sensitive, that it’s only chatter.

But how the words work matters to me.

The space they find; the space they leave.

 

Phrases echo in my head;

They catch and pull like knotted thread,

Stroking others long-forgotten,

Old, enchanting or half-rotten,

Showering me with painted rain

That, dancing, sings an old refrain

In new language; or leaps away

Inviting me to come and play.

 

But, like sweet sirens on the rocks,

Words call me to Pandora’s box,

Leading me to wander blind

Towards a labyrinthine mind.

To wonder what the speaker meant

Is poisoned by my temperament.

I worry and I follow breadcrumbs

Cold, alone, until the witch comes.

 

Far better now to look instead

At what the words spark in my head.

Why the language resonates,

Why it flatters or berates,

What that comes from, who and why,

Why it makes me laugh or cry.

Then I need not be just reader

Rather, find the page and feed her.

 

Words are power, gavel, sword,

Music, danger, peace, discord.

Sometimes darkly rich, intrusive,

Sometimes maddening, elusive.

Whoever spoke of stones and sticks

Had never felt the stabs and kicks

Of lifelong, inbuilt, guilt and shame

Every time you hear your name.

 

Now I own words, they can’t claim me.

I am learning to be Amy.