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Three Poems

ALL THE MEN I NEVER MARRIED
No.4

 

 

Last year at primary school, our last Sports Day

and one of the girls in our class finally snapped

 

and hit you with her rounders bat.

I can still hear the thunk from across the field.

 

I wasn’t sorry, even when you ran past crying.

We hated the way you followed us around,

 

called us your girlfriends, the top of your head

barely reaching our shoulders, and the smell,

 

not just unwashed skin, the same clothes day after day,

the same trainers with holes in, but something else,

 

some animal smell I imagined was catching.

You often tried to hold our hands or stroke our hair,

 

or rest your small white fingers on our legs.

I wasn’t sorry for you when we ran away

 

because you tried to lift our skirts above our waists,

or when the boys held their noses

 

because you’d peed yourself again.

Back in the heat of that sports day, a whistle is blown

 

and children cheer and that rounders bat sails away

through the afternoon, turning over and over,

 

thrown by that girl, the first in our class to wear a bra,

who said you’d tried to touch her strap,

 

that she’d hit you again if she had to.

Brown sacks crumpled on the grass,

 

spoons from the egg and spoon race in a glittering heap

and children moving crab-like across the field,

 

you already disappeared inside, and that girl,

still angry and defiant.

 

The next day, your mother, waiting in reception.

She never came to parents evenings or concerts,

 

yet there she was, hunched in a chair, pale-faced

and waiting for the head teacher to appear.

 

I like to imagine I felt sorry for you then,

Knowing you had nobody to speak for you about the bat,

 

your unwashed clothes, your hands,

the way they could not stop touching things.

 

 

 

ALL THE MEN I NEVER MARRIED
No.9

 

two hours with you sitting at opposite ends

of your single bed

 

your feet level                        with my chest

my feet level                with your waist

 

almost like           being a teenager again

almost like                   a giving in

 

when you put your hand on my ankle

I do not move              your eyes are closed

 

the only thing speaking is your hand

the slow circle of your thumb

 

do we all have an ex we can’t forget

not the one                  that got away

but the one who left

not the one                  that left for good

but the one who stays just out of reach

your thumb circling my anklebone

can you feel my body humming

underneath your fingers

I know I know             that’s just me

romanticising you again

 

I know your patterns

I know how this goes

 

maybe we have nothing

to talk about anymore

 

do we all have someone       we can’t forgive

your hands

your hands in the night.

 

 

 

ALL THE MEN I NEVER MARRIED
No. 22

 

The night I left home, walked away even though

he warned me to come back, I caught a night bus

into the city.  Around me were young women

wearing the clothes I used to wear, their bra- straps

showing, bare-legged, lounging like cats

on the back seat of the bus.  I sat at the front

and let their laughter wash over me, I was invisible

amongst them, hovering like a ghost.

When the bus staggered and heaved itself

round each corner, I was so light I didn’t move

as they swayed and fell over and onto each other.

I watched from the window as a man

skirted round a puddle, carrying his briefcase

pressed against his chest, strange, solitary dancer.

He looked at me, then looked away.

I wish I could say I stayed out all night,

had a life-changing encounter with someone

homeless and lonely and worse off than me,

or even that I’d stayed in McDonalds,

drunk cup after cup of lukewarm tea,

vowed never to go back to him again.

The truth: I was too afraid to stay out all night

because everything wild within me was gone.

I went to my sister’s even though I knew

he would find me.  The path in darkness.

The snails that crunched under my feet.

The many small deaths of that night.

His fist on the door again and again.

My name in his mouth, wheedling, gentle.

His foot on the door, again and again.

Realising he would not leave, pretending

it would be ok, that it was just a row.

Making myself go downstairs and get into his car.

And what happened next, and what came after,

I do not remember.  I see the same things you do now.

Him walking down the path in his leather jacket.

Me following after.  The back of my head.  His smirk

as he opens the car and mock bows me in.

My sister standing in the light of the porch,

her arms crossed, angry and silent.


ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

's first collection The Art of Falling was published by Seren in 2015 and won the 2016 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. Her pamphlet If We Could Speak Like Wolves was a winner in the 2012 Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition and shortlisted for a Michael Marks award.   She is currently a PhD student at Manchester Metropolitan University and is working on her second collection.

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