Two Poems



on the pitch by my house   the weekly game

of football      there was one lad   already

famous in our class for having snogged a girl

and still my friend   despite the pull

of the pack mentality I always felt

outside of      I had no skill   could only

put my body in front of someone else

in hopes of slowing them for a moment

and this time it caused my friend to fall

and   in the split second it took for him

to regain himself   I saw   slipped

from shorts and briefs   his whole private self

though he hadn’t noticed   still giggling

at my sudden prowess at defence

and after that   there were other times   crowding

into a friend’s bedroom   me pretending

not to look as someone showed himself

to a girl      and the emptiness that followed

nobody yet ready to do the things

that come after      though it was still deliberate

and so different from that earlier time

the grass   that glimpse of something that seemed

to be all potential   tiny sapling

not yet seeding   just another part

of our innocence      fear and lust and shame

not yet ripened to full blush




what 1.6% of young men know


to get the body of their favourite sports star

they must starve themselves      that the muscles

are there already   if they could only

get at them      that the thing to do is eat less

and replace meals with water   so that they bloat

and then feel their insides flushing out


that the stomach will expand and shrink back

like a gas holder in a former

industrial town      that once the body

has burned off all its fat   it will start on muscle

that more exercise just gives more energy

for the body to eat itself alive


that they can forget what it’s like to stand

without feeling dizzy   that their eyesight

can fail   that their salad can be carried

in smaller and smaller tupperware boxes

that the doctor will be forced

to ban the gym   will deliver his prognosis


that they will end up in the carpark of the doctors

with their mum saying imagine   a child of mine   malnourished







's new collection is playtime, out in August from Jonathan Cape. His debut was physical, which won the Guardian First Book Award and a Somerset Maugham Award, amongst others, and has been translated into French and Norwegian editions. He is senior lecturer at Manchester Writing School, MMU.



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