Catherine

 

This poem first appeared in New Writing Dundee 6 (Ed. Karen Graham)

 

When I was a little savage,

the heather biting my calves

and my shins raw as meat,

I was myself.

 

When I became a lady

I bore marriage, babies,

breaking my own heart out of spite,

throwing myself into thunder claps

until my lungs packed up

and the house devoured me.

 

The woodworms munched my bones

clean, my tiny spirit hands

grasping at cracked glass,

wanting to get in where I

had always wanted to get out.

 

I wander, sleepless, in a daze,

calling his name, searching for

his broken teeth in the dark

as the moths gather round me.

 

There are other girls here too,

girls in many different dresses,

breasts swollen with milk,

bands heavy on their fingers.

 

We were all somebody’s daughter once,

and we were all terribly,

terribly civilized.

Bare Breasts

It happened to my mum in the 80s. Sitting in a café, she discreetly began to breastfeed the 9-month-old me when she heard two women behind her comment on how ‘disgusting’ and ‘inappropriate’ this was. My mum, who is not a person to let such a thing pass, turned to them and commented on how their chain-smoking was disgusting and inappropriate in a café filled with small children, and that what she was doing was perfectly fine.

This week, 24 years on, my cousin went on Facebook to share the rather disheartening tale of two women walking out of a café because she’d dared to breastfeed her baby there. This was in a large shopping emporium and my cousin was discreet. Still, women are judging other women for doing what is completely natural. What happened to the sisterhood?

In the same week, a brilliant online petition to ban Page 3 from The Sun appeared on Twitter and Facebook. ‘No More Page 3’ declares that Page 3 is degrading to women. It objectifies us and sends the message to men, women and, indeed, all the children who see it on their kitchen table every morning, that we are sex objects and should be treated accordingly. That this is still seen as socially acceptable in 2012 takes my breath away.

What I find shocking and depressing is how so many women in this country accept Page 3 yet judge each other for breastfeeding in public. Breasts splashed all over national newspapers in a gratuitous and titillating manner: fine. A mother feeding her baby somewhere other than her own home or a toilet facility: hideous. Breasts as sexual: totally acceptable. Breasts functioning in the way they were intended to, as a life-giving force of nature: unacceptable.

We need to sort this out. Our skewed cultural perception has gone on long enough. Breasts are beautiful. They can be sexual and they can be maternal. My argument is that the sexual aspect should be kept indoors and the maternal aspect allowed outdoors. Only then can we as a nation have a healthy attitude towards breasts.

Fish Spells

This poem first appeared in ‘Book of Dreams’ (United Press)

 

These were the spells the children knew,

the ones they learnt in that place

where the sand sucks in the sea.

 

The heads bobbed up like seals

and drew closer, their large fish tails

of golden scales rippling,

their torsos greener than ours

and more beautiful.

 

They taught the little ones

to swim deeper than anyone else,

to make the fishermen’s nets

swell fat with fish,

to turn the tide to their advantage

and make sure no sea-storm

would ever harm their kin.

 

All this they taught the children

whose lungs filled up with salty gulps,

until they swum with webs of flesh

and gills between their ribs.

Bones

This poem first appeared in Grund 13 (ed. R. D. Lewis)

 

After he left,

the skin of my torso

shrink-wrapped my ribs.

My spine rose

to my back’s surface

in little waves.

Shadows hung

around my eyes

in crescent moons.

My hair grew pressed

against my skull.

My lips grew pale,

and fell away in flakes.

Before the mirror,

I stood astonished.

Until my curves

bloomed full once more,

and I grew back

into myself.

Bathwater

This poem first appeared in Grund 14 (ed. R. D. Lewis)

 

The steam stripping her of make-up,

she turns the tap with her toe,

surveying the unlocked door.

 

He lies, belly against bed,

flicking the pages of a magazine

in which he has little interest.

 

She sighs, the water weighing on her chest,

the foam sparse. She lies exposed,

breasts breaking the surface,

less buoyant than before.

 

She hears him cough, forever phlegmatic,

hears the springs creak.

She knows he will be standing at the window,

his finger and thumb an L-shape around his chin.

 

Her feet leave prints in her wake

as she walks towards him,

the droplets sparkling on her skin.

 

‘You’ll ruin the carpet,’ he says, not looking.

The Cave

 

This poem first appeared in Gutter 3 (ed. Colin Begg and Adrian Searle)


Some say he was born down here,

that he’s been submerged since birth.

Perhaps because his skin is so white,

perhaps because his eyes are so large.

 

They say she gave birth behind the bar.

They say she wet the baby’s head with whisky.

Now his eyes carry rings,

now his stomach hides his belt.

 

He traces a cloth over the wood,

polishing so hard the varnish fades.

It could be driftwood, this dry slab,

washed up from some broken ship.

 

He looks from under leaden lids,

surveys a young man counting coppers;

he is lining them up on the table,

little lights to reel her in,

stars reflected in a black sea.

Carnegie House

 

This poem first appeared in Dundee Writes 1 (ed. Josephine Jules Andrews)

 

I sit in the sun parlour.

I am barely here:

a cloud of dust,

a ring left by a teacup.

 

He sent me here.

I was sick, he said, truly sick.

Hysterical.

 

I had been to an art gallery.

I had been unrestrained.

 

The paintings, he said,

were the works of madmen,

and those who love them

madder still.

 

We are not allowed in the dispensary,

but I go there.

 

I touch the shining scales,

the brown bottles,

the jars of salt,

the barrels with their buckled wood.

 

I run my fingers over them

and think of drinking something sour.

Hourglass

 

This poem first appeared in New Writing Dundee 5 (ed. Rachel Marsh and Amy Kimmond)

 

I look better in mirrors, she thinks.

It’s something in the flip of my features,

something in the tilt of the glass.

 

‘Move the pin up a notch, tight,

as tight as that, that’s right,

so tight the leather squeaks.

I could wrap one hand round that waist.

I could put gold round your finger,

tie you up tight like a gift.’

 

Before breakfast my stomach is flat,

she aches, it swells as the hours slide.

I’ll buy tights that suck it back,

hold me in close like a hug.

 

‘You won’t wear heels tonight,

I like you yards below,

I like your eyes looking up.

I tell you when your roots grow black.’

 

There is hell in the hourglass, she knows,

it drains away too quick, cuts me to the quick.

When the roots run to grey it will end.

 

I sleep wearing make-up,

he’s never seen my face,

I set my alarm early.

 

‘Nearly there,’ a swig of black wine,

hands encircling an intestinal pang.

‘…you’re nearly there, you know.’

 

‘Just one more notch,’

hot breath on the neck,

‘and you’re perfect.’