lightning tree

 

lightning tree,

older than our memories, 

stood before we crawled,

sheltered the mothers

and fathers before.

 

but wood is never

stronger than fire:

so many strikes

left us hollow.

 

nothing makes a nest here

or sings from our branches,

too afraid of the ashes

at our heart.

 

lightning tree,

there is strength in our roots...

sleep out another winter,

when the thaw comes

maybe hope

will bud again. 

 

 

 

 

 

holy.

 

for the dirty, the damned, the hopeless,

the helpless,

you spread your fraying soul, you showed us

every patch, every burn, every tear.


you were torn and tattered,

you were beautiful.

those threads of yours unravelling

stitching up the holes

in all our souls.

 

your words held us together,

pure and dark and true:

 

“he knew me, he knew us, he knew.”

 

 

 

for Scott Hutchison. 

I stayed awake all night hoping that somehow that would save you, but a little after dawn I heard that you were gone. I wrote pages and pages but in the end all I have is this . You deserve so much more. 

Thank you for accompanying me through the darkest days of my life. I always hoped I would get a chance to thank you in person. Your stitches will always be in my soul.

the mountain.

 

once you were in springtime

and everything was new.

your slopes cloaked in bursting green,

birdsong in the branches.


you did not know that you were a mountain

only that hope was growing everywhere,

pushing through the soil,

lighting up your lengthening days

and bringing you clear nights, full

of stars and wonder.


summer came, and you fell in love

with the drowsy bees drifting between flowers,

the sun smiling bright and long

on your peaks and valleys.

you heard them say that you were beautiful

and you believed them then,

believed that this was your forever.


summer turned to autumn;

you could not understand

why your trees were briefly cloaked

in glorious flaming colour

only to be stripped, little by little,

of every last leaf.


your skies darkened,

rain began to fall.

uncertainty consumed you:

everything you loved was leaving,

that vibrant beauty fading

to greys and browns, grass becoming mud.

you could not look at yourself,

seeing nothing but loss.


standing alone

you faced the winter:

everything froze.

those that saw you then

called you dark, brooding,

even frightening,

and your heart broke.

you believed that you were dying:

cloaked in snow, your rivers all but ice,

the sun barely lighting the horizon

before plunging you back

into a deeper dark

than you had ever known.


you did not realise that

spring would come again,

your rivers thaw, and streams

run down your face

as you finally released the sorrow

you’d held frozen in your heart.

life would return, and so would hope,

dandelions exploding in the greenest grass,

and everything once more

becoming new:


at last you learned that you are the mountain.


now you know the seasons,

they may batter you

or touch you softly

but they are not you,

and they cannot change

who you are.


through it all the mountain sits:

tall as ever, grounded in the earth itself.


whether they see you as beautiful or bitter,

welcoming or lost in fog,

the serenity held deep within your core

will always remain,

immovable, constant.


your life will be dark, and

it will fill you with colour,

whip you with harsh winds,

caress you with sunbeams.

you are still yourself:

you are still the mountain.

 

inspired by The Mountain Meditation, by Jon Kabat-Zin (and adapted by many others). 

“Letting it be, just as it is... an unwavering stillness in the face of all that changes in your life- over seconds, and hours, and years.”

and you, who have not yet realised  that you are a mountain. I promise you will.

minnows.

 

a shoal of flashing minnows darting downstream,

have you ever tried to hold them in your hands?

you close your fists, but you’re just clutching water;

it’s like trying to catch the sunlight where it lands.


I’m on the bank, I’m watching shoals of minnows

and each one is a moment I could grasp.

my life swims by; I curse my clumsy fingers

and tired eyes for letting time slip past.


one day I’ll learn that I can’t hold a moment

that life is meant to flicker and to flow.

I will go gently with myself and with the minnows,

after years of hopeless fishing I will know


that sometimes I may lie pain-bound and helpless

but I don’t have to grab or grasp at anything;

there may be days that I can only watch the water,

there will be others I can dive right in and swim.

fortune.

 

come, read my palm;

I keep my secret stories

tightly clenched in silence.


here is my heart line, crossed

with tiny razor cuts, a tally

of every time I bled

to stay dumb, to stay numb.


here is my head line, bruised

from so many attempts to shake

those memories that looped in spirals.

alcohol almost scrubbed them clean,

but only ever almost.


here is my life line, smothered

by the fingerprints of others

as they told my story back to me,

twisting words to change the meaning,

until I didn’t recognise my hand at all.


and I know that you’ve been waiting

for me to tell about this ragged hole,

just here, still bleeding...


I’d been holding a grenade

as long as I could remember;


one day it blew

straight through

my life line, my life,

to leave me sprawling

in the wreckage.


but please don’t cry,

I’m not dead yet;

this hand is here

and so am I.


look hard (if you can stomach it)

past the blood, past the damage done.

you will see a cautious thread emerging;

a new shoot, clearer now,

fewer fingerprints to mask it.


that little line carries on, on as far

as my battle-scarred palm allows.

that line is hope: that line is me.

little morning birds.

 

they sing of joy, of hope;

exultant in the darkness,

made brave by a blind certainty

the sun will rise again.


tiny hearts’ rapture bubbles up

to greet each new dawn;

unsurprised, delighted.


these little morning birds

are an echo of the flicker, the pulse

from your brittle twig chests

that sang from the machine

in dark hospital rooms


telling me you were not lost

(though with each of you I thought

this shell may not be enough

to keep you safe till sunrise)


now you greet each new dawn;

unsurprised, delighted.


fledglings with a fearless faith

in their mother’s love

as certain as the sun...


because of this, your faith in me,

your steadfast song of joy and hope,

I promise, my little morning birds:

I will rise and rise and rise again.

mix tape.

 

those lines wrap themselves around me now, make me think

of a future I dreamed long ago: my head full of Donne

and every Smiths song, my little impossible heart.

 

because he said, every time I see your face I think;

how can someone so young sing words so sad?

and it’s funny but it’s true, the only answer I had

is that they took a child and made me old...

 

(maybe we fell into a songbook

or maybe we are looking for

a future in the past)

 

and I said I’ve been singing sad words my whole life, love,

I don’t think I remember ever being young;

not even when that song was new, not even

when I first dreamt this dream that I still have of you.

small

what is the smallest you have ever been? 

small as a sparrow, darting branch to branch?

matchstick-brittle bones,

heart a rapid flicker in your downy throat.

 

maybe you have days when you’re

tiny as a pebble, sea-smooth and shy?

lost amidst a throng, 

or rolling in the palm of some strange hand.

 

have you ever been a grain of sand, 

have you been ash,

so nearly nothing, lifted on the wind?

a dandelion seed or salt crystal,

or an atom: have you been too small to see?

 

as minute as you could think yourself to be, 

you’ve never been as small as hope

or me. 

 

 

 

shanty.

 

no man is an island

but some women are

one, at least;

the sea rushed in years ago

and flooded everything I’d known.

 

now only my head

is above water

high tide almost drowns me

and there is nothing, nothing

to be seen from here

but sky and ocean,

ocean and sky;

on the greyest days

they could be the same.

bone-deep.

 

I’m tired

of living the half lives

of almost loves.

 

I’m tired

of looking away

from my present

away from

the little that I have

towards the more

that I never will,

no matter how

I hope.

 

I’m tired

of finding reasons

to believe that I, this I,

the only one I have

is not enough

must be better

is only ever

a work

in progress.

 

I’m tired

of wanting, needing,

hoping, hurting -

I’m tired,

so very

tired.

baptism

an amber sea at my feet

and I am walking on water. 

copper surf rolls, glowing

as I splash, crunching across - 

 

a sudden gust pulls a whirlpool

up around my boots, and higher,

until it whips my hair. 

 

I think that I could disappear

beneath this autumn ocean

until I’m just the smell of woodland

and soft decay - 

 

then I will rise, reborn:

a little green bud phoenix,

given time. 

 

 

silt.

I am wading

through a mire of

wrongs done,

I am dreaming of boats.

 

my bare feet sink into the silt

of tiny decomposing lies

washed by this dirty water:

I’m remembering

floating

 

when we could see down

to the bottom as the light cut

straight through

and we could

swallow as we swam

without getting dirty mouths.

 

I keep splashing

through the filth

towards a shore

I cannot see

and I am aching for

those sailing days

when our water

was still clean.

sea glass.

small, smooth, opaline,

I rest here amongst the

pebbles and the shells.

 

once a fragment of

something shattered,

I was thrown against

the shore, dragged

back into the depths

over and over and

over

until I thought

that was my life.

 

but see me here

in the shallows

sharp edges

smoothed

by time

and relentless

elements.

 

no longer a piece

of some brittle whole: 

strong and beautiful

a new moon

born of the sea.

clean.

 

a clean slate they say, as though history is chalk

and can be washed away with just a little water.

I’d have lost you to the rain countless times, love.

 

no, we’ll not go down that easily. we fought through storms,

figurative and literal; waves over that little ship,

there you go again, saving my life.

 

yet now here we are, or rather here I am

and here you aren’t, and it has rained

so hard for so many days

(sometimes even from the sky)

I must have the cleanest face

but there's nothing godly

anywhere near here.

the lily and the rose.

 

when you

lay me down

for the last time

when my embers

all turn cold -

 

you put my body

in the white dress

to show my purity,

a resting angel

blessed

and saintly -

 

washed clean,

as though

my life had

never been:

no blood,

no bruises

no fight.

 

(saying

this now,

this is woman)

 

or you put me

in the red dress

and I will be a fantasy:

bursting curves and lips

and thighs

and hips

all made for sex -

 

so dirty

you could

have

fucked

me up.

 

(saying

this now,

this is woman)

 

no, throw

the dresses

on the pyre:

leave me 

uncostumed,

undisguised,

naked as

a promise -

 

lie me down

in the dirt,

let my body

speak its truth:

all the damage

and the love

open to the sky.

 

(saying

this now,

this is and this was

and this will

only ever be

this

woman)

through.

 

 

it surrounds us, now.

we got swept up, long ago:

many minds on many paths,

but once the wind hit,

once the floods came

and lightning flashed blind terror

through our veins,

the devastation,

oh the devastation

was the same.

 

we were beaten down

by rain, so heavy

that it dragged our bones

and stole our sun,

left us choking grey,

with no horizon.

 

it swallowed us,

whipped at our flesh

soaked our skin

we became elemental then:

lightning minds

thunder splitting

our crushing

leaden skies.

 

shaking in terror of ourselves,

bellies down to the ground,

bloody raw crying rain spitting dirt,

we crept to the storm's calm eye, to lie

spent and bruised and torn.

 

this is how we've managed to survive.

but surviving is not living

and we long to know a

temperate life.

 

the only way out

is through.

it is only now.

 

I need to feel the wheel turning, to know

that I am not standing still inside this year

(after the last spent half-frozen,

barely moving at all.)

 

but here I am: lost in a jumble

of uncertain days, nows becoming thens

that pile up behind, until a sudden

lurch and

tumble forward

passing in a crash

into an unmarked future -

 

so without marking time

(in a tally on my prison wall)

all I know is I am here:

here is all I have.

 

this journey round the sun

the days, the all of everything

are leaking into one and I am

out of time: I am forever

and I'm never, always here,

already gone.

the poems that aren't.

 

half started

or half finished

but nothing whole

I'm fragmented

as my words

scattered over

several notebooks

in bits and

in pieces

ideas tailing off

or falling out tangled

on top of each other

tumbling onto the page.

 

I am all the lines unused

all the stories that go nowhere

all the poems

that aren't.

forget-me-nots.

out in the damp grey evening,

melancholy clouds barely holding in their tears:

a choked back sob of a sky.

 

all is clay and slate and ash

in the absence of the sun;

yet, though subdued, spring is still here.

it's in the blue forget-me-nots

with their yellow star hearts

that grow wild, shouting to the sky,

reminding it of better days,

trying to tempt

a tiny smile

of sunshine

to break through.

 

I am the sky tonight,

so heavy with sorrow

and I am thankful that

these incorrigible wildflowers,

thriving against the odds,

are true to their name;

a thousand tiny promises

so I won't forget

that the days when I shine

blue and clear and open

will come around again.

black dog

the black dog doesn't howl

it's always quiet, panting low

shuddering breath rasping,

wheezing through cracked ribs.


it is talked of as though it is

a muscular, powerful beast

but I know it well and it is shivering

skin and bone, dry hollow eyes

that reflect a broken soul.


the black dog whimpers at the door

begging for more scraps of me

so hungry, skeletal, desperate;

though it will not, cannot ever die

its emptiness aches, screams inside:

it needs to feed...


and it will not leave it will not go

until it has eaten enough to fill a little of the void

that sucks its insides out: poor thing can't bear the pain,

it only hurts me to heal itself. its dirty teeth sink in,

ravenous and ashamed.


when it has had its fill, the dog hurts a little less

(and I a little more). it slinks to a corner of the room

and settles in, looks at me with sorrow in its eyes,

almost an apology: but it knows no other way.

all living things must feed, some dead things too.


the black dog is a shadow at my feet

my dark mirror, it has consumed so much of me

that we are now inseparable, sliding together

until we merge into a feral piece of night:


always quiet, panting low, whining softly,

we devour ourselves in little pieces

but there is never enough

and we are always hungry.