Monday, November 11, 2013


There's a poem lodged
in my throat like the
clear bone of a fish
thin and prickle-ended
a filament of clarity that
I swallowed in the night
giving way to the heavy
drape of unrequited sleep
It's jammed in that place
before air can become a word
stubborn as a memory
so I cough and harrumph
swallow and stretch, trying
to dislodge the bone of a
poem wedged in my throat
Any way is fine, up or down
I don't mind if only I can
get it out, unstuck. I have
better uses for my throat
for my scratched voice: today
I must warble like a magpie

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

City life

Some days I think I can't possibly stand another minute in the city.  Then I see a group of tourists jumping into the air in front of a fountain for a photo. And just now, a whistling man on a skateboard, with dry cleaning slung over his shoulder. And it gets a little easier to stay.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A warning for my future lover/s

Be careful of taking a poet for a lover
for she cannot wear her love in silence

She will catalogue the flaws in your skin
and the reasons she finds them there
the flow of your breath when you sleep
and your exhalations when you make love
the soft dough of your face when you wake
the rumble of your laugh spilling over
the wonder of finding in the dead of winter
that her hands are always warmer than yours

She will tell everyone about the way that
(despite your worldliness and machismo)
you kiss her mouth as if you can’t help yourself
of the way your thoughts simmer and surface
surprising, like bubbles in hot mud pools
and always she will write, of you, of herself
trying to find better and better words for
the mystery, the matter that binds you together

Be careful of taking a poet for a lover
for what a poet loves she must write

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

How to write more poetry

leave your phone at home all day
you don't need its buzz and blink
the waves of sounding interrupting
crashing into your lapping thoughts
keep a secret smile barely held back
for the giddiness of sleep and waking
to sunrises and crunchy leaves and breezes
grateful for the constant thrum of blood
rushing past the inside of your ear
pay attention to the firm sound of
your boots meeting cold pavement
to the snag of ragged autumn air
in the clutches of your throat
feel the yearning of your body
for the rooflessness of the sky
always keep ink and paper close by
or write on napkins and paper bags
on the backs of your curled hands
the margins of abandoned newspapers
write the memories pressed into your skin
and the lives you have never lived
stay up past midnight scratching
your musings into the dusky page
write your horror and your heartache
until all that's left is your fatigue
leave the embers of your words
for paper strangers to discover

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Unrequited oceans

Love is a compulsion for collision. An unavoidable drive to meet, to crash into an other. To press lives and mouths and yearnings together until it cracks us open. Because sometimes it's the only way to get it out, to cope with the swell of the oceans inside us.

This is love, for me, perhaps just for today. (Mixed metaphors because one will never do for this). I won't always think so. It's not all I think. But I am cracked open and I'm afraid it's for the wrong person, again. I made the choice. I just need to understand it.

Tonight I was driving in the rain and my face started to match my windscreen: streaked with rivulets of wet. I drove until there was somewhere quiet to stop and then I curled against the steering wheel and heaved with the ocean in me.

I grieve not for a loss, but for the love I've never had. For needing these minor collisions to recognise the vastness of myself. For having to be cracked open before I realise that it is unrequited. That the swell coming back the other way is not from a meeting with another ocean but my own waves bouncing off a wall.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Highly sensitive happiness

Happiness is having the senses sated. That hunger that can only be filled by experiences of beauty. Exquisite tastes on your tongue. The incomparable sensation of the sun on your skin. Breezes untainted by the stink of the city. The sound of the ocean bringing you back to yourself. Music that rubs you the right way, wakes up your heart. Gentleness, delicate pleasures, comfort. It isn't that hard to find: I just forget sometimes.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The power in a name

I feel like a river. For years silt has been settling into place on the riverbed, archiving the history of the river, leaving the water more and more clear. But now the silt has been trampled, stirred up, the water clouded again. It will settle again, probably quicker than before. There's enough clarity in the water flowing downstream to ensure that.  But the silt will never settle in quite the same way again.

I'm stirred up by many things. One is that I've just completed 4 days of training in Circle of Security, an attachment-based parenting program. I can't yet capture or articulate everything that it has woken and shifted in me.

One of the pieces of information that stood out was a study on brain imaging. Some researchers put people in an MRI machine and administered a mild electrical shock. The MRI scan showed activity in the amygdala, the 'primitive' part of the brain that deals with fear.

Another group of people were put through the same procedure. But first they were told that when they felt the shock, they should say the word 'afraid' or otherwise express what they felt.

The scans of the second group showed that naming their fear lowered activity in the amygdala. The pre-frontal cortex, the 'thinking' part of the brain was also activated.

So naming your feelings reduces their effect on you, literally. It reminds me of the long-standing notion in mythology that knowing the true name of a thing or of your enemy gives you power over it, or at least removes its power over you. Just look at the tale of Rumpelstiltskin.

This is probably why the 'talking therapies' have such traction in Western cultures. It's one of the beliefs that led me to doing work with people. Helping them name their histories, their hauntings.

I wonder if we've always known the things that science is discovering about humans. We're just finding new ways to talk about them. Does it help to give new names to the things we already know, or are we still searching for their true names?

Friday, May 31, 2013

Unspoken neon burning

Where can I turn to whisper these desires that quietly burn me? For me they are neon, glaring their light over every encounter. But they are unrequited, silent. Homeless, without form in my outer world. They do not even belong in my mouth.

Friday, April 26, 2013


Change is coming. It has begun. I can feel something cracking open in my chest. I rationalise that this will be good for me. I will emerge from this like a butterfly from a chrysalis. But now... right now it hurts. I want to curl up in a dark, quiet place and cradle my hurting parts.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Today it's cold enough
for knee-high boots
and the yellow scarf
that makes my heart lift
time for dry leaves
crunching underfoot
like the bones of faeries
feeling greedy with autumn sunshine

Friday, April 5, 2013

The woman I am/sleepwalking

I have a crush on someone at the moment. The kind where I sometimes drop something I'm carrying just because  this person smiles at me. The kind where I forget how to be the intelligent, mostly articulate adult I usually manage to be. An infatuation that persists despite (or perhaps because of) my attempts to logic myself out of it.

I haven't had one for a long time. I have to stop and calculate how long it's been since I felt this way. When it comes to looking for a partner or 'finding love' (that phrase still puzzles me, for I don't know how or where to look) I have been sleepwalking. Sometimes deliberately, sometimes just out of long habit.

It chagrins me somewhat to realise that in this, I feel as much my awkward adolescent self as ever. My best friend reassures me laughingly that this is normal, that it never goes away. And perhaps that is the point.

The woman I am is the girl I was. I have learned, I have grown but I also stay the same. If I am to be loved, I must be known wholly. If I am to be known I must not hide the parts of myself that might not fit with the facade, with an idea of who I should be or how I might be more loveable.

I can't tell jokes because I always forget them. My most comic moments are usually unintentional. I shake my fist at the sky in mock frustration.

I watch Star Trek tv marathons on Thursday nights. If I had to choose a favourite movie character it would be Amelie. I go to poetry readings alone and don't talk to anyone unless they talk to me first.

I shave my legs even though I don't believe I should have to, because I've never outgrown the horror of having my leg hair pointed out by school bullies.

As a university student, I started cutting my own hair with sewing scissors. I still do (with better scissors).

I throw my head back when I laugh. My laugh sounds more and more like my mother's. She is one of my best friends.

I flinch when people honk their car horns, and the imprint of it stays with me for hours. I drive a little pink car and snarl under my breath at bad drivers.

I can read a good novel in less than a day. I've been writing poetry for 18 years.

How much knowing is needed before it turns into love?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Harder than a song

there's no music to cover mistakes
in the meaning that poetry makes
no chords to evoke high emotion
no notes to disguise punctuation
or distract from the words you got wrong
every word it contains must belong

a song can be hummed under breath
or played and repeated to death
in lyrics your rhyme can be lazy
yet a poem will fail if it's hazy
a song may move crowds in the night
but a poem is hardest to write

Monday, February 11, 2013

After dinner hints

today I'm the opposite of thinner
after eating excessive dinner
it might have been the food
(to not eat it would be rude)
but I think it was the talking
that filled me up. I'm chalking
it up to the words, you see
for poems beckoned to me
from the corners of the room
I wished for dustpan and broom
to sweep them into my book
to save them for a later look
but I did not, I let them go
though I yearned to write them so
for is it not rude to slip away
just to write a poem for the day?
so today my belly is round
full of poems without sound
yes I think - I have no doubt:
it's the words I can't get out

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Marks of meaning

inky scratches on pulped-up trees
pixels leaking across pastel screens
trailing smoke writ large across sky
these twenty-six marks shared wide
expressing the fruit of the mind
some plucked green and sour to taste
others bursting, heated, fermented
or brushed with the colour of ripening

for the essence of you we must use
the same name for the being of me
your love is my love is their love
as though our myriad affections
and joys must all feel the same
only words, these utterances
to which we trust all meaning
with which to capture everything

yet they are precious to some
wanted fiercely, sculpted freely
into clouds, into music and landscapes
keeping time with our fluttering hearts
giving voice to the thrumming and flooding

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Half-dozen morning

It's a familiar concoction of sensations
Being jerked from sleep far too early
Shrugging on clothes with abandon
Ignoring the rumples and tousle of hair
Then climbing behind a familiar wheel

When we part it's only for a weekend
Still, amidst the cloud of impatient taxis
and the dying breath of many cigarettes
We are declarations of love and quick kisses
Thankful for the luxury of a private ride

She goes on to the home of her mother
And I, sheet-creases still pressed into skin
Breathing the sweet clammy stink of jet fuel
Succumb to the temptation of ritual:
One coffee and six American donuts.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Letting go

It's as easy as an autumn leaf falling
She intones from the front of the room
And all I can think of is the whomping willow
Tossing its branches like a head of hair
I spread my arms like a stumpy tree
And imagine shedding golden leaves
Each one is a word, a shame, a memory
Awaiting some celestial broom or breeze
But we've already started the next
I must be slow at this letting go thing
Maybe, like a regular tree, I need time
To sever connections, ease the flow of sap

Poetry persists

They say that it doesn't pay
I've been told it does not profit
to write in this fracturous way
it's done just for the love of it
Still it's the choice of adolescents
(Though generally squirreled away)
It's best for us life-convalescents
For the serious mind this is play
For me it's too hard to resist
I'm a hoarder, a herder of words
What I know is that poetry persists
Like the flight of migrating birds

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Poem: Sun rise

I can tell you when I last fed
my ever-begging belly;
How many hours of sleep I
foraged in the wee hours;
How many decades I've notched
into the headboard of time;
That the years have lapped me
like cars on a tyre-worn circuit
since I last crashed into love.
But I don't remember, couldn't
say when I stopped writing
letters; or held onto a joke long
enough just to tell it; flew a kite,
rode a bike, made mansions of
chairs and blankets; or watched
the sun cleave from the horizon.
My voice - my real voice, the one
with nightingale ambitions - creaks
with disuse. I have chased the
tumbleweeds of language into a
desert with no light. But I am still
here, hidden in the dark. All I need
is a hum and a whisper, a suggestion
of dawn, to sing into the sun's rising.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Love is not enough

I've had this idea rolling around in my mind for a few months, about love and how we know it. I believe strongly that the feeling of love may be unconditional, but relationships should not be.

My childhood taught me that love is not enough, because people commit all sorts of atrocities in the name of love.  Love lets you accept awful things from the people you care about.  Love is what we call it when people who aren't good for each other stay together. Love is what lets families cluster around people who have done someone else harm, and protect them regardless of innocence or guilt.

But love is not enough. The feeling of it, the words we call it. The language of love is useless and insulting without acts of love to accompany it.  Acts of love are not standalone behaviours that we can cast about and say 'here is proof of my love'.  Love is always contextual, always matters in light of what has gone before.

Staying with someone is not always an act of love, and leaving them sometimes is.  Rage is not an act of love, but the right kind of anger can be.  Pouring out the flimsy words we use to describe love can be an act of love as much as it can be an act of violence, of manipulation, or of selfishness.

It's all too easy to list all the things that love isn't, to talk about why love isn't enough.  All of us can list the things that others do that make us feel unloved.  Lots of people are good at seeing when they aren't being loved in "the right way".  But that doesn't help us know it when we see it, when it's in the room with us.

I may not have been loved by any man, but I surely know what a woman's love is.  I know what women's love is capable of. I know the love that I am capable of.