Want & Ritual

Helmut-SPREAD-6FI grew up fetishizing

the nubile antonyms of beauty

Helmut Newton’s exploitation

penis behind camera stroking

sloe-eyed girls with tired mouths

smoking yellow papered Gauloises

nipples grazing peach crinoline

men’s eyes like dry stones, seeking squeezing

I grew up thinking

contortion and bondage was

an art form not

excuse for masochism

as unsupervised child, I’d look through

graphic design manuals

that inexplicably had vulvas and

perky breasts

to illustrate Pantone

it was after all

the seventies

what did I know? Except

women on beaches without tops

giving me francs for not spilling their dirty martini’s

Mon sucre d’orge, sois gentil, va me chercher mes cigarettes

always gentleman watching

the rise and fall of female throats

nicotine mouths, stained vermillion

long tan legs swept beneath chiffon

men taking them to hotel rooms

children

smoking the leftovers whilst adults

fucked behind closed doors

wondering

when I grow up

how can I lie beneath

a girl whose sweat glistens

like marzipan

and if she should

sip on me I think I’d scream

all my silver bracelets falling off

like metal flowers on hotel carpet

after all

life is a film

where we tie ourselves up

with want and ritual

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The deepest cut

an-apple-rotten-on-the-inside

It doesn’t take much to knock a bruised fruit to the floor

watch it split apart like rotted glass, shards of damp skin in slow motion

try as I might, I AM that bruised fruit

try as I might, I cannot seem to recover myself back to where

once took for granted, the feeling of wellness

it doesn’t help when someone you loved abandons you

in the middle of your darkest hour

things like that aren’t supposed to happen

people who swear allegiance and loyalty aren’t meant to

be the ones leaving your side

such is the hour and fickle fan of illnesses devour

at least I know I’d never treat someone, that poorly

despite this and because of it, healing is slower

though I suspect anything less than fire would be

I didn’t know these things beforehand

the un-annointed do not possess future perspective

to see how illness strips your childish faith, cleaves you

bare and gasping

where family didn’t need to see me, even as I spent weeks in hospitals

it cut me to the quick, but it wasn’t the first or the last

maybe preparing the groundwork for your deepest cut

they say you get used to it in time

I never have

just as I never have truly understood the cruelty within some, who profess so hard to love

now, I am a changed person

I cannot make plans like I used to, thwarted by my body, haunted by ghosts

my illness is like a cobra, she stays quietly in the leaves

rearing up when I least expect or when I want most to escape

her possession of me, the way she knows how to tickle fear

with just enough venom until I am on my knees

I am sure some would say, this is therefore; psychosomatic

that it what they tell all women of hysterical turn

I saw in your eyes when I told the horror; your own disbelief

until doctors produced the proof, you still wondered

it became apparent to me, just like with sexual assault

being believed is paramount to recovery

alongside having faith in ourselves

I did not do a good job of the latter

finding myself more alone than when I started

and I thought I started pretty alone

I know I am a survivor and I was not destroyed

yet it feels like I was

when I look inside myself and find

so little left, a house without windows

it was only because of you, I kept trying

I told you that, I said, you were holding me up

when you let go

I fell to a place I did not know existed

I wanted to ask; Couldn’t you have just waited

long enough to see me through the worst?

but you wait for nothing except your own need

I had to find a way to stand even as everything crumbled around me

which is the biggest test I ever had and I failed it

I failed it again and again

walking through the lullaby of desiring to die for so many reasons

not least, the never-ending dance with sickness and pain

but somehow I did not die, I turned instead to stone

when people say I am strong now and ask; How did you get through it?

I don’t tell them; I am not through it

I still lurch and shake in the throes of unnamed demons and at night

I feel like an arythmic god has taken me and is spinning me

on high-speed like all my parts are made of jello

I want to ask that god; what is it you are trying to shake loose?

surely you know by now there is no more fruit left

not even the rotten kind

that fell and split and sunk into earth, a long, long time ago

it is only me remaining now; leafless, without sturdy branches

I cannot rely upon myself, I cannot rely upon promises

no longer a young, untouched tree with green shoots

I am damaged, broken and hobbled, by this specter and the unknown

as much as by those I knew and trusted

asking why to the imploring void; why are we stricken down?

to what do I owe my continuing? Even as it is, insubstantial

can they see in my eyes, when I pretend, I am trying not to gag?

my appetite spirited away by the scourge and never returned

I would die of hunger and not know it

were it not for some strange determination

I don’t know where that comes from

but as I stand, it must be a place within me

does not give up, as she did not, all those years ago when

the flames licked the top of my house and burned, everything I knew to cinder

I am not like the rest of the world; stronger for my poison

nor am I able to disguise my scars

if I were asked what recommended me; I could not answer

I would probably open my mouth and howl

because you can reinvent yourself, a million times it seems

I am just one incarnation, coming apart at badly mended edges

you, who are able to vault life in gentle sprint, must mock

I am after all, just a fallen fruit, lasting as long as she can

in imperfect, bruised skin

You are not a girl anymore

Girl you are not a girl anymore

you are a woman

woman you are reviled and judged

for being a woman

when you were a girl it was suffice to

have a nice pair of legs and a pretty mouth

do you recall how often you were asked to ‘cheer up and smile love’

when all you were doing was trying to grow-up and be serious?

how men would do your bidding because of your WonderBra and not the sense of your words

now you are a woman

you will inherit

inequality

double-standards

and not be able to find clothes that feel right in stores not meant for your body

because nothing is going to come easy anymore and still

as you sit there in your curves and your burgeoning skin

feeling the surround of yourself lapping at the corners

you will inherit also

the voice of your round bellied ancestors

who have come ringing through time and again

been judged, poked, prodded or worse, flat out ignored

seen how silver haired men get all the fuss like carefully licked jewels

whilst a woman of substance is

lost lost lost

behind the mad din and snuff of youth

for youth it seems needs a distinguished father of any age

but does not require

a mother

a grandmother

a female sage

for women are judged upon their reproductive abilities and

the years they have lived beneath the moon listening to the shore

if too few, they are deemed unintelligent

too many and nobody wants to hear

for women are judged upon

scales created long before

an even playing field was won

if it has, if it has yet

for women it is easier to become lost after the lights have grown less hot

held to a higher standard than the eternal covet of men

who are picked up and dusted off by many worshipful female hands

too eager to say ‘there, there, I will help you, poor thing’

who shall help then, the woman?

Not her own kind, surely, nor men who adore only youngest vintage

Who shall see her? When she is grown and perhaps does not accept her allotted place

or wish to remain invisible or grow old with pressurized grace

who shall listen when she wants to be heard at any age?

or the desires of her are beyond the sanctioned pail

or her damp passion which does not flip and flop and require Viagra

a woman if she is loved

is ten-fold her maiden self

for the wefts and the welts are earned and learned and now they represent

a splendid coat of multicolor

she wears with pride and sometimes regret

but more often silver wisdom and the softening yet

of her edges into rounded corners and eventually

a supple circle come full

the world may dominate her discourse

the youth may clamor for their right to change the channel

she may slip quietly through the bridled noise

with strong thick womanly thighs

and as men chase their tail and young women cast a gaze that seems to say

who the HELL do you think you are, old lady?

woman, you do not bat your eyes or rise to those absurdities left behind

for she is the wake of day and dusted sleep of night

cradling the future in her all-mighty grip

she learns from being kicked

to stand she must let go of the girl within and be

a woman of our time

casting her pearly net wide as she

swallows the sea and sighs

letting the tide tumble out with her exhaled breath

aaahhh yes

aaahhh yes

Too many

What do father’s say

To their knock-knee daughters

Not able to sit on their lap and learn to shave

Their distant allegory

A return of themselves in female form

What would they?

A daughter born

Looks up at he who holds the world

Why do men let me drown Daddy?

Her eyes speak of hurt and scorn

Her belly wasted and torn

Why do they tell me I am no good for?

He who reaches

Into ether

Does not know the words for his daughter’s heart

He wants to break the necks of any who hurt her

But there are just

Too many

What I learned from my father’s girlfriends #2 Leslie

Canadian Leslie

sensible tweed and corduroy

dressed like 50 at 25

white turtleneck and tanned legs in Winter

a talented skier who told me; don’t slouch kid, you will stunt your growth

she disapproved of children who stayed up later than 6pm

from next door I could hear her twangy voice

then the creek of stairs as they climbed to my father’s room

women from any part of the world make the same sounds

hmm / yes / hmm

Canada, I thought when very young

must be a strange land if it’s covered in snow

and still the girls can be tan and have golden streaks in their hair

she didn’t like European humor or sleeping in on weekends

it makes you fat to be idle, she scolded and ate her sugarless oatmeal

after a while she didn’t like public transport or pub culture

so Leslie applied for a PhD program in animal husbandry and moved to Alberta

where I hear she raised eyes

adopting Vietnamese pigs and falling in love with a man from Beirut

her WASP parents wished she’d stuck with my dad

they weren’t ever going to work

she hadn’t liked my baby photos and wouldn’t watch

film noir detective shows on Friday nights with Indian take-out

she left behind some maple syrup and we poured it

on white toast

because after all, this was before we’d learned

how to make Canadian pancakes and Canadian waffles

from French cooking shows

Calm


i forget how far away I am

i have always been … too far


she says; Goodbye darling

in a voice I know better than my own 

a voice playing in my inner ear 

avoir d’autres chats à fouetter

distracted after my first mistake 
pencil in mouth, sucking on lead
never good enough or precise in my knit

i don't know if

it's the last time I'll hear those words

what I do know

is I'm trying to stop myself

crawling out of my skin

and I can't say why this has happened
this creature who seeks succor 
at the end of the day 
to hear your voice
letting her know you're okay 

but they'll never know
my child's wrapped need 

i can set a tone
as ships collide and planes come down
when literally the sea is on fire and
she's no longer coming home 
These thirty years 
cyclones making cream of wheat in fields

and when I'm at my worst

i sound

so damn calm

What I learned from my father’s girlfriends #1 Mariana

s60_66

Mariana was nineteen and built like

a short Bogotá cigar

her skin was buttery and she

used a lot of lip gloss

in those days every woman worth their salt

had a Princess Di cut

Mariana, 5’ft nothing, full of contradiction

Columbian girl with English Princess bangs

she spoke using long consonants

her teeth were crooked but very white

her breath smelt of chocolate and hairspray

she said; sé una buena niña y te daré un dulce

so nicely I couldn’t be naughty and disobey

we read books together, learning the same words

when my father got home she delighted him

with a South American sauce

I wanted her to be mine

to keep her with my marzipan frog

on my mantle

where she’d fit right in and squat

watching over me when the night grew dark

I didn’t want her to leave

the day it rained and she boarded Air Iberia

in a yellow slicker and tight Gloria Vanderbilt jeans

I’ll write you mi Amor she called

a yellow handkerchief tied around her neck

reminding me of 1970’s air-stewardesses

crying more for the loss of me than

my father, already checking out arrivals lounge

for a time I received

Little Twin Stars and Hello Kitty

perfumed notes with bubble handwriting

until I forgot too, her words of endearment

she was like my marzipan frog

who disappeared one day

years later I found out

he’d rotten being kept too long and been thrown out

just like children cannot understand

the whims and fickleness of

adult love