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

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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

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Fondle

Chaplin_The_Kid_editThey said she was uncool

they laughed at her pathetic attempt

to fit in to the A-Crowd and be

whatever cool intended

she was not able to tan with

baby oil and lemon

therefore didn’t look good in yellow

or the teeny tiny jock shorts

all the girls with the floppy hair

and shiny legs knew

if you wanted to be an A-Lister

better get bronze and angular

she had the legs of a cross-legged child

with fat bits that poked through

her back wasn’t too straight from hunching

over the tv with bowl of Coco Puffs

they said she was uncool

because she couldn’t spell and didn’t know how

to french kiss or accept blow backs

of weak marijuana in local park

she didn’t stand as tall and couldn’t climb up

to fondle faceless boys who shriveled afterward

she wasn’t full chested, more of an empty shirt

what’s the point? one asked, just give me a hand job

and she didn’t know it took so much momentum

of her thin unused wrist

so she had to prop it up with the other hand

and everyone took the piss

you can’t even wank a boy without losing steam

how are you going to ride him?

she didn’t want to ride a boy, or even a horse

she didn’t need to be cool if it meant spitting out semen afterwards

her freckles and her pasty face, weren’t the sum total of her soul

if it’s uncool to be an outsider, she thought

I’ll make it into an art-form

so she wore purple when the IT color was red

flattened her chest instead of wearing WonderBra

liked polka dot panties over thong

didn’t touch cold-sore boys, even with gloves on

watched the girls from the A-List grow fatigued

of sore jaws and empty hearts and stained skirts

whilst she painted and danced and cycled and swam

climbed trees, shot arrows, read on roof tops, ate bags of blue gumballs

her teeth were not as white as those with lithe brown thighs

her sneakers did not have the right logo

she wore thrift store sweaters and Hello Kitty socks

they said she was uncool

for not knowing how to pleasure and perform

she told her dolls and her bears

it meant she got another summer without having to worry

about being pinched and poked by thirsty boys

with Ralph Lauren t-shirts and Converse All Stars

taunted by girls with Abercrombie skirts and Victoria’s Secret push-up

comparing cleavage and score cards

what a relief to be uncool

her name didn’t begin with A

it began with C and she preferred hanging upside down

from the jungle jim

watching the world fool

young girls

 

 

Unwilling

016_imogen-cunningham_theredlistThere are differing forms of narcissism

and sadness

wrenching and unyielding

can produce

solid fat trapped in water

thickened floating, unformed intention

we cannot breathe

holding hands to jump rope pinching noses

against fumes of exhaust

her knees were smoother and brown

elbows protrude like question marks

and when you are both fortunate enough to be old

her breasts will still point upward

whilst you shall swing heavily like a dowel

losing time with the rest of the world

she is lighter, her skip higher, cheeks flush with

the sting of cold weather tingeing red pinpoints

you don’t know yet

a time comes, the path breaks

one way is without constraint

the other a heaviness

you cannot shrug like boiled wool

as you see her wet feet climb upward

there is nothing to stop the relenting undertow

that’s what children don’t know

when they play behind wire and protection of youth

but if you look closely

like the colt whose legs and teeth are examined by horse breeder

tapping his aquiline nose

you can tell the furlow of a soul

in their pedigree and infection

do they have worms or marrow?

she was born hot and unwilling

jaundice beginning with first labored breath

but if you gave her a chance to dance

she would break over you, turn into water

a hundred fingers enclosing

circles of diminishment

no matter how fast she danced

legacy caught up and held her down

Queen of Thorns

grandma why didn’t you

prune me back when you had the chance?

cut off my head and let dead parts turn me violet

before you grew demented and wan

why didn’t you tear into my stuffing and let

the tartan apple seed scatter

maybe I would have stopped being a child

turning into a great ancient tree

where the girls who had smooth unwrinkled brows

could climb and flash their starched knickers

hanging upside down catching bird song

reflecting off fish pond surrounded by nettles

I was always better at being a spectator

than entertaining life’s specters

you should have cut the cord

played your last best record

let the needle run it through

scratching out hurt and

unwilling children

IF

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If depression were a shadow

when it is my shadow

waking me up with glass behind my eyes

replacing authentic feeling with

stifled, muffled, agonies

depression tells me; don’t get your hair cut

the hair dresser will stare too hard and you cannot

bear to be scrutinized as your father who called you

many things like plain-faced and ungainly but most of all

stocky leading to a starvation worthy

yes that father who because of his own mental defect

could not really stand long in the sun of parenthood

you’d have been better off loose and lopsided

with latch key children

to climb dog piss stained trees that barely held your weight

as they pushed through concrete with white pealing hands

as city green must

an effort make

we would chew on wild rhubarb, give ourselves stomach aches

eat dandelions and wild plums and share a precious few

hard-boiled sweets sticky in our pockets

some turned our mouths the color of tar

behind the corrugated iron where bombed out houses

stand like disfigured moments

collapsing in tombed neglect

we chased skinny wild cats and built fluttering camps

fortresses around destruction and sadness

something I learned to carry inside

when I sought to travel far from the city

its anonymous bricked faces

lending little grace

when I said goodbye to prefab family who

had their own lives

I was an appendage

needing to find my tribe

instead inheriting faulty DNA

tingeing my wake with sorrow

much as I tried

even on the warm days I wore leg warmers

pretended to be auditioning for FAME

when I ordered a hot chocolate and watched curling waves

change sequined shoreline in slow swell

though the world amassed around me

glorious and glittering like water touched by fire

as bleating sun dipped low against horizon

I could not find a way to feel unburdened

or climb aboard the impulse to slough skin

care nothing of what others would say

try hard as I could to become

laughter

that ephemeris

out of reach … thing

Joanna

56akpbgJoanna

I never knew your last name

Benjamin wanted you more

than he ever wanted me

for your madeline face and framing water fall

of black hair

Joanna

as thin as if you only ate thought

your knees could not hold together you

came apart like a dearticulate doll

everyone felt so sorry for your ragged sorrow

though no one knew why

looking perpetually like you would cry

a Picasso blue girl of faraway gaze

Joanna

if I had not envied you the heart of a boy

who had bewitched my own, or felt your ability

to balance upside down on monkey bars

making you superior in the rules of horse chestnuts and marbles

I may have seen the threadbare grief in your eyes

how from the hollows came the cry

it is apparent now in a way a child refuses

blowing her rage with swollen cheeks

as if temper lost her place in a world of shut doors

why wasn’t I kinder to you?

why did I try to compete when all you wanted

was respite from the terror of being

Joanna

Children with no reflection

girl-fishingMy feet were always too big for vintage shoes

granny said

girl you’re outgrowing your ancestors

measured my 1980’s girth with pokered face

disgracing corselet historians with modern gait

I never was the black-eyed-girl of my father’s heart

his own ungainly DNA bore him a chip off the old block

who knew his self-loathing would rub free like lint

on the broad shoulders of imperfect kin

you’ve no delicacy in your frame girl

your hands are too wide for these kid gloves

you cannot fit into the stays and confines of the past

where did you come from? changeling?

half and half in one world and the next

part girl part boy part aberration an inverse

it was easier to steal a pair of dungarees

climb the old knobbly willow tree

dropping apple pips in indigo pond

a disappointing girl with one eye patched lest it wander

I saw my delicate mother and her child’s form

rush like a dancer into applauding future

gone from those who would love her best

she left a horse hair brush that smelt of her skin

and I did not know what to be

standing there with my unliked shell of pallor

a mockery of fallen relations between two lovers

retreating to the verge of attention their child

I waited until nobody expected me home

muddied, stained and bramble scratched

children with no reflection

if you asked me then whom I loved the most

I would have pointed to the owl

grand in his luminous white feathers

for he saw the little girl’s disappointment

and together they sang

low into night

to beckon timorous vole

closer

Felix (part of the memory series)

0f43a8692e2f903f820b1a40a7add30cHelix boy

green was the color of your insight

you thought you could trust the girl who stood by your side

before your fame

and you were right

my back made a good drawing board and I knew the rules to

Dungeons & Dragons

when you called leaning out of your window in Earls Court

watching the washateria fold n’ smooth in your Judge Dread shirt

you’d ask me questions you didn’t let others hear

why are we here? what’s it all about?

we were philosophers in children’s suits

fame struck you as an unnatural quill

you learned and you unlearned playing base

with the rigidity of adults rules

some days you fit in like a diamond in the rough

Jewish boy with a blonde quiff and James Dean turn-ups

other times it felt all wrong that’s when you’d call

tell me ordinary things so I can come back down to earth you’d ask…

let’s listen to telegraph wires buzzing in the night

the B side of that Springsteen LP where he

refers to love and madness, escaping down a dark road with chains

terraced and quiet in our honeycomb middle

breathing the air of normalcy and my dad’s bad cooking

switching the globe of the world on to illuminate dark

in our Batman PJ’s a joint under the pillow

what you didn’t know what I never told

you held me up when I was drowning

it was the tender of your soul that you recognized

pain and didn’t shy away

even in the show-biz world of false and fakery

they may say oh he’s just a player who has no scruples

different woman every week, he’s just like the rest

I could dispute that if we bothered to believe idle talk

I saw your heart

beat

one night

when I told you I couldn’t go on

and you said

yes

yes you can

I’ll show you how

and we planned our revenge

in pretend knots until the sun rose

and school began

vanquishing dreams of

escape and super heroes