May Our Favourite People Never Turn Into Ghosts

May we still think of them
all of the time
and tell them cool things

like what good films
just came out on Prime
or that there’s 26 bridges
over the Tyne –
same number of albums
in Bowie’s lifetime

May we remember them
whilst we’re apart
and tell them daft things

like how you can’t hear
real music in the charts
that there’s nowt bitterer
than the human heart
or that shiver is the
collective noun for sharks

May we fear them
at the end of it all
and tell them sad things

like the 52 Blue whale
and it’s lonesome call
that your brother begged
Santa to make him tall
and how sunlight passes
across your bedroom wall

Earlier this morning, when you showed me a photo of how whales sleep.

Look at this, you said.

I saw a dozen grey torpedoes hung,
such monstrous baubles, in the depths
of the ocean, motionless
and unaltered by the heft
of water surrounding them.
Scattered indifferently,
their fleshy tonnes suspended
like great iron pendants, laid bare
to the perils of foe and flow
in a thalassic slumber.

We sat sipping tea in silent dread,
to think of such cryptic bed.

Dumb Luck Love Song

I’m drunker now than I ever was
before we saw this through

And I don’t know how to look in love
without looking at you

Because I find ways to put your name
anywhere I see a blank

I’ve touched the wood of hopefulness
each time my courage sank

And though nothing true is ever said
when lovers speak at night

We stay up late and laugh and sing
and to us that feels alright

Iron Lung

I heard it first
when I was a little girl
before I understood

I looked down at my chest

fancied I could hear the whirring
of mechanisms

a cold release in every rest
the squeezebox rise and fall
of springs that sprung
from two iron lungs

wondered if my other organs
were built the same,
drew pictures of the biotech

a silver chest
beneath my dress

years passed, we had a laugh
at the way a child can think

how their open minds
paint a picture
without the need for ink

I see now how we are
too fragile to be composed
of anything but paper
and glass

bone and heart
a crack and tear, here and there

until we break apart

A Drowning

Nobody screamed

not even when blackness came
and small waves bounced upward,
obscuring the shoreline from sight:
biting at the sky

not even when their necks numbed
and boreal steel filled their pockets, 
with weight like loss: the rush of 
fear in a vacuum

Still, nobody screamed

instead, their throats made small alarms,
guttural from behind clamped jaws;
layers of yellowing silt shifting until
they all saw sky

instead, the march of steady breath
fell out of step with each arterial beat;
one by one they hissed like matches
softly dipped in water

Volta

Beyond weak, she
was now spelling it out
for him, like a mother –
holding the small
fat hand of her
first born, pushing
the stubborn fingers
around, as they
clutched a pencil
to shape the letters
of his own name.

His name.

How many times
had she said it now?
Could she count
how many times
she had laughed it,
asked it, stuttered
and moaned it
and even once –
in the vacancy of
quiet hours –
called for it, loudly
across an ocean
of silence.

Time Spent and Trampoline

He’d been watching the kids play across the street for a while before the police had showed up. He didn’t know what time it was exactly, but knew she’d be here soon. She always came round after her Thursday shift.

The sun had dipped slightly out of sight, but the chill of evening had not yet cloaked the estate. In the distance, he could still hear lads kick a football outside the chippy. Washing no longer flapped on lines, but had yet to be taken in. The pubs hadn’t turned out, so he knew he had a while before his father returned, red-faced and heavy with lager. 

Near where he sat on the front step, pressed into the damp lip of an discarded Tennent’s, were the spent ends of three cigs. He calculated that he must have been perched there for at least 20 minutes when he saw the blues silently flickering towards the end of the road. 

The kids – two boys – were playing on a trampoline that took up the entirety of the square front yard of number 43. As they leapt about, it’s metal framework skittered and giggled across the concrete, echoing against the parallel walls of the estate. Two coppers exited the car. A man and a woman.

‘Is ya mam home?’ He inquired, attempting to peer through the nets of the living room window.

‘Nar.’ The eldest chirped, still leaping. ‘Can a wear your helmet?’

‘No, son.’

As he watched them, he stubbed his fourth tab and pushed it, along with the rest of the ends, into the hole of the tin, hearing it rapidly extinguish with a soft hiss.

Finding no answer to their knocking, the coppers looked around the estate and clocked him sitting on the front step – asked if he knew where the homeowner might be. He shrugged and they nodded, disheartened but unsurprised, returning to their peering and speculation.

She turned up shortly afterwards and, like usual, he hadn’t heard her soft tread on the pavement until she was almost stood in front of him. She lifted off her supermarket tabard, folding it under her arm, and took her place beside him without a word. 

‘How was the shift?’ He asked, handing her a tab from the pack by his feet.

‘Ugh.’ She grunted. ‘Can’t you just hurry up and win the lottery so we can get out of here?’

A flicker of pleasure ran up his back. He smirked.

‘I’m working on it, like.’ He said, handing her a fresh tin.

‘Your dad back yet?’ She asked, knowing the answer.

‘Not yet.’

‘Still got a bit left to piss away this month then.’

‘Wey the heating’s gone again, so I’m assuming he’s not far off.’

She snorted and shook her head, before indicating with her cigarette, nodding at the squad car across the road.

‘Don’t know.’ He replied, shifting slightly sideways, to give her more space. ‘That’s the third time they’ve been this week.’ 

She took the gesture, moving closer to him. He could feel the warmth of her side pressing against his.

‘Poor bairns.’ She muttered, shaking her head. ‘Bet they haven’t had any tea.’

‘Aye. She won’t be back for a while yet.’ He shook his head.

‘There’ll be nowt in, an’ all.’

The small muscles of her arm flexed as she brushed lint from her skirt. From the corner of his eye, he saw her mouth twitch in a downturn, as she chewed her lip and stared. Neither spoke or moved for a few minutes, each watching the inconsequential evening unfold around them. The police officers sat in their car, which was still parked nearby. The kids played.

In the stillness between them, she let the rest of the cigarette burn down and go out.

Last week, when they were drunk and he had kissed her, he had cupped his fingers around her face. It had made him feel like there was something tiny in his hands. A bird’s wing, a dried leaf. He imagined telling her that, and let out an involuntary laugh, knowing how she’d clout him if he ever said as much.

‘What you laughing at?’ She grinned, turning her face towards him. He kept looking forward and batted the question away. She turned away slowly and he stole a quick look as she picked a bit of ash from her shoe.

He let the memory return, as he had so often since. He had kept his eyes open during the whole thing, as if he’d needed proof of what was happening. He had watched her blue veins blur behind the petal thinness of her eyelids until they too had opened again. He remembered the feeling. That she might ebb away suddenly, like vapour, or a wavering ember, evading his grasp. He remembered the feeling, and the fear. He wondered if she had thought about it too.

She said nothing, and he felt the silence heavily. He opened his mouth, half hoping words might come without his knowing. When they didn’t, she sunk her head against her chest and yawned. By the time she raised it, he still had not spoken, and the long cylinder of ash that had amassed by the end of her knuckles fell like grey snow onto the ground. It was starting to get dark.

‘Right, well. I’d best be off. Mam’ll worry I’ve run away with the circus.’ 

But she did not move. Her inaction froze him, as he watched her purse her lips to the side, and rest her hands on her knees.

‘Aye, fair. You working tomorrow?’ He choked, at long last.

He was pleading, in his way, pretending he wasn’t. Like a dog, sniffing for scraps, thankful for any morsel she might drop from the obscure and unseeable surface of her mind. 

She nodded, sighed, and, finally, she stood. He wanted to snatch her back down, to pull at her arms, clutch her fingers, to wrap his hands around her narrow shoulders and press her to him like body armour: a shield against the salvo of regret her fated exit would unleash. 

But he did no such thing. She rounded the corner as silently as she came, though, this time, with no such surprise to him, and he watched her go. It was then he would notice that the street was quiet, the children across the road had since gone indoors. Soon, his father would return, and he would be out of time. 

Effigy

I start with a wooden barrel
for a chest, 
smoothing the planks down
with grit paper until
at long last
I put my cheek to it, to check
it feels right.

It does, so I then move on
to your arms – I strap on
thick ropes,
wrap them round,
and tie myself in
a knot that won’t break,
that holds tight.

For legs, I pile stones,
two towers,
unkickable as the sky –
straight and tall,
they hold
and do not sway or bend,
in their might.

A lamp for a head –
the light
of a mind that shines,
leaving no shadow
it throws
a yellow glow across me,
and burns bright.

Alas, for a heart, a blank.
Only space,
an emptiness,
as I have nothing
to take the place of
the thing that loved,
just for spite.

Now, when you burn,
you will burn right.

This song reminded me of you

You probably already know about them:
where the group is from and how they banded,
what year their first EP came out,
if the lead guitarist is left or right handed.

Maybe you own a few of their albums,
perhaps you’ve known of them forever,
but this song reminded me of you
though we’ve never listened to it together.

We didn’t ever hear it in that place we like
where the barmen all wear pocket flowers,
and we never queued it on the juke box
that night we drank and laughed for hours.

And it wasn’t playing in your car
when you dropped me at central station,
but this song reminds me of you
and fills me with a blue elation.

So I reckon, several years from now,
needing something to get me through
I’ll play this song I’ve played so much
because it reminded me of you.