Monthly Archives: October 2017

Sunday Poem – Matthew Stewart

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Sunday Poem – Matthew Stewart

I’ve had a busy week this week and spent much of it feeling a bit rough with a horrible cold that I only shook off on Wednesday night. On Monday I met my supervisor for a discussion about the poems I’d been writing over the summer for the PhD and to my great relief he is pleased about the way my poems are progressing.  I’ve been experimenting with using form a lot more.  I’ve always wanted to write a specular, or mirror poem and I think I’ve finally managed it, but I’ve also written another poem using a fixed rhyme scheme which I enjoyed.  In both the specular and the poem with the fixed rhyme scheme, the form was actually embedded in the first draft without me noticing, and then when I carry on and develop it, it feels like a much more playful experience than writing in free verse.

I’ve been reading bell hooks again this week and thinking about a particular passage in ‘Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black’.  She writes that

Feminist consciousness-raising sessions were only the first stage in the process of radical transformation.  The next stage would have been the confrontation between women and men, the sharing of this new and radical speech: women speaking to men in a liberated voice.

The use of the word confrontation is interested here, because it’s such a loaded term, with connotations of hostility, arguments,fighting.   However a quick internet search on the etymology of the word is revealing – it means ‘to bring face to face’.  The negative connotations of the word ‘confront’ only came into place later, in the late 16th century, according to https://www.etymonline.com/word/confront

There is a lot to unpack in that short quote, but I like the idea that poetry could be part of a confrontation, part of a ‘new and radical speech, of women speaking to men in a liberated voice’.  This type of poetry might provoke discomfort, but with discomfort comes the possibility or the potential for change and transformation.

So that is part of what I’ve been thinking about – also about the need (is there a need?) for women to write about men, and masculinity, about how this isn’t simple.  In fact, whenever a woman writes about ‘men’ in a plural sense, it feels uncomfortable.  The last time I read, a man came up to me and said ‘you don’t look old enough to have known all of those men.’  Just one of the strange comments I’ve had from audience members when reading these poems which manage to be insulting through their inference to perceived sexual history.

So apart from all these PhD thoughts, I’ve been to one of the Monday night ‘Carol Ann Duffy and Friends’ reading series – the lovely Andrew McMillan as the guest poet and Keith Hutson as the MA student.  Keith took part in a play he’d written as part of the MA course, which was really interesting and made a change from the usual format of the evening, where two or three students read poems.  It was also a real treat to hear Andrew read from his forthcoming collection.  I’ve been really excited to see what Andrew would do next – his first collection was so bloody good, I was wondering how he would move on from it.  But the new poems are pretty amazing – he is still writing about masculinity and sexuality, but from a different angle – I guess more looking at how they emerge or come into being.  And from hearing them, the poems seemed more narrative, less fragmented than some of the poems in the first collection, more expansive somehow.  His second collection ‘Playtime’ will be published by Cape next summer I think – so that is something to look forward to!

Because of my horrible cold, I cancelled my Kendal Poetry Festival meeting, which was supposed to be on Tuesdayand we did as much as we could over the phone instead.  I dragged myself out to do the joint judging of the children’s poetry competition with Geraldine Green and Ron Creer for Dalton Lit Fest on Tuesday afternoon, and made sure I kept a safe distance away from Geraldine and Ron, so hopefully they didn’t catch my germs.  Afterwards I went straight back to bed for a couple of hours and then it was back out to a Soul Survivors gig.  We were playing at a wedding – and I disgraced myself by crying when the bride sang a song.  The singing was lovely, but it was seeing her dad cry that set me off.

On Wednesday I went to a course at Salford University – ‘Writing Critically About Creative Practice’ which was really interesting.  I’m hoping this is going to help with my ‘academic tone’ writing.  As part of the course we get two 50 minute sessions with a Royal Literary Fellow who will look at a short piece of our writing, and then another full days session in January.

The most exciting thing that happened to me this week was doing Park run on Saturday.  I managed to knock about 20 seconds off my PB, so I’m now done to 21.34 for 5k – never would have thought I would get down to that! But now I want to get closer to 21 minutes – and so it never ends…

This week’s Sunday Poem is the marvellous Matthew Stewart, who has just had his first full collection The Knives of Villalejo published by Eyewear.   Matthew lives between West Sussex and Extremadura. Following a comprehensive school education he took a degree in Modern Languages at St Peter’s College, Oxford.  He works in the Spanish wine trade and has published two pamphlets with HappenStance Press (Inventing Truth, 2011 and Tasting Notes, 2012).  He runs an excellent poetry blog Rogue Strands and has been published in Ambit, London Magazine and The Rialto. 

Matthew was kind enough to send me a copy of his pamphlet a while ago and I finally got around to reading it this week.  I’ve really enjoyed it – most of the poems are fairly short and succinct but they contain some beautiful lines.  Take for instance ‘Home Comforts’ where he writes ‘a kettle won’t seem to whistle/like the owner of a loose dog/calling it back, calling it home’ or in ‘El Castillo De Villalejo’ where he writes ‘Dark vines rise up against the sky/like the flailing arms of a man’.

Matthew has kindly said I can post a  poem called ‘Twenty Years Apart’, which was first published in The Next Review.  I thought it was an interesting piece as it seems to pick up on one of the themes that seem to be threaded throughout this collection, which is that of being an outsider, of someone looking in.

This sense, of not quite belonging, is established right from the first line, with that lovely alliterative line ‘With a synchronised swivelling of necks’.  This is a strange poem though.  The speaker says that the ‘they’ in the poem’welcome me in’ yet it doesn’t sound like a welcome, with the ‘swivelling of necks’ and the ‘coughed silence’ and what appear to be locals ‘wincing as I order’.

The outsider is always an outsider, where in Villalejo or Oxford. When the speaker in the poem urges the reader to ‘Ignore the smells, swap Spanish for English’  the reader starts to realise the speaker is an outsider where ever he goes.

The structure of this poem is interesting as well – with the binaries of Spanish/English and Villalejo/Oxford set up to mirror each other, which is also reflected in the mirroring of the first and second stanza with its short last line and then that lovely line which mirrors itself internally: ‘Muttered stories mirror muttered stories’.

In the first stanza you might be forgiven for thinking, when you read the fourth line ‘a soft hubbub resumes’ that the other people are in the background.  However, by the end of the poem,the reader realises that it is in fact, the speaker who is always in the background, looking in.

Thanks to Matthew for letting me post this poem and if you’d like to order The Knives of Villalejo you can do so from Eyewear here.

 

Twenty Years Apart – Matthew Stewart

With a synchronised swivelling of necks
and a coughed silence, they welcome me in,
wincing as I order.  Once I’ve sat down,
a soft hubbub resumes.

Ignore the smells, swap Spanish for English,
back streets of Villalejo for Oxford.
Muttered stories mirror muttered stories.
I’m still in the background.

 

 

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Sunday Poem – Kate Fox

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It has been a strange week for me – the #metoo hashtag on social media has made me sad and angry and hopeful in an exhausting cycle..  Amongst all of this, I’ve had to get on with doing stuff as well of course.  I had a meeting with my  PhD supervisors about the next stage of the PhD, the RD2 form.  I’d sent them some writing, which was far too personal to use, but I wanted to try and get straight in my head what I’m trying to do with the PhD.  I’ve got to make it much more ‘academic’, less personal etc etc.  I’ve had a go this week and have almost finished the ‘Abstract’ part of the RD2, in what I hope is a more academic voice.  It feels like putting on another head.  I wonder if everybody feels like this or if it’s just me.

I’ve also started reading feminst theorist bell hooks this week, and absolutely loving her work.  She writes about feminism, racism and class.  I could only find one of her books in the library, ‘talking back’, published in 1989 but it feels like it could have been published last week.  As those of you who have read my past few blogs will know, I’ve been thinking a lot about who I am addressing with my poetry, and also about responses to the poems I’m writing.  When I read the following, I felt elated, that someone had articulated what I’ve been struggling with for different reasons:

When I first began to talk publicly about my work, I would be disappointed when audiences were provoked and challenged but seemed to disapprove. Not only was my desire for approval naive (I have since come to understand that it is silly to think that one can challenge and also have approval), it was dangerous precisely because such a longing can undermine radical commitment, compelling a change in voice so as to gain regard

Reading this made me realise that feeling discomfort is not necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, when I read bell hooks, I feel discomfort because I know, as a white woman, I’m not the main, intended audience of bell hooks.  That doesn’t mean, however, I can’t read her, and learn from her.  Maybe discomfort marks the potential for change, when the sense of self and where we fit in the world is shifted, however incrementally.

I went to see Lemn Sissay at the Brewery with a friend this week – what a great performer he is.  Watching him is basically a masterclass in how to hold the attention of an audience.  And the story of ‘Something Dark’, his play, is absolutely heartbreaking.

I also had a meeting with Pauline about Kendal Poetry Festival – we sat at Pauline’s kitchen table for another four hours.  We’ve heard back from all of our poets and we now have the full line up confirmed.  I’m so excited about this year’s poets.  We’re meeting again on Tuesday to try and finish the form off, and having the line up confirmed, subject to funding, will hopefully provide us with the motivation to finish the endless paperwork.

I also had an exciting meeting this week regarding a new anthology of Cumbrian poetry which I’ll be co-editing.  I can’t say much more than that at the moment, but watch this space, because there’ll be an official announcement soon.

There was a Dove Cottage Young Poets session on Friday and then Brewery Poets on Friday night.  I took a specular (mirror poem) that I’d written. I’ve always wanted to write one since reading Julia Copus’s ‘In the Back Seat of My Mother’s Car’.

Yesterday I ran Barrow Poetry Workshop – nine people from all over Cumbria and one new young poet who I was very pleased to see.  I met him a few years ago when I did the readings for the NCS summer school sessions in Ambleside, and then he appeared at the workshop, so that was a nice day, as well as the usual friendly faces being there of course.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Kate Fox.  Kate sent this to me a couple of weeks ago after reading my post around ‘mode of address‘ and who we are talking to as poets. I like the directness of this poem, and felt like, as a woman, it was talking to me.  Does that mean it can’t be read by men because it is talking about maternal lineage? I hope not – I hope the poem just shifts the ground underneath male readers by looking past them to the women standing next to them.

I also love the humour in this poem – ‘somehow your nan’s not distracted by the Yorkshire terrier/ and your mum’s not said anything mean about your hair’.  I think the humour makes sure that the poem does not become sentimental.  That phrase/motto ‘you can’t pick your family, but you can pick your friends’ is kind of buried in the poem in the middle ‘you’re waiting for someone/to snap the lens shutter so you can go back to people who suit you/your husband, your friends’.  I like that the poem acknowledges that there are different ways of living a feminist life,

These women who are not on an official record,
who didn’t chuck themselves under a horse,
but who managed to steer their own course
through the things they were told they couldn’t do,
shouldn’t do.

This idea of women who are not on an official record came up yesterday in the workshop – poet Katie Hale is researching her family history and came upon a census where the man’s name is written and the women listed as ‘female relative’ with their age.

Kate Fox has made a living as a stand-up poet for ten years.She has nearly finished her PhD about class, gender and Northern humour). She has appeared on Radio 4.  She is currently making #Lass War on the man-heavy Northern Powerhouse.

Her second Radio 4 comedy series aired this summer. In the shows she talked about why she doesn’t want: children, a big white wedding, to be middle class or have a Hollywood body! (First series on iPlayer here: The Price of Happiness). She is one of the 17 poets for the BBC/Hull 2017 Contains Strong Language Poetry Festival (Great film about her commission here: Women of Words film). Her books include Chronotopia, just out from Burning Eye Books (ORDER IT HERE! Chronotopia) and Fox Populi from Smokestack Books. She has been poet in residence for the Great North Run, Saturday Live on Radio 4 and the Glastonbury Festival.

Oh- also, she recently invented a new word for when humour and seriousness combine: Humitas. Check it out here: The Conversation article 

Thanks to Kate for letting me use her poem this week.  Kate came and read at the Lakes Alive festival a couple of weeks ago, along with Mark Pajak, and they were both brilliant, putting up with gale force winds, torrential rain and an outdoor reading to a small and soggy audience.  They handled everything that was thrown at them with grace, humour and energy and left me congratulating myself at my own genius for booking them.  If you hear of Kate performing anywhere near you – go and see her.  She is funny, but her poetry will make you think as well.  She’s a great performer, but as you can see below, her poems have depth and layers and work on the page as well.

Spinning a Yarn – Kate Fox 
9
Imagine
you’re holding a thread
which is held by your mother,
then her mother,
then her mother,
double, treble, quadruple twisted ties,
back, back in a long line that stretches further than you can see.
Maybe you’re all in a field.
Somehow it’s not chaos,
somehow your nan’s not distracted by the Yorkshire terrier
and your mum’s not said anything mean about your hair
though mostly every alternate woman in my chain
would get on better with each other
than the one right next to her.
Anyway, you’re holding the end,
the thread’s vibrating 
but it’s just this frozen moment,
as if you’re waiting for someone, 
to snap the lens shutter so you can go back to people who suit you,
your husband, your friends,
this is sort of an obligation, sort of a privilege,
this moment,
making the chain, of women you’ll still mostly never name,
as they stretch into the horizon’s edge
and you’re all worried it will rain,
but you’re hearing fragments of chatter.
Trekking from the city centre during the blitz
for just one good night’s sleep,
how that Auntie started a driving school,
the realisation that your brows all wrinkle in the same place
when you laugh because you’re nervous.
These women who are not on an official record,
who didn’t chuck themselves under a horse,
but who managed to steer their own course
through the things they were told they couldn’t do,
shouldn’t do. They made it work.
They weren’t allowed strategies, 
they couldn’t shuffle soldiers 
across maps, piece up and rearrange continents,
but they all had tactics, 
making the best of what they had,
the day-to-day resistances and choices,
and even though we can’t see their faces
or hear their voices,
you hold that thread that they’ve all spun,
and still the looms are clacking on,
the threads are criss-crossing with other chains,
from women written out of history,
with ones who shouted loudly.
The more twists a thread is given,
the stronger it becomes.
Black threads, white threads,
ones that got lost and trampled in the dirt for years, 
but at this moment it’s making a double helix
down your maternal line,
then springs back,
echoes of thunderous looms,
the shuttle’s clack,
you’re holding it, just this one thread
in the great weave of history.
Will you keep to the old pattern
or start a new one?
Lose the weft, keep the warp?
Find new materials,
a different yarn to spin? 
Can you drop that thread altogether,
take up ones from another kin?
These choices
which are not completely yours
and not completely not.
Take this moment
while you can
to throw a nod of recognition
to the thread holders down the line,
then it’s yours. Begin. 

Sunday Poem – Rachael Clyne

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Today I’ve been to Blackpool to run a 10k race, my first race since Coniston 14 in March when I picked up an IT band injury, and my first 10k since October 2016 when I ran the Lancaster 10k, got a PB and was then rushed into hospital two days later because of a gall bladder attack.

Until last year, I’d never been in hospital before, and the worst illness I’ve had was probably tonsilitis, so to say I found it hard to be stuck in hospital, and then stuck at home and unable to walk far is an understatement.  Getting back to my first competitive 10k feels like finally putting that awful period of time behind me.

I managed to beat my previous PB of 45.02 and this time ran 44.41 which I was really chuffed about but have now already started thinking about whether I could get closer to 43 at the next 10k.  I was also third lady back which I was probably even more happy about, as I’ve never been in the top 3 before.

The most satisfying part of the race was charging straight through a long and rather deep puddle and drenching the two poor men who were picking their way carefully around the side of it.  But to be honest it was pretty tough and I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it at the time, although now I feel pretty happy.

I’ve also been to Durham Book Festival to read as part of an event called Rich Seams, hosted by Andrew McMillan.  This was a lovely event to be part of – I read with Degna Stone, Kim Moore, Malika Booker, Mark Pajak, Polly Atkin, Pippa Little, Ruby Robinson, Zaffar Kunial, Vidyan Ravinthiran and Seán Hewitt.  I’d left my car in Brough, parked on the street and then car-shared with Polly Atkin from there to Durham.  When we got back to Brough an angry resident came and shouted at me for leaving my car there, as apparently it was ‘private parking’.  There were no private parking notices that I could see, so I conclude she was one of those lucky people who have nothing else to complain about other than people parking outside her house.  The end of the exchange finished with the woman of Brough saying ‘Where do you come from…a town?’ as if this was the worst insult she could possibly think of.  So that was a bit of an annoying end to what was otherwise a really lovely day.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been doing quite a few readings and workshops – I’ve performed in Manchester at Bad Language, in Settle where I judged the poetry competition and then read with the incomparable Carola Luther, at Ilkley Literature Festival to launch the ‘One for the Road’ anthology alongside Peter Sansom and Stuart Maconie, Buzzwords in Cheltenham and at Borderlines Book Festival in Carlisle.

In between the readings and various workshops I’ve been working on my PhD of course.  I think I’ve got about half of the poems for the second collection so far which will make up the creative part of the PhD, and thanks to the kindness of Angela France, who sent me her completed PhD to have a read through, I feel like I’ve got more of a sense of what the whole thing will look like.  Thank goodness for the community of poets, who have saved, encouraged and inspired me more times than I can name.

On Monday I have a meeting with both of my supervisors (eek) and then the rest of the week, I’ll be getting on with PhD stuff, and soldiering on with funding applications for Kendal Poetry Festival.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Rachael Clyne, who has been patiently waiting for quite a while for her poem to be posted here. I read this poem after Rachael posted it on Facebook and loved it – it was then spotted by the brilliant Charles Johnson and published in Obsessed With Pipework in August.

It’s a short and pithy poem, full of wisdom which is worn lightly.  I love the title and the message behind it, which seems to me both simple and complex to understand.  I like the directness of the poem which starts right from that first line with ‘so you – yes you’.  The idea of accepting the self is one that is easy to articulate and hard to do.  I like how the poem uses and plays around with well-known phrases and ideas.  In line 2 we think of the phrase ‘warts and all’ but Rachael gives this a more positive and unusual spin with ‘warts and wings’.  The choice of the verb ‘using’ in line 9 struck me as unusual as well – not drinking, or swallowing or taking, but using, which gives us both the connotations of drinking something but also connotations of drug-taking, but also the idea of using something that is unhealthy in a tool-like manner.  I also love the last line – without it, I think the poem would have been lesser, less humane.  With it, it carries a real warmth and empathy for the human condition.

I met Rachael at Swindon Poetry Festival a couple of years ago and then she was a participant at the residential I ran last year at St Ives.  She is a psychotherapist and poet from Glastonbury.  Her collection Singing at the Bone Tree, is published by Indigo Dreams. Her work appears in various magazines, currently Tears in the Fence, Lighthouse, Shearsman. Her book Breaking the Spell – Keys to Recovering Self-esteem is available on amazon.

Thanks to Rachael for letting me post this poem.

You Will Never Be Anyone Else – Rachael Clyne

so you – yes you,
with your warts and wings
will just have to do.

Acceptance is your food
and shelter without which
you are brushwood

for any foul wind
that cares to blow.
Stop using the poison

bottle labelled ‘Drink me’
it’s not OK.
It’s that simple.

I didn’t say easy.

PhD Musings: The Imperfect Victim/Imperfect Perpetrator

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As the stories have come out and are coming out about Harvey Weinstein and more and more women are speaking out, I’ve spent a lot of my time feeling sick, with feelings of nerves and anxiety.  I haven’t quite been able to work out why – I felt like I was over-identifying with the victims – I’ve never met Harvey Weinstein of course, and I’m unlikely ever to meet him.  It’s taken a few days to admit to myself that I’ve  met men like him my whole life, have learnt to deal/not deal with them, ignore them, laugh along, keep out of their way, or endured them.

In an article by Stephanie Boland she talks about the concept of the ‘imperfect victim’

You can read the whole article here
http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/article/harvey-weinstein-comment

Stephanie Boland writes:

I can’t remember exactly how old I was when I was first groped. I only know it was on a minibus and that it was an older boy who rubbed the side of my breast by sticking his arm between my seat and the window. A group of them had teased me the whole journey — it was a camping trip and a long drive — and I’d played along. I’m good at playing along: good at mimicking the register of the banter, always quick with a comeback, able to suss out someone’s personality fast and get their mates laughing. Maybe you are, too. As I got off the bus, our chaperone asked if I was okay and I said yes, carsick, a little, and avoided the boy all weekend.

The concept of the imperfect victim is probably one that many women can identify with.  Throughout the course of my PhD, I’ve been looking back and examining my own life for experiences of sexism, but maybe a better way of describing them would be experiences of being the ‘imperfect victim’, and experiences of men who are ‘imperfect perpetrators’.  Men who are friends and continue to be so afterwards.  Men who are colleagues and continue to be so afterwards.  Men who are tutors, but just be sure to avoid them if they’ve had a drink.
//
One of the many reasons it can be difficult for women to speak out is our own ideas of what the p perfect victim is (dressed modestly, not drunk, not walking home late at night alone) and how we match up to it, but also of what the ‘perfect’ perpetrator should be like (a stranger, violent, and only extreme assault ‘counting’).
/
//
Over the next couple of days, I’ll be posting some poems around this theme.  The following poem is from a sequence I’m working on called ‘All The Men I Never Married’.
//
//
Things I didn’t know before writing this poem:
//
1) That something that happened to me when I was 17 had haunted me
2) That something almost happening can stay with you
3) That something happened
4) That my body did not let me down
5) That truth can be broken, and fragmented and this can make it more true
6) That I am both angry/not angry about it
//
One of the men in this poem, one of the boys  that this poem concerns sent me a Facebook friend request years later.  I accepted.  The act of doing this stirred up that near miss, that thing that almost but didn’t quite happen.  I wrote the poem. Afterwards,  I unfriended him without explanation.  The act of writing the poem helped me to realise what happened, what didn’t happen.
//
The idea of the ‘imperfect victim’ (drunk, at a party, wearing a skirt, going upstairs at a party, being alone, being alone with men, talking to men, being friends with a man) runs through this poem, as do ideas around imperfect perpetrators (a friend, a best friend, just having a laugh, boys will be boys, drunk).
//
What happens afterwards? After the near/almost/notquite incident? Or after the poem? What do women carry with them? What did I/do I carry with me? Writing about these incidents might be a way of finding out.  This poem is full of air, and space, and silence, and things not said, not thought. What happens to conceptions of assault and what it is when I put a poem around it?
//
This poem was published in the most recent issue of The Rialto, along with three more from the sequence ‘All The Men I Never Married’.    You can get a copy of the magazine from The Rialto website https://www.therialto.co.uk/pages/
rialto

All The Men I Never Married No.19

your dad handing out shots
////////////////bright green
/////////////////////////liquid sloshing
over the rim
//////////////onto my wrist
//////////////////////////steam on the windows
of the kitchen
////////////////and the living room
///////////////////////////////full of bodies
////////////////sitting in a circle
/////////////////////////////////your mother nowhere
get em down
/////////////you zulu warrior      
////////////////////////////get em down
you zulu chief chief chief
///////////////follows me
the singing
///////////////the dull thump of a bass
////////////////////////////////the staircase bending
and swaying
////////////////faraway bathroom
///////////////////////////////my hand on the bannister
to keep myself here
///////////////inside my body
///////////////////////////////inside this house
///////////////there’s darkness to my left
there you are///////////////////////////on a bed
//////////////in the dark
///////////////////////////////rolling a joint
////////////////////////////////////////////////hey babe you said
I liked/////////////////////that word on your lips
your friend
///////////////at the open window
//////////////////////////////letting smoke
slip out into the night
////////////////////////////////////////////////////it was good
to sit down
////////////////next to you
//////////////////////////////////////////////////////my bestfriend
first I was there
//////////////////////////////now I’m here
on the bed
////////////////on my back
//////////////////////////////////a naked woman
blu-tacked  and glossy///on the ceiling
/////////////////stares down at me from above
and the weight of you
/////////////////////////////////on top of me
and at first it’s funny
/////////////////as I try to get up
your knees////////////////////////////on my wrists
your hands///////////////////////////on my shoulders
that panic/////////////////////////////in my belly
I’ll remember it///////////////////as long as I live

your friend coming towards me
/////////////////////////////////his hand
on my breast
laughing///////////////////////////////both of you laughing

my knee    up   into your groin
////////you topple
/////////////////////like a small tree

and I’m up and out of the room
and into the night
where there are only stars
and the dark asks why
////////////////were you there in the dark
and the wind asks what
////////////////were you doing upstairs
and the moon asks why
////////////////were you wearing that skirt
but my body
////////////////my body asks nothing
just whispers
/////////////////////////////see
I did not let you down I did not
let you down I did not let you down