Noodles by Sunflowers

The girl on the next bench has been on the phone
since I got here, boyfriend staring at their joined hands.

I eat a mouthful. Another. Another. Look up.
The boyfriend is on my bench holding his phone

at an angle which makes me think he might
be taking pictures of me over his shoulder

because I am a fat woman eating in public
and this sometimes happens

especially if I am eating fast food
like this. Girl is still on the phone. Not watching.

I could stop but I’m hungry.
Tense mouthful. Tense mouthful.

I look at his screen. He has taken
photos but they are of the flowerbed.

He sees my look, turns and says hello, brightly
orthodontic. His grin is so un-London

that I tractor beam startle a return hullo
before I’ve done any risk assessment.

He says, she been on the phone too long.
I get bored easy.
I say, ah. He nods like this

makes a sensible unit of conversation and goes
to photograph the flowerbed more closely.

I eat.
Girl alternates laughing in French into her phone

with laughing in American at him.
I throw my containers neat and empty away.

He sits by her. She grabs his neck and yanks
his head under her chin. I walk off.

Unexpected Resonance

Always these dresses. The give of a voice
which sounds like it has never needed
to hurry. You say darlin like my aunt
says darlin, a cheat code for safety.
This is frustrating; you aren’t
particularly safe to be around.
If you had to guess which
adjectives I’d apply to you
I doubt ‘safe’
would touch
the top 50.

The Shema is So Catchy the First Two Lines Often Loop in my Head

i
Dad said it was not a deliberate act
that the belief system I grew up with
went something like, OK, so, Anna,

while you know this is bollocks,
and I know this is bollocks,
and Rabbi [Redacted] knows

we both know this is bollocks,
and on some level or another
Rabbi [Redacted] may or may not also know

this is bollocks, none of these facts
may be discussed in front
of Rabbi [Redacted], but nevertheless.

ii
Dad said I was allowed to quit cheder
as long as I was the one to explain myself
to Rabbi [Redacted].

Rabbi [Redacted] immediately went on sabbatical,
delaying the lesson I think I was meant to learn
about accountability

and giving me six gratis months
of no Sundays with that bloody woman
whose name and face I have forgotten

but whose voice I remember
telling us the occupation was legit 
because we’ve already lost so much (and me thinking, 
                                                            you only converted 
                                                            when you got married,
                                                            what exactly have you lost 
                                                            as part of this ‘we,’ please?)

so that when Rabbi [Redacted] got back
and phoned Dad to ask why I had quit
and Dad sent him my way for an explanation

I was fully committed to my new life of leisure.
I said, I’m sorry, I can’t come back,
we visit my Nana on Sundays now.

I think probably Rabbi [Redacted] knew
that we’d been visiting my Nana after cheder
just fine for years, but nevertheless.

iii
Dad said as he parked the car one day thirteen years later
that he’d been embarrassed that I’d lied
to Rabbi [Redacted], which surprised me.

I was, like, what on earth
did you expect me to do?

and he was, like, it didn’t occur to me that you’d lie.

And I was, like, it didn’t occur to me
that you’d think
I’d tell the truth.

An eleven year old can’t say ‘I’m an atheist who would like
to double her weekly capacity for lie-ins’
to a Rabbi, how was he gonna come back from that?

As I said this I felt a lot like my mother’s daughter.
And Dad was, like, that was the point at which I realised
how much you were your mother’s daughter

and I was, like, EXACTLY and Dad laughed.
I often joke that I’m essentially Dad
with a wig on, but nevertheless.

Lullaby for the Struggling

It’s empty to wish you sweet dreams.
Your brain finds a playground crumbling,
the potholes enough to break your ankles.
It’s hard to watch your step
when you’re chased in your sleep.

But I can wish you a hot drink
before bed. Or better, I can
make you one. I don’t know how
you fuck up camomile tea, but
this one thing I can save you from.

I can cross my fingers in the morning
that I’ll find the kettle cold and empty.
That today I’ll wake you up. That last
night you shook off the first nightmare.
Then the second. And then the third.

That you did your progressive muscle
relaxation woo-woo shit and each time
went back to snatch some rest. That you
are not too surprised to wake up and find
your ankles still in full working order.

I Can’t Take my Possessed Fox Tattoo Anywhere

For the purposes of this poem please assume my tattoos have been possessed by a trickster god.

The woman in front of me gestures
at her pram – do you mind if I? I wave
her off and she hurries out of the queue.
I assume the pram is for the toddler
holding hands with the man in front of her.
(Little stab of anger that he can’t keep an eye

on his own kid’s pram.) Three things happen:
1) the woman in front of the man
deposits a much smaller child
on his shoulder 2) the pram squawks
3) I realise I have parsed this queue
entirely incorrectly and as a result

I have been left in charge of a baby
of indeterminate age. I contemplate swearing
but it might hear me. The man moves
his family forwards, chattering to the toddler
now in his partner’s arms. The gap
between them and the pram is awkward.

I nudge the pram. It squawks again.
It sounds angrier. I try to work out an appropriate
reaction to this situation. Tattoo flashes
under the seat. I say, the fuck? He says, shh,
my darling, Mama’s coming, she’s had
to go the long way round because some klutz

knocked over a roller but she’s coming, shh now.
I say, what if someone sees you?
He says, nobody sees me if I don’t want.
I can hear two crybabies but one of them
is old enough to drink, shh now my sweet,
enough crying, how about – his tail flicks up

in front of the pram. A pair of fat mini-hands
grab at it. The pram giggles. There we go.
And here’s Mama. The woman arrives
holding three boxes of tampons
and a pineapple. She thanks me, doesn’t notice
Tattoo running through her legs back onto my skin.

That night I say, that kid – if we live here
long enough, do you think one day I’ll walk past
this big strapping teenager and, like,
they won’t know and I won’t know, right,
but I’ll have been responsible for five minutes
of their safety in a Lidl once?

Tattoo says, I’d know.
Well, would you tell me?
No.
Well then.

It’s Hardly Polite Company If We’re In It

I see your careful not-laugh. Dirty joke.
Go on, gorgeous. 
                Show some tooth.
                I love the animal of your smile
little bit of lip-corner could-be-blood
little bit of how mild our friends think you are.
I know better, I know/you better
                 give a little/bit of mild up
or I’ll push for a belly/laugh/snarl
                                  lip-blood-animal
how mild would our friends think you?
                Give a little. Show me
                gorgeous/go on.

Sertraline

He’s trusting in a paper twist of hope:
a bio-reassurance, GP-backed.
The Jack Daniels on the shelf is still unopened.
He eyes the bottle, weighs up its impact.
His sister comes back with his filled prescription.
She waves the box. She’s haloed, heaven-sent
to try his natural sibling resistance.
She fixes orange squash. Now, penitence:
her eyes on him, he gulps the new arrivals,
anticipates resumption of survival.