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?
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
how mild would our friends think you?
                Give a little. Show me
                gorgeous/go on.


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.


Weeds are the last plants to parch, the most
determined to find moisture in the grit.

My young man with his shined shoes, he grows weed
grit steady up the side of everything, a creeper

creature finding holds and bedding in. Tobacco-grit
weed-gravel he and I too close

grit skeletons and share water. I don’t want
to garden; it’s too hot for weeds.

Unactioned Emails, Solid Plans

I stop shaving my legs: not feminism
but a jettison of the energy drain. Thank God
my brightly coloured dresses peacock for me.
I run for the toilet at every opportunity, certain
my bladder will rupture. I press tumour-hunter
fingers to my belly but there is only fat,
just as there is only ever dust in the nit comb.
My manager looks at my hands when he says,
last week you looked like you might’ve been doing
better. In team meetings we pretend that I am not
mining deep, miming the full force of my personality.
The unactioned emails in my inbox keep changing.
I’ve produced plans for a project it looks like someone
else will have to complete. They are solid plans.
I don’t remember writing them.
                               Sick leave should be
better than losing the job if not better than keeping it.
In the first weeks my face salt-cracks with every smile.
I sit in the park by the doctors and suncream my neck
and poke at should-have-tried-harders. Forgiveness
is an ongoing project and recovery seeps through
in impatient increments. This weekend I have not kept
myself awake because I might
at some point in the night
need the loo.

Proud and Unsure

Sorting Between Complicity and Tact

Remember how a week after Sadiq Khan 
      broke his fast onstage 
      during a mayoral debate 
you were on a bus trying 
      to explain to a friend why this had made you cry 
and your friend kept saying but you’re not 
      even Muslim 
and you tried to bear in mind that she is not 
      from a culture where food means trust 
      or turns a table into a family which extends to strangers
and you could have told her as I understand it iftar is not only a matter 
      of putting fuel into a body - he was eating with all of us 
and you could have told her he was making family
      from the audience and trusting it would not lose him 
      voters whose support would have been 
      unthinkable a generation ago
and you could have told her you don’t have to love 
      his policies to love that he has a chance at this, 
      that he is not unthinkable 
and you could have told her he looked like hope
      for loved ones exhausted 
      by all the ways they are still unthinkable
and maybe you could even have told her I can hear 
      the undertone of ‘don’t your lot hate his lot?’ 
      in your voice
      and I like you a lot less than I did five minutes ago
but this would have been a nuclear option so 
      you said, the UKIP guy was so narked, 
      it was beautiful 
and she laughed 
and you changed the subject?