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“you’ve really been through the wars,
haven’t you, darling?”
you ask, as your thumb grazes the bruise
on my cheek, and then the split
in my lip
i had spat out blood in your bathroom sink
a little while earlier and you’d gotten me water
you tilt my head up and i look anywhere but your eyes
like i don’t want this to be a confessional,
not right now
i think maybe i drowned a little and it’s still in my lungs
i can feel it in the back of my throat
like it might just crawl out of me
ocean salt and so much plastic
i think this would be easier if you didn’t care, don’t you?
i know you’re staring and you’re waiting for an answer
(let me tell you, i’m waiting for one too)
there’s nothing beautiful about this and i’m sorry
there’s supposed to be a certain prettiness to broken pieces
like when we were kids and we’d find bits of pottery in churned up fields, you know?
now it’s 3am and i’m here because that’s where you are
and i know that’s not a good enough reason
i’m sorry, baby, i really am
i taste of metal and i breathe you in
you’re the only real thing at the end of this world
i’m thinking about all the people i haven’t been tonight
so when i kiss you, it’s nothing personal
it’s just a careful annihilation
and your hand’s in my hair,
and you hold on
because i suppose one of us has to.

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i think about war poets a lot
in the midst of everything –
the worst of worst times
men took the time to write
and i think, goddamn
isn’t that what we’ve always done?
littered with shrapnel and stepping over spent shells
don’t we return back to the one unerring need to tell?
spill it out until there’s nothing left but ashes
this is inside my head, is it inside yours too?
do you see it how i see it?
when there is nothing else we can do but speak
and pray for understanding when there’s nothing else left to pray for
and he died two years after writing this, they say
or he died three weeks before the end of the war
okay, i don’t know how to cope with that
nearlys and almosts and the cost of it all
creating beauty when the ground was sodden with blood and the air was rich with smoke
the fact that the phrase ‘war poet’ is beautiful even standing by itself
we are children, aren’t we? all of us?
and we’re screaming because we don’t know what else to do except that it hurts
it hurts to scream but it hurts more to stop
i think about war poets a lot
would you have liked me before my war
or do you only like the shape of me because of it?
am i a bomb site you like to visit?
is this a battle is this a battle is this a battle
so yeah, i think about war poets a lot

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I was reading, and a character said “you think you don’t deserve to be told that you’re good”, and I thought, oh. And this was a story that I’d been struggling to read, because it was hitting every sore spot and rubbing at every bruise with bony knuckles, and I was just trying to get through it. Catharsis, right? We read tragedy because we want to take the big breath in at the end with the characters and finally come up for air. My friend, she told me, read this, it’s the best, it’s the best there is. And damn, yeah, but –


I think I stood on stage and then the crowd applauded and I was surprised. I don’t know what to do with that.


I think, sometimes, I exist to write it all down. Sometimes I dress it up and let other voices say it, sometimes I let metaphors talk around it, sometimes I take a knife to my stomach and spill my guts and whatever happens, happens.


Applause.


I always thought it was weird, right, that when people find out they’re dying, they don’t immediately reach for a pen and paper and start scribbling down everything they’ve ever learnt, everything they know, and everything they want to know. I don’t understand why they don’t have that urge. It’s bone deep in me, baby, and it always has been. I think it’s weird that my dad hasn’t picked up his guitar for a year when it’s defined his whole life. I can’t imagine not being achingly passionate about something, even when you hate it.


Applause.


Six AM, migraine, and typing away on my phone, each key tap vibrating against the mattress, and I’m telling another story. These are the best ones, the ones people call poetic, because they’re borne of hurt and because they’re blunt and Hemingway-esque and people say ‘write more of this!’.


Applause.


I’m trying, darling, to wrap this world in a bow and give it to you. You know how they cut Osiris up into pieces and scattered him across Egypt? I think about that, and how maybe that’s what I’m doing to myself. Here’s a piece of me, here’s another piece, keep digging and you might find all of me, and if you put me back together, then well, you might just found a whole new kingdom.


I’m tired, you’re tired, the whole world’s tired and running on fumes. I can’t string a sentence together. But goddammit, I need to leave something beautiful behind. Dust away the sand and bone, love, and remember me. Even as I stand on the stage in front of you, remember me.


Applause.

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my dad asked about you the other day, just said, hey, you spoken lately? and i said no, of course not, and i wondered how he missed how i’d listed sideways through most of january, adjusting to the new weight of myself. and he said oh, did you fall out? and i wondered what we could have possibly fallen out of, what was there that wasn’t built on spit and glue already? and i said yes, we’d fallen out, that’s what it was, baby bird meets hard ground, breaks on the concrete and that wing’s never going to look the same again. and he said that’s a shame, and i thought, it was always a shame, wasn’t it though? and my phone backs up all my photos whether i want it to or not, so i scroll past december like driving past a car crash, the bone is sticking out and it’s making me dizzy, okay? and i finished my breakfast and i thought, god, it’s nearly been a year. how do i mark the anniversary? do i leave flowers on a patch of earth that could be yours? no, too melodramatic by far. easier to breathe through the pain and the way i still sometimes think of your name. and then i thought about how i have blackcurrant and clove and the smell sticks to me until i can’t find anything else underneath it, and how i’m okay with that. i wasn’t expecting a clean amputation. i know as well as anyone can, how a scar can itch for years after it’s been torn open.

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https://youtu.be/XbFOY6hTA_c


i keep pretending to be taller
back straight against the world
as though i don’t still slide up worktops
and tiptoe in bookshops
reaching like a child in too big shoes.

i keep pretending to be older
like the lines beside my eyes make me wiser
blue turned grey by the milk that i drink
it builds up inside you and turns you hazy
i’m supposed to know, aren’t i?
the names of flowers when they call on me.

i keep pretending to be braver
stubborn mouth and heart beat chest
kiss you with a smile that doesn’t meet your eyes
step back and it’s like i’ve walked over my own grave
i’m a ghost, seethrough sharp and bones echo deep
i think i died before i met you.

i keep pretending to be loved
isn’t that sad?
i think if i could hear you singing in the shower
the soft snuffle of your breathing against pillowcases
i think, oh, wouldn’t that be lovely
to be a part of a two-parted thing, an us, love from you and me.

i keep pretending i know the words,
an actor forced on stage last minute still half-dressed in yesterday’s clothes
voice wavers and flickers out like a candle
as you breathe across the room
there’s a delay, blossom breaks and i crumble
teach me to weave so that i may warm my heart
i thought if i learned how to dance i could bend for you
i’ll land with bare feet –
the patron saint of bad luck
i have a ticket – a train ticket home.

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This body went to war and came back changed
This body is scarred now and this body heaves with the weight of what it has lost and what it has gained
This body is small and bird boned but it is full of rage too
This body is shrapnel and sharp edges and you don’t get to decide who smooths them down
This body is a mirrored reflection, and oh by god, it lies
This body is a half finished thing and I cannot pretend to know what it’ll be in ten years time
This body is what is left of discarded pieces of marble
This body is an afterthought, an almost, a not quite thing
This body is, quite reluctantly, a home
This body has many chapters
This body is a breathing, living beast and beyond that I cannot say
This body is, and is, and is, and I could swallow my tongue to quell the uncertainty in my throat
And yet this body walks and talks and sings and loves
So maybe there is promise in that
Maybe it is still good.

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‘dandelion’s song’ is an idea I had when I couldn’t sleep, and decided to write and record as part of a quarantine music project I’ve called The Bardling Project. I can’t play guitar or sing, but sometimes you don’t need to be good at something to still use it creatively.

LYRICS:

they say be brave,
but don’t shout
no-one wants to know about
all the reasons why your
heart skips a beat

and they say hey, can’t you tell
you’re not looking too well
and it’s all very well
feeling green

i say oh i’m all right
i’m just breathing in the sight
of your hair in your eyes
like a prayer

maybe i’m just dreaming but it feels
like i’m meaning
to kiss you like you deserve
to be kissed

and maybe i’ll be screaming in the night
when words lose meaning
and maybe one day we’ll be missed

they say hush like a child,
words will come,
don’t be wild
you’re a wolf and your eyes
shine like gold

and they say hey, it’s not fair
how the colour of your hair
matches blindness in the air
how could you go anywhere
without me?

i say oh i’m all right
i’m just breathing in the sight
of the monsters that you
rend from the earth

i’ll tell you all my stories
days of old, days of glories
my heart will beat just for you

they say darling don’t be scared
there’s magic in the wind
you’re a chaos of a thing

dandelions grow in the cracks

– you’re good at that
be yellow like the sun
and i’ll watch you make them proud

screaming out loud
oh you’re screaming out loud
just keep screaming out loud
just keep screaming out loud –

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Oh these words don’t come so simple
When you’ve kept them locked away
And these bones are far too brittle
To lead you to astray

I tried to make you bleed
But I couldn’t make a fist
I tried to make you whimper
But we’ve never even kissed

This heart’s as easy to the beat
As it ever was
See you drowning in the heat
Of salt water clean us off

Kids we cried
We’re kids is all
Not old but bold and graceful yet
We’re kids we cried
Just kids not yet
Not ready for the bow
Yet crow’s feet tell a different tale
Like milk you’ve left us out

If you want words
I know them all
I’ll pour them out for you

Yet dreams we crash against the cliff
Darling one and you?

Kids we cried
We’re kids is all
Etc

I can love the bones of you
With luck that’s all that’s left
So eke the marrow out from me
The rot has set in quick

Yesterday could be someone
We’re not someone today
We tried our hardest
Made them laugh
Made them cry along the way

Kids we cried
We’re kids is all
Etc

Kids we cried
That’s all we’ll be
Til there’s nothing left at all
Never did grow up all the way
Sorry that’s my fault

Really rough phone recording of ideas, if you want to hear me talking to myself.
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So now you’ve peaked at thirty
And nobody’s here to save you
So you shove down bile
Like cheap whiskey
The burn in your throat
Asks if you’re still thirsty?

Like maybe there could be more than this
Like maybe you could breathe
Like maybe you’re not just wasted air
Between one blink and the grave

So now your bones are curving inwards
And your body shakes at night
Salt sweat brow on pillow case
Are these dreams sweet dreams
What you thought they would be?

So now you’re damned and empty yet
Howling wind in hollow frame
Do these screams belong to you?
Or is it just a noise you make
To keep your insides from spilling out

So now you’re older than you ever meant to be
You promised yourself a morphine drip
Six years gone and you’re still here
So now, so now, so now, you cry
So what? They say, times have changed
Leave your face in the mirror
And forget about shoes
Go outside in barefeet what’s there to lose?
This place is a prison, you’ll say it again
Yet you built it yourself you chose the fucking bars
So tell me again about what you think you deserve
And I’ll drive the white horses acting as hearse
Climb in, climb in, last call, let’s go
But dammit you’re not done but guess your number’s up
Tell a joke, it’s gallows humour and nobody laughs
Any last words for the audience due to applaud?
No. I didn’t think so. Call this your remorse.

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I have this dream – clean white sheets and the sun streaming in – dust motes in the air, getting caught in the rays – and it’s morning – it’s morning and I’ve been awake a little while – still drowsy but there’s nowhere to be so it’s okay – maybe it’s a weekend or maybe we made it – we don’t have to get up because our lives don’t depend on nine til five – I don’t know. But our hands – my left and your right – we’ve got them – I don’t know how to say it, sort of raised in the air between us, and it’s like a sense memory – none of this ever happened – but I can feel what it was like to push your fingers down and play with them – sliding my fingers between them like they were meant to be there – finding the tiny webs between them and being in awe of how delicate it all is – and how I wanted to bite at your knuckles because I was so in love that I wanted to hurt – like when you see something so beautiful you want to destroy it? And I dragged my nails down your wrist, gently, not even leaving marks, tracing the veins there and you were so breakable like maybe your bones were hollow and your skin shone in the morning light like maybe you were something otherworldly and you were, to me. And I remember thinking how lucky I was to have this. Like amber solidifying. This one moment. And it never happened. But God, it’s in my head and I can picture and feel every goddamn second of it, and if that isn’t the worst goddamn thing you ever heard –