life, prosetry


I bought 10ft of artificial ivy once, off t’internet, for pennies, as part of the Poison Ivy costume I was making myself to wear at a Hallowe’en party. I didn’t go to the party in the end – I hung out with you that night instead.

The ivy remained coiled up in its plastic bag. I hung onto it though, certain I’d find another use for it, planning to make art of it, but it collected dust alongside all my other great ideas.

A year passed and I relocated. Having to declutter and still unable to find a use for the ivy at my new house, I binned it, scolding myself for wasting £2.89. Then I walked to your place and we watched University Challenge. You failed to answer a single question. You were catatonic. You barely said a word. You were not my dad, you were a skeleton bobbing in a sea of morphine. I hoped that you’d be better after some sleep. You always got better.

Three weeks later I was standing in front of your coffin. It was decorated with ivy vines, it was wrapped around the wicker handles, around the edges. I touched the leaves: it was real ivy.

I said to mother, “How much did that ivy cost us?” and she said £90. I laughed incredulously. “You do know the ivy’s going in the oven with him, right? You are quite literally burning our money!” She told me to stop being difficult. You would’ve been absolutely horrified to know she’d wasted £90 on ivy. (That’s £90 of booze we’d never get to drink at your wake!)

Then, as I kissed your casket goodbye for the last time, you said to me telepathically through the wicker lid, “Hey, where’s that artificial ivy you couldn’t find a use for?” and I realised that was your last bit of advice to me:

what we lack in finances we more than make up for in ideas, and what we lack in assets and material possessions we more than make up for in mind and soul, so stay creative, stay humble and keep on keeping on. And don’t let your mother make any more decisions.

poetry, prosetry


And in the fifty-four weeks
that I’ve somehow lived without you
I have discovered that,
while “I’ll be there for you” can mean something,
“I’ll be there with you” means everything.
(The former is a favour;
the latter is a life-saver).


Love, Or Whatever This Is

You call this “love” but I can’t.

Whatever this is feels like being wheeled into the operating room after years of waiting for surgery, where I’m not entirely convinced that this operation will work but I’m willing to try. It’s the final hope, the last resort after exhausting all other options and, though I am hesitant, I pray that I’ll feel different when I wake up, if I wake up. This feels like “Now, count backwards from 10 for me, slowly…”

Long before I met you a doctor told me that I’m rusting from the inside out. You can’t see my diseases: pretty on the outside, decaying on the inside. Eventually, the rust will reach the surface and you will understand why I disagree with you when you tell me that I’m beautiful. I know the devastation inside.

Last summer I received a letter informing me of a pioneering new treatment for rust-removal, a feat never before performed in its entirety but successful in parts. The surgery involved keeping me sedated, peeling back my skin and scraping out the rust, then patching me up with dissolvable stitches. It was going to be a very difficult, very painful, very time-consuming operation, with no guarantee of success. But the letter was full of optimism and hope, the hard facts and risks peppered with positivity and reassurance. Week by week I would be anaesthetised and parts of my inner workings would be revealed and cleaned, piece by piece. You are the doctor who wrote and signed this letter. You said you’d look after me, and while it would be a testing time you had faith that I would turn out brighter and better than ever before.

I’ve always been in possession of lots of unanswerable questions. (Maybe that’s why I turned out mad). One which I still cannot answer is this: is it better to feel everything or nothing at all? I’ve tried both, several times, and both ways of living simply aren’t quite right. Almost but not quite.

Whatever this is feels like you numbing me up, trying to fix me and putting me back together. When the bad parts of me present themselves, when you find the rust without even having to dig that far, when you merely scratch the surface and see the wreckage beneath, you anaesthetise me, douse me in vodka and scrape scrape scrape away. It hurts, it has always hurt. But you make it hurt less.

You keep me ticking over, alive but trying not to feel so much, with prescription drugs and drips and alcohol and class A, always keeping the edge off my pain so that I don’t crumble under its enormity.

When the rust under my skin starts to itch you keep me topped up with a steady supply of champagne, cocaine and comedy shows.

When the panic surges up from a source you thought you’d already numbed, you give me air. You make me breathe.

And when the anaesthetic on my heart wears off, when I remember the things I try so hard to forget, and the tears pool at my feet you quickly give me laughing gas. You are my steady, ever-reliable supply of nitrous oxide there to make me laugh through the tears, to make me cackle until I can’t remember what I was upset about in the first place.

But I can’t stay numb forever. Believe me, I enjoy it, I enjoy this and I try to make the most of this curious state of discomfort, of not being able to feel my legs or my face or my heart or my hands but knowing they exist, and I love the strange sensation of being there but not there. Would my life be easier if I never felt another feeling ever again? Or would the nothingness be the death of me?

One day this experiment of yours will be over. Perhaps you’ll dig too deep or you’ll unearth a level of decay which is simply more determined to stay with me than you are. Or perhaps the money will run out, or you’ll find a prettier, less challenging, more rewarding project to work on: another sad girl, another bad life.

Either way, when you leave, your faithful supply of numb-ers and uppers and laughter and vodka will leave with you. And once all of your magic tricks have worn off, the pain will hit me with a ferocity that’s impossible to anticipate. I will begin to self-anaesthetise but it won’t be the same. It’ll have an entirely opposite effect. The rust will grow through your handiwork and break the surface. My tears will only help the rust to spread, damage erupted over my skin like freckles born from darkness.

Love, or whatever this is, is anaesthesia. You are my favourite anaesthetic: they ought to bottle you and sell you in pharmacies. You can’t make me forget about the rust completely: I know that the rust is still inside me and it hurts, but you make it hurt a hell of a lot less.

We must enjoy these dreamlike days while we still have them. Keep on keepin’ numb. Because one day this, this anaesthesia, this love, whatever this is, will wear off and the pain will be unlike anything we’ve ever had the misfortune to experience before.

poetry, prosetry, Uncategorized

Empied of harm

Passion, you may feel it in obvious ways

How he leans in with his enveloping strength

Or, in the thunder of your chest, riding imaginary horses with your best friend

Forgetful of arithmetic and teachers who felt you’d end your days in borstel, because you did like running rings around them, didn’t you?

Regretting those petty rebellions later

Then in the crisp light and imagined stampede

Thrashing to the furthest point in your mind, bathed in fantasy

A place hard to reach, even splayed on cold Mexican tile, pretending your hand was his

Even, swimming underwater, until your lungs burned to surface

It was as if, once you grow up, the way back becomes harder

Like a secret language, only known to children, daunting you with reminder

The tree house of your neighbor, as you take the prescribed walk, your cardiologist insisted upon

The first rain lillies urging through Texan soil against all odds, their impossible fragility, an exquisite reprieve from cracked earth

Have you gone so far child? As to forget the combination? 

Here, where verbena and lemon grass, pummel air with magic 

Here, where you didn’t need anything, but the cupping of your hands, wonderment running through water, like you were born again and again, empied of harm 

Full of the vigor, of not knowing, the beaten path, to adulthood


Killing Time

In the hospital there is a shop. It sells newspapers and sandwiches and biscuits and cans of liquid sugar and tissues and balloons that say IT’S A BOY. Just outside of this shop there is a crate of books. There is no real literature in this crate. Just books that are easy to read, books that help you to kill time, books that probably aren’t going to change your life in any way. Some are 50p and some are £1. This isn’t much money to spend on temporary escapism. I always look at the books but never buy one. I only read soul-shattering books. I enjoy trying to put my soul back together afterwards. I looked at the books and wondered how many of them I’d actually bought.

When my father died I got all of his good books, his ‘proper’ books. The hundreds of crime/thriller novels he had amassed over a 20 year career in Time Killing were no use to me. I used to work in the Crime and Thrillers department of a top publishing house. I’ve read enough dreadful manuscripts with flimsy plots and ridiculous twists to last a lifetime. But they are perfect books to waste time on. So I donated them to this hospital and to a day-centre for homeless people. When I was a frequenter of that day-centre I remember being sad that there were no books. If anyone needs escapism, it’s people on the streets. And if anyone needs to kill time, it’s people surrounded by death and disease, waiting to receive their own slice of bad news.

So I’m looking at this crate. I spotted a few titles that I reckoned were my dad’s. I ordered a lot of them off the internet for him. He loved the idea of paying 1p for a book. I never told him about the £2.80 delivery charge. He always paid me the penny he owed me for the book. Even though that man owed me nothing. There was a Simon Kernick that I was sure was my dad’s. Its pages smelled like cigarette smoke. There were some James Pattersons and Lee Childs. I didn’t want to look at the books anymore. I went upstairs for my appointment with the neurologist. It was an appointment I had waited 3 years, 4 weeks and 3 days for.

I didn’t know that the neurology department is right opposite the ward where my father died. I did not like being there again. I paced around and around and around. An elderly woman stared at me suspiciously. “My dad died in there,” I said to her, pointing at the door. “Oh,” she said, walking around me. A man with a laundry trolley came towards me. “My dad died in there,” I said to him, “right through there. He died.” He said, “I’m so very sorry to hear that, my girl,” and went on his way. I told every person that walked along that corridor, “My dad died in there.” Anyone who’d listen. Anyone who wouldn’t listen. Some mumbled things, some expressed condolences, some looked frightened, some ignored me altogether. I just had to tell them. I don’t know why, but it was essential.

I punched the wall outside the neurology department and caught my little finger on the edge of a wooden frame. The frame fractured and I got a splinter caught in my skin, right on the joint. In the waiting room, a man was reading a crime novel. I didn’t read a crime novel. I picked at the splinter on my finger. I kept clawing until my name was called, long after the splinter had come out. The neurologist told me that my brain is broken and my nerves are shot. I told him that I already know that. I waited 3 years to find out something I already knew. And in all that time that I spent waiting for a letter, a referral, an appointment, an MRI, a CAT scan, a thousand blood tests, in all that time I didn’t read a single crime novel.

I went outside for a cigarette. On my way back in I looked at the books. There was a book called Private Vegas, part of the ‘Private’ series by James Patterson. I remembered ordering 8 books of the ‘Private’ series off the internet for my father. He paid me 8p. I picked up Private Vegas. It was well read. I had bought it for him second-hand. I opened the book and tucked in the back page was my receipt from the Book Depository. I put the book back in the crate.

I went downstairs for my blood test. The receptionist was reading Stuart MacBride. I introduced my father to MacBride when I worked at the publishers. He was always chuffed to bits when I’d bring early proofs or publicity copies of the latest thrillers home to him. He was so proud of me. Living the dream. Living the nightmare. The phlebotomist gauzed up the hole I’d dug in my little finger.

As I was leaving the hospital I walked past the crate of books again. Private Vegas was gone. Sold to another stranger killing time. That’s all life is, though, isn’t it? Killing time. We are all just killing time.


What’s Yours Is Mine

I’m on the Northern line reading Angela Carter. This book used to be yours; I remember the strange cover. You lent me this book years ago in exchange for my copy of The Bloody Chamber. Now I have all of your books. They live alongside mine in shaky stacks, perilously piled around my flat, propping doors open and lining windowsills.

I am so impressed by Carter’s writing, as I always am, that I stop reading and take my phone out of my handbag to send you a particular sentence of hers that I know you would love and to express how gutted I am that she’d died when she still had so many words left in her. Then I remember that you’re dead too and put my phone away.

I am trying not to make a habit of crying on public transport so I turn the page over to the next story and find a flattened Rizla packet wedged into the spine. On the packet, in your handwriting, is a note reminding you to remind me about an upcoming reading of Joyce’s Ulysses on BBC Radio 4. The title of the story where I find this note is ‘The Executioner’s Beautiful Daughter.’ I wonder if this is coincidental and I miss you more than ever.

I always feel especially close to you when I’m reading your books. I like the fidelity of my thumb pausing in the same spot where your thumb once rested while you absorbed the page, how your thumbprints on the cover or bottom right corner are slowly being replaced by mine, smaller but nonetheless comfortable.

I remember exactly how you’d read, how you turned the pages, how you used your finger to guide you down the lines, how you would straighten the book out on the table when you stopped to roll a cigarette, putting it perfectly in its place until the next devouring.

I like the idea of my brain ingesting these words in the same order that you did, of my heart processing all of the unwritten words and underlying slivers of brilliance that exist between the lines just like yours did. I cannot live the stories of your life just as you could not live mine, but we could live the tales told by master storytellers together.

I also like the things that I find inside your books, and I’ve found allsorts. Some of your books were gifted to you by girlfriends past, and sometimes they had written an adoring note to you inside the front cover. (We personally believe writing in books to be a sin but I suppose these decades-old sentiments have survived longer than you have).

I’ve found plenty of bookmarks: a beer mat lodged at page 341 of The Glass Bead Game, a shopping list hiding in between pages 226 and 227 of One Hundred Years Of Solitude, an appointment card to see your vascular consultant lurking towards the end of The Master and Margarita. Scraps of newspaper, napkins and cigarette papers hibernating in many more.

We don’t believe in dog-earing books and you would scold others when they borrowed a book from you and returned it with folded corners. I found a couple of “real” bookmarks, one made of leather with your initials on it and a metal one in a Celtic cross design. I like the beer mats more.

You’ve given me tens of thousands of pages, all smoke-stained to a degree. In fact, I can work out when you first procured a book based on the level of smoke-staining. Your books from the 60s and 70s are tar brown and smell like stale incense and damp fireplaces. Your books from the 80s and 90s are entirely yellowed, the edges of the pages are darker than mustard. Your books from this century are less ‘smoked’ but all smell like Golden Virginia tobacco, a smell that will always remind me of you for as long or short as I live.

I also like looking at the prices of books and how they’ve increased over the decades. Some of your books are priced as costing a florin (two-bob), four and thruppence, and 4/6, all shillings and half-crowns and other ancient values. Then there are the books costing 25p, 40p, 60p, 75p: classic novels that would now cost me around £8 paperback in Waterstones. And the prices go up from there.

Your books present all kinds of other matter, too: cigarette ash, sand, the odd blade of grass, a flattened bug, biscuit crumbs, sticky tea rings on the back cover, strands of your silver hair caught in the spine, a smudge of blood from a paper-cut, train tickets, a pressed flower, general grit from your manual labour days, splashes of paint where you’d been reading on your lunch break, post-it notes, business cards, phone numbers written on the back of receipts, prescriptions, an unwritten postcard from Milan, a cartoon strip cut out of a newspaper, a £50 note… last week when I opened up The Rebel I found a couple of tiny rocks of hash stuck in the valley between pages 14 and 15.

It was decided about 15 years ago, when you first faced death, that I would get all of your books and my brother would get all of your music. I am lucky and grateful to have all of your books. You didn’t start reading serious literature until your late 20s/early 30s, and I am so glad you instilled a love of literature in me from day one.

And I am really enjoying making my way through your books, your favourites, page by page, word by word, and finding odd little notes from you. Like in The Snow Goose, you wrote (against your own rules) on the title page, “To my darling girl, A book as precious as you are. Oodles of love, Dad.” You wrote that in 2002. I just found it a few weeks ago.

These books were yours, you held them in your hands, you learnt from them, you formed opinions from them, you had your own ideas from them, these books informed your personality, your thoughts, your attitudes, these books inspired your own writing, your own poetry and art, determined how you treat yourself and all human beings, enabled you to grow and improve and teach others. Now these books are mine, and through these books you are giving me the opportunity to become great, just as you were great.

You are still here with me. You still exist every day: through your words, through my words, and through the words of all of these incredible authors who continue to teach me even though you no longer can.

You were gifted a collection of Emerson essays in 1978 by a girlfriend, we will call her H. I just found this smoke-stained note inside it, handwritten in blue biro, saying, “Don’t think anything of me giving you this book, but DO read it, right? (You know it’s very inexpensive to sit in the garden and quietly read a book– you can even afford an occasional ‘special’ cigarette, for example).” This little note perfectly captures you as a reader, and is how I will always remember you.

[Featured image source here]

Lost though glimpsed

If I had the power

I might do no more than this

sitting watching dust captured by light

as drowsy it drifts

or I may

do far more

dependant upon the hour of birth

runic stones thrown

alignment of planets

decisions ours and not our own

would it make sense to you?

that I found your burning sage madness truth?

only pausing when I could not follow the maze

for my pocked arms were ablaze

holding no feathers

if I had the power

I would ask you subsume the hour last

you felt a need to reveal and trust

and becoming green-tipped bird

I’d fly you into the mouth of your past

and becoming shivering fire bird

I’d conquer the elements of volition

causing you to shrug me off

as unwanted skin without use

I am slower than your torturer and you

If I had the power

though I have no way of encouraging magic

not even a fistful of lightning to raise our sum

stamping like forsaken giants roar

declaring; no you shall not

claim us

I am

too old by days and hours

by too many stared-at empty houses

with boarded windows rubbed dark

nobody is home to light the way

for either of us

don’t you see that’s why I always strained to hear?

my ear to the flat of your prison and mine

flaying xylophone chords with missing fingers

If you’d sat next to me when no-one looked we’d have merged into one


taken out of ourselves and the backward clock

a poison for some, is a cure for us

If I had the fusion

to dwell in your rage directed my way

I’d walk through maelstrom seeking reverse of fate

where, by watchful limb

we sit shoeless

wringing our bruised legs over yawning edge

one, two, three

let go of holding hands

If I had the power not to be me

and you had the power not to be you

both of us damaged and saved at differing points in history

overlapping star travelers

burning up the universe to reach through

this hijacked soul

lost though glimpsed

in warm breath on

cold step