1. Twenty seven days. Feverish, I ask the doctor why. He looks at my notes, yellow folder telling him nothing and everything.

It will pass, he says.

Everything passes.

Take paracetamol, he says.

Universal panacea. Won’t it harm the baby?

It’s your first, you’re bound to be anxious.

  1. Anxiety knows no bounds as I lie there and sweat.

Do you feel the first lump, or do I?

It’s just your glands. You must be fighting off an infection.

Late night screen glows with possible diagnoses, cancer never far from mind.

My stomach grows, skin stretched taut, and I daren’t ask.

We … just … need … the … months … to  … pass.

And one day the lumps have gone anyway and I don’t think again, awash in breastfeeding.

Anti-apoptotically, your host cells persist and replicate.

Pro-apoptosis effector proteins, are disrupted,

Conformational change,

Proteins stymied.

The host will eat itself,

T.gondii triumphant.

  1. It’s amazing how quickly time passes with one young child, then a second.
  1. The first trace is a splash of yellow, bordered with black on the glowing red-orange of the back of his eye. Technology is marvellous, the doctor says as she shows me on the screen.

Can you cut it out, I ask.

It’s been there for years. He has two eyes. If you hadn’t had his eyes examined he might never have noticed.

Perhaps we should have remained ignorant. We were never meant to see the inside of our eyes.

  1. Is it obvious to everyone else? Omniscience is inhuman. Who knows?

I didn’t. And if I had known what could I have done?

I’m up late on the internet again.

Raw meat, soiled fruit, catshit? Nausea comes, years too late.

  1. Late nights are typical of teens, I read. In fact, it’s against nature to wake them early.

Let them sleep.

It’s normal for boys to become uncommunicative.

Of course it is.

It’s not normal to see things, hear things, that no-one else can perceive.

By then it’s too late.

Knife descends, repeat, and I wish I could have cut it out years ago.

Origin of self FINAL EDIT

A clap of wings startles me. The seagulls circle, then go back to the cliffs. I continue down the beach. My pelvis adjusts as pebbles shift and roll. My hips rise and fall, impressions on my feet. Stone-pain seizes my focus.

At the edge I hesitate, can’t do it again. A moment, you’re always too cold, but still I throw myself into you. Draw heat from me, I want to fill your lack. Always my gift dissipates too fast. You’re implacable: I’m bereft.

I kick off again, release, float, push against you, pull through you, surge, immerse. And beneath you, I’m gone. Moment in green. Perfect vision, until everything blurs, clears, blurs, salt filled eyes, mouth, ears.

Too much, I sink, stop, stand, relief in stone-made pain. I gasp. I’m not you, still within my depth. Still I ask, ‘Draw me out, write your name on me, gouge it in my skin’. I should stay, there’s safety at this edge, but I release the rock. Be in me, fill me, take me over. For a second I surface, breathe, submerge again. I’m in you, of you, and you enter me, every hole: every cell of mine takes you in, and my feet feel sea, just sea.

And it’s never enough.

Afterwards, I lie where the waves pour over me, in and out. A little way up the beach a dog’s nails scratch over stones, sharp against the hush of the waves. The seagulls circle again, screeches breaking the silence of the seas. [1]

Slowly, this time, so slowly. I descend. Spasm, contract, breathe, forced slow exhale, then down again. Painful pause, I crumple at your edge, inhale. Your waves reach out. At bursting point, I crawl until I’m in you, then I lighten. I need you as my body spasms, ice cold some relief. Contract.  Half standing, half floating for a moment, stones scrape my knees as I fall again. I scream, exhale, pant, breath subsides.

Hips widen, pelvis shifts, I open, push down, face full of salt, womb screaming, I give you more of me, all of me. I submerge, flow into you, expel it, release with one last surge …

It’s only instinct makes me hold him, warm against me, no breath yet, until we surface, dual gasps, both scream, bereft.

[1] Royle, After Derrida p56.

Perfect (FIRST EDIT)

It’s perfect, she says, as she stands outside, keys in hand. The house has classic proportions, a pillar either side of the front door, well groomed box trees, a semi-circular drive. It is perfect, or very nearly perfect, she thinks as she notices the leaves on the lawn, swirling in the first autumn winds. She walks closer, raises her hand to insert the key. The door is perfect, anyway, a matt grey finish, framed in white, exactly as she’d specified. No chips. No scratches. She looks at the edge of the brushed chrome lock more closely.  She can see a scratch where someone else has put their key in, a clumsy, hurried builder perhaps. That can go on the snagging list that extends to three pages. Inside the rectangular hall, the smell of new paint reassures her. She is careful to wipe her feet, it would be a shame to get dirt on the ethically sourced coir mat, but more of a shame to damage the perfect lines of the oak floor. She slips off her shoes and pushes one French-manicured finger against the shoe rack door. That fits perfectly, works perfectly, as the soft touch open and close mechanism glides, offering her a pair of soft cream leather pumps. Indoor shoes. Everyone should have indoor shoes and she wonders for a moment whether she should get a set in every size, in case of visitors. Because there will be people coming inside, and she shivers. Perfect. This house is perfect, with large reception rooms, plenty of spare bedrooms, perfect for visitors yet still she doesn’t want anyone else here.  Perhaps another few days and she can think about … She shivers again. She should slip her coat off now, coming into the house that’s what you do, but the house is cold, she’s cold, so she goes to the kitchen. It is easy to turn the heating on, harder to fill the kettle because that makes splashes, and she has to wipe them up, and the counters show where she’s wiped so she polishes them again while the kettle boiled, soft pink microfiber cloth, only for polishing the counters. And it’s easy to get into the rhythm of polishing, following the long lines of the black marble counters, and she startles when the kettle clicks off. Earl grey, lemon, no milk. She wipes the cup before she pours, wipes the square chrome tea caddy, wipes the teapot, wipes the kettle. Perfect again. The aroma is nothing like the stink of the tea from that machine, at that place, or the cup the nurses brewed for you, it’s from the staff room, love, they mean to be kind. She sits at the glass table, and runs a nail along the scratch. She should have replaced it really, nothing to remind her of … She doesn’t know why she kept it, everything else is new. She puts her cup on the place where the scratch is deepest. It’s a good thing it’s glass, so easy to clean. Really hot water, some bleach, and you can’t tell that there was blood. Maybe she needs one of those ultraviolet lights, like on the crime show, so she could see if the blood really is gone. She looks at the walls. Matt White. They’d stripped everything out. She stayed in a hotel near the hospital while the builders were in, making choices, visiting every day, without getting too close. Even in hard hat and overalls she had to shower when she left, shower before she made her other daily visit. She felt dirty after that too, but in a different way.  Wash your hands, it says on the way in, and she wonders whether the visitors would object if she offered hand sanitiser in her own hall. Stop the spread of infection. A shudder. Thousands, no millions of tiny germs spread on her skin, his skin, on the kind-meaning hand of the nurse, of the doctor, and did gloves really act as a barrier, how did you know if the gloves were clean too? She sips the tea. This mug is clean. Bone china. She always soaks the dishes, and when it is just her it is easy.  It will be better now she can sleep at the house again. It will be better as long as there are no visitors. It will be better until he comes home. Bile rises in her mouth and she tried to settle herself with another sip. He will come home and she wants him to, and she can’t bear to imagine him here again. They talk about it, with him, without him. First, a visit. They will see how he reacts. Then maybe a weekend. Then every weekend, and she digs her nails in as she thinks about his presence. Perhaps if she takes him clean clothes, ones that haven’t been in the hospital for months, ones that haven’t gone through some communal laundry with everyone else’s, ones that she has washed herself. She thinks of the soft grey joggers and cream cashmere jumper still hanging in his wardrobe. She didn’t ask them to redecorate the bedroom, but she had cleaned it, cleaned it until she was sore, and the mirrors shone, and every item had been dry cleaned, and it was all in bags. He won’t find anything amiss when he comes back, when he goes upstairs, their room is just the same, because it happened down here, and she thinks again of the ultraviolet light. Were there any traces of blood still, even after the walls have been re-plastered, the floors re-laid? Will he be able to tell? She had explained to him about the new kitchen, but she doesn’t know if he took it in. He just sat there, but that was at the start.  He is better now, he responds when she speaks, but she hadn’t mentioned the kitchen again, nor the lounge. She stood up and put her cup in the sink, ran the tap until the water was scalding, added bleach. It could soak. She thinks about sitting in the lounge, reading a magazine, until it is time to visit.  The new Elle thumped through the door this morning and it is sitting on the new wooden coffee table, perfectly aligned to the table edge, which is perfectly aligned to the rug that sits square in the centre of the big, light room. She stands at the door to the lounge, grips the white door frame, but she can’t go in, can’t sit there, hasn’t sat there since, since he … He’d started in the kitchen, taken a knife to his arms, sat at the table, stabbing, slashing, but that wasn’t enough and he’d walked, run, stumbled into the lounge, and at some point he’d fallen onto the coffee table, knife still in hand, and she couldn’t get rid of the image, blood crimson on the cream carpet. Redecorating should have solved that, the new carpet is beige, not cream, the table wood not glass, but she can still see the giant shard of glass penetrating his gut, as blood streams from his arms, and she turns away. Standing at the hall window she looks out on the lawn, stretching out until it reaches their woodland, trees thinning until they become farmed fields. The gardener would be coming later, restoring perfection to the soft green lawn. It’s everything, this house, she has everything that money can buy now. And he’ll grow to appreciate that again, won’t he? The clock chimes in the hall. In another hour she can climb into the BMW, set the satnav for the hospital, and visit him.  She doesn’t want to go, knows she should. He’s not allowed out, not yet, and she should bring in something from outside. But she stays at the window because she can’t face the florist, because she’d have to speak to them, and if they ask, ‘Is it a gift?’, she’ll feel like they know, and what does she bring him anyway, when he’s shown that he thinks the life they had together, however perfect, is worth nothing, when he says it’s not how he thought life would be, that no amount of luxury and leisure can replace the tiredness that comes from graft, and that no amount of money, no possessions can replace, for him, a messy family home, bursting with the children she can’t have. She breathes in deeply, and runs her fingers down the hand woven damask curtains, dyed to match the rugs on the beautiful oak floor. She keeps on looking out at the fields, and for a moment she wonders why she’s still wearing the coral cashmere angora mix coat, and she isn’t crying, because how can you cry when everything is perfect?

And in the news today …

Giacomo Balla“It’s a swan on the road. Why the fuck are we writing about a swan on a fucking road?”

“It’s not the words, Bill, it’s the pictures. Picture sells a thousand words. No one buys the fucking paper now anyway. It’s all about clicks and shares. Citizen journalists. Anyone can take a photo on their iPhone and it’s in the Mail. You get writing the subhead and be glad you’ve got a job.”



giacoma 2Do you know the feeling of vibration, shaking the floor, when the washing machine is on? Imagine that, a million times over, the whole building pulsating, from concrete floor to corrugated ceiling. That’s what it’s like when the printing machines are on, and they’re always on, and the sound courses through my skull, my spine, right down to my toes. There’s a back-up generator, the news must get out, and I’m used to it now, the spin and the rattle and the crunch and the click, the beat as familiar as that of my own heart.

And like coming to shore after a sea voyage, missing the sway, they say, it don’t feel right when there’s no vibration, no clacks and whirs, and that’s something I never thought would happen.

They said they could see it coming. I didn’t. Sure, things changed. They stopped charging for the Standard, had to after all those free papers took off. But it was still papers, wasn’t it? More of them, if you judged by the tube at the end of the day. Someone should have done something. I mean, what about the jobs? There were hundreds of us, even with the move to Wapping. Thousands if you counted the men selling papers all across town. Papers needed people, people would always need papers, or that’s what I thought.

The building sounds lost now, or maybe I’m lost without the noise, unused to hearing my footsteps echo, and it wasn’t just machines, there was always a shout going up, people coming in, vast reams of paper being delivered, processed, printed, chopped, folded, and taken away again by the fork lift truck. It’s all gone, now, and next week I’ll be gone too. We don’t need a caretaker for an empty building, they said. Don’t take care of it, no-one needs it, it’s all about cutting costs. I sit half way up the metal staircase, watching the machines lying still, and feel my heart thump in my chest.


The news will still get out. No early morning paper boy, it seeps now, rather than thuds. It’s a silent swipe, and you’ll see what someone else has read, and follow the story, click and share, but then it’s time for a quick game of Candy Crush and what Gina did last night and you’ve gone again.

The news will still get out, but you can select what you want. No need to plough through grim items about Gaza, economic analysis of the cost of going into Syria, of bombing Iraq. Deselect, it’s gone, and all you see is cats stuck in blinds, news of the bake off, and is it really news if Diana did, or didn’t take Ian’s ice-cream from the freezer?

You choose what you consume. Don’t get indigestion.


‘Swan holds up traffic’

“Look, Mum, its wings are as wide as that lorry.” Click, click, share.

“Bet it caused a real traffic jam.”

“Can you imagine picking up a swan, isn’t she brave? I wouldn’t want to work for the RSPCA.”

“No swans here, anyway, and who’d stop for a seagull?”

“Well they can fly, they wouldn’t need picking up.”

“Can’t swans fly?”



It’s thrashing in her arms, strength enough to break a bone she’s heard, but she’s not scared, it’s her job. She grips more tightly, too tightly, and the swan goes limp.


Sound poem images are from Macchina tipografica (Printing Press) by Giacomo Balla


Mainly, I was angry,

Five weeks I’d known you, yet …

Did you really care so much, or was it for effect?

A try for my attention. And it failed and failed,

Too influenced by Curtis and Cobain,

White circles, scattered in your hand,

Their power just threat.

And so I ran, first time I ran?

And now, rotund and middle aged,

Cricket and slippers, farmers market fruit,

A life in rural France,

What idyll might you have missed?

What more resolve?

One more week?

One more month?

How long would it have taken before you really …

Would you ever?

Never, I know, not like this.

And this was such a suicide,

Such betrayal,

Such failure,


He’s gone, like you never,

And must I go on?

Seventeen white pills, count them,

One for each year and one we never,

The choice he made hangs bitter,

In my mouth, like those sweet pills.

And I watch my own seventeen,

In your small French idyll,

Wonder what revenge on who,

And when and why and if …

A note would lay the trail

Of blame, but what’s the point?

A small revenge,


And you’re not him.

I want to scream,

But in this room,

I would be heard,

And not by you (nor him).

I grip the wooden frame.

Remembering betrayal,

Anger defrays and dissipates until,

I take the traitorous seventeen,

Not to my mouth but to another gaping yaw.

I throw each pill,


No smash.

No splash.

I cannot find the will to run,

As down below the franco-drone.

I don’t matter here.

No-one knows.

Joy divided, fractures.

Watch each pill dissolve,

Molecules swim,

Into new void.

Decomposition (Edited)

I could get a dog, she said, as she stuffed his worn clothes into bin-bags.

But if I got a dog I’d have to stay, and I don’t know if I can.

He’d worn the old coat so many winters, she should have it cleaned, but she put it in the bag. No use now.

She took the coat out of the bag and wore it to go out. Later, deciding that it didn’t help to see the green shoots pushing through the late snow she stayed in.

Take more time, her supervisor said. You’re not coping, is what she heard as she tugged at the frayed cuffs of the jumper he’d bought her.


It’s silent here, but the CDs were his too, so she places them in the bag and it rips and spills his life down the wooden stairs. Finally she weeps over the coat he won’t wear next year.

Couldn’t they have made life more robust, so a tiny rip in a vein in his brain didn’t scatter her life in pieces too? Why couldn’t that be darned like his clothes?

Something stinks in the kitchen, but she can’t care enough to track it down. It’s been there for days and in days it will be gone, decomposing as she sits on the stairs. Methane and sulphides release, a return to the infinite instant.

In weeks, or maybe months, he’ll be nothing more than bone, and she can feel her flesh begin to bloat in sympathy.

I could sit here, she says, and I could join him. If I sit still, how close can I get to being dead?



Sit still.

Breath slow.

Feel the wood through skin, fat, muscle, bone.

Hold the pain until it’s nothing

Wait until neurones slow, stay, stop.

Be numb.


Frost bites unwise green spikes this night, and there isn’t a dog, and his life is still scattered and she’s drifting somewhere above the village, over the river.

Loose ice flows downstream, and she follows it out to sea,

and somewhere on the passage south the ice melts

and she’s gone.