Heidi

[Wow I managed to write a song that wasn’t about a subject matter entirely horrendous. Unrequited love is more conventional, at least]

There are words between my lips
Words that I dare not say
I think of love and years
Of recalling yesterday.

I may be foolish but not stupid
Yes I fell in love with a ghost
I’ll try and purge you from my memory
Yes I’ll do my utmost.

Maybe that’s what sets me apart
From all the other guys
Who slept with you one winter day
And fell in love with your eyes.

They didn’t look away quick enough
They fell into a trance
And thought Heidi’s really lovely
I’m sure she’ll give me a chance.

No, me I know your power
I was out the door that night
I thought about you as I crossed the road
At the green traffic lights

You make my mind so silly
And you make my heart cry loud
But I know that it is fruitless
I’m just another in a crowd.

There are realms of guys who love you
In every town and every place
That you’ve ever graced your presence
In silken skirts, lipstick and lace

I’m really not that special
I’m mediocrity at best
Unexceptional to you
Yes I’ll fade into the rest.

Some days I think about you
If you’re cov’ring something up
That’s why you pick up people put them down
Like we put down coffee cups

Is there a hole inside your ribcage?
Where a broken heart does beat?
And a voice in your head that tells you
To throw yourself a thousand feet

I may not be as pretty
Or have the same way to cope
But Heidi please just listen
Just know you’re not alone

You deserve a nicer world
And you deserve a kinder mind
An inside voice as lovely
As the one you use outside.

I don’t expect one thing from you
Not a smile not a kiss
Oh I just want you better
You’d be terrible to miss.

The Rope You’ll Use To Hang Me

[As with another of my songs, this deals with the topic of abuse and domestic violence. If this is a topic that is triggering for you, I’d recommend against reading.

Also, just a heads up for anyone who knows me in real life and may be concerned about the content I write sometimes: my work is not all inspired by close personal experience. I have tried writing mental health poetry about my genuine experiences and it always feels too strange and personal for me to publish online. There are little pieces of truth in a few lines, and the overall feeling it the poem is often experienced by me at some point. But between grief and domestic violence, I am lucky enough to say I have never experienced either.]

 

You’re razors to my forearms
And a rope around my neck
You’re the wounds I keep inflicting
You’re always a step ahead

I post on twitter about my feelings
About the storm tearing me up
And next thing you’re in DMs asking if I’m up

And I hate myself for getting a taxi there.
I hate myself for knowing how I’ll feel the day after
And I hate myself for doing it anyway
And I hate myself in general today

He asks me where I’m going
I feel sick at your address
Your postcode on my lips
And tattooed across my neck

Like the rope you’ll use to hang me
Make it clean just do your best
If you ask if I’m alright with this
Give you a thumbs up and say yes

There’s a word for guys like you
And a word for girls like me
It’s written on the bathroom walls
Of our college and secondary

I wish you didn’t haunt me
And I wish I didn’t like ghosts
But you’re water in my lungs
And God, do I like to choke

But when I turn up
In your favourite black dress

My heart sinks to my stomach
And I fall in love again.

Your words are just so light and kind
Your scent like lemon soap
It’s hard to think you’ve been hitting me
Since we were thirteen years old.

It’s hard to think about the words you called me
A whore, a slut, a cunt
That my dad was right to beat me
That you’re not nasty you’re just blunt

And maybe I deserve it
This broken state of things
Cos I poison boys like berries
With all the pain I bring

And you’re only still here
Cos you built up a tolerance
I’d kill anyone else who knew me
I’m a cancer, a cholera

My tongue is flecked with toxins
And behind my eyes lay sin
You drag me back inside
When I turn and start running

A change of heart just isn’t right
When you got me up at ten
You tidied your apartment
Not that I deserved it then

But I’m gonna get what I came for
In heavy breaths or heavy fists
And so I choose the former
Always have, this always is.

The Change I Never Wanted

I don’t know if I trick the world
With kind words and smiles aplenty
But I have looked inside myself
And seen that I am empty.
 
If I sink my hand into my skin
And show my white ribs bare
Break open bones and break the cage
You’ll see there’s nothing there.
 
Two tobacco lungs like corridors
Surrounding an empty hole
A blackened pit, a blot, or stain
For a girl without a soul.
 
I don’t know where it went at all
If it was stolen when I slept
Or if the lonely ache was too much to cope
And so got up and left.
 
But I woke up one cloudy morning
To the birds and woodland chimes
And my body was heavy with emptiness
And a blankness to my mind.
 
I work through seas of rain and fog
Can’t see straight, can’t navigate
My map is wrong, the road is gone
Where could I have gone so wrong?
 
And I sat down on the gravel
And let the darkness take me home
Not the one I lived before
A relic of a time now long ago
 
The shadows are my blankets now
And one room remains my cage
I can’t fathom feelings – joy or life
Or aching sadness, rage.
 
There is nothing here any more.
I have no words left in my head.
There’s medication in the dining room
I might off myself instead.

 

A Book, an Outcry, and the Word That Academia Disowned

In Britain, Oxford University has the only department that still bears the title Oriental Studies. Is the name a badge of shame we should be fast to put behind us?

The year is 1978. At the forefront of the British economy, Prime Minister Callaghan and the trade unions lock horns. A succession of strikes permeate the final months of the year, becoming known later by a term, the Winter of Discontent, that paints the politician as a hunchbacked Shakespearean anti-hero. Across the Atlantic ocean, the Palestinian-born public intellectual Edward Said has published a new book. Its title is one word – Orientalism – and with it Said breathes a new field of academic study into existence.

Postcolonialism is born.

His point, put simply, was that the field of Oriental Studies did not aim to present Middle Eastern culture, life, history, and religion, objectively. Instead, existing essays were exercises in self-affirmation. This was not the individuals comprising this corner of academia stroking their ego on a personal level, but stroking the metaphorical ego of the culture that surrounded them. This was, specifically, the culture of the West. The study of the so-called Orient therefore did not exist on its own, and was irrevocably tied to the West, and used as a means of comparison rather than a culture that could be understood by the merits and pitfalls of its own existence.

Indeed, even the word ‘oriental’ seems to reflect this. Used not as an identifier by the people whose cultures the academic field claims to study, it frames the people of the ambiguous, borderless Orient with language the West decided on its own terms during a time of conquest and colonialism. Nowadays, the adjective would be most likely attached to a patterned rug. Applied to people, it holds uncomfortable, fetishizing connotations. This makes it all the more strange that Oxford University, which has been on the receiving end of pressure to “modernise and diversify” for a while, still claims it.

After a YouGov poll revealed that by a measure of three to one, the British public see the Empire as something ‘to be proud of’ rather than ‘ashamed of’, perhaps colonialism is not as dirty a word as it seems. Certainly not, it appears, in the eyes of the majority. By the late 70s, Britain’s age of Empire was a relic of the recent past. In the years that followed the publication of Orientalism, the British Nationality Act 1981 was passed, reclassifying British Crown Colonies as British Dependent Territories, and the term Commonwealth citizen was used to replace British subject. While it may sound pernickety, the change in political language signified a changed attitude, a symbolic end to an age of pain and suffering, and the promise of a new beginning. However the attachment of the prefix post- to the age-old word colonialism suggests these attitudes had far from disappeared.

This is the argument Said puts forward – that cultural domination may no longer be state-mandated (nor with a march of missionaries armed to the teeth with Bibles for those who listen and canes for those that don’t) but it is pervasive, it is not gone, and it is still dangerous.

While it would be inaccurate to say Said was not embroiled with criticism and debate following Orientalism’s publication, it is important to note that most of the literary debates Said found himself marred in came from the scathed side of academia whose work Said used to illustrate his critique. Most notably, was the spat between himself and Bernard Lewis, a British American historian, who derided Said’s work as “anti-West” and and giving “free reign” to his biases. In response, Said disparaged him on a number of occasions in words both eloquent yet undeniably searing.

The arguments of dead scholars may be of questionable influence to the time of now, but it is undeniable that Orientalism had a profound influence on the academic world and its discourse. Becoming the foundational text of Postcolonial Studies, and arguably being the reason for a series of departmental name changes spanning the globe is no small feat. Oriental Studies became Asian Studies, Middle Eastern Studies, and Near Eastern Studies, depending on the focus of each respective department. This reflects the acceptance into truth of one of Said’s primary critiques – that the academia he knew viewed anything beyond the borders of the West as monolithic.

While on the African front, the fight against the same view in cultural depictions of the continent and its people continues, when only one university in the United Kingdom, and one in the United States still bear the name it is perhaps not blindly optimistic to wonder if the tides really have changed.

Is the wind blowing the sails of scholarship towards a brighter future of nuance and cultural understanding?

We can hope.

Friday Night Mistakes

[while a lot of my poetry handles themes of mental health I feel this one may be particularly triggering for those with experiences of abuse and trauma, so if you have felt discomfort reading things with such themes in the past, I’d recommend against reading this]

I’ll get drunk, I’ll be naive
I’ll choke on shots you won’t believe
How familiar this all is to me.

This downwards spiral down to hell
What percentage’s this let’s take a smell
Yes, yes this will ruin me nicely.

Poison, bottle, down the hatch
The world is blurring what a catch
This whole ‘existence’ deal is

I want to scream I want to die
I want to drink I want to cry
I want you to give me a single reason why.

So kiss me hard ignore my no
Put your hand around my throat
Take me back to places I don’t wanna go

It’s your face I see but not your eyes
Is that a frown is that a smile?
Do you shout my name in anger or in rage?

The tarmac’s hard against my knees
Tear me up, I want to bleed
I want to know I’m real now.

I’m halfway here I’m halfway gone
It’s not just the alcohol
It’s the Elsewhere that has taken me so long.

You get it now you’ve cottoned on
I don’t know why it takes so long
For the shouting yes the shouting to start

Let’s walk away let’s leave the rave
Just beat me to an early grave
I’ll be quiet now I promise I’ll behave

Smile at the taxi man
I’m here enough I know I can
I promise babe he won’t suspect a thing

I’m not nervous please look past my shakes
Tomorrow I’ll cry for my mistakes
But the moon’s still up and the world is different now.

We get out here panic sets in
My heart hammers hard as you break my skin
I see myself fall apart on the floor

A broken toy a damaged good
I’m so fucking weak I knew I would
Ignore me please this crying isn’t me

Okay so maybe I don’t enjoy all this
But it helps me see beyond the mist
It grounds me, helps me, if you will.

Those words this blood it’s what I know
The cries, the pain – I call it home
So if you enjoy it I guess it looks like we both win.

I’m the drum you beat and here it starts
There’s an empty hole right in my heart
It won’t last long but for an hour I’ll feel full

No, I don’t know how it got this bad
Therapy and pills, six years I’ve had
But for the pain that’s left I medicate myself.

The Hands of Time

[The following was my entry to a short story competition hosted by Leeds Trinity University. I’m delighted to say I received third prize, and some very lovely feedback from the author Martyn Bedford.]

 

The heavens burn like they’re going down in a blaze of glory- a battle waging above the clouds of an Autumn Munich sky. Lotte stares out, past the curve of the earth, glassy-eyed with her lips parted like she’s whispering secrets that get whisked away by the wind before they reach me. I say her name softly and she tilts her head to face mine. There remains an emptiness behind her eyes that stays just long enough to scare me.

“Lotte,” I say again, hoping my concern keeps out of my mouth.

She says my name back to me, smiling weakly. My worries don’t meet my lips, as she’d want, and instead they fester in the bottom of my throat like honey, spoiling like old fruit.

A gust of wind forces its way through the city streets, leaving a symphony of rattling cans and whistling windows in its wake. Up on the rooftops we get the worst of it. My short, lemon coloured bird’s nest of a hairstyle does little to protect me from the chill. Not for the first time I find myself wishing I’d brought a hat. A lock of dark hair sticks to Lotte’s face and I grace my fingertips to her cheek as I brush it off. Her eyes flicker down as if I’d left fingerprints there and she brushes her hair behind her ears, looking back at me with an expression that feels almost like mischief.

“Out here?” She says playfully.

Relishing in rare light heartedness, I shush her and we giggle. I remember the times we went to the cinema, back before everything escalated and we found ourselves having to resort to rooftops and alleyways. I wish I had a camera- a big one with reels of frames and film. I wish I could record her laughter, capturing the crinkle of her eyes and the pull of her lips and the flash of Hollywood glamour, right here in our little corner of Germany. I’d replay it forever – a looping reminder that there’s still joy to be had- in her, in me, in all of this.

I don’t like the films they show anymore. Lotte isn’t allowed in there anyway.

“Your face is so cold,” I say.

“Almost as if it’s October.”

“You can come back to mine, you know – anytime you want to.”

Her face falls and I curse myself.

“I can’t…”

“My family like you, always have. They won’t mind, promise.”

“And my family worry about me…” She looks down. “And I them. You know how it is now.”

There it is again – the caveat to all our plans. The head of the waterfall that she tells me about. The new rules and the new words and Anton Weber clad in a pressed uniform and a superiority complex acting as if he spent a day between 35 and 38 sober, telling my mother to keep her daughter away from Lotte. She’s never referred to by her name, of course. They call her all manner of things I know she isn’t. They call her a thing she is as if it’s an insult. As if her being a Jude, spat with whatever level of venom the hurensohn feels like expressing, negates everything else about her.

Lotte is a better person than I could ever hope to be. If she hadn’t spent every day of school having her hair pulled and her clothes torn and her skin scratched until she stopped going she’d have got the grades to go to Heidelberg and she’d be out of here. She’d have left everyone who cursed at her in the dust. In the aftermath of Kristallnacht and the legislation that came after, she told me it was a good thing she had left. Imagine, she’d said, if I had got the grades and found out I was banned from going anyway.

I couldn’t even look her in the eye on the day the news came out. The headlines stained the paper with a terrible permanence that felt like it was written in more than just ink. It’s only a month ago now and it feels like everything’s has gotten worlds worse since.

“It’ll get better,” I tell her. “It’ll be okay, in the end.”

She takes a second to register it. Then her eyes light up with anger and frustration, lips pursing, eyebrows upturning. I startle.

“No, it won’t,” she spits. “You’re so stupid.”

She draws her knees up to her face and hugs herself close, making herself as little as possible and she looks out to the horizon with a fierceness that rivals the spilled reds and oranges of sunset.

“You’re so stupid,” she repeats, quieter this time. “You’re so stupid and hopeful and wrong and I wish you were right but you’re not.”

She lets go of herself and she slumps, barely keeping herself propped up on her forearms.

“I’m sorry,” I say quietly.

“Don’t be,” she says softly as she looks down.

A pregnant pause fills the air between us.

“I should get going. My family worry so much about me now.”

“I understand.”

“Really,” she says earnestly, an unwarranted apology flooding her face. “I wish I could stay.”

“No, no, Lotte it’s fine. When I say I understand I don’t mean it like… passive aggressively. I mean it as in… y’know, I understand.”

She laughs, “you do.”

“Understand?”

“Like no one else,” she says, taking in my expression. “C’mon, you think I’d be on rooftops in October if I didn’t think you were pretty special?”

I blush at the tone of her voice, letting my eyes flicker away to stare intently at the edge of a tile and hope she’s looking away when I look back. She isn’t, a flirtatious smile drawing her full lips wide and her sooty lashes narrow slightly. For a second, I can’t take my eyes off those lips, drawn in by cupid’s bow and vermillion. Then she moves closer and I close my eyes and she’s kissing me.

She tastes like sugar and she feels like home. Cold but delicate hands cup my face. A finger traces my jaw. It’s been months since we’ve done this. It feels like years ago and yesterday and I’ve thought about it every night and now it’s happening and it’s here and God, it’s better than I remembered.

Eventually, she pulls away, pressing one last, quick peck to the corner of my mouth before joining me in gasping. I feel a smile creep on my face and she grins back at me before looking back to the sky and taking her own turn blushing.

Carefully, I undo my hair ribbon and tie it around the exposed skin of her neck. My hands are frozen with cold, but I manage a wonky, pink bow.

“How do I look?”

“Pretty,” I say. “As always.”

She leans into me and of all the horrible four-letter words flitting about the country she whispers to me the prettiest one. Then with one last squeeze of my shoulder she’s gone, footsteps disappearing behind me until they meet the clatter of the metal stairwell. I think over the words we exchanged, trying to find between them the ones we didn’t.

It’ll be okay, in the end.

She hasn’t been gone for more than a minute, my stomach already aching in her absence, and I realise the only thing I want more than her is to be right.

 

Summer Wine

A line of kisses down my front,
The stitching from my head to heart,
Where you live amongst the scarlet,
As if I knew you from the start.

Your skin’s the shade of fresh milk,
The top – the froth beneath the lid,
Spoiled, with bruises like,
The fruit the farm hands hid.

If your neck is peach your hair is lemons,
Squeezed for the finest lemonade,
Tart – not bitter – the colour of summer,
For dizzy dreams beneath the shade.

I lay beside the fallen trunk,
Delirious from pollen and drunk on wine,
I’m in heaven when I’m here with you,
Wishing for a stretching, endless time.

But your eyes flutter open, widen still,
Push willow leaves behind your ear,
I’m sorry, I really should get going
Into the evening light you disappear.