The Monster

There’s a monster in my chest
He beats my heart like drums
I’m choking on this blood of mine
That’s pooling in my lungs.

I feel as though I’m drowning
And my vision’s turning white
Blur before me, avalanche
Tell me that I’m right.

There’s a hole inside my body
Where you’ve eaten me away
I squint through colour, motion, shame
I stumble to the end of days

Jerusalem falls around me
The soldiers at the wall
Have laid siege to my temple
Just a day too long

It’s October, when I crumble
Flames burn away my gold-tinged skin
I fall like Autumn leaves
And whisper curses to the wind.

There was something here, once
A beauty to be had
But I lost that, oh years ago
When everything turned bad

I am the image of no one.
The sky is empty tonight
My limbs are dead around me
And my neck is flecked with blight.

I zone out to rope and medicine
And vomit down my front
There are monsters haunting me
From which I turn and run

They’re down every hallway
Handprints on every wall
They’ve cracked every floorboard
Pandemonium feels so small.

My body’s not my own now
I’m blood and flesh and shame
That’s why I call him Monster
For I do not know his name

Tears rip through my eyelids
And spill right down my face
This isn’t what I wanted
This boiling, burning place.

But I see him when I close my eyes
And count, so slow, to ten
I choke on black and empty space
And whisper my amen.

I’m begging you to save me
Just pull me out of here
I don’t know if I want to die
But I do want to disappear.

I want you to rest me easy,
Cotton, for my face,
Press til I stop kicking,
And over me, say grace.

Purge the evil from this vessel
And rid the monster, yes
I s’pose I’ll meet you in the elsewhere
It’s not for me to guess.

On the Cobalt

Hair dark as driftwood
Eyes clear as glass
The time of the Ancients
Has not come to pass

You fly through the water
You stare back at me
Your home is the rivers
Your home is the sea.

Shipwrecked, we lay
On sand and soil
Your silent words bubble
Like eggs in oil

When I look to you
I see nature bare
Like the sun, my eyes water
If for too long I stare

You pull me under
My lungs tear apart
You gasp and remember
My mortal start

Holding me close
In your plywood arms
I gasp at the surface
Your hand on my heart

That’s where you keep it
Coming forth I see sails
And the yachtsman gasps
At the girl with the scales.

From the Sirens Who Fell in Love With the Sailors Instead

I’m hanging between your fingers
Like a puppet on a string
I’ll do anything that you wanted
I’ll do any goddamn thing

I used to stand still like the rocks
But the oceans were stronger than me
Storms came and waves hit
And now I lay in the sea

I’m brittle sand at the shoreline
Shape me into what you want
I’ll do anything that you wanted
You won’t believe there was fight in me once

And one day I will be happy
Underneath the sea
Let waves crash
Let storms brew
Above and beyond me

The rest rest with dirt past your elbows
And soil above their heads
While I’ll choke on fish bones
In my salty seawater bed

The ocean has made me a promise
A pact and a truce if you will
It’ll take me beneath folding waves
I promised it that I’ll behave

No turning back
No turning back

I’ve swam out quite a way now
My feet are touching the floor
You won’t find me my darling
You won’t see me anymore
You can’t rescue me this time
You can’t rush through the door
I’m opening my mouth now
The damage is already done
Don’t wait for me at the coastline
Listen, please, just run.

We Did Everything Together

[One of these days I’ll be brave enough to record these songs, but today is not that day so here’s the lyrics.]

My heart is empty
But my chest is full
My neck is bruised
And my wrist is pulled

I’m dangling from my sockets
And I’m bleeding from my eyes
My tongue is bitten, red and bloody
Throat is raw with cries.

I’ve never ached with sadness so
I fear I’m going mad
This house is so big without you
But you were all I had

None of these things are really mine
They were bought when you were there
It’s like I live in a graveyard
Or a long deserted square

I’m alone is what I’m saying
And alone is how I’ll die
Let my skin tear like paper
On a dangling washing line.

And that’s where they’ll find me
Rotting, hanging there.
They’ll bury us together
I’ll be quick enough, I swear.

Let me pick through the car crash
And lay amongst the wreck
I’ll take my prozac in the driver’s seat
And we can die the same death.

They’ll bury me in white
My hand buried in yours
Our eyes closed to the world
When they close the coffin doors.

Plant lilies by our gravestones
We liked them both the same
Engrave the marble pretty
And remember our names.

Isn’t that you wanted?
The death of you and me
That’s why you said you’d see me there
When we crashed into that tree

But you only broke my arms
And I woke up to see your face
I don’t remember screaming
But you didn’t look the same.

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.

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.