Fishgawp

Subdued and sorry stump of tongue

Muscle, failed

Pulseless lump, gawp of fish mouth French kissing the airless

Silence 

Stretch yourself – stretch until it 

Stings and screams like taut

Elastic 

At least then there’d be some

Noise, some 

Offering, some 

Input – and it’s there alright 

It has claws 

And fire

And rage 

And explosions 

And a voice, a voice 

An unheard voice 

But there you are, with your foot

On its neck for fear 

Of others.

Behind The Veil

The day death came, she saw

A moth holding court 

In the corner of the room, a flickering

Sepia shadow, muted 

Whispers from the nearby

Ether where her God 

Was waiting.

And it fluttered flighty 

Morse code, signals of 

Transition and how to slip

Behind the veil; softly,

Softly in the fading of

Presence, the evaporating 

Senses, she found it

Her silken sunbeam, her chariot,

Her ray of redemption;

Wisdom imparted by a true

Light seeker.

Belfast Book Festival ’17 with Women Aloud NI

Over recent weeks, I have had the great fortune of discovering Women Aloud NI – a network founded by Jane Talbot, author of The Faerie Thorn, and dedicated to the celebration of women writers with ties to Northern Ireland. With the 7th annual Belfast Book Festival approaching, I’ve been excited to attend some great workshops, hear from some incredible talent and meet some faces from the Women Aloud NI group; what I wasn’t expecting was to end up with a slot to read some of my own poetry, but when Jane asked, I wasn’t about to turn down the opportunity.

That said, I am a complete unknown on the NI writers’ scene. As yet, I remain unpublished, having only completed a series of 23 poems over the course of recent months which  – to say the least – are absolutely nothing like the poetry already featured here on my blog. I should admit that even during my younger years, I struggled to find my ‘voice’ as a writer, but I think I’ve finally discovered it. To have a chance to share that voice for a brief time in front of people who love poetry is quite the privilege.

I’ve decided to share one of my recently written poems to give a taste of my poetic style. This piece was inspired by reflections upon my return to writing and the decision to pursue it properly.

Nebulae & Salt

I couldn’t bear then

to try it on, this thing;

I knew and I know, I’d have lost myself,

swathed in metaphors I hadn’t yet tasted

because I was still

seasonless, waiting

for drunken dawns and sublime solecism

– the grit and the sting of honesty.

Spring came

with the dripping thaw of

unfolding I ams, and there

I was and wasn’t, all at once,

a wide eyed coma.

Then, I strangled summer;

squeezed its neck between pale knuckles, and the

bloodstains on my nails

were a simmering oil slick,

sunset red.

But here is the harvest;

autumn now, southward

of birthing days,

and there’s that thing again, begging me

to give it limbs, to slip it over my head and fill it up

like a throat full of song.

So I’ll fill it

with songs and dirges,

with nebulae and salt

I’ll let it hold hands with my shadows

and say the words I cannot.

The Bodies We Can’t Love

When I was 11, I stood in the doorway of my grandmother’s tiny living room and burst into tears because my thighs wobbled. My uncle laughed. My grandmother told me to stop being so silly. But somewhere along the line, I had picked up the idea that my body was there to be measured and judged and I ran with it. I got my negative body image down pat before my first period; by the time I hit 16, I was an expert.

I can chain together a string of moments, from puberty to motherhood (and especially beyond), which are defined by a deep loathing for my body. Standing at the tuck shop in school during break time, stuffing my pockets with binge quantities of chocolate; checking my reflection in the toilets to see if my double chin was more or less pronounced that day; barricading myself into the most abandoned corner of the library and inhaling my junk food stash as if it were a competitive sport; the weeks I spent on a ‘liquid diet’ as penance for gaining weight during pregnancy; being told by someone I was dating that I was larger than he liked, but he ‘chose to overlook it’ because of my ‘other merits’; confidently pulling on a pair of size 16 jeans only to find that they can’t squeeze past my thighs and spending days thereafter sobbing with grief over my inability to be someone else.

I survive these moments on the strength of countless imaginary escapes and reveries, flecks of hope that there’ll be a good day just around the corner – when by some invisible miracle, I wake up feeling relatively body positive; I don’t break out in a nervous sweat at the thought of choosing something to wear, I don’t really mind the fleshy tyre that lives on my hips and I’ll think to myself, “You’re really not that bad, you know.” But those days are rare. And all too often, I barely get as far as lunchtime before something sticks a pin in my bubble and I’m suddenly reminded of reality.

There are other days, too, darker days that are dictated entirely by an excruciating hyper-awareness of my body: every cell, every molecule, the square inches of skin that feel like square miles, every thread of clothing that seems to scream in protest at having to be worn by me. It is torture.

The one certainty I have – and I cling to it daily – is that I’m not alone in this, nor will I ever be. Body image issues are a plague suffered by many and we are everywhere, stumbling in and out of the hells we keep in our heads and trapped in bodies we can’t love, surrounded and force-fed with all the perfect things we will never be.

But they aren’t real, and they aren’t perfect, and they aren’t human. We are human. We are brimming with the gorgeousness of flaws and lessons and mistakes – visceral truths and clement wisdoms – even when we are at war with ourselves and in the face of these wars and battles we have comrades; we have the others who fight the same fight and we are never, ever alone.

 

 

Rare Disease: Small Mercies, Big Trauma.

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She was born at 6.40pm after a 15 hour labour. Her birth was a victory in more ways than one; my first child was delivered via emergency caesarean and I fought tooth and nail to avoid the same fate. I was ecstatic. I felt invincible, untouchable, goddess-like in my ability to make life happen. Every mother deserves to feel that same euphoria. Granted, it does fade; you float through the early days in a cotton fog, feeling your way through it all, then eventually, the fog gets sucked up and everything looks different. There’s a very strong chance you don’t recognise yourself. Your relationship changes in ways that you didn’t have the capacity to imagine in the before days, or even during the fog. You’ve arrived in motherhood and everything about it feels so much bigger than you will ever be and sometimes – no, let’s be fucking honest here, a lot of the time – this leads to a dark period. I’m confident in saying that the majority of women can relate to this and, if you can, I hope you found your way out. That place has a habit of keeping you down.

However, there’s another element to parenthood that not everyone sees; other lessons, other obstacles that aren’t part of the same rite of passage. It’s an entirely different beast, a heavyweight brute that demolishes every last ounce of sense you’ve managed to make out of being a parent.

In April 2010 – 7 years ago this week – that beast came to live with us. Morquio Syndrome lives in the cells of my daughter. Its purpose is to twist her bones, mess with her respiratory system and stop her from growing. With it, nothing happens quite the way that it should – and it never will. We know what Morquio has done to her so far, but we have no way of knowing what it might do in future. All we know is that it won’t ever leave.

Morquio stayed relatively low-key in the early days for us. My daughter wasn’t so different – she just didn’t sit up or walk at the same time as other kids her age. After a time, she learned to shuffle along the floor on her bottom, but by then her peers were running wild around playgroups and friends’ houses so I had to be vigilant in case she was hurt. As she grew older, though, she wasn’t growing physically – and she was susceptible to chest infections that regularly resulted in hospital stays; sometimes, she became so ill so quickly that we had to be bluelighted to hospital. Hospital staff would mistakenly assume she was a toddler due to her size and I would have to explain. As time went on, she began to explain for herself, in her own way, because her awareness was expanding.

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Then, there came the first surgery. Her spine was severely curved – she had profound scoliosis – and a specialist in Manchester spent several years assessing her, working out the best way forward. In January 2014, she spent 10 hours in theatre having her spine manipulated and straightened with titanium steel rods. The recovery was excruciating. For weeks, she dealt with immense levels of pain while my heart splintered on a daily basis. Morquio was suddenly real. It swallowed everything. It still does. Our last surgery was only 2 months ago – a few screws in her knees – and our next will be sooner rather than later. We avoid the constant hospital admissions, but only because of a preventative antibiotic which in turn chips away at the immune system’s ability to support itself. Every day, twice a day, my daughter takes medication designed to prevent her existing heart condition from deteriorating further, but it offers no guarantees. Every week for 4 hours, she has a needle plugged into a little port on her chest via which she receives an enzyme replacement therapy. Again, it isn’t a cure and it offers no promises, but it was a hard won treatment (a post all of its own) and it offers us the hope of things being a little less doom and gloom than they’d be without it. Small mercies, if you will; perhaps some growth in height, less fatigue and muscle pain or if we really get lucky, a positive effect on the clouding in her corneas.

Most of the time, I’m quite skilled at counting our blessings. I like to reflect on what we have to be grateful for because it steadies me, somehow. Rare disease brings with it a lot of isolation, even within the ‘parent-carer’ realm, because when you’re around other families dealing with disability, none of them are quite like yours. But what it also brings is a particular type of connection with others in the same boat – a bond that doesn’t give a damn about miles, kilometres, seas, mountains or anything else. It doesn’t even need to be verbalised.  It is a knowing that has brought me incredible comfort over the years and – I hope – continues to do so for all families connected by Morquio and rare disease.

In many ways, I’m glad that I write, because it gives me an outlet for so many things, Morquio being one of the most significant. In other ways, I wish I didn’t, because the compulsion to get the words out ultimately means engaging with the beast and that has one hell of an emotional cost.

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Nonetheless, it’s one that I’ll willingly pay – because that’s what we do as parents.

Who Am I?

The thought of writing an introductory post makes me squirm, to say the least; it feels like making eye contact, which is something I invariably struggle with.

Still, there is a person behind the poetry. I am she.

I have recently embraced writing again after a lengthy period wherein I barely wrote my name, never mind anything else. I’m a mother to four children so really, having time to write isn’t an easily afforded luxury. The problem is this: the longer I go without writing, the more I need to write. Eventually, my head erupts with the pressure of a million words desperate to be written – and if I can discipline myself, I give them release. This has been a lifelong cycle; it will remain so, too. 

What I have never really done is offered my writing up for consumption by other people. That’s a whole new challenge and really, it’s why I’m here. 

It is terrifying.

But, some things just need to happen as there isn’t really an alternative. At 33, I think I’m finally beginning to realise that writing is who I am – alternatives are not an option.