What happened sits in my heart like a stone.
You told me I'd be writing about it
all my life, when I asked
how to stop saying these things to the moon.
I told you how writing it makes the dark
lift and then settle again like a flock of birds.
You said that thinking of the past like birds
who circle each year will make the stone
in my chest heavy, that the dark
that settles inside me will pass. You say it
is over, you say that even the moon
can't know all of what happened, that to ask
to forget is to miss the point. I should ask
to remember. I should open myself to the birds
who sing for their lives. I should tell the moon
how his skin was like smoke, his hand a stone
that fell from a great height. It
was not what I deserved. The year was dark
And the soul, if she is to know herself, must look inside the soul
And the soul, if she is to know herself
must look into the soul and find
what kind of beast is hiding.
And if it be a horse, open up the gate
and let it run. And if it be a rabbit
give it sand dunes to disappear in.
And if it be a swan, create a mirror image,
give it water. And if it be a badger
grow a sloping woodland in your heart.
And if it be a tick, let the blood flow
until it's sated. And if it be a fish
there must be a river and a mountain.
And if it be a cat, find some people
to ignore, but if it be a wolf,
you'll know from its restless way
If I could make it happen backwards
so you could start again I would,
beginning with you on the floor,
the doctor in slow motion
reversing from the ring, the screams
of the crowd pulled back in their throats,
your coach, arms outstretched, retreats
to the corner as men get down from chairs
and tables, and you rise again, so tall,
standing in that stillness in the seconds
before you fell, and the other girl, the fighter,
watch her arm move around and away
from your jaw, and your mother rises
from her knees, her hands still shaking,
as the second round unravels itself
and instead of moving forward,
as your little Irish coach told you to,
you move away, back into the corner,
where he takes your mouth guard out
as gently as if you were his own.
The water flies like magic from your mouth
and back into the bottle and the first round
is in reverse, your punches unrolling
to the start of the fight, when the sound
of the bell this time will stop you dancing
as you meet in the middle, where you come
and touch gloves and whisper good luck
and you dance to your corners again,
your eyes fixed on each other as the song
you chose to walk into sings itself back
who balanced like tightrope walkers,
who could run up the bracing
faster than you or I could climb
a ladder, who wore red shorts
and worked bare-chested,
who cut their safety vests in half,
a psalm for the scaffolders
and their vans, their steel
toe-capped boots, their coffee mugs,
a psalm for those who learnt
to put up a scaffold standing
on just one board, a psalm
for the scaffolder who could put
a six-inch nail in a piece of wood
with just his palm, a psalm
for those who don't like rules
or things taking too long, who now
mustn't go to work uncovered,
who mustn't cut their safety vests
or climb without ladders, who must
use three boards at all times,
a psalm for the scaffolders
who fall with a harness on,
who have ten minutes to be rescued,
a psalm for the scaffolder who fell
in a clear area, a tube giving way,
that long slow fall, a psalm for him,
who fell thirty feet and survived,
a psalm for the scaffolder
I come from people who swear without realising they're swearing.
I come from scaffolders and plasterers and shoemakers and carers,
the type of carers paid pence per minute to visit an old lady's house.
Some of my people have been inside a prison. Sometimes I tilt
towards them and see myself reflected back. If they were from
Yorkshire, which they're not, but if they were, they would have been
the ones on the pickets shouting scab and throwing bricks at policemen.
I come from a line of women who get married twice. I come from
a line of women who bring up children and men who go to work.
If I knew who my people were, in the time before women
were allowed to work, they were probably the women who were
working anyway. If I knew who my people were before women
got the vote, they would not have cared about the vote. There are
many arguments among my people. Nobody likes everybody.
In the time of slavery my people would have had them if they
were the type of people who could afford them, which they
probably weren't. In the time of casual racism, some of my people
would and will join in. Some of my people know everybody
who lives on their street. They are the type of people who will argue
with the teacher if their child has detention. The women
of my people are wolves and we talk to the moon in our sleep.