Onder Meer (Among others)
There’s a patch of burnt grass,
Still blackened by the sausage rolls
We set alight when we were
Fourteen years old.
By the Beck, our prepubescent
Hand holding professed a love
Now lost. But still I hold
Onto the memories like a tree
Clings to its leaves-
And somehow fall
I hear our laughter
When I see the burnt patch,
But I cannot place our faces
And I cannot taste the ash.
I am a world of many worlds,
And though I am no longer
A fourteen year old girl,
I am the smoke – the embers- of
All I have ever known.
This poem was written for a friend who’s putting together an anthology based on the significance of one’s home.
Having survived my first semester at university, albeit somewhat haphazardly, I like to think that I have already learned a great number of things with regards to surviving the ‘outside world’. In what I hope will become something of a ‘how-to’ series, I will share my snippets of advice alongside my first-hand woes that naturally stem from a girl who has yet to master the art of living smoothly.
A lot can rest in first impressions- it is the difference between being ‘that intelligent female who knows a lot about 17th century literature’ and being ‘that girl who parades around with yesterday’s lasagne stuck to her face’. And never are first impressions quite so important than when you start university; when every impression is both first and nightmarishly immortal. It’s not breaking news to reveal that a drunken slobbery kiss the night before is a terribly awkward encounter in Tesco’s the day after.
But even those ‘did I really lick his face last night?’ encounters do not compare to the events of my first day of higher education. It started with the mishap we all dread- walking into the wrong class- complete with a sorry face of pleading embarrassment together with lost eyes longing for a hug and a forgiving cup of tea. The mathematics seminar group looked almost offended when I asked if this was the literature seminar. It wasn’t.
But all hope was not lost.
I turned around to see a young man waiting in the seats opposite the room I had attempted to enter. He was witness to my shortcoming and in a blaze of nervous adrenaline I blurted out my unrefined introductions. ‘Are you waiting for this room?’. I was relieved to learn that he was indeed waiting for the same class as me and- seeing a fine opportunity to start my quest for making friends- I began to chant my pleasantries.
‘Oh! That’s so cool! Where are you from?! That’s awesome! I’m from North Yorkshire! I really like your jumper! Do you have any plans for tonight?! That sounds awesome! Me? Oh! I need a night off, had a bit of a mad one last night that ended in me and my flatmates comparing dolphin impressions in the kitchen! …So, is it American literature you’re studying?’
‘Oh no’ he said.
‘I’m teaching it.’
And that is how not to make a fruitful first impression with your lecturers.
If I am to love only once,
Let it be with you-
For the Sun shines out your ass
And from your mouth- the moon.
I’ll call you a Summer’s day
And you will call me a silly cunt,
Waking in a puddle of your drool
With a glare, a middle finger, a grunt-
In bed with our socks on,
Stroking the hairs on our legs
Like stray animals on our sheets-
I am to love only once.
It was sixty seven days later at three o’clock in the month of January when I met my father for the first time. I remember the knock and my mother shooting to the front door with an explosion of rehearsed cheer. Then I wandered through. The man from the letters looked down at me with his unfamiliar eyes. He was not as tall as I imagined. In the scenarios performed in my head, my father would run to hug me before lifting me to the ceiling as though I was everything he had ever wanted to hold. But when I came into view he stood still and lifeless like a hanging cow at the butchers. There was an unadulterated silence as I waited for him to do something. My mum intervened, cooing me over in such delight to mask the awkward encounter. Eventually he patted me on the back with a noticeable hesitation. I went along with it until bedtime.
The last time I had heard my mother scream was when she gave birth. But this was a different scream. I heard it from my bedroom and then I heard it again. The night was entirely dark still, a coldness wrought the air. My chest started to pound as I feared what might be causing my mother to wail. I trembled across the hall, her desk lamp bled a dim light beneath her bedroom door. In my childish bravery I pushed at the handle. Four wide eyes greeted me with terror. What I saw devoured anything child-like that was still within me at seven years old. The man I was told to call father had enveloped my mother’s naked body that was stark red with
tender beatings. He was clasping her waist with his determined fists and clutching at her skin. Tears stained my mother’s cheeks as she was contorted beneath my father’s lurching body. The man stood still and my mother screamed at me to leave. I didn’t know at the time what it was he was doing to my mother. What he was taking from her. I yelled him to get off her but he just threw my mother to the ground before pushing me back through the door. I screamed and whimpered but the light in her room did not go out and neither did her cries. They have never gone out.
On the day I pushed my sister I stood at the cliff’s edge and glanced down at her body. It was still. In my mind I felt relief. There was nothing this world could do to her anymore.