Category Archives: In the men’s room



I was harvesting slime with my concubine
From the quarries down Llangolman way,
When I saw my face in a ditchwater pool.
My reflection proceeded to say,

“This was not what I wanted from my future.
This was not how I pictured my lot.
I once had a clear destination in mind,
But the byways I’ve somehow forgot.”

So I put my boot through the glass of the pool
Before he could waste more of my time;
But I lost my grip at the rim of the cliff,
And my boot scuffed and slid on the slime.

I woke in the wet of the quarry’s main pit,
With my toes and my fingertips numb.
A sharp pain in my back like something had slipped,
And my skin baked to scabs by the sun.

She stood there, up above me, my concubine,
With the rest of my women and whelps.
I could tell by the look of the lot of them
There was no use my asking for help.

“Why does the world always feel like it’s ending?”
I whispered. “It always is,” she said.
And she took my spice, and my rocks and my knife;
And the lot of them left me for dead.


Appears in:

Poetry Birmingham, Issue 1 [2019]
In the Men’s Room [201?]

Cantre’r Gwaelod: the ballad of the sunken hundred

Cantre’r Gwaelod: the ballad of the sunken hundred

I climbed the coast to Dinas Head
one All Fools’ evening still
And the hedd of that high headland then
no curlew called to kill.
I stood on the trig-point like a statue,
my gorwel for to see:
Wexford way out to the west of me,
across the Irish Sea;
To my north, the Llŷn Peninsula
as clear as Waterford glass,
And all between was the blue waves’ sheen,
as glas as new-grown grass.

And it looked like nothing was living down there;
like nothing ever had:
Like maybe the gweilgi was a graveyard sown
with the ambitions of the mad.
And I fancied I heard a tolling carry
from the dwfn down below
As a black mass landed on the clifftop,
which I thought to be a crow –
Perhaps a chough? Though its bulk cast doubt;
and, when it turned, its brutal beak
Was gloomy as glo; and croaking, and slow,
this bird began to speak:

“Foolish man thinks itself apart
from that which its senses grasp.”
Its voice had no cerddoriaeth:
but a rough and rusty rasp.
A talking bird being nonetheless
beyond my common ground,
I stared back dumbly at the cigfran,
awaiting another sound.
“Have you nothing to say in your defence?”
demanded the indignant bird.
I asked myself had I the health
to credu what I had heard.

“It talks to itself, but not to us!”
the raven shrill declared.
I climbed lawr to approach the beast
But it just stood and stared:
Tilting its head, with an olewog eye.
“Who do you mimic?” I said.
It grunted in gruff disapproval, and shook
its hangman’s hood of a head.
“I speak for neb and all others,” it said.
“But to no end, I fear;
For you men have ears only to hear
the words you want to hear.”

“Then tell me what you would tell me,” I said.
“And I promise I’ll pay you heed.”
“Promise a blisgyn to the ocean floor,”
it said. “Just do the deed.
That body of dwr you gaze upon
was our childhood hunting ground.
Among its many fertile fields
were the choicest morsels found.
Till the tywysog of that fair place,
overdosed with wine,
Guiltless slept as the salt waves crept
to bury our hundred in brine.”

“A legend,” I said, “that I’ve heard before.
And one that every gwlad knows;
A story to worry each child who’s born
where rain falls and wind blows.”
The raven cocked its pen and looked
for a silent moment my way.
“Foolish man thinks tomorrows safe
from its deeds of yesterday.”
“What deeds of mine?” I snapped at the bird.
“Why blame you me for this?”
And on this note from the raven’s throat
came a swn, half-laugh, half-hiss:

“This sunken hundred was only one
of your kin’s forsaken lands.
And no cefngwlad across these wide islands
is free from the curse of your hands.”
The cymylau gathered above us
and the sea turned the colour of slate;
A calendar hoping to contain this scene
could surely display any date.
“Your brain is the size of a walnut,” I told it.
“I’ve no such power,” I said.
“No blood nor brine stains these dwylo of mine;
your culprits are centuries dead.”

The bird flapped up at my gwyneb,
before perching itself on the trig;
Shaking its shaggy ruff in a rage
And grunting like a pig:
“As are the beasts of the forest,” it squawked.
“And half of the pysgod too.
There will be little more than you and yours
by the time your kind are through.
Only a few milflwyddiannau ago
there were bogs and forests and fens;
Till you came to sow with arrows and bow
and to lock us in cages and pens;

“You drain the corsennau and the marshes,
lay all the forests low;
Raise silent cells for your mutant beasts,
reap death wherever you go.”
“But this lowland hundred you lament,”
I raised a bys to its beak.
“Which beast but man could have held back the tide
And plugged each fresh-sprung leak?”
It snapped the air as I drew back my hand:
“No need would exist!” it yelled,
“Had your ancestors cared for the tir that we shared
and the ancient oaks they felled.

“But you shaved the uplands bald and bare,
gouged wounds deep into the earth.
Brewed cas alchemical poisons to plague
the mother who blessed you with birth.
You assumed the mantle of mastery
dros all other matter,
And milked the will of the wilderness
to make your children fatter.
Till to find land capable of feeding your greed
you had to snatch it back from the sea.
But the tonnau wouldn’t stand at your command,
nor leave you be.”

I glared at the raven and stooped to pick up
a carreg from among the ferns.
“Yes, the sea will still drown you if given the chance,
and the sun still burns;
And the gwynt will still throw down your buildings,”
continued its maddening rasp;
“And the lightning will strike and the fire will lick…”
And I felt the cold stone in my grasp.
“And the ice will still freeze all the gwaed in your veins
and the rivers will burst at their banks.
And the soil will cease to reward for your toil,
no matter your pleas and your thanks—”

I struck the bird cross the side of its skull
and it flopped, slack to the floor.
The raven had dim byd to answer that with,
so I whispered “Nevermore.”
The nos was gathering in from the East
and the sunset was rusty red,
That All Fools’ eve as I descended
the coast from Dinas Head.
And I thought about Cantre’r Gwaelod then
and the flooded lowland’s fate:
And when, I wondered, did those of that hundred
know the hour had grown too late?


Allwedd – Key

Welsh words listed in the order they appear.

hedd – peace, tranquility.
gorwel – horizon; also, figuratively, the limit of one’s mental capacity.
glas – blue, blue-green; also fresh or verdant.

gweilgi – ocean (archaic/poetic).
dwfn – deep.
glo – coal or charcoal.

cerddoriaeth – music or poetry.
cigfran – raven; literally: meatcrow.
credu – believe.

lawr – down.
olewog – oily.
neb – no one; or anyone/someone.

blisgyn – shard or shell or fragment.
dwr – water.
tywysog – prince or lord.

gwlad – land, as in country.
pen – head.
swn – sound or noise.

cefngwlad – hinterland or countryside; literally: backcountry.
cymylau – clouds.
dwylo – hands; two hands.

gwyneb – face.
pysgod – fish (plural).
milflwyddiannau – millennia; thousands of years.

corsennau – bogs or wetlands.
bys – finger or digit.
tir – land, as in soil.

cas – nasty or hateful.
dros – over.
tonnau – waves.

carreg – rock or stone.
gwynt – wind.
gwaed – blood.

dim byd – nothing; literally: no world, or nothing [in the] world.
nos – night.
Cantre’r Gwaelod – the Lost Lowland; literally: [the] Hundreddwelling [at] the Bottom.
The Atlantis or Lemuria of Welsh mythology. Inundated, according
to the story, in the 6th century AD; though science speculates this occurred around 7000 BC.


Appears in:

Poetry Birmingham, Issue 1 [2019]
In the Men’s Room [201?]

Tractors turning

Tractors turning

“Did you hear the one about the magic tractor?
It was driving down the road, when it suddenly turned into a field.” – Anon

I: D roads

These back lanes are suggestive
Of ancient practices persisting.
Cows’ cloven hoofs’ squelches echo
Down steep-banked rows of sycamore hedges
Into littered drainage ditches.
Asphalt crumbles at the edges;
Black bitumen blushes an algae isthmus
Ushering blown leaves from this old cottage to the next
By fields whose names are only known and spoken
By the few whose fathers and mothers
Stuck it out here down the decades.

Defenders have been discontinued now,
But collies will jostle therein for decades yet –
Ejecting themselves at the first sign of slowing,
Following an impulse carried far back
In their brains, down their spines,
To catch the clouds between their teeth
And keep the shapes from shifting.

Black tracks furrow up soft roadside sod,
Churning symbiosis into desert stretches
Of trailing muck, smeared like diary entries
Out across languid afternoons.
The echo of engines filtered
Through blackthorn and bramble,
Bottled in dull demijohns
Of sloe gin and blackberry wine.

The rhythms of all these machines
Embroider sagas into tabby-woven bolts
That keep unreeling:
Fields yielding to the plough’s blades,
Planets spinning in a glitter-ball disco,
Silhouettes of embryos, growing
In lichen on the graves;
Frost-hardened hearts thawing,
Far-sighted eyes squinting,
Bent bodies still belonging,
Age aching, youth yearning,
Flesh degrading into dust,
Blood, milk, mud, forever flowing
And tractors turning
Into rust.


II: HelloFresh

Chop the chives
We’ve had a power cut
Away the knives
Survival thrives
If anything
A bit too much now
Fetch the electric racket
For the flies
This must be what it’s like to live
In Kinshasa
Mogadishu or
Not Hebron Carmarthenshire
The other one
The satisfying sound after the snail
Sails over the hedge
Into Wales
And hits the D road
Sample that strike
With a wombat mic
Loop it
For a beat
Get to know it better
Reverb and such
Reverse it
Slow it
We could do much

With that much satisfaction
I can’t get no
Diplomatic recognition
For my micronation
But the Jehovah’s Witness mission
Returned to us again today
For the first time since I painted
The coat of arms on the wall
Which I’m given to understand
Means more or less the same
In Welsh
But I suspected them this time
And hid under the desk
A year ago it was
Last time
I think
We seem more open now
Our borders notwithstanding
The cattle grid
Where we bury dead petrol
And dog poo
The chicken-wire fence round the front
That wicker babel
Enclosing the compost heap
And this late afternoon
All along my watchtower
Comes a wailing sound
Too human
Drifting intermittent
Down from Walton East way
Amid the buzz of strimmers
Or grass-cutters
Ravens grunting
Cows and crows
A lone dog barking
And a lone frog croaking
From our north
While we’re lying
All the lowing
All the highing
Only aeroplanes are flying
Violating airspace
In this heat like defeat
We are unknowing
Undeserving of this
Peace or of this delicious
Sovereignty we’ve yet to fight for
Yet to die for
Yet to do so slight a thing as
Lie for
While we’re lying
Unearned but earning
Unlearnt but learning
And tractors
Light refractors
Always turning
Into rinse
We lie
I tried to stop washing my hair but you know
We lie
I was thinking
Very hardly
About trying to eat a bit less meat
We will lie
And stare
At flickering black mirrors
While unwashed windows cobweb greys
In our periphery
The trains that chunter in dim distance
Come or go
Or stay
With all their joy or misery
For all it matters to we
Whose lawns are embarrassed
By unwilling haircuts
After so much unchecked thrusting
Having heartbreakingly become
So trusting as to go to seed
But never let it be said
We folk do anything much
But bleed
Inasmuch as what’s observable when
The citronella insults the flea
Which ceases not to do its injury
I do not often wonder
At such incidents
What all this means to me
Or what I’d do
If I had more time
Fuck reading and writing
Make wine
Slave all year
For a bottle
Tractors perhaps
And build them again
As other things
Get around
To writing that masterpiece
I’d call “My Most Serene Republic”
Invent a private language
Look for stamps
On the internet
Phone a friend

A power cut has had us
Chop the chives


III: A warning for would-be ramblers

Beware the Public Footpath signs,
They’re put there to trap the tourists.
Merciful locals snap the plastic,
Leave the wooden ones to rot;
The kinder farmers let hedge-trimmers
Sever them as they rattle past
Or else erect the most oblivious
Fencing directly across them
As if the land itself had forgot
The laws and histories that have passed:
High-tensile barbed-wire;
Proper battleground stuff.
What lurks behind is worse
Than mines in no-man’s-land.
The Bosnian countryside
Pales in comparison.
Rest uninsured and uninsurable
This isn’t just ugly
Brown bogs and broken-bottle grasses,
Bad, worse, worst luck;
You’re taking your life in your hands,
Gambling on the grace of cows
The size of elephants
That seem by the hoof prints, high
In the bottomless muck,
To either weigh as much as ants
Or to be up to something

You will sink to your shins first.
Then wet sod will suck
And you will lose a boot
When you extract the first foot.
Then another: taking root
For you, in spite of you;
Then down to your knees and
Now you’re really panicking;
The sounds around are turning up;
The silence is made deafening:
Nothing human anywhere near,
Not even so much as an engine
That’s operated by bloody beings:
No Gardeners’ Question Time here,
Just flesh flies buzzing slow, too close, and closer,
Heavy minotaur breath on the wind,
Lowing echoing off scheduled monuments
Stinking of shit not quite fully vegetal.
Disappearing whistling
From ground-nesting birds
Buggering, helixwise, skyward, off
(What larks)
Leaving offspring below
As an offering to the rusted beasts
Of the moor and the mire
Implied by all this. Look:
They’ve built their own moats
Round Iron Age mottes with sycamore spires
Filled with piss and worse.
Catch the sun winking in
Petrol-hued spectrums shivering
Round distracted tractor tyres
On surfaces skin-thick.
Baileys of four-times-stomached, once-shat grass
Pocked like an asteroid’s acne.
If anyone saw they never said.
A shrug of the shoulders,
A shake of the head:
They don’t know
You: they never did,
Never do. Try not to move,
Feel the warmth from foul throats
Lift the back of your shirt
As meat spirits throw their voices
Across valleys where flowers never grow.

Flail your arms, finally.
Reach for a branch
That’s not dead, or you are,
And slowly wrestle for up,
To where cumuli are mutating
Into instruments of industry;
Or accept your fate: sink into it,
That lifeless humane mess
Where only appetites can breathe,
Where suffocation satiates,
Where nothing is really quite ever alive
Enough to believe in.

Everything’s a deeply held
Breath down there.
What’s up,
Primordial dude with an axe-wound
In his skull? What brought you here?
Did you come to take your dog for a walk
To kill some time somewhere, someone,
Before you took some wares over there?
Did you plunge flush misjudgement
Looking for the green dotted line
On the Ordnance Survey map
That came with the roundhouse
You found on Rightmove,
Printed in BC 1999?
Did you rein your horse and park it,
Stopping on the way to market,
On a whim in a lay-by, just maybe,
Spotting a Public Footpath sign?
While silhouetted behemoths
From thick fog emerged unseen behind,
Promising tractors turning up for purges,
Digging doggers’ graves?
Tractors churning up the verges;
Vehicles driven to depravation, in desperation
Due to the untimely defenestration
Of common-land agro-politicization
Made rarest meat served to itself –
For sovereignty, for national health –
Spurning self-help homilies,
These man-machines fed on brine called wine,
Told stories taller than crumbling bungalows
Of high-rise concrete boxes
Patrolled by tuberculous urban foxes,
Battery-farming swarming benefit tourists
Imported from imagined warzones
In Land Rover limousines
To feast on each other’s faeces –
In our back yards –
Like human centipedes,
Forcing our fair hands to shrink to fists
And turning the best of us
To an imagined life
Of crime.

I’m not a dentist, but my
Canines are wearing
Thin of enamel.

I’m not a racist, but my
Tractor’s turning
Into a camel.


IV: Brenintractor

Somewhere deep within
This labyrinth of hamlets,
Long beyond where the concrete
Becomes pothole-pocked
And slumps to slate slag tracks –
By long-abandoned farmhouses
Of corrugated metal walls
With peeling paint the shades of scabs,
Which whistle mournful melodies
For the Atlantic gales –
Down overgrown bridleways
Littered with obsolete tools
Of agriculture’s yesteryear,
Chewed half to death by brambles
Trapping desecrated standing stones
That stand no more
And understand no more
The land they have inherited,

There is a roar
Comes echoing through bushes;
Shakes the branches,
Sends the birds away,
Rippling dirty flooded ditches
Blowing leaves and scattering sheep
And cattle down along the hedges:
Awesome, awful,
Both animal and mechanical;
Sparking the ignition
Of a most unholy mission
Into so many minds of late grown cold
And hard as weather-beaten headstones
In untended situations
Whose inscriptions have been flattened
Under centuries of tears
And acid lichen.

This cry comes
From hydraulic lungs;
A beast that’s as much meat
As rust and metal,
Untransformable muscle–machine
Grown too far from its creator’s scheme
To understand which part is its heart,
And which its radiator;
Which part is its arsehole,
And which its combustion chamber;
From which ruptured organ
Its red diesel bleeds;
Or of whose cruel intention
Its cursed birth speaks.
Its teeth are pins,
Its bones are pipes,
Its eyes are misted windscreens
Crying milk and wiping all the time;
Its flesh is beef and lamb and featherless hen,
Tanned black by clinging clouds of blowflies.
Rotten, stinking, battery-acid burnt,
It staggers blind in circles
On tyred trotters
Spitting steam
And hews great hunks
Of rocky earth in shovel hands
To fling them high and far;
To try to fell the clouds
That hem it in.

A wreck of a thing,
Raging blindly
All hours:
It does not work at all;
It is at war with itself.

And yet they will
Still feed it
Their firstborns.


V: The tractor run

“Gyrrwch yn ofalus / Please drive carefully”
And “30” says the roadsign. You’ll be lucky;
The village hall carpark’s full of noise and colour;
Garish paintjobs in tinted glasses, chattering anatomy
Of a farming community, framed for good by the mid-twentieth century:
Savoury, aspic, smoke-and-jelly, community values blown by globalist winds –
There’s a man from the telly talking Welsh to a camera,
Squinting in the scant shade of sickly sycamores.
And the sky’s embarrassed to be caught without its clouds on.
Slap on the suncream! It’s going to be a scorcher.
Parents are cruel caricatures of sons and daughters:
See them fussing over little ones squeezing themselves
Into spaces between brains and bumpers, tyres and asphalt,
Or toward trembling tractor engines, warm like wombs: rattling, clanking,
Shuddering with age and excitement. Home-made bunting fluttering above,
Scarred by pert pinking shears’ stuttering. Stop-start muttering
Of weather reports, polite retorts, essential repairs put off: windowframes
Unstained, constipated guttering, leaking tiles, lost lightbulbs, broken
Promises, bad habits gone fishing, out hunting foxes, hounds and rabbits,
Seeds sown too soon or late, too far afield or not at all;
Barren beds inviting invasive species, nosey neighbours’ noisy faces
Exchanging rumours: the funding from this and the duck race and pub quiz
Won’t be sufficient – won’t be quite enough – like the local shop
Like the butcher’s before, which most parents are too young to remember;
And come winter, the new crop of kids will have to go
To the next village – that way or this – or go without.

But the frozen sausages are thawing already in preparation for
The afternoon’s forecast and the run returning,
And tractors are turning already, in slow sequence,
Indicators clicking, like synchronized swimmers
Or Canada geese playing follow the leader – one after the other:
Mirror, signal, manoeuvre,
And they’re off!

A mustard-coloured Marshall 302 with a glass-cube cabin containing
A centenarian, Grade-II-listed, flat-capped gent in an unstained soapstone boilersuit;

A spherical chap in a chaffed baseball cap, seeming surgically attached to the seat of
A pillarbox red Fahr D270, with seat suspension that’ll rattle your soul;

The weary treasurer’s Massey Ferguson – looks like the one on the food labels!
Playgroup trailer clanking behind, kids and parents alike holding on for dear life;

A big David Brown with a shimmering cabin; didn’t catch the model,
All angles and glass like some insect’s eye, self-driving, could be, back to the future;

A lady in leggings and a floaty floral blouse, made-up, galvanized-steel-gate frown,
On a ’69 David Brown 880 selectamatic, bright white with a brighter red pipe;

And a Hunter S Thompson lookalike’s New Holland T7 Heavy Duty hauling
A twenty-foot blue feed-trailer with two avocado sofas full of wobbling toddlers;

Here’s a brand-spanking 2016 John Deere, green and yeller, gree-eeen and yellerrr,
Prideandjoy of sunburnt beefcake feller; belle, crosslegged, barefeet pressed to glass;

Next: a grizzled Elvis in an Adidas tracksuit on a brilliant-blue Ford 2000, ’64,
His collie snuffling the wind: perfumed like sheep-shit-smeared blue suede shoes;

A beardy bloke in camo gear on a Crazy Frog Deutz; a walrus-moustached uncle
With a king Charles spaniel, on… something which he must have built himself;

A warning-coloured waspish ’90s JCB Fastrac;
A ’55 Ferguson in battleship grey

And the flags are all snapping at the air:

Plenty of Pembrokeshires: blue and yellow cross; like a symmetrical Sweden
With a quartered Tudor rose;
Maybe more Draig Gochs? Red dragons to you Saes:
Green, green grass, and an overcast sky;
Some St David’s crosses on the couple at the back: that’s yellow (or gold?)
Against a field of black,
And I think I saw one Owain Glyndŵr:
Four rampant lions in red and gold quarters
(Or “or” and “gules” if you follow the rules):
That’s the one that lets you know we’re riding
Close to the Landsker Line

And we’re snaking slowly round Dungleddy,
Between the two great rivers that drain half this land
And spew into the sea down at Aberdaugleddau:
The Haven where Henry Tudor landed, in 1485.
Did he walk this line, up the B4329?
Did he stop here at Woodstock Cross for a time?
Not today – we don’t, anyway: packed lunches;
Ham sandwiches and Fruit Shoots aplenty,
And there’s been no pub on this spot for years…

Round Wallis and Scollock, down Little West way,
By Cartlett Brook, and Froghall, Crundale, Rudbaxton,
Colston and Wiston (with a silent T – don’t ask me why)
Across a low-flow ford, to squeals and applause,
Back up to Llawhaden (good luck guessing how the locals say that one)
To Gelli (made “Jelly” if you don’t Cymraeg)
Penffordd and Bletherston and back down to Clarbeston
By Stepaside Bridge, past the faded sign still nailed to the ash
Commemorating one Jacqueline Lawrence,
Or the last time we had a Labour MP
Before we (or they?) invaded Iraq
And the financial crash

What’s this
Happening now? I hear a hiss.
Something seems amiss as we climb the home-stretch
That skirts the sloping south bank of the Syvni
(“Syfynwy” farther north, where more Welsh is taught)
That flows from the concrete slopes of Llys-y-Fran dam
Where the old farms sleep silent beneath slate-grey waves –
The asphalt’s cracking!
The ground is rumbling!
The children are wailing and cuddling their mums!
The tractors are juddering and clanking and steaming, unfolding
Arms like giant windscreen-wipers sprouting
And the chunky tyres are treading the air;
We’re climbing clouds that aren’t even there
And our wingspans are threading through blackthorn hedges
And fin de siècle standalone trees
And twigs are crackling and blackbirds are scattering;
We’re rising high up above the rivers and streams, and the drains and the lanes,
And the sheep and the cows are stampeding down the edges
Of ancient fields, and the pickups and hatchbacks look like ants from up here,
And the graveyards of churches and chapels alike are exhaling
In one wordless hymn, and a swirling breath more like life than death
Is rising on infernal thermals – and all our old aunts and uncles
And grandads and grans are coming up to join us, along for the ride
In their antique tractors, on their favourite horses – with donkeys, dogs and bicycles,
Cows and chickens and pigs – in funny old hats, funnier old clothes,
Their skeletons creaking and gummy prune faces are cracking with laughter
And parents are too scared for speaking, but littluns are chuckling along with it all;
There’s that lass whose dad hanged himself in his barn last autumn, her chubby hand
Grasping his outstretched index like it was made of warm flesh and hard bone,
Through the metal bars of the playgroup trailer; and she’s gappy-tooth smiling
As he’s gliding along, and it’s all okay because they’re all coming home
Because they’re always here, and they never really left – like we’ll never really leave
And we’ll never really anything if you believe, and we might if you won’t
So who cares if you don’t? Just keep it to yourself for the rest of our sakes,
For our spiritual health – hear the wail of the brakes, and the tractors are turning
And the ozone layer’s thinning and the icecaps are sweating but we’re for forgetting
Because the red diesel’s burning and all of us are winning
Because the tractors are steering, the tractors are wheeling
Casting angelic shadows all across this green land,
And we’re feeling the warmth of the sun like God’s hands
Playing us like piano keys on this Saturday morning; and we’re falling soft now,
The tractors are swarming, the tractors are forming a V
With the Massey at the head and the playgroup trailer like a banner behind
And we’re coming in to land and I think I’ve just spotted an unmapped
Bronze-Age encampment, or an Irish Déisi rath,
That’s never before been photographed –
Not even by Toby Driver –
Oh boy! And I don’t even care
That I left my phone at home;
I’m shedding tears now:
Tears of joy.


VI: “Tractors turning”?

Here we are now. There’s no returning.
That’s the stench of bridges burning.
I can’t believe what this has come to,
But I’ve done too much now to undo.

What are the tractors turning into?
What are the tractors turning into?

I’d rather not have had to force you.
But you’ve had the brass, so here’s the horseshoe.
Your nose is bleeding. Here’s a tissue.
Days will pass before they miss you.

What are the tractors turning into?
What are the tractors turning into?

I’m honestly not trying to stress you,
But there’s no one coming to your rescue.
Your beasts are profane; you’re no Hindu.
Here’s some propane for you to imbue.

What are the tractors turning into?
What are the tractors turning into?

This room is cold. It smells of mildew
You should have upped sticks when they willed you.
Is this the best their money could build you?
Others will talk when I’ve killed you…

What are the tractors turning into?
What are the tractors turning into?


Appears in:
Live Canon poetry prize anthology [parts 1, 3 and 4: 2018]
Hexit [a pre-recorded reading of parts 1 and 3 in a live broadcast on October 31, 2019]
In the Men’s Room [201?]


Big American fridge

Big American fridge

I often lie awake and wonder
About the things that I would like
If money were not an issue,
If space were not an object;

How much my life might change,
And how much might stay the same,
If I were suddenly freed from
The common burdens of my age.

Yeah, maybe I would like a fast car
To take a road-trip from here to Alaska;
Or a holiday in Svanetia;
A postcard to say “Guess where I am?”

A new suit cut properly to fit –
Not from TK Maxx;
And a new set of diamond-tipped drill-bits
To penetrate ceramic and glass;

A giant billboard to advertise
My fourth poetry collection;
A lawnmower that runs on sunshine;
And critical appreciation;

And a big American fridge.
Yeah: a big, American, fridge.
The kind of fridge a cat could get lost in:
A big American fridge.

They say you can’t take it with you when you go.
Well, what do they know?
They say money can’t buy you happiness;
But money can buy you marshmallows.

And money can buy you more money.
And money can buy you more time.
And yours can buy all of mine:
Dollars in my dime.

And I’d like a memorial stone
For when I succumb to cirrhosis or gallstones.
And then you can leave me all alone
In a field with a view of another.

And maybe there’ll be one little river
To wash away my bladder and my liver
And maybe even one little bridge
Over my big American fridge.

Appears in:

In the Men’s Room [201?]




after F. W. Harvey’s “Ducks”


From troubles of the world I turn to Alexander Lukashenko,
Man of the people, Daddy:
Sipping from a tiny espresso cup;
Smiling with a tennis racket, maybe;
Towelling his glistening forehead
With a three-times-folded napkin;
Looming over an inferior autocrat
In full Belarusian hockey gear
On the centre-line of a rink;
Introducing American actor Steven Seagal
To a watermelon – or, ideally,
Taking his favoured third son Kolya out
For a ride on a Harley-Davidson
Through the obedient streets of Minsk.
Yes, Alexander “former-chairman
Of the anti-corruption committee
Of the Belarusian parliament,
Of which he was the only deputy
To vote against the dissolution
Of his beloved Soviet Union,
Elected with a mandate to cull mafia conspiracy
And New World Order Zionism,
Who said Jews turned Babruysk into a pigsty
And Hitler wasn’t all bad;
He brought order and authority,
Better, anyway, to be a dictator
Than gay” Lukashenko.

Yes, a man with a hat that massive
Can pass me legislation any day.
And a man with a moustache that metallic
Can bring me pork scratchings on a metal tray
Through dry all-night diplomatic debates
Till Vladimir Putin puts down his plate of coffee-cake
And gives Crimea back to Ukraine,
And Sarah Palin records an acoustic cover
Of Yusuf Islam’s ‘Peace Train’
For a John Lewis Christmas ad campaign.
Daddy says opposition protestors
Should have their necks wrung like ducks,
And has the police beat seven shades of shit
Out of the other presidential candidates
Because he gives zero fucks
And zero Belarusian bucks
About the EU’s economic sanctions
Or the UN’s New Year’s resolutions.
He has to rig the elections against himself
To make his majorities less great,
And while few countries recognize the results,
It’s in the nature of haters to hate;
So Alexander doesn’t despair –
Or lose any sleep, or hair –
He’s always been more keen on hope.
Look! There’s a picture of Daddy and Kolya
With the Obamas, with the Pope.

When God was finally done stomping Belarusians into the soil
During numerous weary wars fought for others’ blood and oil,
He gave them their own Soviet for the Twentieth Century
And a circus strongman in uniform, upon its death to be their Daddy:
To protect them from the hypocrisy
Of representative democracy;
To maintain economic stability
In the face of Zionist conspiracy.
So when next you take some comfort in the notion of God’s grace,
Do a quick Google-image-search for Alexander Lukashenko’s face,
And recall that the dictator teaching his son how to scrimmage
Was created just like you and yours in the almighty’s own image.
So if God gave us flapjacks, flamingos, the Flaming Lips and flamenco,
He also gave the Belarusians Alexander Lukashenko.
And he’s probably laughing still at the stipulations in Daddy’s will.

Appears in:

In the Men’s Room [201?]


Why I will no longer recognize gender—mine or yours

The problem cannot be the solution. That’s never how these things work.

So from now on I would prefer to be referred to by the pronouns “it” and “its”. Of course you may use “him”, “his”, and “he” if you insist. Or any others you happen to like; if you’re talking about me in the third-person I probably won’t be around to hear you anyway. But rest assured I will also be referring to you as “it” and things belong or pertaining to you as “its”. You may be male or female or intersex. You may identify as any or all or none of these. I don’t care. To me you, me, we, are all its.

The idea that we deserve special differentiation from—or elevation above—abstract concepts, inanimate objects, or unsexable non-human animals, has never sat particularly well with me. Some rocks, for example, are amazing. Besides, in the vast majority of cases it seems unnecessary for you to be informed or reminded of what sex I am, or for me to know what sex you are, by passing reference. And on the rare occasions when it is actually important, you can usually work it out.

As for gender? Well, it doesn’t exist, does it. It’s not real. I’m coming out as gender-unwilling and gender-exempt. It doesn’t stop me being a male human; and nor does it stop me benefiting from what that entails. But I’m pretty keen on the idea anyway.

I’m not nowadays fond of consciously making real-life decisions or actions based on things that are not part of the same reality I’m deciding or acting upon. Nor do I want words for such unreal things to be applied to me. I’m not cis, nor trans, nor hetero, nor homo—unless you mean sapiens. If you’re interested enough to read this far you’re probably already aware of the linguistic distinction (in modern English parlance) between gender and sex. You’re probably comfortable with the notion that the latter refers to the biological and physiological reality of humankind, and that the former is a load of cultural baggage attached to the latter, usually directly or indirectly for the purpose of subjugating the typically physically weaker female sex.

So if you don’t identify with the gender you were assigned at birth, I’m not really surprised. Honestly, who does? If there really are people out there who are fully, 100% on-board with their society’s designated requirements for their maleness or femaleness, they’re probably either psychopaths or haven’t really thought about it hard enough. I think mostly people just assume that gender and sex are the same thing, or that nobody will even momentarily entertain them if they happen to have any issues with The Way Things Are. Any people in doubt might well be reinforced in the delusion that gender is conferred upon them by the act of birth alone because of the propensity of many people not to bother to honour the very important distinction between the terms “gender” and “sex”.

No definition will suit everyone (when has it ever?!) but an archived page from the WHO sums it up pretty neatly.

Some examples of sex characteristics:

Women menstruate while men do not.
Men have testicles while women do not.
Women have developed breasts that are usually capable of lactating, while men have not.
Men generally have more massive bones than women.

Some examples of gender characteristics:

In the United States (and most other countries), women earn significantly less money than men for similar work.
In Vietnam, many more men than women smoke, as female smoking has not traditionally been considered appropriate.
In Saudi Arabia men are allowed to drive cars while women are not.
In most of the world, women do more housework than men.

Of course those examples are neither comprehensive nor entirely perfect. I had a (male) friend who only had one testicle, following surgery. Some men have none. Women stop menstruating when their oestrogen levels decline; or never menstruate, if they’re born without a uterus. Nevertheless, the above lists are a pertinent reminder of what we’re generally talking about, either knowingly or unknowingly, when we use the words “sex” and “gender”. It is important to maintain a distinction between the two because one of these lists is real, whether or not we believe or want it to be, and the other is the result of our collective willingness to believe in something which is not real.

So if you don’t identify with the sex you were assigned at birth, as opposed to the gender, that’s trickier. What that says about you, I don’t know, and I’m unqualified even to hazard a guess.

I suppose I have a fatalist approach to these matters. Ah well, seem to be male—I probably thought; round about the age of four when I first became fully aware that (and how) girls and boys were different. Not necessarily what I’d have chosen, these testicles; but I might as well sit back and reap the privileges of my massive bones, my disproportionately high wages, and my disproportionately small share of the housework. Maybe one day I’ll go for a drive in Saudi Arabia. Maybe not.

But not everyone is like me. Most people have had much harder lives, for one thing, and might have had more reason to want to fight against the hand that fate dealt them. But also, many people are more enterprising of spirit than I am. Humankind incorporates a vast spectrum of personality types within (and between) its paltry two sexes. And for this reason alone our species is unlikely to rest until it has either:

A) facilitated the possibility for a complete reversal of the sex allocation dealt to us before birth by “natural” processes: in other words, Full Transition.

B) exterminated itself for some reason, or by some means, while in the process of trying.

Scenario A seems likeliest at the moment. But Scenario B could also feasibly unfold at any given moment, and—especially if you live somewhere with internet as bad as ours—with very little warning. Assuming for a moment that we’re heading for a Scenario-A future, let’s look on the bright side: many people who are unhappy with the sex they were born into (the body, the chemicals, and, yes, the societal baggage called “gender” which is by self-fulfilling prophecy conflated with the biological reality of female- or maleness) will be able to right the wrong that was accidentally done to them in the womb, or the lab, or wherever they grew from.

Great! Sort of. Kind of. But what then? Will we see more happiness? Hopefully. Maybe some. Certainly some relatively wealthy individuals will be able to enact their fantasies of turning their lives around, beginning again—not quite from scratch, perhaps, but with a new identity: one that feels to them, more like them. Men sick of the demands of society (the less housework, the more money, the ability to drive a car in Saudi Arabia, etc.) will pay handsomely to step into a woman’s shoes both literally and metaphorically for the first time. Perhaps foot-shortening surgery will accompany the Full Transition. Perhaps it won’t need to if the hormonal rebalancing has been begun young enough—depending, of course, on the legality accompanying the technology. Or perhaps our definitions of femaleness will simply expand to include biological females who were born male; and our definitions of maleness will change similarly.

It would be awful though, really awful, if the man becoming a woman, or the woman becoming a man, were to find that the grass is not, in fact, any greener on the other side of the fence, and that they have merely exchanged one prison for another. Awful, and expensive, materially and psychologically. I see no moral or logical downside to the seemingly inevitable progress toward Scenario A. Transhumanism is our destiny; probably already our reality. Transhumanism or extinction. Maybe, probably—almost certainly, eventually—both. But I worry that our technological capacity might soon overreach our social and societal readiness. Notwithstanding the perpetual global inequality necessary to drive technological progress (that’s not what this blog-post is about) our society’s absolute adherence to the laws of gender—a thing that, let us remind ourselves, does not exist; and that is what this blog-post is mostly about—surely means that any potential progress toward a greater good offered by scientific and technological advances in the field of transsexual transhumanism will be utterly scuppered by the unreadiness collectively conferred upon us due to our frankly backward adherence to the mythology of the two dominant gender roles which have defined human society for as long as history allows us to see back. I say two dominant gender roles. Obviously one of them has been a bit more dominant than the other.

The problem cannot be the solution.

Gender can be happily ignored by many. But for those of us who see it, we can’t unsee it. Men are unhappy being men. Women are unhappy being women. Girls wish they were boys. Boys wish they were girls. Intersex people might wish they were one or the other; then again, they might wish there was a place in society for them as they are, since they, like men and women, boys and girls, but unlike masculinity and femininity, are also an inevitable part of reality as we know it.

Now, before I go on, and at some point, hopefully, stop, I thought I’d best mention that I do know that the actual effects of gender are real. That the effects of gender are as real as the destruction wrought by hurricane season in hurricane countries across the hurricane-prone bits of the globe—albeit less seasonal in nature.

But this doesn’t mean that gender is as natural as the wind. To argue that everything which exists is natural by definition, is not the same as arguing that everything which exists is inevitable. The climate we have now is an inevitable result of the delicate balance of natural physical forces on, in, and around our planet; which balance includes but is not limited to us. Thus, the wind blows, and we see trees bend; or we hear windows rattle, or our train gets delayed. Most scientists would agree that we’ve collectively “made an impact” on the planet. One day our species might become so powerful that, like the gods in our books, we can claim that the wind blows when we exhale. This is not currently the case; but gender is an invention entirely born of the human imagination. Gods do not decide how we dress. We do. We took our sexual cues, and collectively ran with them. Men, having more massive bones, are—on average—better at running. No matter that women are better at menstruating or lactating; or that quite literally anything a man can do (short of producing spermatozoa to fertilize an ovum) a woman can also do… Because gender dictates that women should wear clothing that inhibits their movement. Gender dictates that men should have the upper hand in their relationships with women. Gender dictates that a man should be paid more money for doing the exact same thing a woman does.

A Brave New Gender outlook might soon dictate that biological men can compete with women in sports events globally. This might seem questionable, given that global professional competitive sports are one of a very few contexts in which the biological reality of maleness and femaleness are unashamedly acknowledged in all their primitive brutish glory; rather than hinted at in euphemistic or deceptive ways. But let’s not forget that gender already plays a massive role here too. Male sports stars are paid much more than female sports stars; even, objectively, disproportionately more in terms of the actual difference in their physical performance. So what if a man decides he wants to be a woman, and then she, with her new pronoun, runs faster than a load of women who happen to have been born women? So what if she, and not one of them, wins the gold medal? In the grand scheme of things, at least this serves as a clear and colourful metaphor for our collective attitudes toward gender and sex. After all, a woman is very welcome to become a man; and then he, having dropped the S from his pronoun, can run against other men and enjoy an immediate physical disadvantage; albeit one mitigated by the possibility of maybe one day cruising down to Medina in a Pontiac Firebird while his husband or more probably his wife is at home doing the ironing.

Yes, gender dictates a lot of awful crap for men to adhere to as well. It favours men, overall, because men were presumably largely responsible for shaping it; or at least because the physical reality of men’s tendency to be able to overpower women convinced them either consciously or unconsciously that nature intended them to be the everlasting beneficiaries of its inbuilt disparities. But it seems unlikely to me, given how far we have deliberately stretched notions of nature already, that gender is ultimately able to be beneficial for our species at all. It sows discord and misery. It arms our enemies (even our potential friends) with ammunition to use against us. It makes people act awfully to one another. It makes people angry with people who want to go against its rules. It is a freeloader, a poser, and a fraud. It seems to be an intrinsically important aspect of society; something which affords us freedoms and happiness. It isn’t, of course, but it seems to be; and that seeming seems to make us believe it is. And us believing it is, demonstrably makes us enforce its rules as though it really were.

No wonder some people are unhappy about it. No wonder some people feel that their gender-role is a prison from which they want to escape. And since gender is more commonly (though incorrectly) associated with physical reality, why change your mind when you can change your body? Clothes, make-up, hairstyles, etc. People have been doing it for centuries. Millennia. If you can afford it now, or if your society can afford it, there’s hormones, surgery, medication. Perhaps it’s not that you don’t want to change your mind. Maybe you can’t change your mind. Maybe you shouldn’t have to. Humans have been adorning and modifying their bodies since humans existed. For social and ceremonial purposes, or just because they want to. Clothes, tattoos, make-up, prosthetic limbs, jewellery, circumcision, foot-binding…

Why must society’s requirements for the rules for male and female appearance and behaviour inhibit personal freedoms? There is only ever one answer: control. Men control society. No, not me as far as I know—at least, not consciously. Not necessarily you, if you’re a man, either. And not some shady group of men who meet weekly by candlelight in a cellar to exchange secret handshakes, drink expensive liquor, and cackle about the awful things they’ve done to women since they last met. Not just them, at any rate. But that vast transhistorical network of relatively powerful individuals down the millennia who have really succeeded in shaping the world we inhabit today. Those who made a mark. The chiefs, the warlords, the clerics, the kings, the emperors, the kaisers, the czars, the presidents, the prime ministers and the CEOs. They’re #notallmen. But most of them were. And most of them still are.

There’s a line in a song by a band I like (“Rain, Steam and Speed” by The Men They Couldn’t Hang): “Some men build a monument / Some men build a tomb / Some men move the world around / To give them breathing room.” It’s a great song. A very masculine song, I suppose; a physical song, and a workers’ song, about the Industrial Revolution. Anyway, I was thinking about that last bit especially: “Some men move the world around / To give them breathing room”. That sort of sums it up. It’s true. And I like it. I don’t like it because I like it. I like it because it’s true. Imagine how much harder it must be to move the world around if you’re a woman—if you’re a woman you might not have to imagine very hard at this point—and what if “moving the world around to give you breathing room” is not considered within the remit of your “gender role”, but, say, wearing a corset is?

The world we live in is the Men’s Room. Call it “Earth” if you will, but this represents it falsely. It is not all rich soil; but it is all masculine controlled space; legal fictions passed off as nature. The desert, the steppes, the tundra; the rice-paddies, the wheat-fields, the factory-farms; from the American flag planted on the moon (by men) right down to the heaps of plastic collecting in the Mariana Trench: this is our world now. We have remade it in our image. Every inch of it is mapped, and catalogued, and valued—at least in the financial sense of the word. We have made the Men’s Room, like we latterly made god, a stern unpredictable patriarch.

It might seem, to the scientists tasked with the undertaking, that achieving a Full Transition between man and woman, woman and man, or man and superman, is the Great Task facing humankind. (That or recreating woolly mammoths while simultaneously driving black rhinoceroses to extinction.) But, for me, transhumanism must begin—can only truly begin—with the obliteration of the great vast plastic fraud of gender, and (as a stretch-goal) all other associated imagined entities that are bound together, siphonophorelike, encircling us with barbs bared as we dive deep for something greater: some perfect pearl.

Perhaps the plundering of oyster-beds isn’t the best metaphor I could deploy here. But we could probably, theoretically, individually and collectively, enjoy ourselves more—hopefully at the expense of fewer other (human and non-human) organisms—before we die. Spend less time worrying, hating, hurting, feeling guilty or put-upon; watching our backs.

I understand that this post has been a bit of a boggy ramble. It’s a bit of a dump, I admit; and probably doesn’t even constitute information, for the most part. Much of this has been swimming around my brain over the past few years, but hasn’t managed to make it out into any kind of literary shape.

The relationship between nature and destiny is, after all, what I’ve been trying to keep on my mind while writing my third poetry book, In the Men’s Room; which task seems to have taken an inordinate amount of time, and is still not fully complete. It’s not all about sex and gender, the book. It’s also about ecology, and class—among other things. I’m fascinated by the inherent and enduring inequality in human society, and how big a role gender plays in that, and what it all means for our relationship with the reality we inhabit. There are no poems in it about whether or not women-only shortlists for British political parties should include trans-women. And there are no poems about gender-neutral toilets. Although there is one poem in it about defecating, in case you’re interested in that sort of thing. And another in which I speculate about why men’s toilets specifically often have faeces spattered across the walls, floor, and—if you’re a woman you might not believe this, but it’s true—the ceiling.

I don’t aim through my art to tell people what should be (as if I had a clue); but rather to ask why things are how they are, and whether the way things are is the way they have to be. Of course, I am just a man, albeit a self-important and recently self-declared gender-exempt man; so it’s entirely possible that a combination of my genes and my conditioning might persuade me to end up doing the exact opposite of the thing I’m meaning to do, and to not quite realize it. For which, if for nothing else here, I offer the following draft poem that will probably open the collection when, or if, it finally materializes:


An apology

For all the unpicked blackberries,
All blistered, blue and furry;
For all the hard, green, knotted burs
Brushed from the brambles early;
For every drop of purple ink
That’s stained my index finger
While interrupting news reports
Whose morbid verbs would linger
Among the sunlit dustmotes as
I overstuff my freezer;
For every infant filament
Lost to the Tangle Teezer;
For every drop of diesel
That drips on the forecourt concrete;
For every broadsheet crossword
I have ever failed to complete;
For each particle of water
I diverted by mistake
From becoming what it ought to,
Be that river, sea, or lake;
For all that I have ever missed
By being in a hurry,
And all that I have ever brought
To you by way of worry,
I am sorry.

Trouble in the drains

Trouble in the drains

for Ursula Moray Williams

The river rises with the rains
And I feel thunder in my veins
And I feel thunder in my bowels
And I fear trouble in the drains.

The windows rattle, the wind howls;
The branches shiver, the sky scowls;
And I rush out to stow my tools
And one dog whines; the other growls.

The weather makes and breaks the rules;
The roads are soon closed, then the schools.
The electricity soon goes
And we are taken, thus, for fools.

The bough will break when the wind blows:
The final reckoning, the throes.
The fatberg forming in the pipes:
The bogwoppit both sees and knows,

And audits nappies, condoms, wipes;
And tigers never change their stripes
And burgers never better brains
And entities revert to types:

The river rises with the rains
And I feel thunder in my veins
And I feel thunder in my bowels
And I fear trouble in the drains.

Appears in:
In the Men’s Room [2018]

The title “Trouble in the drains” is taken from Chapter 6 of the children’s book Bogwoppit, written by Ursula Moray Williams and illustrated by Shirley Hughes. The Bogwoppit is a fictional, critically endangered, marsh-dwelling, semi-flightless bird. In the book the animal is believed extinct. Yet it is also simultaneously responsible for tempting the heroine Samantha’s parents overseas (to study it) and for kidnapping her cantankerous aunt-turned-foster-mother, Daisy, after taking up residence in the sewerage system of her Victorian mansion. In this poem, it should be noted, the Bogwoppit serves primarily as a metaphor.


In the Men’s Room


“In the Men’s Room” is the third volume of poems in the Has Doubts series, written by Alexander Velky.

Crowdfunding for this volume fell short in late 2018 and thus its future is uncertain. 

The theme of this book is the relationship between nature and destiny, with a specific focus on mankind’s influence on its habitats and its social structures, and on the related propensity for mankind to conflate itself with men, as illustrated in the frequent usage context of the word itself.

You can read a few of the poems and watch a couple of video performances by following links from the contents list below. The poems now intended for inclusion are these:

  1. An apology
  2. Cantre’r Gwaelod: the ballad of the Sunken Hundred
  3. Fossils
  4. Taxonomy
  5. Spider
  6. Attitude: rampant
  7. Finally embracing my destiny
  8. Lots
  9. Thoughts on a Monday morning
  10. Natural law of diminishing returns
  11. In the Men’s Room: I
  12. Good companions, rarely blended
  13. Wearing pink
  14. Self-aping
  15. My species is endangered
  16. Dwrgi, Dwrgi
  17. Tractors turning
  18. Civilization schmivilization
  19. Two bogwoppit poems
  20. George Monbiot’s agricultural policy
  21. New story idea
  22. In the Men’s Room: II
  23. Will
  24. Stopped by a commercial Sitka spruce plantation on a snowy evening
  25. Twitching tetraptych
  26. Big American fridge
  27. Flawed nature, perfect destiny
  28. Men
  29. Daddy
  30. Altes Schloss selfie
  31. With which eye do you see the faery?
  32. My bloody chamber
  33. In the Men’s Room: III

Welcome to the Men’s Room

Welcome to the Men’s Room

One day, I know, you will begin
To see this world anew.
And on that day I trust you’ll know
Exactly what to do.

Now welcome to the Men’s Room, girls.
Enjoy it: here you can
Be anything you want to be –
Except, of course, a man.

Believe me, though, you don’t want that,
Cos there are just two kinds:
The ones who wilt with shame and guilt,
And the willful, blissful blind.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s hard on your kind
And gets harder yet:
Everything’s made with men in mind,
And men tend to forget

To listen to their mothers
And their daughters, but would rather
Focus most on echoing
The missteps of their fathers.

You’ll sense the truth about your sex
Before you’re even told
That women were deemed property,
That women were called scolds;

That women’s contributions
To their own society
Are always far less likely
To end up in history.

You won’t need me to tell you
On what axis this world tilts –
Ask not for whom the bell tolls,
But for whom the bell was built.

Now come on in to the Men’s Room.
Best leave those trainers on;
Once you’ve seen the state of the place
You won’t fancy staying long.

I’ll try to bottle the atmosphere
I’m writing from inside,
In case the room has changed at all;
In case the stench has died.

* * *

We exist in an oasis,
Relative to this world
And human history, which have not quite
Been kind to girls:

A woman can vote in my country,
And purchase property,
And wear what she wants, in theory,
And own her own body.

And if it seems odd to mention
Such basic human rights,
I do so only for the reason that
This is still not quite

The norm worldwide: there are places
Where women can’t legally drive,
And where being born a girl makes you
Less likely to survive

To adulthood – or even birth.
Our laws aren’t perfect, true:
But we are relatively free;
So if they talk to you

Of sex-selective abortions,
Female infanticide,
Female genital mutilation,
Prepubescent child brides,

Soothe yourself with the knowledge that these
Afflict only the poor;
Girls in third-world countries:
Cries from behind closed doors.

Here all you need worry about
Is how much you’ll be paid
For doing the same job as a man;
Your labour will be weighed

Against the risk posed by your sex:
The time-bomb in your womb.
Make no mistake, in each workplace,
Communal means Men’s Room.

You’ll find you’re that bit more likely
To be interrupted or ignored;
To be talked down to or over,
Not to win the awards;

Not to get the promotion
You were certain you deserved;
Not to get a reaction
When you’re pretty sure he heard.

But at least there’s the illusion
In those air-conditioned cubes
That civilization sees you
For more than your hips and boobs;

Out there on the street you’ll soon
Suspect that something’s rotten
In how your sex is represented
As somehow misbegotten:

Sensationalist tabloid language,
Titillating, gory;
The sins of Eve and Lilith lie
Right there behind each story.

Walking home at that time of night?
She was asking for it.
That dress was shorthand for consent.
See the way she wore it?

You’re much less likely than a man
To commit a violent act.
But no less likely to suffer one;
That’s just how the odds are stacked.

To be raped, beaten or murdered
By a stranger, or a friend,
Or a family member – usually male –
These are natural ends

To the means of societal order
Our kind uses;
Where power is a pyramid,
Kindness loses.

You’re just a guest in the Men’s Room:
You’ve got to follow their rules.
So don’t think you can take this structure down
Using their tools.

And don’t let anyone tell you
You already won this fight.
You are not the fortunate ones.
Fury is your right.

* * *

Jo Cox was shot and stabbed to death
In daylight by some man.
They found him pretty soon after,
Even though he ran.

He’s never been a violent guy
The killer’s kin opined.
As if there’s ever been another
Rare recorded kind.

Don’t politicize tragedy,
The right-wing voices said.
It was mental health that did it:
He’s not right in the head.

They say he shouted Britain First –
Some of them who was there.
A gentle man, loved gardening;
His name was Thomas Mair.

But when they asked him to confirm
In court what they’d got written,
He answered only Death to traitors,
And freedom for Britain.

Some said he blamed his MP
For government funding cuts;
That some community project
He was involved with had got shut.

Some said he’s a well-known racist;
Been in the National Front,
And latterly BNP and the like:
Just some daft cunt

Didn’t like what she was doing –
Helping them foreign lot.
Took matters into his own hands then:
Took aim, stabbed, and shot.

We’re still waiting to learn the truth,
Like it even matters.
If he’d a masterplan for after this,
That’s in tatters.

And she’s another dead woman now:
A mother, daughter, wife.
And he’s just another man who chose
To take a woman’s life.

They don’t just target women though,
These blokes who can’t quite cope:
But presidents and more besides
With broad and scattered scope;

They’ll kill themselves to make a point,
And take you down with them:
For gods or new philosophies
They’ll leave these rooms of men.

Four years ago a girl was shot,
Sat on a bus to school
In Pakistan by the Taliban –
And if that sounds cruel,

That’s nothing to what we’ve seen since
Out in Islamic State,
Where men mass to the calling of
That brave new caliphate;

Boys butcher captive journalists
For social media likes
Where Saddam Hussein once sat
Naked prisoners on spikes.

Operation Liberation
Never quite trickled down
To captive shacks in Mosul
And markets in Raqqa town

Where jihadists salute and smile,
Raising their right index,
And enslave Yazidih women
In Allah’s name for sex.

The same Yazidi women
Who’ve been stoned as apostates
By kith when they’ve dared marry
Outside the Yazidi faith.

There’s enough male violence being wrought
At any given time
To cast the kind illusion
That inhumanity’s in its prime;

But the worst of these dark deeds
Are only centuries past
In any civilized country
From which stones might be cast;

And they linger on in the shadows,
Out of sight and mind,
Till you’re walking down the wrong street
With an echoing behind;

And shut away in your bibles,
History books, folk songs,
Malleus Maleficarums:
All speak of Men’s Room wrongs.

When I was young, old men
On our school bus would buy the Sun,
Hold up page three at the window,
Chuckle at what they’d done.

Most men don’t shoot girls on buses;
Most ain’t even got guns.
Most men don’t gang-rape and murder,
Kill daughters with their sons.

But enough do to make you wonder
How many’s capable
Of killing what’s unwilling,
And raping what’s rapable.

So welcome to the Men’s Room, girls.
This is the way it goes:
These signs of life in rude health,
Don’t mistake for deathly throes.

And be careful what you bring here;
You don’t know what you might spur.
Jo Cox came offering kindness:
Look what happened to her.

* * *

Meanwhile back in the USA
The presidential debates
Provide the world with new headlines
At quite an alarming rate.

The woman in the Blue corner –
And yes, you read that right –
Stands accused of being a former
President’s loyal wife.

And any dirt that’s dug on Red,
Or spouted by the same,
Is turned over to her husband’s crimes
For which she’s to be blamed.

Now Mr Red’s a classic case
Of the blind leading the blind;
And he’d gladly leave the sighted half
Of his homeland behind.

He’s not sure why he’s standing now,
But in his jacket pocket
There’s a beer-matt scrawled with
POTUS > a question mark > then PROFIT.

There’s all sorts of allegations
Coming out about him,
But none of them are half as bad
As what he has been shouting

All this year, and all his life,
To anyone who’ll listen.
Like a dog, he’ll hump your leg.
Like a mouse, he’s always pissing.

He says that when you’re famous
You can grab women’s vaginas.
PR never ran that line
By out-of-work coal-miners,

But you can bet that the sentiment
Has aspiration-clout
With down-trod men in the Men’s Room
Who would trade their debts for gout.

He called it locker-room talking,
And plenty had his back;
For words are not the same as
Violent sexual attacks,

So some thought it good and natural,
Said women talk so too,
Said something about Blue’s husband,
Said something about Blue.

And it ain’t that Blue is perfect
Or anything close by,
But that they’d never even so much
As entertain this guy

If he’d been born with ovaries,
Or if he’d been born poor.
If he was black, his party
Wouldn’t have let him through the door.

And it’s no better over here,
We’ve got our share of clowns.
Parliament’s still a pantomime
Of cumbersome mass nouns

Exchanged in echoing chambers:
Leather, mahogany;
It’s one part legislation talk,
Nine parts ceremony.

And the PM might be female,
Indeed she is just now,
But it’s still run like a boys’ club –
From stern to buoyant bow.

It’s tribal and archaic,
Nepotistic and oblique;
You can see it in the gestures,
Hear it in how they speak.

And this fresh generation –
Tomorrow’s politicos –
Tweet knuckle pics for evidence
Each time they come to blows.

The liberal lot, with a little L,
Are hardly any better;
A woman challenged their leader,
And they set out to get her:

Chucked bricks through her office windows.
Sent homophobic abuse:
Death threats, the lot. Seems each party’s got
These attack dogs ready to loose.

And among the emerging voices
Of the alt-right crowd,
Consensuses come ready-made,
And regurgitated loud:

Feminist is pejorative.
Equality is bunk.
Racism is impossible.
Conservative is punk.

And when I feel we’re going backwards,
And that something’s got to give;
I must remind myself once more
That this is how it feels to live

In the Men’s Room once you notice
How few folk even cares
That we live in a caste system
Of helix spiral stairs:

Glass ceilings on each floor through which
Just certain folks may pass
To power enough to keep the gates
Of sex and race and class.

And if you’re born with two X chromosomes
You’re shit out of luck;
Men see merit in their mirrors,
And couldn’t give a fuck.

* * *

An incident occurred, said Ched
In a post-acquittal statement
Deployed there with aplomb

By the dad-in-law who funded
Both his trial and appeal
For raping a teenager
In a Premier Inn in Rhyl.

It was rape, then it wasn’t rape,
And now it never will be.
His girlfriend offered 50 grand
For any testimony

From anyone who’d swear on the Bible
That she was a slag –
To get her back for all those hours
Ched spent painting as a lag.

She’d ruined his life, they said,
Before he’d even appealed.
The Blades gave him the boot,
He had to go play for Chesterfield.

A promising young striker
With a cap for the national team;
Ears like the FA cup’s handles,
He was living the Men’s Room dream

Till this paralytic waitress
Rose from a kebab shop floor,
And came from behind to shaft him
Like some Babylonian whore.

Got a bird, said his team-mate
In a text message. Cryptic.
So Ched headed to the hotel
To make it a tryptych,

Blagged his way in there
To a room he’d already paid for,
Off the sub’s bench, open goal, shot –
Escaped through the fire door.

He never asked her name,
Perhaps he knew it already?
Said nowt the whole time,
They call him Enigmatic Cheddy.

And despite what the fanboys
All made up in their minds,
She didn’t cry rape
As soon as the sun shone through the blinds;

She woke up with no notion
Of how she’d got where she was.
It was at the police station
While reporting the loss

Of a handbag that night out
That someone else said the word.
And I don’t know how it went;
Maybe she thought she’d misheard?

Regardless, even the patchiest
Recounting of events
That night did not paint a picture
Of a conscious consent.

But language can be tricky –
Open to interpretation.
You’d be forgiven for thinking
It was for communication,

But in law its purpose is power:
Unsimple, unplain.
And power, by its very nature,
Is no friend of pain:

Power loves the powerful
And the powerful love it.
Try to take it from them
And they’ll show you where to shove it.

Ched could have hung his head
And let go of all the worry,
Held his hand up like he’d scored a goal
And said I am sorry.

But he had a career to think about;
A girlfriend too.
It’s easy to shake your head at him,
But what do you think you would do?

Maybe you can’t imagine
Being in the situation.
Plastered across the tabloids:
Called the scum of the nation.

He maintained he was innocent
From day one of the trial.
Held his head high when the feminists
Said that he was vile.

Now, officially not guilty
Beyond reasonable doubt
Of raping a drunk teenager
After she had blacked out,

His club issues a statement
Saying they are delighted!
We’re still waiting on a quote to come
From Sheffield United…

Maybe Jessica Ennis-Hill
Will take everything back?
Maybe all those Guardian journalists
Are going to get the sack?

Of course, the rate of conviction
For crimes of this nature
Doesn’t look much like justice
In real life or on paper;

And the girl for whom they brought the charge,
Who never asked for it,
Is repeatedly threatened with rape
And unmasked for it;

She’s already changed her name once
And will have to again.
She’s moving to Australia,
Maybe moving to Spain:

Witness protection don’t mean much
With a press like we’ve got.
And the Twitter mobs will not forgive
What they’ve not forgot.

They dragged out her sexual history
And grilled her in the court.
It’s almost like the legal process
Is some kind of bloodsport,

Slightly less boring than football,
But just as depressing;
Just think about the jury’s faces
Next time you’re dressing

For a Saturday night’s drinking.
Going out on the piss?
If you look slutty to enough of them
Don’t expect a kiss

Or a cuddle, much less a conviction,
If some drunk lad
Sees you drunker, lonely, vulnerable,
In need of getting had.

And don’t expect sympathy
From the millions of female
Sexual violence victims;
Vetting doesn’t miss a detail.

Your dozen peers are far more likely
To comprise some guys
Who’ve done some damn similar things
For which they’ve never been tried.

The polarized perspectives
Represented on the shelf,
Are endemic of a culture
Uncomfortable with itself:

The narrowsheets are split between
Proclaiming rape is rape
And saying keep your daughters home,
Tied down with gaffer tape.

Now Ched’s off on tour
To talk to all the young dudes
About how to walk the line
Between being rapists and prudes:

How to get what they want from women
Without a conviction;
How to satisfy their urges
With minimum friction.

We could have had any bird in the town
Of Rhyl that night;
We’re footballers, said Ched.
As though that gave them both the right.

It just so happened that the girl
They both wanted that night
Was drunk and alone, and never
Going to put up a fight.

That’s the prerogative
Of the Men’s Room’s natural predator:
Because woman is debtor,
And man is her creditor.

And she’s destined to end up reduced to
I’ve got a bird.
Ched did nothing illegal:
An incident occurred.

* * *

I could go on forever
But there’s only so much ink.
These are just a couple of recent stories:
What do you think?

Do you fancy hanging round here
For the rest of your life?
Maybe one day you’ll be some man’s woman
Or some man’s wife?

Those aren’t the limits, mind:
Sexuality’s a spectrum.
Humanity is the steel strings;
You can be the plectrum

And play a tune that suits you
To a beat you can keep with.
Choice is all that matters
In choosing who you want to sleep with –

If they want to sleep with you
And they’re conscious of what choice is:
Everyone should sing sometimes
No matter how good their voice is.

But I guess I shouldn’t try to pretend
Everything goes.
Because I’d love you whatever –
Whatever path you chose –

But the Men’s Rooms social structures
Might not choose to agree;
So you should know what price your freedom
Before running free.

If you choose to love women,
Or just discover you do,
You can guarantee the Men’s Room
Will make things harder for you.

If you don’t want to give birth
But get kicks from your career
Some men and women will treat you
With pity or with fear.

And if you feel like maybe
You would rather be a man –
Then hey, I can understand that, kid;
No, I really can.

I used to wish I was a girl,
Back when I was a lad.
So blind I was to the world around,
I thought I had it bad!

And the grass is always greener…
And the rest of that shit;
Follow your heart not your head…
But here’s the difficult bit:

You can change your name and wardrobe,
And even change your mind;
But you can’t change the Men’s Room’s rules
Working the Men’s Rooms grind.

I’m halfway dead and I’ve done nothing yet
Toward breaking it.
You can’t rely on men to help
We’ve got too much stake in it.

In every ally lurks a sleeping
Saboteur statist.
Suspect everyone
Because all men are potential rapists.

For every virtue sign
Condemning obvious broken shit,
The Men’s Room stands safe
Knowing no one yet has broken it.

But here’s the punchline to this joke:
Men are obsolescing.
The values we’ve instilled in everything
Seem so depressing

Because they’re at odds with progress:
Opposed to what’s coming.
Every man knows this in some way,
That’s why we’re born running;

And everything but everything is built
With sex in mind.
We’re terrified of equality;
Of what we might find

If women were treated equally.
A simple notion
Which to avoid we’d nuke the planet
And drain the ocean;

Start an intergalactic war;
Launch ourselves into the sun.
We’d sooner burn down the Men’s Room
And cry about what we’d done

Than acknowledge that the only
Real differences between us
Are nothing to do with being from Mars
Or being from Venus,

But, rather, biological –
Organic, in a sense:
The chemicals that influence our moods
At our expense.

So what use testosterone
In this cowardly old place?
The missionary position
Might have brought us face-to-face

But there’s more to unpack there
Than the civilizing process.
The contraceptive pill
Remains a poor excuse for progress.

Liberation is a loaded word,
Lock, stock, and barrel:
Tell it to a model from
American Apparel;

Tell it to a Raqqa sex-slave;
Tell it to Jo Cox;
Tell it to that woman Ched didn’t rape,
As she changes her locks;

Tell it to your mother, maybe;
Tell it to yourself.
And if you still think that this planet
Is a picture of health,

Enjoy it. It is beautiful.
It is worthy of you.
But if you think you smell a lie
In what you’re told to be true:

Do not swallow.
Spit it back in the face of the teller.
If what you’re sold turns to ashes
Go after the seller –

Take your sister,
Take your friends. Take something sharp for cutting.
And maybe we’ll no longer be stuck in this rutting.

Maybe what the Men’s Room needs
Is not to be run by men.
Maybe women could demolish it
And build it again.

Maybe with the help of eunuchs,
Or maybe with machines.
Why put up with men’s defects
When you can harvest our genes?

But maybe that’s just the Men’s Room talking:
Some canny double-bluff.
I wouldn’t know; it’s all beyond me,
That conspiracy stuff.

What I know is what I’ve picked up
With my senses, with my hands.
And what I’ve tried with my body
When my brain made demands.

I love you
And I’d hope that was obvious by this point.
But a mother’s role is to nurture;
It’s mine to disappoint.

So I’ll leave it at that.
I’ve no revelation waiting.
A question worth asking’s worth
A thousand facts worth stating.

One day, I know, you will begin
To see this world anew.
And on that day I trust you’ll know
Exactly what to do.



Attitude: rampant

Attitude: rampant

We fell asleep beneath red leaves
And left the goats to ramble.
I dreamt of apple blossom,
You dreamt of apple crumble;
I type all this into my phone
And fruit becomes computer.
I filter my photography
To make my dog look cuter,
And all my friends are far away
Now they fit in my pocket;
And every thought’s a cliché now
So every second’s “fuck it”.

We fell asleep beneath bare branches,
Left the goats to ramble.
I touched my palm upon your chest
And felt your ribcage tremble.
I endeavour to express this
Like milk into a pail
But the sentiments turn sour
As in a fairytale.
The boys are crying wolf again
And everyone’s afraid;
The stars have fallen from the sky
But all is safe inside.

We fell asleep beneath the blossom,
Left the goats to wander.
I dreamt about a boat at sea,
You dreamt the squalls and thunder;
Washed up on dark desert sand,
We wake up in the future.
Emoting through emojis now,
We’ve kama for some sutra;
But the best of all our tools
Are blaming us for badness,
And all our fading danger signs
Are wearing thin of redness.

We fell asleep beneath ripe fruits
To caprine rumination.
I woke to find a note that said
You’d left for the train station.
You’re working in the city now;
You’re working for survival.
I’m living for the love of it,
Awaiting your arrival.
I’ll pluck the apples from this bough
When they are good and ready,
And we’ll have apple crumble then
If we’re still going steady.

Appears in:
Live Canon poetry prize anthology [2016]
In the Men’s Room [2018]

Concerning the title: in heraldry, “attitude” refers to the position of an animal; “rampant” in this respect indicates the animal is on its hind legs – a position commonly found in supporters (or attendants): figures placed on either side of the escutcheon (or shield), usually depicted as holding it up.