Authors: Kate Tempest
For all of you, for all of it, but especially for India,
who taught me how to hold my own.
: I will go, once I have said what I came here to say.
Picture the scene:
A boy of fifteen.
With the usual dreams
And the usual routine.
Heading to school with a dullness inside
Borne of desires left unsatisfied.
Is he stifled or is he just
Learning the ways of his times?
Give him limbs that are awkward
But know how to climb.
Give him a gait that you know.
Give him hopes.
His days are so painfully slow,
But he copes.
He wakes to the same old alarm.
Slumps in the shower
Like a frog in the rain.
Winks at the mirror – does cool, does charm.
Shaves soft skin.
Nods at the pain.
No hair yet. Soon though.
Last half of last night’s joint in his lips.
Bass so loud it feels like a movie.
Scuffing his trainers.
Swinging his hips.
They’re always laughing,
The kids at the bus stop.
He tries to ignore them,
But it doesn’t help.
Hood up, he walks past them.
Blowing out smoke rings.
Singing out Wu-Tang.
Into the woods, he takes the old path.
There is the rope swing,
There is the bath lying broken.
There is his name in the bark.
There are the trees,
So slim and so stark
In the thin little woodland.
Hardly a forest,
The last of the green washed clean by the grey.
There is the bike chain that nobody wanted,
There is a child’s shoe
– hope they’re ok.
Out of the damp leaves and mulch in the pathway
His eye is caught by a glittering flash.
A dark moving something,
A mess of bright muscle.
Ore in a forge,
A deep, billowing gash.
Snakes. Two snakes!
Boiling and cooling
Oil in a cauldron
Foil in a river
Soil on a mood ring.
They spoil each other.
They do things
He has only dreamt of doing.
His blood’s alive inside him, fizzing.
He shuts his eyes and watches blotches
Underneath his lids for minutes.
But peeks before he knows he’s peeking.
Clutching his knees, he squats on his haunches
Watching the scales as they bounce and contort
And before he has thought he has reached out a fist
And picked up a short stick that lies near a ditch.
He swings from above
And breaks open the fortress.
The snakes, now apart,
Seem smaller, more awkward.
They flee for their love.
The boy, swaying and nauseous
Falls to the floor
More raw than before,
He feels himself shiver, contorting.
A current is coursing within him,
Shorting his circuits.
His curses are perfect
The trees bow their branches in worship.
His body’s responding to something beyond him.
Swells where before there were dips.
A crunching of muscle, the hips
Opening up, bones roaring,
Beneath them, boyhood shrinking, falling inwards.
Feeling new blood rushing.
Scuffing ankles on the forest floor
As his shape moves
His body pours itself to puddles.
He fits and starts.
He will be more than the sum of his parts.
He shakes and shouts, a screwed-up mouth.
A pain that only women know
Grabs him in the guts.
He slows to gently stuttered breaths
And slowly, with caution
She climbs to her feet.
Wipes tears from her cheeks with her sleeve.
Frowns at the trees.
How could you stay so calm?
Places a nervous palm
Against her new face, her new chest,
The new flesh of her arm.
She approaches the school gates,
She can’t face her class.
She can’t go home, not now.
She is glass
She turns and retreats.
Finds herself deep
In the smog and the heat,
The fog and the meat
Of the bodies that beat out their lives
In the throb of the street.
She learns to be small and discreet.
She learns to be thankful for all that she eats.
She learns how to smile
Without meaning an inch of it.
She learns how to swim in the stink
And not sink in it.
It’s as if this is all she has known.
Give her a face that is kind, that belongs
To a woman you know
Who is strong
And believes in the rightness of doing things wrong.
Give her a body that breathes deep at night
That is warm and unending; as total as light.
Let her live.
Brighter every day
That she was not so young and desperate.
Bigger every minute
That she settled all the restless
Urges in her chest
And when she woke from nightmares, breathless,
She would piece herself together
Like some relic found in ash and clay,
A precious, ancient necklace.
When she was complete again,
She’d wolfwalk into town.
And drink down every wave that came
To break her spirits down.
She was wild and wonderful.
A star throughout the district.
A red light dreadnought.
Queen among misfits.
And yes, sometimes they sneered
When they glimpsed her in the gutter.
It made her crack her knuckles,
Shake her head and start to mutter
To herself under her breath
You posh pricks don’t know fucking shit.
And they would look away
And light their cigarettes and spit.
She liked to giggle with the pretty boys and kiss the lonely addicts
And weave exquisite curtains for the dismal little attics
Where they lay their heads at night,
Out of beads and string and plastic.
Each corner she inhabited made warmer by her magic.
She grew expert in the field
She learned to see and feel
The deepest secrets lurking in
The hearts of those who came to swim
In her dark waters.
She knew things.
She knew Kings
And she bore daughters.
She knew love, she made her fortune.
Till she met her match.
He was an older man,
A man who liked to hold her hand
A man who made her feel like she was rolling round on golden sand.
A man as soft as any girl
A man as hard as any luck.
She understood what life was for
Each time they bucked and came unstuck.
True love takes its toll
Who are not used to feeling whole.
They tangle limbs and feel the shudders,
All the world is nothing.
Promising each other not to take the vital parts,
While even as they mutter it, they’re giving up their hearts.
It is a new moon
In late May
She gives way
To his weight
They are laid out flat by a lake.
She can feel
His blood in her veins.
He can feel
Her pulse in his wrists.
And they kiss.
And the moon hangs open and orange
Like a wound in the mist.
He asks her to marry him.
Have him forever and never be lonely but only together.
She thinks that he’s taking the piss.
Throws him a scowl so sharp his darkest parts are shafted, blasted, ripped in half,
She starts to laugh, she hits her palms
Against the grass. He lifts his arms,
I mean it
Shining cheeks, his garments creased,
Naked skin on cold damp heath.
I mean it.
Silence. Let it land.
She cannot breathe or stand.
She crawls towards him, smiling.
Takes his hand.
They kiss and both expand.
She decides she must go back,
Seek out a past.
A mother, a father,
Whatever she has.
A blessing or something,