Read Hold Your Own Online

Authors: Kate Tempest

Hold Your Own

BOOK: Hold Your Own




































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.


– Sophocles,
Oedipus Rex





For my niece

I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now

Snakes in the grass

Girl next door





The cypher

Age is a pervert. Youth is a fascist

The boy Tiresias



The woman the boy became

On Clapton Pond at dawn


Remembering the way you kissed me once

Some couple

The old dogs who fought so well

What we lose

You eat me up and I like it

Fuck the poem

Waking up with you this morning

The woman Tiresias



The man Tiresias

These things I know

Watching my dog sleep

Learning curve

Morning after opening night

Down the pub

The point


Man down



The prophet Tiresias

Ballad of a hero



The downside

Fine, thanks

Cruise control

And as we followed dinosaurs

Radical empathy

Party time




About the Author

Also by Kate Tempest


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.


This morning

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.


Headphones on.

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.

Hating himself.


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!

Coiling, uncoiling

Boiling and cooling

Oil in a cauldron

Foil in a river

Soil on a mood ring.


He stares:

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,

More tortured.


He feels himself shiver, contorting.

A current is coursing within him,

Shorting his circuits.

He curses,

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.

Thinking nothing.

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


He stops.

He feels.

He’s still.

He rests.


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

Amongst sand.


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

Of love

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

On souls

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.

Of course.

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,

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