Wednesday 27 May 2015

Pyjama Revenge (after...oh, take a wild, leaping guess)

The part of me that hates to bake
would make my birthday cake for you
if you asked me in that tone of voice
telling me you have to:

read the recipe. And make the cake.
The part of me that flinches from
a stranger's touch would melt
like rum-soaked amaretti if your finger

flicked my side as Cynthia's strikes Evelyn.
The part of me that's seen this scene
and knows where it is going
will wish it didn't climax with

a safeword silenced by a woollen sock.
There's part of me that needs to know
if I say no, you'll stop: and part of me
that wishes you would not.

Yes, I know I did use Pyjama Revenge as the title for another poem in this sequence (and I suppose I may as well admit it is a sequence at this point); that title obviously draws its inspiration from a different scene in the film and has therefore been renamed The Flirtatious Use of Tape Measures. This poem gets the original title, being based on the relevant scene.

A couple of points need to be made here, lest any dickheads out there try to say 'but that fat trans lesbian poet said all subs secretly don't want their doms to stop' to justify their Christian Gray-esque behaviour:

1) This is not a poem about all subs - it's about two at most, one of whom is fictional - me, and Evelyn, the sub character in Strickland's film, and our differing reactions to Cynthia's behaviour in the scene leading up to the 'revenge' moment (what Evelyn finds unsettling about Cynthia in that scene, I actually really like, essentially);

2) I'm a poet, so I choose my words carefully. There's a difference between a need and a wish;

3) Very few people are so unimaginative as to use 'no' as a safeword.

Friday 22 May 2015

A nice bath and painkillers (another one after Peter Strickland)

It's all downhill from now, she says,
and her younger lover smiles,
and tells her she's many years left.
I have been that younger lover: laughed aside
the fear of aging that you voiced.

Now I see the wrinkles spread
around my eyes like cracks in pressured glass,
hurricane lamp weakened, brought in
too often from the cold,
and wonder how I'll feel
to no more be the light, the nectar.

If I had known the last time was the last,
would I have told my hunger
in the bite of fingertips
against your muscled back?

If I had known how words like spinster
fill the twilight with their beating wings, would I have said so freely
all the things young lovers say

to hold their older paramours to ransom?
You're the last, I promise you :
I never thought this possible. 
As long as I'm yours, I remain alive.

I think one of the reasons The Duke of Burgundy fascinates me so much is the age gap in Cynthia and Evelyn's relationship. The two most important romantic relationships I've ever had were with women over a decade older than I was: now, as a lesbian approaching 40, I find myself having to deal with the possibility that future partners may be younger than me. And I appreciate, now, that this dynamic - the age-gap relationship - feels very different from the other side of that gap. Things feel so much more serious, more final. Oh, young people talk a good Epic Romance game: every love is the last love, everyone is The One, every promise lasts until the End of Time. But it's easy to say that when you're young and full of other people's stories. Later in life, with Time's Winged Chariot drawing so near you can hear the music on Time's Wicked Car Stereo, it's harder to credit all those promises. And yet you cling to them, you hope: and maybe the cruellest thing a younger lover does is to make an older one believe there is hope, after they've gotten used to living with its absence. Believe that I love you, they say: and you do, because what's life without love? 

And that, of course, is how the cruellest trap closes on you, like the lid of a trunk, a bed that's lifted by a simple spring. And there's no word to say to end these torments: except, perhaps, the one you fear the most. The word goodbye.

Saturday 16 May 2015

The Flirtatious Use of Tape Measures (after Peter Strickland)

I'm double-bluff and Highsmith riffs, I know this:
if another woman's eyes met mine
the way Fatma looks at Chiara
during the measuring scene,
the shield I've built would crumble
like the edges of a burning index card.

How useful, then, this hat:
so proletarian, demotic, so glamour-resistant,
with its brim which pins my eyes to ground
like pavement braille, like peppers roasting,
moths repeating in a mount.

Not the only poem I've written recently inspired by The Duke of Burgundy, or indeed Patricia Highsmith, but the one which wears its influences most clearly on its sleeves. I reviewed The Duke recently for Clarissa Explains Fuck All,  and was a little hard on writer-director Peter Strickland for being too sympathetic to Cynthia, the domme character, despite her clearly overstepping a big red line in BDSM terms during a crucial scene in the film. I still think I was right about that, pretty much: but I've also been thinking a lot lately about how much - too much - we forgive for the sake of romantic love, and how desperate that emotion makes us: how much of a bullying concept love is. I think you can't remove the horrible turn the relationship between Cynthia and Evelyn takes from the fear of being without love, and it's hard to say who feels that more: Cynthia, who is ten years older than Evelyn, and perhaps worried this is her last throw of the romantic dice, or Evelyn, who 'never thought it would be possible' to meet a lover like Cynthia, and would therefore fear never meeting another. 

The wild card in all this is The Carpenter, played by Fatma Mohamed. Having seen the film a number of times again on digital download recently (perhaps in an attempted retreat into fantasy to escape recent political events - a world without men is a world without Rupert Murdoch, David Cameron and Michael Gove, after all) it's clear to me that the scene between Evelyn and The Carpenter is a key point in the film: it's the first time Evelyn has met a woman like her. There's such a wonderful sense of play between the two,  and both Mohamed, and Chiara D'Anna, playing Evelyn, convey so much purely through the way they look at each other. It isn't quite a meeting of equals: The Carpenter has clearly been around this stuff more often than Evelyn, and is more confident and aware of what she wants, a fact conveyed in the way Evelyn tries, but fails, to meet her gaze - but Evelyn clearly recognises a fellow member of her species in The Carpenter the way she never, quite, recognises Cynthia. 

The more quotidian subject of the poem is the pink camouflage baseball cap I wear to keep the sun off my face while I undergo laser hair removal treatment, which also has the added bonus of making it harder to make eye contact with others if, like me, you seem to be suffering from more social anxiety than usual at the moment. 


Friday 15 May 2015

I learned the fear of love again
after the needle went in.
Concluded it meant other things,
my body now at hazard:

removing clothes in rooms in parts of town
where taxi ranks are rare,
accepting rides in cars
which might go anywhere,
turning your back in the dark,
the arms of the other
a double intangible.

Don't run away: it knows you've seen.
Don't make yourself look big: it's territorial.
Do not sneak up on love: it fights when cornered.
Don't make sudden moves: love will not see you, if you're still.

Friday 8 May 2015


They say you demonstrate your morality by what you do when no-one's watching.

Before the election, I signed up to a website, a tactical wheeze: the polls said the election would be close, and shifting votes from the Greens to Labour in key marginals could, they said, prevent the Tories getting in. So I signed up to swap my vote. If I voted Green in my safe Labour seat, to boost their share of the vote, a woman named Leanne in Bristol North West would vote Labour to lock the Tories out of power. Win-win, right?
After all, the polls were close. Labour and the Tories neck and neck, they said.

In the run-up to election, and on Polling Day itself, I fretted about what to do with my vote. If Labour and the Tories really were neck and neck, maybe it would be better to renege on the agreement, and vote Labour to boost their share. And how could I know Leanne would keep her side?

Game Theory said that I didn't, and as I didn't the only sensible option was to betray Leanne, on the assumption that she'd betray me. John Nash called it the fuck-you-buddy game.  And I could do that: in a secret ballot, no-one would ever know. Except me.

Morality is what we do in the dark. What we do when no-one's watching. I had no way of knowing if I could trust Leanne or not, but I knew what I wanted my morality to be. I knew we had had five years of broken promises. And I knew that I would not let one of those broken promises be mine.

A man who doesn't keep his promises. 

I voted Green. And prayed Leanne would vote Labour. Because the polls were still neck and neck, right down to the wire...

Until they weren't. Until the exit polls came in, and the results dribbled through,  and we discovered that it wasn't neck and neck at all. Because a lot of those polled had said they'd vote Labour, or Lib Dem, or Green, or anything but Tory, then got into the voting booth and decided that actually, you know, getting rid of food banks and ending austerity were all very well but there were Araminta's school fees to consider, and what about the income tax, and the buy-to-lets, and grandmother's inheritance, and Patience really was such a help with the children but suppose it got harder to let her go if belts needed tightening, and what they thought, in the politest, most middle class way, was fuck you, buddy...

Like, fuck you, yah?

Morality, they say, is what you do when no-one's watching. On that basis, England is a very immoral country indeed.

Tuesday 5 May 2015

A Charm Against Love

To will yourself to never fall in love,
you'll need no potion, amulet or charm.
Just, for every likely prospect,
factor in the likely harm.

That boy who always, smiling, stutters,
when you meet at conference gigs?
Imagine being called his mother
when you have to buy the drinks.

That girl who always primes her glance
with thunderbolt significance
when she sings, with you in audience?
She sees in you the perfect chance
to write her break-up masterpiece:
your blood on her tracks.

The one who says she'll walk you home,
and keep you safe from danger?
On these roads she'll have you on your own,
and it's clear she thinks she's stronger.

You're never truly safe with love,
so say this over, like a charm:
it's too late, when they have you hugged,
to wonder if you trust their arms.

Richard Dawkins and love songs

She says: I listen to love songs
the way Richard Dawkins
must listen to hymns: I understand
the comfort that they bring

but can't buy the ideology behind them.
There is no one person out there
among the seven billion
who, objectively, was meant to be with you.

There's a percentage of people
you'd probably like, a percentage
of people you'd probably fuck,
a percentage of people who'd like

and fuck you, a shaded space
within the global Venn.
Roll a die and roll the die again:
eventually a natural six is thrown.

It's as foolish to assume you'll be alone
forever, as to think you'll find The One.
Your Cupid is a monkey tossing coins.