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Listening To The Waves


The tapestry of noise and sensation became its own form of silence for Jenny. The roar of the waves filled her ears, and she loved the gritty thickness of the sand between her toes. She had come here alone, dressed in whatever was to hand that would not have woken Hitch, shaking at the thought of him waking up and asking her what she was doing.

Her thoughts had reached an operatic pitch, pursuing her from the house all the way here to the coast. It had been exciting to drive like that, and when she had walked down here, the lull of the waves and the sea breeze had washed over her anxieties like high tide.
No longer underneath his arm which he draped across her as a gesture of comfort and connection. It reminded her of the padded harnesses that dropped and locked onto you before a rollercoaster started.

He was at his most boyish in confusion, but in time his control would assert itself and he would revert to his default method of expression – cold, controlled anger.

The tranquility of the beach could not dislodge the bolt of nausea lodged at the back of her throat. Her eyes were hot and prickling with unshed tears. Jenny sat there and wrapped her arms around herself, seeking sustenance she had lived without for so long.

He had never raised a hand to her. His voice was a terse, dry whisper and he did not impose or force himself in any way. Jenny could never point at an incident or behaviour to justify her feelings before the invisible court of opinion she carried, but it lived inside her, resisting definition by shifting itself when she sought to tell someone about what was happening to her.

All the things that appealed to her about Hitch had become the wounds he inflicted. His discipline and organisation, once a way to abdicate responsibility sucked the air from her lungs, made her considered objections into tolerated tantrums. She received silence by default, a cold bank of indifference in the space between them. Jenny had been two weeks out from closing the boutique when they met, and his order had been thrilling to her, she ran not walked into life with him.

His desire for order became hers, and she enjoyed the reflected glory of being married to a serviceman. It threw a sheet over her failures and foibles, and in that new life, she never had to mention the woman she had been. Only the role she had taken on, and what it involved.

Being Hitch’s wife was a good role for a time. A life of comfortable, taciturn quiet instead of being a participant in a game that had no rules and no clear winners. The lack of highs and lows became a balm for her.

Their mutual inability to conceive had been the first major test of their marriage. Hitch had reacted to it in the same way he did to everything, which was not at all. He deployed and although Jenny had spoken about counselling, fertility treatments and her own fears, he had offered no insight beyond suggestions they adopt. He had only shown passion in his frustration with the military, and even his political opinions had toppled from the centre into nihilism too polite to explode into anarchy or upset.

She kept a lovely home for him. Her additions and suggestions never held in place and rejected with polite rejection or considered, logical arguments. Jenny’s experience that women held onto slights and grudges with the care that some collected stamps or trading cards, but Hitch would refer to a perfect database of slights and defeats, repeating her own words back to her as though she were a broken light bulb or a dying plant.

When she had gone to a spiritual festival in Suffolk and had her aura read, the teller experienced a canned enthusiasm at how serene her aura was, all cool whites and eggshell. She held onto her reaction until she was driving home where she burst into a fit of weeping that made her pull the car over and sob until her body ached from the force of it.

She had been purple fire once. A chaotic, exciting carnival act that endured long periods of rejection and near-poverty in return for bursts of activity, recognition and excitement. Giving it up had not been a thing of ease, of maturity but defeat. Her life would be a letter, written all in lower-case pencil, left in direct sunlight to fade forever.

Jenny tried to talk things out. Hitch gestured to the adoption papers and frowned at the surprise of her outburst. He recovered with more ease than she did.

The kettle had just boiled; he said and went to make tea.

Jenny was being walled in, Hitch had a detached craftsmanship applied to everything he did, including his marriage, but Jenny struggled to breathe around him.

The stomach shrinks then bloats when starved and Jenny knew another part of her experienced that sensation.

Her soul.

She had ordered art materials, but he had intercepted the delivery, and refused to allow her to open them, already on the phone to arrange a return and a refund. She wanted to dash past him, tear open the box just to see what was inside, but she stood there, tearful and apologetic as he exchanged a brief, friendly chat with the customer service team before ending the call and walking away from her in silence. He went upstairs to work on his models in the spare room, or cleaning the rifles in the secure box in the loft now that adoption was off the table for them. Something about him, but he never said what.

Jenny tried to provoke him, alternating between lavishing and denying him sex. The bedroom had been a warm study of polarity but even that grew to be as cold as everywhere else, disappointing and dry.

Jenny would go to sleep, hoping that a valve in her heart or an artery in her brain would malfunction and she would be free. Hitch would be happier, she told herself.

He already behaved like a widower.

Jenny sat there and watched the waves, enjoying and hating playing truant. She chuckled that such a small gesture had become a platonic ideal of rebellion but she still held onto her anxiety and guilt. Hitch was firing off his worst, possible reactions like fireworks in the night sky of her imagination and so she got up and walked back to the car.

Her phone burped and shuffled inside the glove box where she had left it. Her bowels liquefied as she retrieved it.

Calls from him. Voice mails that started as dry admonitions before breaking down into bizarre rhyming couplets, his voice waxing and waning like he had been drinking.

What saddened her was that she could not find it in her to love or accept this from him any longer. If there had children, she knew she would have found a way through to him and listening to him grow more irrational with each message; she imagined a perfect trap falling on her forever.

There were other calls to follow. Her mother had emerged from the self-obsession of old age to ask her in a worried voice to call and make sure she was okay.

Her brother, asking if she had seen the news and please call him.


Her intuition, no longer pale and serene but far from purple prompted her to switch her data on and scan the headlines.

The fast food restaurant just down the road. Hitch had stopped going when the manager had tried to explain why they did not offer the breakfast menu all day but now it was national news. The videos of survivors, their faces stained with tears and babbling at their relative fortune.

Jenny saw her husband’s name and sank back into the driver’s seat.

She tore her eyes away, looked back at the waves and waited for an answer as her phone rang again.

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Feel me

Until your surrender


Relax in the direction

Of my attention

I am as aroused

By your dancing anger

As by your giggling joy

I remain willing

To crack the shell

Of closure

Lick my love against

The soft heart flesh


My breath is full

My body strong

I enjoy your anger, your tears

Your silent hardness

The world ever gives me that

I do not analyse

I encourage

You who must follow

Heart’s white rabbit

I allow you to go mad 

With love

You must be the ocean

Not the ship that

Waits, tied with fraying rope

To proprietary dock

Oh how I know you

As you know me

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Violent Delights

I tremble with the

Effort of control

Not monstrous

Nor misogynistic, although

The accusation is thrown,

Oftentimes in hindsight

I understand

Forgive it

Envy it sometimes

The light of


Makes my head hurt

Even as other aches

Rise like smoke

I would never hurt


I only come

When called

Invite me across

The threshold

But do not expect

Tender gifts in


Too often given


And I need

Time to heal

The ghosts

All offer

But never promise

They die as wholly

As my heart

But these violent delights


Too powerful

To be wielded

By anyone

I bear them

In lieu

When they leave

Like those

Who praised them

The loudest

A fall



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Closed For The Season.


This agony

Tests my dimensions

Inspires a grand violence of spirit

Anger is an anaesthetic

That allows me to go through

The day

Numb and shivering

And how the world goes on

Ignoring my resentment

At the callow circumstances, fate swept

The house of cards from the table

How could a love so grand and operatic

Feel so prevalent on circumstance

That the blank, warm milk

Of domesticity

Tastes sweeter than the wine

I offered.

I have lost as much as I loved.

I insinuated you, opened every door

To my heart’s mansion

Opened up as you asked me to

But the cold wind blows

Even the fire has died

And there is no one here

To keep me warm

Let me shiver to death

Cursing the world.

Yet if you peered around the door

I would let you in

Dear god, how I would




But for now, this house needs boards nailed to the windows

And I shall become a ghost,

Lost to some other place

Than here



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Funeral for a chalk painting

On the stretch 

Of even, worn pavement

You drew looping, nonsensical

Loops of colours

Fingers tattooed with chalk dust

I liked how the hair

Hung in your face

A curtain rising

On the beautiful theatre 

Of your violet eyes

The picture drew me in

Then out

And I trusted that you were 

Gentle with me

Some deep wounds beneath

This armour

But the sketch grew

From present to past

To future

But we forgot about

The rain, didn’t we?

You needed shelter 

More than the need to

Preserve something as beautiful

As it was fragile

You washed your hands

The picture trickled away


Smears, memories ingrained

In the treads of my shoes

The dust stayed

On my fingers

I keep it to remember you by

A mourner at a funeral

My name chiselled 

Into the headstone

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She Leaves By Degrees

She leaves by degrees.

I potter around

Offering up trinkets

That she used to celebrate

But now smiles

Politely says thanks

We use the words ‘I love you’

When really we mean

‘I’m scared, not that you’re leaving’

‘But you’ve already left’

I read through a million books

Write a million poems

And they all say the same thing

That I gave everything

And that you can still do everything right

And lose something irreplaceable

Some feelings too ugly for speech

And the bed is so cold

Too large a wasteland to wander alone

Showing me affection

But no passion

We made a ghost

That haunts us both

You never quite leave

But you never quite stay

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The loss plants

A seed that grows

No longer a skeleton

But a trellis

And each bloom

Carries your scent

Each vine squeezes

Until you cannot breathe

With ease

And you, with your heart

Learned to open

Are such fertile ground

For grief

Yet it is such a beautiful flower

That grows from the darkest soil

And even as it draws out

The water that gives you life

Still, lesser men have borne

Such pain without complaint.

And if the seed bore your face

Then it at least

Allows you to remember

That pain and beauty go far too well


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Raise your shield high

Silence has a weight


A rock worn smooth

By time

A delicacy as raw silk

Sliding over my rough, dark hands


The screams – outrage, pain disguised

As signals of virtue

I stand askance

My path takes me through

These places

Once walled gardens of enthused discourse

Now the flowers drip blood

I hold my own counsel

Keep making my art

As though casting a suit of armour

Against the fragile, vicious beasts



My silence is my shield

And I raise it high

I raise it high


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The Walk

He did not know he was the topic of disparate bursts of conversation. Walking his dog, shaved head swathed in headphones, eyes red with tears and smoking fiercely made him stand out. He made the effort to smile whenever he caught someone’s eye. Dogs made you gregarious by nature, and he understood, even welcomed the opportunity to stop and do that.

He would walk for hours, even after a day on his feet, resenting his name badge, being patronised by people whose eyes would shine with that malign cunning, returning items without a receipt and threatening to get the manager. He mostly gave into them, lacking the energy to fight a cause that treated him as meat in the aisles, invisible to anyone who didn’t need something from him. His time with the dog was where he went to breathe.

The latest blow had been the last two years, watching his grandfather transform from a kindly, vibrant patriarch into a twitching, disorientated nerve, speaking in the glossolalia of morphine. A year after that, keeping vigil on Saturday evenings, anaesthetising his pain with the determination not to let his grandfather down. Then her death, awkward and sudden as a surprise wake. He wondered how much more he could take, and each evening, rain or shine, the walk with the dog would find him weeping for what had been, and what had been lost.

He spoke less to his family, even though the grief and pain had brought them closer. It was a form of survivor’s guilt and it needed silent avoidance to maintain. He would watch movies of vocal family reconciliation and confrontation, bitter at the camp ease with which people expressed their anger and joy. It was not that he lacked the words, but the words he knew were fragile vessels for something truly gargantuan, a black monster that needed an ocean to hunt in. A dinosaur, long thought extinct, trampling through the forest of his heart, looking for meat to sustain it.

He learned to manage. On the walks, he found songs that helped crack the carapace of his insect heart, let the light in and the poison out. He would walk to the point of exhaustion, littering the streets and alleyways with his tears until there were none to be shed any longer.  He would never listen to Sometimes It Snows In April the same way, once it had slipped a blade of grief between his ribs, cut away the straps that kept him bound inside.

Someone suggested counselling to him once. He was not leaden or unsentimental, but he could not pass this over to a stranger, no matter how capable. This was, in the end, how he would honour his grandparents. His pain was nothing compared to theirs, but if he gave it, piece by piece, then he would someday wake up wistful rather than craven.

If he knew he were the topic of conversation, he would shrug and smile. A walk at a time, it came to him that it was better to drink of deep grief than shallow pleasure. His feet ached, the dog would scamper to the waterbowl and lick in gulping, breathy motions but both of them would be renewed in ways that only dogs and their owners could ever know.



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Two cups of coffee, one of them untouched.

Laura gazed through the plate glass window. His smile beckoned her. Her dreams of him had frightened her with their power. She took a deep breath, reached for the door handle.

Her phone rang.

A pleading husband.

A vomiting child.

She kept her voice bright, said that she would not be long.

Circumstance snatched her hopes away and she wept all the way home.

He waited through two more cups of coffee and another chapter of the book he wanted to give to her.

Part of his heart still waits.