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3 poems by Guy Elston

On Being Unsure If You Want Children Or Not

She gets up early to make sandwiches,

one and a half of them, foil-wrapped,

and forces them into her Tupperware box.

Her parents never told her about this,

about how nothing works quite perfectly

but we must pretend it does, to the sickly

and children and when stuck in old relationships.

The half portion of peanut butter slicked

to the inside of the jar used to cause her

the most extreme existential anxiety,

before she knew how to describe that;

she had to be stopped from throwing it out,

from snuffing the life from a near-useless thing.

Now look at her cram the knife in and twirl,

scraping every pence onto her ready-sliced

bread, prying the rest with a bent finger

and lifting it into her freshly-brushed mouth.

She could teach anyone a thing or two

about making packed lunches, properly,

about never succumbing to not being bothered,

about coming-to-terms with what’s in the jar.

But she may keep these things to herself;

it might all be too much to fit in another one.

I’m Not Sure How To Say This

We found an abandoned caravan in the woods,

Joe and me. Joe and I, he’d correct me. Joe

wore a tie everywhere, with a change poking

out his blazer pocket, and as a child had spoken

in tongues. He wouldn’t show me how. Religion

is a metaphor, he’d say, it’s just a fence to sit on;

I’d waited my whole life for somebody to speak to me

like I did. Summer holidays, and we were doing

what we did, daily, but we had to leave my house;

Mum was home early from pottery. We lit another

in the woods. ‘A hundred days’, we’d say, ‘we spent

a hundred days together’; but that was later,

when we’d go longer without even messaging.

We didn’t need another, we were already stoned,

dry-mouthed, dizzy under sunlight, in the scrubs

and spreading trees that border unused farmland,

scuffing over brambles and barbed wire

to find another place to talk about Prufrock,

about drugs, about how easy it is to be right all the time.

We were heading the wrong way, really; away

from the footpaths, the well-maintained stiles, the nature reserve

with its birdwatching hut, stubborn enough to continue

when it wasn’t quite fun anymore. We’d nothing else to do.

Joe once overheard me complaining that he made too much

of his mental illnesses, he just didn’t like homework,

and he was hardly even angry. I couldn’t forgive him

for thinking so much more of me than I did.

When we found the caravan, it was justification;

a mystery, a mould-crusted prize for contrarians.

Inside were the decaying pieces of a secret: books,

sofa, filth, crockery. Bits of a life lived once,

no longer. It was nowhere, that caravan,

a copse, in a scrub in a wood, unseen.

It made me think of a serial killer, an American,

like the ones I read about online, while smoking weed.

I’ve never been to America, but last year I saw the border

at least. Niagara Falls. I could feel my lungs tightening,

heaving, and Joe was the first to leave. He felt it

first, and he told me it wasn’t healthy. I felt it too,

but I stayed in the caravan, ignoring the dark spores

gathered clearly in corners, romanticising a man

I didn’t know. The man who lived in the woods,

in the same hedgerow mile as my parents,

the Judges, the church and the boarding school,

stubborn in a clump of ordered Englishness.

Joe was the best friend I ever had; a hundred days

was all we had. And maybe that’s okay. I ran

out into the hanging woodland, retching, praying

that I hadn’t ruined myself, and tried to call Joe,

my tongue sticking in nonsensical stops.

A Question For You, Well-Intentioned

The fields are laid out in old colours

like your mother’s coats – chestnut,

russet, all the other shades of brown.

A sleeper town hung on the hook

of an English hillside; a house of polished

wood, florid furniture and crockery.

At the empty bedroom’s window leaves

drift like bits of lint; they’ll turn and feed

the earth so more can spring, over those

resplendent months, before the cold collects

again. And you, will you take the old coats

you gathered to the charity shop this year?


Guy Elston lives in the Wirral. His poetry has recently been included by Atrium, Burning House Press, Unbroken and some others. @guy_elston


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