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