Friday, 17 November 2017 10:32

Us Too

Written by
in Poetry
Us Too
Image by Fran Lock

Us too

by Fran Lock


And at the knackered traffic lights, the lads, led about by their soft-boiled

bellies like pregnant seahorses; regimental maniacs in berets, khaki slacks

and symptomatic tattoos, checking their reflections in their steel toe-caps.

It’s Friday night, and I am walking the tusky ramparts of our beautiful coastal

town. Crossing the road by the fountain, I smile at a bony-shouldered band

of amphetamine featherweights, young boys bitching their brittle Polari in

local parks where broken railings fix their bayonets. I walk, and I’m watching

the women, old women, women in acrylic skin and slit up skirts and circus stilts,

preening their screams in a nightclub queue. Their eyes are dressed in injury,

they wince and strut; the curb becomes a catwalk of hot coals. I have seen

them, squeezing defeat into too-tight shorts. Hey, don’t laugh, the world turns

on its thirst, you know? The world turns, on a thousand fetish devastations. No

word is safe. I heard them say: You’ll be scraping your face off the back of his

hand. I’ll be scraping my face off for years. It’s Friday night, dear God, and there

is a girl, young girl, sucking a hardboiled silence, cut right down to her tight pink

passing-sacred; all thin white arms and long wet hair, who hangs around her

boyfriend’s neck like a broken stethoscope. No, no heart to hear. That girl is

me. I see myself, undoing my smile like the top button of a shantung blouse.

How I court their brawling foreplay. Lose count of the times I heard someone

say: It’ll all end in tears.  A minor vice, a little statutory angst, summer’s giddy

commerce on the corner in the evening. Or, those seasick seaside mornings,

flaunting my disorder by the boat swings, skittish in a miniskirt. A blowjob or

a stick of rock; a loose tooth and a broken nose. Pain is our roseate intercourse.

There’s coercion God, and then there’s force. At the traffic lights, the lads.

Our eyes collide like marbles. I’m leatherette and penny sweets, and sexy.

They said I was sexy. I feel about as sexy as a two-seater second-hand sofa,

a busted spring in my empty belly. So scuffed, I am, so worn. There’s a girl who,

night after night, will polish her most affordable fear. That girl is me. And a lad

looms up once more, a video game glow round him, big as an end of level boss,

he’s swinging his arms through the slutty gloaming. He grabs me by my sleeves;

he drags me past the sagging wrecks of blackened bandstands, wind-distorted

portacabins. I’m on my knees beneath the beer-gut of an old pavilion. The reek

of fish and week old fat. He leaves my mouth a smashed mess of slang and teeth.

Woke up on the wrong side of the war: I’ll school you, you pikey caant.


 Worse things happen at sea, they said, and what did you expect? And I’m thinking

of you now, ba-lamb, bestie, the ways in which you understood. There are days that

I contain you, my own controlled explosion. The ways we shared the dolorous

geographies of home; the way that home had made a fetish out of splendour,

benediction, reverie. There is no safe word. No word is safe. Bottomless duty, gilded

fate, a beauty we were born imploring. How we adored the Paschal musk and chorus

of Compline; the way the lady Saints inclined their heads, girding a devious grace in

groups like school-gate gossips, how they might blow a scented mercy you could

treasure like a kiss. We knew no better then. There was nothing better for us to know.

Oh, my most Catholic ghost, I still dream about your mouth, succulent and fated

and twice the size of itself against a motley, potholed sky. Your kiss was like pink fairy

lights inside of me. Loss is not the word, not deficit, butwound, this pain, both abject

and succinct, and no I will never drink myself free. Four and twenty blackbirds baked

inside this grief, this keening extremis. No prestige grief we plump like pillows on

a sickbed, but something with yellowy incisors, stripping the meat from a glistered

phrase. Tell me, what did you expect? The Lord moves in mysterious ways. You knew

how it felt and you knew what it meant, and you spent the rest of your empty days

acquainting God with the back of your head. I remember us haunting your bedroom

mirror with our failed symmetries, hollow-eyed, companionably jaded – feral, defiled,

and exiled from the neck down, pushing our ugly consumptive luck. Oh, my bright jinx,

my strictest-shining Catholic ghost, you remembered too well too. Left me what was left

of you. I’m stood in the photonegative light of some shitty hospital corridor, wringing

my hands and rapidly blinking. The tired eye tries to free itself from the shock it

stepped in. Dead.


 I dreamt of it again, lie still until I’m sane. The dream retreats, but leaves its curdled

traces. The school is worst, where boredom makes the minutes swim, where the low

ceilings stunted our growth, where I was a child, lisping and conspicuous to history;

suggestible poppet with braided hair, the barer of a deformed faith that clutched at beads,

a face that didn’t fit. Where you were a child, prodigal of famine and infliction, bygone

pogrom, occupation and eviction. Half breed. Bad seed. Black sheep. Mad cow, bovine

on dopamine, slurring her girlhood, I could not run, could only sweat the dread of barefoot

threat in dusty halls with all the windows  painted shut, a stale and violent light outside.

Inside the proper girls, with crop-circle smiles, who sharpened their collective whisper

like a shiv and smirked my gremlin pedigree: Gyp bitch! You botched abortion! The boys,

aggrandised and Neanderthal, scholars of the picked scab, the sucked knuckle, the untucked

shirt. Tumescent cretins, snickering under their breath. They followed me home. Blighted

desire had tightened their guts, they took disfigured joy in causing pain. Just like their fathers,

brothers, future sons: You slag! You slut! And I was cornered with exhaustion, writhing

like a salted slug. Cher sings Gypsies, tramps and thieves. Big fucking laughs from

the peanut gallery.


And for the longest, dear God, I couldn’t speak of this. My mouth was a glass

house, gathering stones, stoned and phobic on Seroxat and Sertraline. Days

spent redacting a dark eye with liquid liner, losing weight, becoming shallow

as a footprint in wet sand. For the longest time I’d close my eyes and smell

the sea, and brewers’ yeast, and boot polish. For the longest time I’d smell

the lino, chalk dust, desks: dirty grey, and barnacled with chewing gum. I’d

close my eyes and feel the stingy and complicit looks of teachers boring into

the back of my skull.


Mr B is bad breath and soiled ambition. His face swims like a boiled shirt, his skin

the white of unsigned plaster casts; he has the long front teeth of a talking horse.

In a rank mood he leers and reels toward me. Do you remember how we prayed

back then? To God on his gilded battlements: Sweep ‘em up or strike ‘em dead, dear

God. He never did. Social worker measures out her well worn spite in meticulous inches.

She’s a local girl. Her smile is frowsy industry, coastal erosion, and economic stalemate.

She doesn’t care that a boy has worn me like a secret on his lips; she cannot help me,

can’t tell me how to make a poem from a fistful of wet earth, how to dislocate my

shoulders and keep on swimming. Hey, the world turns on its thirst, you know? On

the scurvy lusts we must remake ourselves from daily. Two young girls, too young,

tricked out in torrential dresses, smiling their slow dissolve into camera.  Savants

of resurrection.


Because for every well-publicised celebrity victim of sexual assault there’s a working-class woman or girl who has suffered the same in silence. I’m writing about girls who were groomed for the male gaze from an early age to survive, because they were taught that’s what they are for, because sexually available is all they’re ever allowed to be. And because they are groomed for this gaze they are considered complicit in their own exploitation, they are chav slags and silly sluts, and what happens to them doesn’t matter. There are millions of us. We matter.



Read 2523 times Last modified on Wednesday, 22 November 2017 16:27
Fran Lock

Fran Lock Ph.D. is a writer, activist, and the author of seven poetry collections and numerous chapbooks. She is an Associate Editor of Culture Matters.