Because we were too young to really know,
and being born was keeping score. Our mothers,
like dogs, had statistical litters: motor-mouthed tykes,
rattling angsty tattle and acting up for the grimacing,
chickenshit thrill of it. We were born, Sisyphean small
fry, pushing our luck in sunburn and gym pumps, born
for felony’s jammy skedaddle, schooled in scot free
and skin of ‘is teeth; born for hullaballoo, and the tetchy,
edgy bravura of the doomed. We were like soldiers, wry
with the jive of war, its sad associate mayhems. We knew
about boys, clutching prosthetic limbs like heirlooms,
or shaking their heads to an eardrum dragging blast
in constant coda. Don’t think we didn’t know that we
fucked / a stone’s throw from fucked / five ways to fucked.
We knew. Cocked gobby snook at squaddies in our knowing,
jeered their blood group gumbo; lippy, unhinged, howling
an off-topic hodgepodge of hand-me-down loathing, as if
we could knock ‘em all cold with a rote slur. Oh, we were
connoisseurs of grievance, fully expected the popped
lozenge of Danny’s skull leaking its menthol and phlegm
in the street. We fully expected to find ourselves nipped
in the shrinking bud, our baby faces spoofing the too-
soon flowers. We were smitten with the stalwart wending
dead, the pop stars of our duff puppy love. Young then,
and sprouting with arousal, getting cunning, getting
keen, getting tell-tale meanness like the pox of some disease.
The worst was not to die at all. The worst was watching love
crushed like a used tissue; was the sound of His Infallible
Nibs, prating on the radio, his voice like bad breath
in a tin harmonica. The worst was feeling – What?
Old? Convinced it isn’t knowing better but caring less
that saved you? Hating yourself for the moist
shrivel of your pity, for the meat-and-two-veg of tedious
despair? Why did you do it? Time and again, a cavalcade
of small commotions: your slit wrists, your chalky,
hoarded pills, the way that man yanked you back
from the platform edge. Those terrible months, to dream
without sleeping, the disused dance of your limbs. And you
couldn’t make sense, the sorrowful fobbing off of a processed
peace. I always thought we’d find another kind of grace.
We are not dizzy with redemption. And it wasn’t ours, but nothing
was, nothing but banners and slander; sirens and dirt. Boys,
I watch you blinking out. Our slowly extinguishing circle, a yellow
line that eats itself.
Fran Lock’s debut collection, Flatrock (Little Episodes), was launched in May 2011. Her work has appeared in various places, including Ambit, Blackbox Manifold, and in Best British Poetry 2012 (Salt). Her second collection, The Mystic & The Pig Thief (Salt) was launched in September this year. She is the winner of the 2014 Ambit Poetry Competition.