Don’t Hold My Head Down

Don’t Hold My Head Down

If you keep doing what you’ve always done

you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got

and you’ve always done

what makes someone else happy.

Stayed over when you felt you should have left,

wanted to say no but instead you said

‘maybe’ or ‘I don’t know yet’

till pressure turned it into a yes

or it was just conceived as one

when often silence is a siren song,

willing someone to listen

and notice something’s wrong

because there’s a voice here that lacks confidence

in saying what they need

and passive participation

just because the other person said please

doesn’t mean it’s the best decision for you,

and if you hesitate or have to convince yourself to act

then that’s your body saying

you don’t really want to do that,

it’s just hard to know how else the situation will pass

and one makes you uncomfortable for longer.

You don’t need to be stronger

because you aren’t weak

it’s just that you’ve learned through past experience

that it doesn’t matter if you scream out,

your consent is something people have forgotten about

and then your energy was spent on figuring out

how to get help

when it’s clear that no one hears you.

How do you turn up the volume

to a world that presumes

we all speak the same body language

and show fear in the same way?

Most women’s battle cries are first seen in their eyes

because it’s perceived as an easier option than refusal

to instead freeze or play friendly,

because appeasement is indoctrinated

from an early age

where we are taught that men are violent

and it’s not safe as an adult

to leave our house at night

without company,

keys between our finger tips,

not to style our hair in a manner

that someone could grip

because a man’s arousal is our responsibility

and when it’s seen as our fault then the consensus

expects us to do something about

that erection in his pants now,

and it doesn’t matter about reciprocation

or the years our ancestors fought

for our sexual liberation

because we’re a nation of porn users

waiting on Stormzy’s Vossi Bop, cum-shot, money-pot facial

that actress was obviously gagging for

just after the point that the man behind the camera

called her a whore, whilst another man

sticks his dick in her mouth

and holds her head down,

leaving the next generation in no doubt

that a quick internet search

will show the worth of a woman’s body

in the 21st century,

bent over a casting sofa

as three men penetrate her

and piss on her chest.

Society at its best, no holes left to fuck,

a president that brags of grabbing us by the pussy

and still his fucking time isn’t up.

Two girls one cup

because we’re forced to share the shit

that most men don’t want to be burdened with

because feminism doesn’t equate to being masculine

it just means you’re a pussy

to be in the minority

that stand in solidarity

with a woman’s authority over her own cunt.

On the cusp of a sexual revolution

but some still want the opportunity for a witch hunt,

like how 200 million women and girls have been cut,

it’s the new version of burning alive

because if the world gave women permission to have pleasure

it could satiate her life

in ways men don’t know how to satisfy.

So continue to feed her lies

about her lesser place in society

because really you’re worried

she’d be a threat to male survival as we know it.

Death of dependency in exchange for respect

where sex happens when we’re ready

and we’re free to lay down boundaries

and leave when it feels uneasy

because there’s no assumption

that by a certain number date

or in exchange for his undivided time

we’ll end up in his bed for the night,

sacrificing our needs to pacify a man’s pride

because we’re told that caring is in our genes.

The overarching theme that feeds

the means by which we put aside our desires,

burn out our fires

because having a libido just makes us sluts

and sex ends when the man cums

and we’ve always done

what makes someone else happy.

The Body Keeps The Score

The Body Keeps The Score

At its best,

post traumatic stress

is that feeling of being constantly on edge,

like when your feet hang out the covers

and touch the monster under the bed,

except the monster’s still inside your body

and poised ready for attack,

you better not ever close your eyes,

you better not ever turn your back.

He’s hacked your nervous system

with a pistol to your head

which you’re convinced is loaded

so your muscles remain frozen

and you’ll spend years beating yourself up

for not trying to escape instead

and hating your body for how it can’t change

it’s natural, evolutionary response

to threat of death.

You can’t even simply control your breath

as the tightness in your chest

becomes a self-asphyxiation,

lungs compressed in hyperventilation

as something reminds you of your degradation,

as an act of supposed love and fun

becomes none of the above,

and this concept of ‘recovery’

battles with your constantly intrusive memories

like his hand on the back of your neck.

Then how he gathered up your hair

as you’re dripping in his sweat,

body weight forcing open your legs

stained with bite marks

that took over a week to fade.

Now you try and tell me

that there’s nothing to be afraid of,

that leaving my house is safe,

that I could spend a night at someone else’s place

without being kept wide awake

and sitting up with the light on,

heart racing, skin caked in fear

that something bad could happen here.

It might have been almost three years

but the monster is always near the surface,

rising when you least expect it.

There’s a red car there that looks like his,

there’s at least ten men his height

with his haircut in front of you at a gig.

You fantasise about killing him.

Triggers still make you physically sick

as your mind tricks your body into thinking

that night is still happening

and he won’t let you leave till the morning.

It took too long to stop self blaming

and exchange shame for its real name

of false imprisonment

but sometimes that reality is still too draining.

Sometimes when touched by a lover

you’ll react like you’re still being hunted

and you’ve got to stay in front.

It doesn’t bear to think of what would happen

if his hands caught up

and you know he knows where you live.

Your skin replaces sensations of pleasure with numbness,

it took over six months for you to come

with someone else’s hands over your pants

and over a year with penetration.

You’re an expert at dissociation

and though it’s defined as lack of concentration

you’re not sure you agree.

At first it took a lot of focus and attention

to leave your body

but now spacing out is easy,

so much so that you’ve forgotten what you did on Friday

or how you got that razor blade cut to your thigh,

it looks like it was painful

but you don’t remember letting out the slightest cry.

You can’t stand in the shower,

how can you wash and towel dry

a corpse

and you hate going out in summer,

that warm weather with skin uncovered

could only spell out danger

and you won’t eat on dates.

You’ve got no appetite, no sense of taste

and you’ve got to control your food intake

in case this gets to third or fourth base

and your anxiety belly gets in the way

and you lose your ability to say

that you’re not comfortable.

Because your mouth is bound

with imaginary sticky tape

and the last thing you want

is for him to know that you’ve been raped

so just fake how great it was,

rather than explain that these shaking limbs

are a stress response

to panic defenders wearing thin

and say you’d love to stay over

but you’ve got to get off home.

Make up some excuse

about forgetting your phone charger

or having other plans,

but really you just need to be alone.

Crawl into the hottest bath

and plaster over the cracks

where your past got passed the sensors

because you started to relax

in the arms of another man

and almost forgot that such comfort is banned

because last time you trusted someone

look what fucking happened

and do you want that to happen again?

Wouldn’t you rather spend your life

in a state of red alert?

You know what? No I wouldn’t.

Vulnerability is a strength

and this is going to fucking hurt

but I deserve better

than co-existing with this monster

and he’ll be gone but not forgotten

the more I write him into words

and now everyone in this room has heard

what you are.

I’m bathing in the medicine of self care

and whilst all you’ll do is shrink

I’ve got plans to still go bigger.

See my name in the paper,

my face on your TV picture,

on the BBC Breakfast news sofa

talking about violence against women,

about self love and recovery from trauma

and you can’t run from the truth anymore

as yours will eat away at you

and I’ll ruin your life the way that with mine you tried to.

I’ve chosen the method for your

slow and lasting torture

and each step I walk forwards

draws my pen closer to your slaughter.

Marici

Marici

Once,

twice,

three times.

This canvas

delicately painted with waves of craving

that crash before we reach the shore,

with sand warm against my bare back,

Your face shielding my gaze from the glaring sun,

a showcase of your freckled skin,

traced with raised edges

where I dug my nails in.

Sunday’s sin can be forgiven

when it was neither seen nor heard

but spoken in tongues.

You want to know,

you want me to teach you

the ways of my God

like how this beach becomes one with the sea,

but my God doesn’t obey the prayers

formed between a man’s clasped hands,

first he must dare to get his feet wet.

If You Liked It Then You Should Have Given Me A Bit Of Space

If You Liked It Then You Should Have Given Me A Bit Of Space

I like spreading my legs.

I like spreading my legs in a star shape,

a cross in the centre of the bed marking it as mine,

no more nights of someone’s snoring and being pushed to one side.

I built this bed with two hands and a dollop of pride

because the instructions said I’d need four

but anything’s possible after a glass of wine

and no one tells a stubborn feminist what to do so I was going to at least try

and what else was I meant to do with my Friday night?

Newly single in a new city and asked out by the removal guy that moved me here

like going to Pizza Hut and then watching him watch football and drink beer

wasn’t enough fun in my life.

I think the added spice came from his use of the word ‘babe’

and the blonde-haired “nephew” in his photo library

(and with hindsight his likely blonde-haired wife)

but at some point we all need the lesson

of a sleazy van driver from Preston

and his eloquent command of language

for the way he described my ‘smashing capacity’

really squirted that orgasm right out of me

as I scream out how blessed I feel to be free.

I had so much to learn at 23.

Moving on swiftly,

now the new bed has been put to the test

but those squeaking springs can’t drown out the words he needs to get off his chest

as he asks me a question, mid-grunt, in the middle of having sex,

nor how my clear response was oddly heard as a yes

when the next day it’s followed by a Facebook relationship request

as I do my best to spend the next three months politely bullshitting my way out of the impending doom

of spending any more nights in his parents’ box room

whilst a 30 year old man plays C.O.D in his marvel pyjamas

and with a tearful hangover tells me he’ll stop drinking soon,

he just needs to move out and buy a house

and it leaves me to wonder if he’d have more chance of achieving his life plans

if he tried waking up before noon?

I don’t mean to sound rude

but all I’ve done to this point is get with guys who have the self awareness of a teaspoon

so no wonder we don’t make it to that ‘honeymoon’ phase,

you’ll be lucky if I see you past the first date

the way you complain all night about the job which you hate

and then tell me it’s never for a lady to pay for her share of the food.

Well no offence mate but I probably earn more money than you

and the way you’re anxiously drowning in WooWoo cocktails

I’d guess I’m better at managing it too.

And what makes you think I’d want to go on holiday with you?

I agree that’s a great deal to fly to Morocco but we’ve only met twice

and although you seem nice

you’re a bit overbearing

and I just don’t think we’d make the best pairing

and when you drunkenly tell me you can’t wait to bend me over

I think I’d rather take the risk jumping off the cliffs down at Dover

than go home with you.

I hear your sober apology and understand that you’re stressed

but that’s got nothing to do with it

and has what you said

ever succeeded in getting a woman into bed?

Now don’t get me wrong, long term relationships can be beautiful

but not with you because that unsolicited dick pic really wasn’t suitable

even if you did reference a hummus meme.

Yes I know I said I like sweet chilli flavour but I really didn’t mean…that.

I think I might just be better off getting a cat,

at least they don’t invite themselves round for a sleepover at my flat

and feign surprise when I ask why they’ve brought an overnight bag,

or stalk my Instagram back to last summer

to tell me that my legs in those yoga shorts are a ‘fucking catch’

because yes that’s creepy

and no, surprisingly, I don’t think we’re a match.

And is it too much to ask that I get a night to myself?

No it doesn’t mean I don’t like you,

it means that sometimes my space is paramount to my mental health

and the notion of being around anyone 24/7 is my idea of hell.

I’m not about to settle down

with your list of expectations that I’m better off without.

You know I watched my mum trapped in a marriage with three children and no power to get out,

so forgive me for having doubts

that being a wife and mother is for me,

in fact I can tell you it isn’t with absolute certainty.

I’m not spending my life doing school runs and changing nappies and cooking the tea

so if you want that type of relationship then it’s best we just leave it here,

you’ve got your boxes to tick and I simply refuse to be her,

and I think some people just want those things because they have a fear of being alone.

I might decide to build a life with someone but it’s my heart that will always be my home

because I built this bed with two hands and a dollop of pride because the instructions said I’d need four

but anything is possible.

Mercury 13

Mercury 13

Everywhere I look, women are shrinking,

it’s prolific in our postures in pictures

as if the perceived size of our hips,

lips, thighs or tits

is the potion of female liberation

like possession of the perfectly plucked or painted eyebrow

somehow proves we don’t need feminism now

because we can also wear trousers

and we sometimes get pockets

but we can’t enjoy these clothes,

they’re constrictive, and society is addicted

to our size,

so we’ll be made to feel shit in them anyway

whatever the scales say,

but go for what’s comfortable

and then we’re criticised for coming as ourselves

and not in the smart tight shirt, pencil skirt and stilettos

that showcase our skills to meet this job spec

better than a man can.

So, sorry, I stand corrected,

women can take up space

when they’re not perceived as a threat

but just a pretty face,

throw on some lace underwear

and men can stare at our chests

for a page in print.

I’ve took the hint,

breasts are there for aesthetics

and men can do what they like to them

but we’re shunned for using them

to dare feed our children

in a public place,

seems some men support our free the nipple campaign

only as long as they get a taste

and womenspreading is just seen

as when a woman spreads her legs,

it’s still about men filling our holes

and not about us reclaiming control

of our space and our bodies

for all the times it’s been taken away.

When my space was invaded through an act of rape

I thought I could never again exist in this body and feel safe,

danger lurked in every touch

in any place

on any date

and at first I’d just smile and put on a brave face

because I had no clue what to do with all this rage

and statistics convinced me

that fighting back increased the chance

my life would be left in the hands of a man

like with domestic violence

a woman is most at risk when she leaves

and in taking back her space

and having the opportunity to be free

she could end up six foot under the ground,

so tell me again that we don’t need feminism now?

See you might think that we don’t

because I’ve got the ability to speak

but outside of this poem

sometimes this voice is weak

and it’s quiet, and it’s sorry for taking up your time

and I doubt anyone would want to hear these experiences of mine

and I think I don’t deserve the lights

and the stage and a mic,

I’m still at war with myself and every day is a fight

to create my own space, in a room of my own,

I want to join the grrrls at the front

and get out my comfort zone

taking action, and not just writing poems at home.

I want to see more women in politics and on panel shows

and on bookshelves and in stand up and as CEOs

and as leads in films that pass the Bechdel test

and on the front line and going to press

and in magazines for our talent, not whether we looked good in a dress,

and on our own at nightclubs

because our ass won’t get grabbed

by some creep passing by

who tells us to smile when we just want to cry.

Instead the world will give us our slice of the pie

and the more calories the better

because this stands for our rights,

and we’ll show up for ourselves,

tell stories, create music, make art,

in honour of the women before us who couldn’t

and for those women amongst us who still can’t.

Man Up

Man Up

I have worked with women

who love their men

even

as his hands grip her throat

and he gloats,

whilst watching her choke,

over how she takes him back

by the time he counts to ten.

I have seen the courage of women

who leave their men

alone

with pregnant belly and two children

in a land of words foreign,

she prays I answer my phone

and find her a safe home

where he’ll never touch them again.

I have felt the pain of women

caused by a system

that didn’t lock up their men;

he only raped her yesterday

and she tells me she’s okay

but the tears spilling down her cheeks

give her fear away

as a lack of evidence gave him his freedom.

Here I stand as a woman

standing with women

who are stood on by men.

All convinced that they knew them,

so now don’t all go thinking

that it could never happen

or you’d never let yourself

be in that situation

because we’re all in motion

on a spectrum

of tolerance and bystander inaction,

and to think

that those who get bruised

are any different

than you is fiction.

Being a victim

is not an addiction,

but a symptom

of the macho masculinity affliction

that sees violence

as an ever acceptable reaction,

or that too much testosterone

is the real problem

whilst breeding the notion

that this is the natural order of things

instead of asking the questions,

why do some men hurt women?

and why is violence such a deeply gendered phenomenon?

and why are these instead not defined

as gender crimes?

Worded as ‘women’s issues’ and ‘violence against women’

whilst men’s part in the process

is the invisible omission,

like there could be another explanation

to gender relations

and we just aren’t keeping up with the times.

So here I stand as a woman

standing with women

who are stood on by men,

and if you think

that you’re a good one of them,

then what are you doing

to be part of the solution?

Genesis

Genesis

On the first day

God created the ocean

so vast

she covered the whole earth

in a lullaby

of whispered waves

quenching the thirst

of Adam’s throat,

she was thanked

for the elegance

with which her soft heart

flowed through his hands,

how her eyes danced

to the timing of the sun’s rays,

how she held up the weight

of gravity.

Her innocence and beauty

striking

the creativity

of the artist’s brushstroke

and the writer’s myths of the sea,

how Neptune

claimed rule

over her currents

like something so wild and magical

could ever be harnessed

or the depths

of her labyrinth

known even to the Divine,

her full Being a shrine

to the thousands of species

she had blessed with life,

before Man dumped his waste

and expected her grace.

Threaten her children

and she’ll invade the land

till the transgressors

sink through her quicksand

and fishing boats drown

and even the saintly go down,

their prayers bloated

and turned upside-down,

where is their ‘god’,

to save them now?

Bow

as the tsunami she sends

destroys everything

Man so painstakingly built

as they wish

their gods of old

instead of marking the waters

as their own

had revised their views

and trained the nations

to respect her too

for every act

against that

which they do not understand

stands no chance

against a woman restrained,

whose powers

have been falsely named

from day one

as for Man made.