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.

Vigil

Vigil

This should feel like bliss,

like it does for him

except you’ve gone from tired to high alert

in the time it takes to drive

the five minutes back to his place.

His sweet embrace does nothing

to change your unconscious response

to different bedsheets

as insomnia replaces your ability to sleep.

Counting sheep hasn’t worked in years;

they’re just prey, after all,

to your predatory fears come out to play

and your mind is a coward,

feeding you to the ghosts

for your usual dose of triggers, growing like weeds

somewhere you’re trying to plant only seeds of peace,

but for the former to die and the latter to grow

they both need exposure to air.

So as he holds you close, remind yourself

that underneath this choking layer of soil,

somewhere lies a radical act of self care

and you’re prepared to take the hit,

maybe eventually your body will switch off

and dissolve these flashbacks bit by bit,

maybe one of these days you’ll sink into the pillow

next to him, reaping what you sow,

his gentle breath on your neck,

in a bed that feels like home.

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.

How Trauma Dresses at Daybreak

How Trauma Dresses at Daybreak

I woke this morning in parts,

making coffee with crossed wires

and crying coconut milk.

Washed my body in two minds;

one mine, one a critical mother,

blood weeping from cracks in her breast bone.

A broken mirror watches

as clothes are chosen with baggy fit for comfort,

pulled on with careful movements,

for the world cannot know

of the war I wear in my chest

when I am missing whole pieces of woman.

Digging Up My Body Parts

Digging Up My Body Parts

I wore a long-sleeved black dress;

chiffon, bow tied at the front

and floating,

floating but heavy.

You said I looked nice today

and I wheedled out a ‘thank you’ with a side joke

of ‘don’t I always?’

Just keep it light hearted, don’t think about it.

Keira Knightley plays Colette,

a true story about a man’s power

and a woman’s fight to recover hers,

but you’re oblivious to its significance

and the meaning saunters past you.

I think the meaning sauntered past him too,

last time I wore this black dress at the cinema.

I don’t remember what we watched

but I can point you to our seats,

describe how he was sat on my right,

sweaty hand on my leg crossed away from him,

eyes baring down into my skin

and my red summer shoes,

where no amount of clicking those heels

would ever get me home.

Buoy

Buoy

It’s a swimming costume in the bath

kind of day.

It’s a child

pressing for privacy.

It’s the creeping fingers

crawling under your skin

in silent scorn.

It’s reading between the lines

between the lines

between the lines.

It’s force

that’s full body

but weak

like cheap shampoo.

It’s tears

mixing with a torrential shower

drowning your screams

for what feels like

fifty thousand hours.

It’s the trembling

no amount of layers

can cure.

It’s terror

without even needing

to open the door.

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?