Queer, mixed-race and neurodivergent, Rick Dove is a poet and activist from South London. His work explores themes of social justice, epistemology and identity – drawing on science-fiction, philosophy and mythology (with no small measure of mischief). Using a blend of traditional and free-verse styles to interrogate the liminal spaces that define common humanity, Rick was dubbed ‘one to watch’ by T S Eliot Prize winner Roger Robinson. Rick’s debut collection Tales from the Other Box appeared in 2020, and he was crowned Hammer & Tongue UK Poetry Slam Champion at the Royal Albert Hall the following year.
Blind Study / Test Subject
Traces of LSD can be found in the hair up to 90 days after ingestion.
This is 180 times longer than it is detectable in the blood.
It is days after, and still an orgy of detritus is clinging
to my skin. The brush of my shorn crown is prickly.
It is fresh in-patient released. A new-born fleeced.
Triggering apocryphal memories of Electro Convulsive
Therapy, the chair, and of not wanting to catch fire.
Triggering memories of reading about the invention
of Velcro, of George de Mestral and his dog, stubborn
cockle burrs with their hooks in deep, clinging. Glowing
with bandwidth restrictions, the elemental filaments
are burning wires in my skin, standing to attention, still
receiving the whispering, on an acrid stench, days after.
This is why they shave the heads of those about to die:
to stop them transmitting. To prevent the secondary
transfer of dreaming. I will have to wait for my hair
to grow back before I'm identifiable as a victim.
In most cases, nuclear DNA is broken down to its building blocks.
So if a hair lacks a root it will be impossible to extract a useful sample.
It is days after, and I am home. Greeted by golden threads,
they pull me anti-Theseus back into the labyrinth, trip wires
attached to booby traps, her blonde invading berserkers.
The poison metabolised before she left that morning,
its debris will take a lifetime to clear. Detritus of dissociation
sticking to the rubble like Velcro, it must be pulled away slowly.
Earning the Title Diva
Chess timer chastising his strategy, hanging
boardroom clock louder than memory, facial tics,
he had asked for five minutes, when she had them,
but tensions tied, had stolen his tongue for two. Blank.
Floodgates. Gambit onslaught, the explanation to HR,
briefing reasons for the meeting. A cortisol taster, wafer
and wine anxiety. How he had bonded with a writer
from Florida over America is a Gun by Brian Bilston.
How, although Florida is a big state, when he had tried to raise
the writer, his message went unread. How this worry was eating
him, he said. He did not need to be at home, had to stay
busy. But it might be necessary for allowances to be made,
later, if the situation changed. He stopped for breath. This is the edge,
he said, and I am on it. A ledge with no one to talk us down.
My hypervigilance had been activated at some point
of no return on the District Line that morning, shaken up
by rocking motions, the lullaby wheels recalling the feel
of rumbling bass through my feet. I was back on Frith Street
on May Day Bank Holiday weekend in ‘99, a Friday.
Turning right into Old Compton. Meeting clouds from the west.
This five minutes of programming in endless repeats of
Mr Angry. This morning’s tube rhythms fading into
the stampede as breaks made screams, until again
I could taste masonry dust. Asking who knows first aid. Debris
learning triage in the field. It is not 9am, and I need a whisky.
And I am watching him omit this part of our explanation
to HR, saying merely, he cannot trust himself to remain stoic
in the office today. Especially in the face of its typical
hypermasculine heteronormativity, with epithets like confetti.
Especially in the wake of what just happened a world away.
How they are too threatening in this new frame. Too
threatening today. I used to do drag he says. These were my people.
By implication, HR and the rest of the team are not.
Back from the Admiral Duncan, tears are salting the dust
in our rushing blood. The boardroom clock is lost, as we
resynchronise our brainwaves to present. Together again,
America is a Gun we say – you should read it. It might help explain.
Later, the MD will call us Diva for the first time. Claim
the events are unconnected. We stayed all day. Protest is Pride.
i heard it first at seven the day they called me gollywog
and as the word passed these lips to meet Mum’s ear
a tear and every time since then i am back there
little boy lost there wondering when i will grow up
praying and praying (like that was ever enough)
that this world will too strange then that this was too
my childhood’s very end there in an eighties living room
as Mum and Dad and i have The Chat
and my dad tells the tale regales again and again
in his final days about his early years on this isle
how only black in the village was actually a thing
and how it was him and how on a summer’s day
no more than eight a policeman at the gate
came to tell his mum he couldn’t go to the corner shop
alone again he hadn’t stolen anything
but the shopkeeper (like so many back then)
wasn't one for details except that simple single one
that still holds us back so later that evening
Granny and Grandad give my eight-year-old dad The Chat
and i rehearse it with a girlfriend same night
as our first tiff late on a date about twenty-oh-three
(the year not the hour) as she suggests we hail a cab
and her privilege hits me there hits me square
hits me full force in the derriere i won’t be able to flag one here
i SNAP snarky inferring maybe it should be you
in the flooded gutter in your good shoes …
and later that evening as i am cleaning her boots
she and i have The Chat
and this is how it's been for generations
parents to their children star-crossed lovers in explanation
in conversation after conversation spelling out
how being black (though having some advantages)
will get you treated as lesser by some
or make you a target to some
will put you in the crosshairs of some
and this is something a quartet of
Carl Lewis Linford Christie Usain Bolt and Jesse Owens
it's a baton that we’re still passing
and this is me to you my son
for that is how i have to give it to my boy saying
i hope this world will grow so you never truly know
this feeling of being so conspicuous and yet so small
of representing an entire skin tone all on your own alone
because i know whenever you feel the weight of that
it will crush you flat
and you deserve to be on show
only when you choose to be
and now you are fully grown
and in possession of our truth
i know you will guard it well until it is due
but i hope and pray (like that's ever been enough)
that this ends with you
and hopefully one day
a black man merely standing on a stage
or putting a pen to page
will stop being a political act
but until then
we'll have The Chat
Blind Study / Test Subject: Hair Raising Anthology (Nine Pens Press)
Earning the Title Diva: Sometimes the Revolution is Small
(Nymphs & Thugs)
The Chat: Tales from the Other Box (Burning Eye Books)