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Charlotte Ansell

Charlotte Ansell

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the poet

Charlotte Ansell left Yorkshire via the North Sea to moor up on the Medway. Her third collection Deluge was a 2019 Poetry Book Society Winter Recommendation, and she’s had poetry in Poetry Review, Mslexia, Now Then, Butcher’s Dog, Prole, Algebra of Owls and various anthologies – most recently These Are The Hands: Poems from the Heart of the NHS. Charlotte received a Royal Society of Literature Literature Matters Award in 2020, and is a member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen.

the poems

My child buys a
They/Them badge

After Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

00:00 / 01:52

                   Because you made an announcement,

                   does it make it so?

                   Forgive me, I don’t see boy

                   not yet, just the you you’ve always been,

                   somewhere in between, yes,

                   halfway through a door I have no key to,

                   a warren I cannot tumble down.

                   I am far too old to shape-shift now,

                   despite your insistence it can be done.

       

                   Please allow me time to grieve,

                   the you that shrunk and slipped away.

                   The only place your given name exists

                   is in passwords on my phone,

                   all other traces scrunched up, crossed out,

                   erased, sunk or burnt.

       

                   Your new pronouns

                   cram my mouth, get lodged

                   behind my tongue.

                   I don’t expect the binders

                   to always hold off the surgeon’s knife

                   but forever is a long stretch

                   when you’re fifteen;

                   this is not like a decision

                   to tattoo the word regret on your arm.

      

                   I watch your carpet get worn

                   with your white rabbit circles,

                   it feels like your absolute conviction

                   is the hook you needed

                   to hang your pain on,

                   with only me wondering why this one.

       

                   They are already painting the roses,

                   a whole court clamouring for my head

                   but they don’t know you, my love,

                   you can be anything you want

                   and I will always be your mum.

                   I want you to keep

                   one more Drink me just in case,

                   I want you to leave yourself an if.

Published with the consent and blessing of my child

Mockingbird

Based on the traditional song,

and after Terence Hayes’ A Golden Shovel

00:00 / 01:08

            Your gasp prompts a finger to her lips – Hush.

            Ever the mimic, kingfisher shade this time, no longer little

            all grown as blue dye blush seeps her shoulders, your baby

            gone. Hugs are tolerated but far more nopes and don’t

            Mum, with rolled eyes, more words less say

            in her life; no beak grasping yet still a

            claw outstretched, please a familiar word,

            she only says Mama’ s -

            oftly when she wants something, all you cradled gonna

            fly, no more fluffed wings piled in your lap, you can’t buy

            back those years, mouth tight to a thumb. You

            love her still as fierce as a

            swan but she is restless, gobby, mockingbird.

Credo for the clinic
at the girls’ school

00:00 / 02:16

            Don’t take this home

            even if this heaviness is not a shoulder bag

            of textbooks you can shrug off,

            it will settle in your bones, behind your eyes

            when your 9am cries for the mum

            who was either drunk or not there,

            says she isn’t bothered that she has

            a room now with an actual bed,

            where no one shouts

            she misses hugs, the unpredictability.


            Keep your tone neutral,

            if tears threaten, hold them back

            your empathy must be muted.

            Don’t bring home here,

            In these corridors, this tiny room

            you cannot be mum.

            When your 10am says she doesn’t know

            Why she feels so sad, after a year

            in which her half-brother saw his dad

            murdered, a stubbed cigarette life caring

            for her disabled mum before she reached fifteen

            do not say you understand.


            Do not make suggestions that are plainly stupid,

            there are those who recommend

            pinging a rubber band

            instead of taking a razor to a wrist

            but this is akin to gritted teeth

            in an avalanche. Resist.


            Never say it will be OK,

            you are here to sit with them in

            the tremors and not flinch.

            Hold still, no one feels listened to

            by a fidget. Never check your watch.

            Try to focus through your 10.55’s elaborate lies

            It’s not your job to believe her,

            nor judge or call her out.

            Your 12.15 doesn’t come,

            which considering, is no surprise.


            Don’t for one minute think

            you can rescue any of them –

            you are not God.


            At lunch, escape to the park for a proper latte

            from the mobile van. Head back.


            When your 2pm says she doesn’t feel seen,

            one of ten kids, beneath the hijab

            she has no faith in and tells you

            life is pointless, do not contradict.


            When the bell goes,

            do not take this home.

            Do not try this at home.

Publishing credits

All poems: exclusive first publication by iamb