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.
My child buys a
After Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
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
Based on the traditional song,
and after Terence Hayes’ A Golden Shovel
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
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.
All poems: exclusive first publication by iamb