Sam J Grudgings
Paranormal investigator and erotic Doomsday prophet Sam J Grudgings is a queer poet from Bristol whose work was shortlisted for the Outspoken Poetry Prize in 2020. His writing explores rehabilitation, addiction and loss through the lenses of body horror, the 1920s burlesque scene and the New Weird movement. Sam can typically be found yelling poems at punk shows. His debut collection is The Bible II.
CW: Grieving, mild body horror
People with tiny blown-out hearts, private jokes, dates, or other things tattooed on otherwise virgin skin. Reminders hidden under collars & other disguises. We weren’t to know. The distant roar of motorways that will never judge you for how you were when you were young. Borrowing from tomorrow to pay today the money you said you were setting aside to stop this feeling of constantly travelling unwanted in time. Not waking up till the month is done. I get it. Hold on, the pain is almost receding. Minute keeper of the meetings where nothing gets changed or accepted but for the agreement that Carol, from accounting, who is retiring this year, who is generous with her praise, never makes a fuss & will be forgotten in weeks of leaving, would really love another cat calendar. The anniversaries we neglect for our well-being. The smog of escaping. Staycations & expired memberships to the museum of left-behinds – all the artefacts of our past lives that never really worked out as we remember. It almost feels bearable. The parasitic burden of your diary eating your deposit & promising by the time the page turns on a new month you'll be out of the noose of your savings. I get it. It shouldn't have to be this way, but it is. You used to stand for something. Now you're browsing near-death experiences – saving up vacation days to really focus on your new-found passion for playing doctor the hard way – self-medication & the intricacies of your own autopsy. I think we had it pretty good, considering. Remember how you used to not mind being overlooked till everyone started to doubt your existence & now you can't convince people that you are alive. Passing familiarity with sleeplessness. Nodding acquaintance with loss. Fewer contacts in your phonebook & less inclination to trouble them. The dress shirts our families bought us at Christmases long past that we save for missed laundry days & refusing to let go of the touch of those who can't keep promises. You don't blame them. You can't. There's this aneurysm going around means they keep repeating the same skin song. This year they're gonna get it together. You haven't got it in you to argue. You have hobbies now that require the kind patience you pay off in instalments. The minutiae of catching a break, of catching up with school friends better left forgot, of fumbling the last moments of a relationship turned sour from disuse because you just have so much on right now & maybe it's better off this way. You haven't even been yourself for very long & now everything is ending anyways. The most you can do with what you were given. Decades of anchor wire blooming from your glassblower stomach trying to disprove your wounds. You let them. The specificity of activities that consume us. Regressing to childhood from having to call dentists about the cavities in your teratomas. Niche interests. Rewilding your past from the fleshy mechanics of distance. Pretending it was better or worse than it was, so you don’t flinch at finishing the bottle off after a long day. Gas station housewarming gifts & a future of debt. Misspelt well wishes on office whip-rounds. You forgo the right to being named complainant if only they'll just let you keep the sweet fucking sense of relief you deserve from switching off your brain after a decade of weeks. Favourite bookshops & the chain restaurants that inherit them. The groan of sidewalks between your jaw. A taste you have no desire to relish. Only ever making missed calls & the acrobatics of expressions we practise in the mirror to avoid moments like this & nothing much keeping on going, same as always & how are you? I saw you got married & had kids & that was what you always wanted wasn't it? & I’m sorry we didn't know each other as well as we deserved & no, I'm sorry I can't stop now, I have nowhere that I need to be but it's an appointment I cannot possibly, possibly be late for ...
Two mothers let their girls play in roads.
I get it. The cars are family to traffic
& the edging of human sacrifice is a coping mechanism
so this makes sense in a brother kind of way.
Grieving is the opposite of touching & we are simple engines of brute force
& moving on. Hooked on this kind of Cotard delusion where instead
of being dead everyone you love is a Rube-Goldberg machine.
Madame, your children are throwing roses
yet yesterday they unveiled a great whale carcass
colossal with pig grief. I’m not angry
but I want to ask how they got it here
when it was exactly what I needed.
And you stormed the party as an unexpected contender
at the dead-body Oscars. The red carpet loves you
sticky with blood as it is. The children who studied
at the church of the scientific method have asked you
not abandon them in their time of need – to be a guarantor for their impartiality.
I am here in theory only, drowning litre after litre of medical-grade kerosene.
The thin edge of a wedge looking at the world like I know there's a crux
but don't know what.
Madame! These roses, do you need them returned?
I need a bouquet for stopping journeys
bloated with complex ecosystems as I am.
Glass shard brittle worms, sleeper sharks
& the empty of a life sunk. My friend was alive once,
you have helped me understand how now he is not.
And Other Cryptids
You are telling me the story of your parents forgiving you for the mistake of setting your nerve endings on fire. Removing all obscene in the telling. Tides of skin ripple your body. Sesamoid bones fall into your orbit as you weigh up this narrative. Your justifications have heavy. Your mouth is a purple bridge of history, a monument to spit off of into the river.
I am weighing up my options in an escape kind of way, all I have ever been taught is narrative & not living up to the possibilities of absence demonstrated by those who disappeared from me. Both of us have a history of planting bridges in the chests of those who left us. Rewilding the bodies prone to burials, making something of our leaving.
You are inheriting that which you least covet; architecture-sour mouths; promises of change & coral reefs. You are not sure if you are the ship sinking on them or if your ribcage is bleached from grounding too many sailors. You are reassuring me I am still here even after everything is gone. You are a giant sign that says TURN OFF NEXT LEFT. I dream of not leaving.
I am sitting on my grandfather's lap. He has stopped playing to pull coins lost in my ear & instead finds a prophecy. I am loath to become heir to it. I never learned the rules of the game. My mouth, an argument of inherited language.
You cover my body in road sign. Note that flight or freedom is a matter of perspective. Whisper to me to yield priority to oncoming gambits. My hands abandon their scaphoid & lunate, becoming shadows with purple mouths. At the river, two armies stop. They are telling the story of war. They take it in turns. They say they don't think it is a bad thing that they have to die. You go first, they say. This is half yours after all.
All poems: exclusive first publication by iamb