We built our kingdom
on the swings,
thrilling to the danger
of the air through our hair
and the void beneath,
learning solidarity
through gravel-scarred knees
and disapproving glances.

I’ve watched you rise and fall,
and lose a few teeth
to cold stone and concrete.
When you swing harder,
your feet tread clouds,
leaving footprints on the sky.
I won’t let anybody hurt you
not then, not now, not ever.


Behind mum’s feet



I’m trailing home behind mum’s feet,

A surly hamster with cotton wool cheeks,

Blood blossoming, face numb,

Metallic taste on anaesthetised tongue.


I have been all too good

And brushed as hard as a good girl should.

I’ve kept too many to fit my face,

Earning four teeth pulled and a lovely brace.


One, two, three, four, out they all came,

The bone-crack splinter-shriek engraved on my brain.

The feet ahead slow, and mum turns to her child:

“Now come along Caroline, you could at least smile.”

CaBloWriMo: A shadow of a man


In the distance I see a man. He’s tall and thin, and casts a shadow. As the hours pass, his shadow moves, but he stays quite still. He’s been there since yesterday.

I am allowed three lampposts in either direction of my front door. That’s just past Frank and Ellen, who give me biscuits and don’t know who Thomas the Tank Engine is.

On the other side, there’s the wild-haired woman who’s let her garden go all tangled, the brambles spilling over into our garden like grasping fingers. Sometimes they snatch our toys.

Just past her garden, he’s still standing there, watching. He’s waiting for children to put into a black car, luring them with poisoned sweets then driving them away. That’s what strangers do; a policeman came to school to tell us. He didn’t say anything about not moving, but I am canny to these wiles. I wheel my tricycle beyond his reach and head for safety.

Many days later, I realised that my lurking stranger was, in fact, a post in next-but-one’s front yard.

Late afternoon shadows

(By Jon ‘ShakataGaNai’ Davis, via Wikimedia Commons)

Archive: Walking in darkness


By ’87, we’d had enough of London. Its streets had turned out to be paved with just enough gold to take out a mortgage on a small house at a substantial remove from work, from where it was at, and from the kind of green fields that somewhat older children would probably want to frolic in one day if they weren’t to eventually succumb to a life of dissolution and hard drugs. We felt hemmed in, and worried that one day, my brother would bounce himself out the window of his tiny bedroom. And so, with a cunning little manoeuvre that saw us kids stay with relatives before arriving at a miraculously-furnished new house, we moved.

Perhaps this clever ploy explains why, for many years, I had dreams of hidden trapdoors and mysterious tunnels, Narnia-esque wardrobes and loose bricks into underground caverns. Or perhaps, given that I thought I knew how to think myself into flight and could hardly sleep for fear of the cybermen hiding under my bed, I just had an over-active imagination. Goodness knows we needed one, in those heady days of two-colour text adventures and Sylvester McCoy as Doctor Who.


My home, in the dark

Or perhaps the house itself inspired such thoughts. I wasn’t the only one to have them. It was bigger and older than the London house, and while publicly I scoffed at my brother’s unwillingness to go up the stairs alone after dark, I did so myself with some trepidation. There was a haunting aspect to the way the shadows clung at the walls, a solidity and an age to the darkness that may not exactly have menaced, but boy did it know how to loom. It was a darkness that demanded to be taken seriously.

But I was not easily cowed as a child, and over time I came to an arrangement with the dark. What made it mad, I figured, is that although it had been there first, it was still forced to flee on a regular basis by these four persistent, fidgety beings on their meaningless nocturnal perambulations. Pretty unfair really, a concept that the young me understood all too well. So rather than shoo the darkness away with my blundering invasive presence, I swam through it, my hands learning to follow the wooden detail on the wall that started out at head height and sank over time to my waist.

Even now, I still prefer to walk the house in darkness. Sometimes, because I’m grown-up and sensible now, I tell myself that it’s because I don’t want to wake anyone. But the house and I, we know different.

From here on September 9th 2013.