Lesson Fourty-Five

Note one: this poem was written during a workshop on rage with Ariana Reines, soundtracked by angry sounds. Very few things make me feel ‘rage,’ I think I only ever felt it once.

Note two: this poem is based on an interaction with a friend of mine who is also sometimes a student of mine, but all of the key details have been changed out of respect for that friend. I checked that he would be okay with me writing about it, and the scenario he described is painfully similar to that which follows.


I am often ashamed to be English,
using this language, teaching this
language which is sometimes
repurposed for cruelty. She’d said
“go home” and I was working with
him on direction and he was talking
about how he cannot take buses
anymore and I had clenched fists
beneath the desk I’d laid out our
lesson on. I wanted to tell him
to take the mugs from the rack
by the microwave and smash each
of them individually against this
language. She’d said “go back
to where you came from” and he
repeats the words as best he can,
slow pronunciation and attention
paid to the vowel sounds, ‘back’
is sharp as a knife therein, he is
violent with the plosives as he is
entitled to be after she has spat
on his shoes, saved for penny
by penny and every consonant
cluster is revisiting the trauma,
would break down the sentence
into its hurt and wipe it clean like the
bus window beside which he had
offered his seat or tried to and I
am often ashamed to be English,
but tell him he shouldn’t be ashamed
to be him as we share this rage like
a first lesson icebreaker in which I am
foreign and he is foreign and the
entire world is foreign to us. I want
to say his anger is well-founded but
that hers was not and theirs was not
and words did the work and his
shoelaces were laced with spittle
and I am angrily apologising and
regret teaching him the numerous
ways to say sorry because I know
he tried to when he didn’t need to
because he always tries and he
cannot take the bus anymore like
I’d taught him to before Easter
I don’t want to know who taught
her those words, I have rage for
every bad newspaper and cursing
citizen and I have perhaps more rage
than I realised but I cannot offer
him the same sort of catharsis I find
in poetry because I do not know how
to, I do not have the words and am
glad that I cycle and can often make
myself understood in difficult
situations but I am both angry and sad
that he cannot bring himself to take
the bus anymore and when I ask
if this is why he can no longer make
our Tuesday class the pause he takes
is longer than the pause preceding
normal speech in which he runs
through suitable vocabulary and
correct sentence structures and I know
he didn’t pause to apologize when
she said what she said and did
what she did and perhaps made
other people think about doing
what she did and I wonder how many
refugees are walking around England
because the bus is forever related
to the racism they thought they’d
left behind in Birmingham and I
would be angry too am angry too,
would want words which probably
wouldn’t make a difference and I
would want to be able to ride the
bus again I would want for him
to be able to ride the bus again
and make it to our Tuesday lesson
and I would want to not be so
frequently ashamed of my country
but at least I have a country to call
home. She said “go home” and he
can’t. She said “go back to where
you came from” and he can’t and
then she spat on his shoes because
he had tried to offer her his seat
but hadn’t been able to find the
words so she’d spat on his shoes
and she’d spat on his shoes and
he’d apologised immediately and
now he won’t ride the bus anymore.



I have translated the end of us and 这仍然是我的错

Since short limbs I have wished that my legs
could stretch across seas as easily as they strode
over stones in the river which ran through the town
I never wanted you to see. Industry never meant
much to me and home has always been transient.

I think you understood the wish for elasticity,
the want to be malleable in a way that mattered.
I know you didn’t understood why it had to be now,
said distance might bring us closer current
conspired with me against you. I learnt Mandarin,

you learnt how to cry in complete silence.
我很抱歉. 我骨头是被拉向溫暖的天氣,
我是认真的. 我擔心我更愛自己.
耻辱. 很 可耻. 我很抱歉.

I’ve been using the card you gave me as a bookmark,
marking any words that remind me of you.
I’ve been using the card you gave me as a bookmark,









I am very sorry. My soul is pulled towards warmer weather,
I have always been this cold. When I said I loved you,
I was serious. I fear I love myself more.
Shame, very shameful. I am sorry.

(It reminds me to be better).


Big feet made me a child who only took
clumsy steps, on the football field I was
a good defender because I was quick
to throw myself to the ground, sacrifice
body into the black mud which left marks
thick in the kitchen of my first home.

I have spent a lot of time waiting for
good things to come to me, am keen
to impress others but was and still am
a clinical finisher / disappointment, tall poppy
syndrome cut me off at the roots and I never
outgrew the ground that birthed me.

Scored a hat-trick for my high-school
football team and when they lifted me
onto shoulders I was finally gigantic.

But I cannot love you.

When you ask me if I will ever eat meat again
I tell you I don’t know that I can.

I mean, there was this one time in New Orleans,
I was stranded on an island and I thought that red beans

were just red beans and I was crippled with
grief on the boat back because of the bacon.

You say this is serious. When you ask if I will ever
eat meat again I tell you that I don’t know I can.

It is a lot like how I don’t know if I can love you
the way I would like to be able to love you,

and that when I bite your lip it is the closest
I have come to eating meat or feeling love

in half a decade (including New Orleans)
and your flesh, the soft of your shoulder

is as tempting as any tofu I have had before me
but there is something false about this desire,

like the stirring in my stomach when I sometimes
pass by a butchers and I would like to be honest

when I tell you that I am not very good at this
and that I more often fuck than make love,

would sometimes prefer a chicken curry
instead of vegetable stir fry and you taste

like I have strayed and I am sorry.
I would like to be able to love you,

but I am not sure I can love anyone anymore
because there was this one woman in Georgia

and you don’t want to hear about her, which is fair.
These days I only love memories and the ground

I walk on so if you would walk it with me
and make memories I would like that immensely,


When I graduated, the stairs to the podium
were the same height as those that led

to your front door in Georgia and I was reminded
that some steps are harder to take that others.

Does that sound strange?
Does that surprise you?

I have always been this brand of coward,
easily reminded and easily scared

but always taking the stairs two at a time
as if to appear confident. You know,

it took me two minutes to ring the bell;
when I shook the chancellors hand it was limply

and his smile faltered the same way yours did
when I walked you back to that door and did not

do anything that might have helped me make it inside.
Did that surprise you? I surprised myself,

though I have always been that brand of coward
scared to commit to sudden long strides,

could never take the stairs three at a time,
could never love you like I would have liked,

and when I retreated back to the sidewalk
my steps were small and my heart was heavy

while you stared at the back of me, closed
the door slow and thought the English weak,

when it was just me
before the English degree.

First Work Poem

The boss had asked me
if I ever wrote work poetry.

I told him I could not write
about working while working,

a bit like how I cannot write love
poetry unless I am achingly lonely.

I don’t think he understood, he knows
what words sell a wardrobe and what words

won’t. He doesn’t care about poems the same
way that I care about poems. I am now unemployed;

I am writing work poems. I hope he gets it.