I hovered in doorways,
behind her chair –
always at my back
a father, a brother.
She shoved leftovers round
the frying pan with a wooden
spatula. Supper time already,
the London Palladium
da-de-da’ed round the screen.
I carried the dishes into the kitchen
and caught her in the
door-walled lobby.
I whispered into her face
she reeled back
‘Oh hen I’ve nothing for ye, but
there’s an old white sheet
in the wardrobe.’


I remember a drawing in a school book
a woman lying belly up
beneath a tree.
Above her, another woman
heaved her weight from a branch
up and down, bare feet
joining in labour.
That’s what my mother did to me.
She jumped on my freshly pregnant body
from a great height
arms full of doctors and advisors –
I was a minor
didn’t have feelings yet
or choice.
and cold fingers and
‘It’s for the best’ needles.


She pulled his face out
of a purse
like an extra condom.
‘I want him
introduce him to me’
We shoved each other out of view
like the good friends we were.
Then he was there, in the pub next door
eyes that bubbled and popped,
a Patrick Mower look-a-like
before look-a-likes were the thing.
Glimpses of haired skin
through shirt buttons,
Christmas Old Spice,
the definite nod in his eyes.

He declared me his, enforced
with love-kissed punches
and shadowing.
A strong lover, who wept
the streets of Manchester at midnight
‘I love you to death’
I dressed for winter in summer
made excuses for hibernation
splashed red on a white car, then
said ‘I do.’


Salt, pepper and spice
and little fancy jars of
house-seeping herbs.
This man caught me in drink
sticky thighs the only evidence
of meeting –
except for his face by mine
beneath the same quilt in a sun shaft.
I can’t keep my hands off his scaffolding.
And dried onions in case I forget fresh –
keep the cupboard full of stock cubes
and you’ll never starve.
And porridge.
He doesn’t like potatoes.
Jars of piccalilli and jam
and sink-tidy –
yellow to match curtains and tiles.
He wants to be a daddy
makes me scream for more – children?
I get to do all this by myself
and keep the change.

Over a common-law threshold

‘If you ever spend my money
I’ll empty the cupboard, even of salt
and spend the week with my mother.’


Sixty quid for the bronze and rust
that rattles and rolls but
jump-starts first time.
Vauxhall Victor with a bash at the back
goodbyes me and mine,
numbered black bags settle on
walls in my old bedroom,
my mother has seen all this before
I’ve never really belonged to Glasgow.

Victor is a tin beef olive
tiled at the top.
Video and furniture into gold,
food, for us and the car.
Newcastle a hole on the horizon
we smooth down the motorway, rolling
the children to sleep
surprising the shite out of me.
South and East
into February the 2nd
with a faulty something
that kept us in Glasgow till five.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN


Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences