9th March

Girl with red hair

There’s a kind of dichotomy, I think, between writing that takes on a fantastical element, and writing that is gritty and very real.  Some writers will say they write to escape, submerged in their own world.  Others, that writing puts them in touch with themselves and helps them to realise who they really are.  I think it can do both.  Some of that depends on the writer’s mood.  A lot, I think, depends on what you are writing.  Poetry embraces  reality, opening up old wounds, bearing the soul and pulling people in.

‘Girl with red hair’ is a poem I wrote in response to my best friend’s death.  I wrote this poem last year – she died nearly twenty years ago in her late twenties.  It took me twenty years to be able to write about her.  She was the first friend I ever really loved.  We kind of ‘found’ each other.  We were both a bit quirky, quiet and thoughtful, punky hair etc – we didn’t fit in.  We spent every Saturday, for years, in our favourite bar, listening to live music while making our beers last as long as possible.  We were both huge music lovers.  We saw Bowie together at Milton Keynes Bowl, saw The Boomtown Rats, The Stranglers, Dance Society, The Cult… and we had our first trips abroad together – at eighteen to a Belgian beer festival, none the less, and a weekend in Paris.

Sometimes people come in to your life that define you at that time.  Kim certainly did that.  When she died, we had lost touch – our lives had gone separate ways and we no longer lived in the same city.  We didn’t get to say goodbye.  I still miss her.  She was quite unique.  This poem is for Kim.

Girl with red hair

Lolling from a round back chair
the girl with red hair let laughter
drip from her lips,
trickling down her drainpipe jeans
until it pooled upon the floor,

laughter so loud and shrill that
birds tipped their heads to listen,

sculpted her hair with fingers on a curve
with nails the colour of hematite,
eyes cast high at the glacial depth
in the click as it snags at the green.

sat outside a bar in Paris
a glass held up to puckered lips,
sank her head into my neck
as we rolled down roads
nameless and shapeless under a night’s sky,
her breath as bright as stars,

had her picture taken by the Champs Elysees,
seduced the lens and the iron fence
that felt like a night on the town,

wrote in a slope on the snowy white
of a postcard from Amsterdam
in letters full and round –
the pedal spin downhill feet up and out

and the wind –
remember the wind?

And as she laughed,
they all laughed.
As she held the glass to her lips,
they all drank.


From her bed, the palm crease in the page
lays down the beginnings of a book.
Her cat, curled neatly beside her,
counts the hours of a fevered brow.

And as her eyes sink beneath
the heat and the sigh’s slow release,
she thinks aboutParis
and a pale neck,
warm under the stars.

About Abi Burlingham

I write children's books and paint pictures inspired by nature, animals, trees etc, mostly in acrylics. I am a crisp addict.
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18 Responses to 9th March

  1. Jo Carroll says:

    This is lovely.

    I think a lot of us have people ho help to define who we are – and she did this for you. And you probably did it for her. And it sounds as if you have some wonderful memories that sustain you still.

  2. Ah, thank you Jo – I think you’ve well and truly hit the nail on the head 🙂

  3. Martin Day says:

    I’m moved, Abi, Thank you for sharing it.

  4. Ah! Thank you for reading it Martin.

  5. Jenny Alexander says:

    Thank you for sharing this Abi – it really resonates with me as well. I’ve been writing about the death of my friend who helped define who I was throughout my twenties. She died a few years ago, and I’m so grateful that I was able to see her several times during her last illness, and we did say goodbye. I think you’re right about the uses of writing too. I try not to write poems, but every couple of years, one simply has to be written; generally, I write for the thrill of the journey.

  6. Ah, Jenny. Yes, I can see how you would relate to it. I’m so glad you got to be there with your friend and say goodbye. Writing this poem allowed me to do that, to a certain extent – it’s only today that I’ve realised that posting it has taken this one step further.

  7. Denise says:

    Well that brought tears to my eyes!


  8. Aw, Denise – thank you!!!

  9. Beautiful poem — she sounds so lovely! And like a wonderful friend. xo

  10. Emma Pass says:

    Abi, this is such a wonderful poem. I had tears in my eyes as I read it. I’ve had friends who’ve have a similarly profound effect on my life too; it makes you wonder who you’d be now if they hadn’t come into your life, doesn’t it?

  11. Thanks Em! This is it isn’t it? Some people are soul mates and Kim was definitely one of mine.

  12. alison says:

    That was beautiful Abi. Thank you for posting it.

  13. Thank you Nettie 🙂

  14. Very moving Abi. And beautiful too.

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