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.