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Cathy Grindrod


After viewing “Second Skin”: an exhibition
of paintings by Eileen Cooper

I have always been naked.

Once I was purple, stepping out among flowers.
Later, red, weighed down with the burden
of creepy crawlies needling my back.
Birds watched over me, picking them off.
I have a child’s outline, a soft round head.
My arms stroke, reach hold.
Sometimes I squat, face to face, eyes to eyes,
holding in my palms another woman’s face.

Only women do this.

My body was not mine for long.
I cannot ask for it back.
Now it is full of children, my sex masked
by the smell of lilies, my breasts an offering.

I would give my baby the moon, but a toy boat must do.

When I lie with my husband, my children grow wild,
build tree houses and pee from my high branches.
Tigers try to carry them away. Their hot,
red paws flatten the lilies. My children sit;
shrieking, delighted, on top.
They know no better.

I have to save them, sometimes daily.

As they grow, my naked babies dream as I once dreamed.
My boys are haunted by the drowned.
Snakes threaten their sisters’ ankles
until they dare not look at one another.
All this colour hurts my eyes
until I long for grey.

That is when I take my family to lie beneath the stars.

They hold their arms stiff by their sides, gaze up,
their bodies coffin-straight.
I lie at the end of the line, between them
and the danger, my eyes wide open.

How small we are.

I stretch out my arm to empty space,
for something I have forgotten;
someone I should have looked after, somewhere.

How to Leave Your Therapist

He will have tried to tell you
how profoundly parting may affect you,
but already you’ll have eased into tomorrow
like a snake that sloughs its skin instinctively.

Prepare for simple facts; his face, gone;
having no-one, now, to tell.

There are no answers.
This, you will know well,
and yet you will have found which memories
have frayed or jagged edges,
which desires are blunted smooth,
which raw like bloodied egg; as slippery.

When he asks you how you see the future,
you will see your secrets safely stacked
within this room, like caskets in a pyramid.
Impossible to think of him elsewhere –
shopping maybe, or in shorts, on holiday –
vulnerable, deceitful even, or as selfish
as he has, at times, permitted you to be.

And at the end, a touch will be unthinkable.
The necessary gap between you, over which
you could not tread, will now become immovable.
One final meeting of the eyes must be enough.

It may be Spring outside, in which case all the trees
will be in pink. The sun may shine.
A taxi or a bus may well be late –
and come without apology or explanation,
and its seats be warm.

You will feel no sadness as you go, will not
look back. In fact, you will undoubtedly believe
that it was you who chose to leave.

These feelings will not last for long.


There was a moment
before the blow came
of which I need to speak.

Not of the blow itself –
connecting, real,
which lurched a childhood on,

but of the moment
before the blow came
in which all things were held.

A moment’s brilliant view
of possibilities – a child
who fought, raged, called out for end;

a child who did not need
to love; a child
who spoke, was heard.

No. It is not the blow
but the moment’s brilliant view
of which I need to speak.


We live as they have lived. Send out
frail signals in a blind worm’s Braille;
feed, expel, anchor feet in sand
when tides recede, digging deeper
to escape all looming danger,
snapping shut our secret selves; zip
like scallops from a predator,
jerk flinchingly to miss a blow
from tentacles which only wished
to stroke. Heads down, safely grazing,
we chatter in our happy packs,
while everywhere we find a niche,
build families inside soft rock;
declare ourselves a perfect fit.

Death brings these empty shells to shore.
And still we come, collecting them,

as to our lives we cling, we cling.

'Woman', 'Pause' and 'Shells' are all in 'Fighting Talk' by Cathy Grindrod, pub. Headland, 2005. 'How to Leave Your Therapist' was first published on the Guardian website (http://www.guardian.co.uk/).

Copyright © Cathy Grindrod, 2005