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Every year I write a poem for my daughter, for her birthday. Writing poetry, for me, is a very organic process, it’s directly linked to my emotional state and is a sort of emotional intuition about myself, I notice myself and know who I am very clearly with poetry. There’s a shed load of craft that goes on too, but at its heart, without wanting to over romanticise the process, poetry is a something like scrying or soothsaying, the poems arrive when they do and are about what they are about. It’s a very magical process in the true sense of the word, less Harry Potter, more Mother Shipton. So it pleases me that the process has never let me down when it comes to my daughter’s birthday. Each year there is a slight worry that this may be the year that the poem doesn’t come, but even on the years where I have been almost unable to function through the utter crushing weight of grief, a poem has arrived. In fact at those times several might arrive at once. It feels like communion in that way, like a two way conversation, something happens that I don’t quite understand, and I would, I guess, liken this to speaking with her, or knowing her in the way that we knew each other when I was pregnant with her. You don’t have a conversation with your unborn child, but you know them in a way that you will never know anyone else. It’s an incredible, unique experience and even after what has happened, I feel lucky to have experienced this. I think that’s why the poems for Matilda are often about our symbiosis, the symbiosis of pregnancy, the sharing of genetics. I’m amazed by how she was a perfect mixture of my husband and myself. There is the miracle, we are not unique at all, and yet we are.

What I am rambling around saying then is this, art can be such an important part of the process of grief. When I say process, I do not mean ‘resolution’ this is not about finding a solution to grief, there isn’t one. My grief-fever broke last year after I finished writing the new collection. After being in mourning for eight years it was the furious process of writing which seemed to be the end of that period of grieving and I crossed a boundary and am now in that place where everyone had said I would get to, but I never really believed them. I’m in a place of sadness and contemplation, but I am no longer consumed by it. There is no resolution, there is no end to grief, it is something you live with. The analogy of the pebble is my favourite: you start out with a chunk of granite that you carry on your back and you can’t do anything except focus on carrying the huge rock around, but as rocks do, slowly, over time it wears down until finally it fits in your pocket, you rub your finger over it, you know it, it is familiar and it is welcome. The pain it is not unwanted, because the pain is the same as love.


Poetry has been such a huge part of this process for me. And this, the birthday poem has become a ritualistic part of celebrating Matilda’s birth and grieving her death, as important as the birthday grave visit, the gifts we bring, the choice of flowers and then the celebration of her life, just me and Chris, afterwards. The poem comes in the week before, usually, sometimes on the day. The process begins as I begin to count my way along the markers of her life, and am taken back there, like following a well known ordinance survey map of her loss: here is the night I spent frightened in the hospital, there are the silver fish running for cover when I went to the loo; there I am wishing I could hide from what was coming, here is the journey to Leeds; the bright sun, the blue sky, here is the hospital; we are early, here is the scan, the news, the sudden, terrifying running through the hospital, there I am reflected in the window, so pregnant, so pregnant, and not pregnant enough. Until we reach today. I have taken the pilgrimage to her death again, the journey markers, the fence posts that I know so well, the curve of the path, well trodden, here we are. Hello again, baby girl.




Your birthday arrives

and I shrug you back on,

expand into the loose sags

of maternity clothes, ready

to face our days again.


There is a fluttering, a papered-in hive

of bees in my belly as you return. Then

the slow drag from navel to sternum

as arteries fill with our blood.

My lotus flower heart opens.


Each April we rattle through

our pregnancy, distilling it

to these last journey markers:

running footsteps, slowing heartbeat,

swinging doors, heart monitor,

heat lamp, waffle blanket, blue hat.


2:01pm. Here you are:

fists scrunched, chin down,

thumb sucked, legs flopped,

just born. The pause where we

wait to hear your first breath

has lasted nine years.


Today you come back to me.

I give myself up, wholly.

I walk the hours






6 thoughts on “Nine

  1. I feel Privileged to gently have you, ever present in my life through these pages and your poems and poetry courses.
    Without realising it you enrich and support me and I am immensely proud of you.


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