February – Anathema Jane McKenna


Photographs by Jane Burn


Contested Definitions

Knowing your way ’round a sword as you do,
‘tongue-fencing’ seems, I’m sure, just enough to you
as metaphor for what we did at midnight.
Me? I’m not so sure. Maybe you weren’t too:
hedged your bets with ‘tongue t’ai chi’

but I don’t buy that, either. I thought maybe judo
(you know how much I like to roll)
and that seems apter to me, being a
close quarters kind of thing, but
even that’s not accurate enough.

It’s not as tough as grappling
or buckling a swash. It’s yielding inches, giving ground:
it’s what my cat does when she flops, exposing belly
to my tickling hand.


Goblin Anxiety

Cold food hurts my tooth. I fear the dentist.
Maybe it’s just winter, or more coffee should be drunk.
Anyway, the cornflakes still get finished.
I put away the paper. Start to write.

Something gleams and seems to move in darkness,
back and forth outside the kitchen, watching,
ducking when I look up from the page.
I drink my coffee, think of Kelly-Hopkinsville, suppress

a moment’s ancient panic. Shouldn’t have to be
awake this early, not even nautical dawn…
It’s there again. It moves and light glints off it.
Outside, in the dark, it paces, flickering

as I write. It moves from left to right and back again.
No alien. No prowler. The reflection of my pen.


The World She Saw

I built three walls around my heart,
’til you came, making me feel
the old fear again: someone colossal enough
to see the life I hid behind those stones,

to remind me of the limits
of my barricaded world,
to break through my defences.
Though I moved in all directions

but the one that led to you,
you caught me where I could no longer run,
and even though I swore no acquiescence
I was swallowed down so deep

you cut me off from light, from air,
from flight: and there, at last, in
the darkness of you, I felt
a red wet rush of recognition.



Because I have you blocked, you will not learn
I bought new thigh-highs today: replacing the ones my toes ruined
the night I took a trans man’s strap-on in my mouth
while he sucked off his husband.

I imagine, stalker, you would like to know that, as you would like to hear

about my Sportsheets order: how long it is, what colour, whether
it is silicone or latex, who – so far – has got to use it on me.
These names you’ll never know: because, for one,
I don’t like list poems and, for two, I don’t name names, no, never

– even yours will go unspoken. There are limits to my moxie.
And besides which – I have blocked you,

so you will never read about my date,
Google the venue, admire the menu, imagine
me eating, imagine you sitting
across from me watching – oh, you may imagine,
but I will starve your fantasy of context.
A verboten! sign, a little strip of form text
will tell you you are added to my blocklist,
a victory – but pixel-thin and pointless

because in reading it, you know that you have made
me truly – unerotically – afraid.

Of floors and silk and perfume, dream

With how much force it manifests,
this image of the valley of your back,
a place I’ve never seen but can relate
to other backs I’ve wrapped around, the strain

of laterals, the flesh which you thought old
surprising with how quickly it turns fierce.
How the back suggests the face, the eyes
which flash their need for vengeance

underneath fluorescent light. The grips,
the way my hair falls ‘round your fingers.
The way that silk can stretch, can fold, begin
to tear. Your perfume at close quarters.

The way you bite the consonants
off insults in your best performer’s diction.
How centres of gravity shift. How what
was floor becomes a wall. How the hate we share,
so briefly, makes us beautiful.


The Sharks

‘You fight as if you
to lose.’ The scratch
we try to make, the fictive
gauntlets where our virtue is rehearsed.

The sharks we dream of:
teeth and hungers
that we always overcome;

the spiders that we flinch from
at the bus stop.

The bladders infected from holding it in,
for fear of violence in a public bog.

You unfurl the curtains of your arms and hug in mobs,
singing that a day like this
will see you right.

Most sharks
are far from dangerous.
Most lightning strikes will arc
to earth, unheeded.

Is that
what you are?
Take my hand.
Resist me.