Zoë means life

To my friend Zoë
whose name means life
who is a poem
much richer than this
a love letter
a witch’s dictionary
sage of all that is known or felt

a Dada dandy
my surreal sister
in the face of death
she touches up my pain
with the tiny brush of absurdity
dials up the light
on my chiaroscuro
until we howl
and the bitter tears of joy
run over round cheeks

Zoë stands and faces
and says fuck you
to the things
that should be fucked well off —
she is soft rose velvet
blue glimmers of giggle
plush cushions of cuddle
sharp spikes of valour
she is my chainmail armour
and it is lined with cashmere

she is my posture straightening
my cradled soul weeping
my voice heard
and my anger multiplied
she is my mother and my other and my brother
she is every soul’s lover
she is 12
and 15
and 20
and 46
and 87
she is timeless
and ageless
she is a living ancestor
the ground and the feed
the seed and the sun
the rain when it came
she is all that she knows
and she knows like no other

Zoë means life —
happy birthday


in the grass
lies skull of fox
and one of sheep
both climbed high
upon the hill
yet one climbed steep
and each decided
where to stop
and where to lie
upon the grass
and where they chose
they lay to die

it’s good to know
the shape and form
of one’s own skull
where side plates join
the ridge and crop
and where the rocks
stud growing grass
to know its hull
and sense its husk
its blackest holes
and highest peaks
from which to view
the fields below
where river runs
a squiggly line
that splits square fields
inscribes bleached hulls
bisects wild skulls


I have a long (and short) history with it
Born ginger, flaxen at two,
Then slowly
Thickening and
Darkening and
Lengthening and
Shortening (alternately)
And now
Greying and
Growing ever more
Ever more
Cowlicks licking
Springing away from
Scalp and order
Toward chaos and indeterminacy

From age eight
She took possession of it,
My Mother,
Controlled it and
Nurtured it
As if it were sprouting from her own skull
She made me grow it
Golden and wavy
So long that it reached
Half-way down my bottom
A forced Rapunzel, fairy princess, Medieval damsel, Lady Godiva, mermaid
She forbade
Scissors and
Hairdressers and
Desires and
Self-expression and

I desperately wanted to fit in
As a child
With those 1980s styles
The flicks and the grading
Spiral perms, tangled teasing, poodle fringes, frosted tips, gel and mousse and Taft
All was denied
In an enforced celebration of The Natural
The Centre-Part
The Untouched Enviable Beauty
Of my Hair
(Oh how strangers and friends and family alike fawned over it, but how ashamed and utterly unlike myself I felt in it)

Today it is short
I’m ginger again
It’s the look that I chose
When I turned eighteen
Is it any surprise
That my short, short crop is diametrically opposed
To the super long style that Mother imposed?

Short Hair:
I find its honesty thrilling
With no trepidation
With nothing to hide behind
It forces confidence
Your eye is drawn
Straight to my face
A portrait without a frame
Front and centre
Here I am
No golden halo
No streaming strands
No tousled tendrils
To surround and to shape
I’m here
Just me
Short crop, exposed nape
With every haircut I feel reborn
Short hair and ginger
Just out of the womb
And I start again
Tabula Rasa