Love Like or Hate
For Lucy and William, a long time ago.
How heavy cardigans are when they lie in the rain,
and how boys stay on their half of the playground,
and how to love with all the desperation of six,
and how to be loved, and how to tell the time, and how to stain
with berries the bitten bits of your fingertips,
and gold stars, and how to hear the sound
of fairy flowers, and how to drink from nettles,
and how to make a house, and boil a proper kettle,
and how freckles fade, and nothing lasts,
and how all at once to make yourself an outcast.
Some of these lessons I have forgot, now,
and some I kept; today’s
a day for daisies, and
for counting, and for old signs;
a bet with God, or with myself,
or with the birds.
There is a little box upon the shelf
of the bookcase in my room, and full of lines
that were important, once, when I was six. All words and chains.
The dandelions blew away in three. Afternoon play.
These odd little games that nobody outside could ever guess the rules of.
We used to use to them to make fools of
strangers; Mother may I? yes you may.
And this one: blindfolded, and guessing at the faces, to tell if you love them
or you like them
or you hate them.
It all hangs on your answer.
Simpler really to play Truth or Dare. At least it’s faster.
Standing on the chalk line, between us and them,
and the cardigan around my eyes, blind and guessing, and
what they said
about that most innocent of kisses. My hands on his face,
and her hands on my shoulders.
I swear I felt his freckles.
and I wished to be anywhere, wished I were dead,
so as not to choose.
Love like or hate, they said,
waiting for me to hate him, and my rival’s bunches brushed my neck,
Lucy waiting for me to lose,
and I knew who she’d picked for me to love
Say hate, she whispered, say hate, say hate
Love, like, or hate, and they were waiting
for me to hate him. I kissed his cheek and fled;
The cardigan in a puddle on the tarmac, and I sat at the top of
the field, picking daisies, dry-eyed, heavy rainy summer-skied.
Girls who wear a daisy chain
grow up pretty never plain; we picked
thousands, loves me, loves me not, he loves me, loves me, loves me loves me not,
l-l-l-l-l-l-l-loves you, loves me not
(but keep the petals, in your pocket past the post office and the pub
and the place where the hot
tarmac turns to tar
and the bit of grubby wasteland, for the vans and cars
and the lavender
and past the church where the dead people are
and to your own front gate.)
the little grey bird stays, he loves me, and if
the door stays open before I count to three
he loves me, he likes me, he hates me,
love, like or hate?
A papercut; the sharp edge of the conditional tense.
If X then Y.
Along the fence
The weeds grow through the concrete.
Daisies don’t grow here, and the clock flowers are out of season,
and berries come in bags, numbered and neat,
and no-one knows
the old games, and so
how am I
to count the ways, or count the hours?
to count my loves, and love-me-nots?
All bets are off; the bright bead of blood
on my finger and the page, and I have forgotten
the difference between being Bad and being Good
to sleep with the petals under my pillow, and I think I left that boldness
in the playground where the fairy flowers and the nettles and the daisies are,
but in my head (oh please oh please)
the little grey bird,
on the open door.