Intimacy demanded that we jaw about childhoods,
So I told you that in Birmingham we called them the tati-men.
That they drove flat-bed trucks piled with a shipwreck
Of twisted bike frames and the underside of washing machines.
That they would pay you a pound if you clambered the fence
To the bird-less shrub of courtyard behind the flats.
In response you talked about dipping your hands in paint,
About only liking it when you could see each one of your digits.
About how the first time you saw a map, pinned to a classroom wall,
You thought its fingerless shapes were a failure of technique.
You laughed, not knowing that this vision of you had broken,
Something in me as a lake breaks under the first drop of rain,
That every morning afterwards, I would see the faint mark of rust,
Left in the space where my fingers last tilled your skin.
This piece of writing is featured in PEN’s e-book, The Dictionary of Made-Up Words, made in partnership with the European Commission Representation in the United Kingdom. Read the whole book!