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Unspeakable - by Kirsten Luckins

Kirsten writes: "Unspeakable" was inspired by a conversation I had with the niece of Alexander Sharp, a merchant seaman who died on 13th April 1918 on board the Dreel Castle, a drifter that was torpedoed off the Scilly Isles whilst maintaining submarine nets across harbours. Alex was only nineteen at the time, the middle child of ten. The niece that I spoke to was the daughter of Alex's very youngest sister, the tenth child, who was only two at the time of his loss. Reportedly, their mother never got over it. 

I thought about the story from lots of angles, trying to imagine the experience of Alex, his sister, his mother. In the end I was drawn towards the idea of this little girl just about to start talking properly, but suddenly finding many conversations around her choked with grief. This is an imagined scenario based on my personal experience of sudden bereavement and untimely death in my own family. The poem should be read as a fiction, but one that hopefully resonates truthfully."


Something happened to words.

Just as you were ready to grasp them,

they grew spines.


Watch your mother

fold your baby clothes, hand-me-down

ten times, ten fingers, ten toes


            this little piggy


See her face stop.


before she gets


            all the way home


Hear your mother

not saying certain words


            a boy’s name

            a faraway port

            the number nineteen


            harbour                      is no longer safe.

            nets                             fill with dread like body parts.


See the drowned weight tug her mouth

out of true.


Watch your mother swallow words

that detonate inside her anyway.


Watch her navigate conversations

as if they were coastlines

fraught with mines.

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