In the 80s bikes were
handed down from someone taller
back pedal braking
I rode so slowly I
ended up on the ground
daily lessons in
the way a knee-scab dries, lifts
from the outside edges in.
90s bikes faux mountain bikes
Shimano gears a point of pride
fluorescent touches on the frame
double towbar car rack family weekends
there have always been bikes.
The red one that moved
house to house with each break up
makeshift shelter beneath outside stairs
or leaning against a laundry wall
still so much to learn
about hills and hearts
about maintenance, about holding on.
Red was my favourite
my next bike was blue
after I changed my life
for a love that matched in hue
I fell off into a rosemary bush
smelt amazing, sure
but that feeling of betrayal
again and again
forever loosening the brakes
so a buckled wheel can still turn.
Mostly it’s easy, the days I mean
text book teaching senior biology
free periods in the staffroom. It’s a good life
I state as fact, not like saying, ‘she’s lovely…’
an epigraph to the gossip I write.
Suspicious of superlatives, endlessly
but hard-wired for romance
tell me I’m capable, resourceful, reliable
adore the way I follow through with things I say I’ll do
let my eyes be an after-thought.
And I’m probably on the brink again
because what else is there to do with this
flesh-covered universe we call body?
System of lungs and blood and gravity
tugging at us to love.
Anyway, turn to p80 that picture of the genome
looking to you like Dante’s hell
tumbling headless towards a fiery cell
because you’re still sixteen
and haven’t understood any of this.
It’s going to be okay. There are many times when it won’t feel like it, but these times will pass. Have faith in your ability to do the right thing and get out of situations when they don’t feel right.
Luck has a lot to do with it all, of course, so never deny how fortunate you are because of the time and place and family you were born into. You are growing up in a paradise. Look around and be grateful.
Stick to your principles. Being a vegetarian in the 90s is hard work and you will endure a lot of salads with the bacon picked out, but in twenty years’ time you can feel proud that your existence has not harmed thousands of other living beings and your highly-developed taste for vegetables will serve you well in The Great Kale Hype of 2016.
Don’t worry about the fruit thing, they’re starting to say it’s not really that good for you anyway.
Be proud and passionate about the bands you like. Music really doesn’t get much better from about 1997 on.
Stay close to your family, they’re a good bunch. Nurture friendships – I still have no idea how these come and go.
Don’t pluck your eyebrows too thin – they will never grow back the same. Fashions change, but authenticity is timeless. Don’t be ashamed of the long genetic history that makes you look and think and be the way you are. It’s amazing, really. You’re part of that.
Read everything. Read poetry and fiction and hard stuff. Care about politics. Your brother was right to argue with you in 1991 when you were ten and said talking about Ruth Richardson’s ‘Mother of all budgets’ was boring you and it didn’t affect you anyway. It all affects you. Be one of the people who realises that. Be informed.
Your childhood is full of announcements about how special you are. You are, but so is every living thing here. Stay humble and remember the world doesn’t owe you a thing.
You don’t owe the world anything either, but try to do as much as you can. You will need time out from it every now and then and that’s okay, because – if I know you – you will always be striving to create, contribute and be part of something greater.
Have adventures, fall in love, listen, and remember to let other people love and care for you too. They’ll like that.