Tackling mental health: poet HLR
A YOUNG poet who writes about living with chronic mental illness, trauma and grief, has been named the annual winner of a top local contest.
London poet HLR has won the annual Desmond O’Grady international poetry competition with her piece entitled ‘Anatomy of a disordered personality: skin’.
LR’s work has been widely published in print and online, most recently by Misery Tourism. Her highly regarded debut poetry collection History of present complaint (Close To The Bone) is available from Amazon.
Her micro-chap Portrait of the Poet as a Hot Mess, which ‘Anatomy of a Disordered Personality: Skin’ is a section of, is to be released by Ghost City Press this summer.
Arguably one of Limerick’s most famous writers, Desmond O’Grady sadly passed away in 2014 at the age of 78.
The judge for this year’s festival was Eileen Sheehan.
The Desmond O’Grady international poetry competition is organised by Limerick Writer's Centre.
Anatomy of a Disordered Personality: Skin (Helen Rollason)
white – 23andMe informs you that you’re 100%
European – Cornish / Irish / Polish / French
you are furious and you look it, your flesh flecked
with freckle constellations, remnants of careless
sunburns lie in blurred edges, outlines of phantom bikinis:
surprisingly, despite your pallid history, you tan easily
your skin is soft, it does not betray your age, silken
swathes that drape your neck / breasts / cheeks / thighs / chest
a memory: you are a child, watching your big sister
moisturise her elbows and knees and you are thinking
“I’ll have to do that one day, if I ever get to be a teenager”
a carving block is how you have treated your shellscape:
scratched porcelain / once pretty now pretty fucking angry
flesh slashed, painted, gouged, burnt / reluctantly
holding your organs hostage
inside your reluctant body
and bruises and bruises, you are forever covered
in yellow, merlot / smothered by blue, green
marks of violence / disasters / accidents / mysteries:
“do you always bruise like a peach?
or are these marks from rough sex?
or domestic violence?”
and your skin has little holes in it
some of the holes were manmade:
9 extra holes in your left ear / 7 in your right ear / left nostril (R.I.P)
bottom lip once pierced with the safety pin that held your school skirt together
bellybutton pierced with a fork by the bassist of Bloc Party in a field Holland
thousands of microscopic holes in your brain made by as many lines of cocaine
picking at chicken pox and popping acne and a cigarette burn on your chin
cavity / crater / empty space in your chest where your heart is meant to live
the rest of them you were born with:
entries / exits, rules for which is
which ones we’re told feel good to fill
(the word ‘orifice’ makes you sick)
others that you shouldn’t put things into but do, you
put straws up your nose and cotton buds in your ears
and toothbrushes down your throat
(you fear that you will always be empty
even in moments when your body
has tricked you into feeling full)
(sometimes you feel so full of grief
you fear that you have run out space,
that you cannot physically contain
any more misery and pain)
(you are empty and full
and you’ve got a few tattoos, too, marks
that can confidently call themselves ‘art’:
Latin script, a bad job, text permanently raised
you can feel it on the surface of your skin, men will attempt to read it like Braille
this one was your first and you were disappointed to find that it didn’t hurt
what Dad wrote on a post-it note in his handwriting: it’s important,
unique, perfect, also handy when you need to forge his signature – well, it was
handy before but, now that he’s dead, you won’t need to sign for him ever again
upper right thigh:
an English rose that looks like a red cabbage – you wanted to feel physical
pain to detract from mental pain – you recently saw a pornstar with the exact same
in the same place: she wears it so much better, and you are “going to get it covered,”
you announce to the empty house, “as soon as lockdown is over.”
stick ‘n’ poke prison tatt, a semi-colon in black
ink, steadily turning green – you love it, and it means
nothing, really… sorry
the date you have chosen to die –
a numerically perfect day to take
your own life is printed there on your ribcage
to scare the coroner: fuck yeah you can see into the future, you funny little genius!
and then, the scars:
some born innocently, most created by your poorly
brain and battered heart and your mental diagnoses when they
all decide to wreak unholy havoc on your failing body:
two (2), both obvious
1: straight across the centre of your hairline / toddler, ran into edge of a glass table
“the blood came down like a sheet”, you ruined your only good dress, “sorry mummy”
2: when people ask, you always say it was a cat: it’s easier that way
right brow bone:
horizontal red line / mistaken identity, face smashed
into wall – pencil over it so it looks like your eyebrow /
no hairs will ever grow there, this scar is angry
and makes sure that you know how mad it is
one (1) diagonal, a daily reminder…
you don’t want to still can’t talk about it,
but goddamn those fucking scummy bastards
playground accidents / chicken pox / cystic acne / when you flew
across the dancefloor and your jaw caught the corner of a subwoofer
behind right ear/on neck:
the doctor cut the lump of badness out. You could hear
the scraping and slicing and stitching from the inside, amplified.
You saw the badness in a jar, a big, hard globe with bloody tendrils,
an ugly octopus, saw it float upwards in a clear solution, trying to escape
through the silver lid. She wouldn’t let you keep it: she wouldn’t let you
keep your own badness. You were sad − you’d grown fond of it.
lots: red and white and pink and purple, mashed-up knuckles / fits
and fights and intravenous lines and getting stabbed with a corkscrew (upon which
you didn’t even flinch) and visits to the vampire for your daily blood tests
when you were on Lithium, the chubby nurse who was pleased to see you at 7am
but called your blood “uncooperative” which made you apologise profusely
for your body’s own bloody ineptitude
this is difficult, you’ve never counted them before / you can’t
do it / yes you can / okay / breathe
upper arm: 1 bad stab wound / still red and open, will be your widest scar
crook of elbow: 18 bad ones, you guess
forearm: approx. 29 (?) bad ones / you’re sorry, you can’t
bear / don’t dare to count them
wrist: too many to count / they merge into a mess
one in the shape of an E, one in the shape of a T, one is a W,
they made these shapes themselves; you don’t know what they mean
crook of elbow: 9 bad ones
forearm: 16 (17?) bad ones / 1 bad knife wound (old) / 3 thick vertical lines from
wrist to elbow / Clipper lighter smiley face burn (girl gang)
wrist: 1 BAD really bad one, covered with tattoo – you hate the scars on your arms /
idiotidiotidiot / wish someone had told you to choose more secret spots to self-harm
all of those nicks you gained
learning to shave with Dad’s cheap razor blades,
same on both shins, accidentally (or subconsciously
purposely?) took chunks out
right ankle: outer: another shaving mishap, all the way up the side, you picked those
scabs for weeks / inner: 6 lines each approx. 1cm long, your “clever, new, secret”
place to self-harm / the blood makes your cuts stick to your socks / extra pain
when you peel them off and more when you plunge your feet into a hot bath
right knee: that same scar that everyone has from that time they fell off their bike
when they were 5
on the tops of your feet, two white marks like faded bullet holes – you don’t know
how they got there but you do know that one morning you woke up feeling
like you’d been crucified, and your body proved your own suffering to you
with evidence of stigmata on your feet and on the palms of your hands.
The holes in your hands disappeared over the course of about a year
but the scars on your feet made by iron stakes remain to this day.
Make of that what you will.
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