I bit on the absolute nerve.
It was a string that played me
into the desert. I used to wake
in the night with my saliva all dried up
and my stomach hollow as a dust bowl
and it was lonely as hell. I tapped my foot
but I didn’t want to. I shut my mouth
in case the great chords rolled out
and they made a cigar box guitar
out of me. It’s your blues twang, they said.
It’s your prayer. But I had no wish
to pray. To hell with this picking
and plucking that wrings a song from me.
That absolute nerve. The way it had me
by the tongue and the Achilles tendons,
oh, brother. I had to take charge of my life.
I bit down so it couldn’t move or sing.
I put on my suit and tie. I had my first
barbershop shave and I scrubbed up
nice and clean. Let a man be a man,
I said to the mirror and saluted him
with my hand cocked like a gun.
I ground my teeth to make the wheels
turn in my jaw. I worked. I silenced myself
devotedly until my devil soul twisted
and bucked, and was still.
Emily Berry won an Eric Gregory Award in 2008. Her pamphlet, Stingray Fevers, is published by Tall-Lighthouse. She is currently working towards her first full-length collection with the help of an Arts Council grant. Jili Allen is a designer and illustrator who is currently designing her own footwear range.