Mark Burnhope


Listen to Audio Version read by Jill Khoury.

I know why I had to go through
my shunt failure now, and beforehand
had to abandon driving lessons.

I know that when my surgeon reset
my cognition overnight, and God moved
over my waters, bellowed let there be light

and there was clinic light,
it was because you would move
into one type of eternal life.

I know that in those two hallucinogenic weeks,
when I could not tell my well-wishers
apart from machines,

when the ward walls opened to reveal
two cogs grinding their teeth together,
they were perfect pictures of my grief

and though your mouth would never
utter our names, I would become
intimately familiar with both of yours.

I remember the sequence:
mirror, signal, manoeuvre, and as a kid,
being backseat driver in my parents' car.

I know that when my dad
pushed my wheelchair towards me
at the end of my shunt failure stay

and because my memory was shot
I said this isn't mine, even though it was,
it was because you are not mine but must be

if I'm to begin finding again
means to move forward, un-
assuming son, daughter, both, and neither.

* * *


Listen to Audio Version.

Cheated of feature, deformed,
unfinished, we have called ourselves.
Hedgehog, bottled spider, foul bunch-
backed toad, diffused infection of a man,
we have been called by women
diluted in a playwright's quill and ink.
Now my names: planking skiver,
striver for naught but pity,
the perfect party-political binary.
Mark: for all the names they gave me
we may as well have been buried
beside ourselves: one cockentrice
(dry-cured, butterflied, fossilised)
to rule them all.
So many species of automobiles
came to a stop on top of us we could
be called scrap-yarded cars ourselves.
My King, I'm making a meal of it
but what I'm trying to say is this:
in our new new identity as vulnerable,
'difficult-to-place' claimants,
we have been royally parked
by tourism, media, leaders, law-makers,
powers greater than any of us
in our impotent states.
They mine our stone for money.
Even though your facial reconstruction
displayed chiselled-waxy planes
of the unmistakably-Charming, instead
of the gravid pores of the Surinam toad;
even though your scoliosis was found
to be mild, meaning little strain on arms
in battle (neither withered in any way),
yea, we can be reasonably confident
they have worked about us without us.
My family is an army in some manner
and our county of Surrey tested positive
for horse but they carry on being wrong
by half. My kinsman
in this farce (this farce)
I would have kept them from you if
I could have.

* * *


Listen to Audio Version.

A university friend and I were standing
and sitting, respectively (my wheelchair with me)
at the exit of what was then The Opera House
after a night out: 'Slinky' if I remember rightly.

It was blind-drunk and we were dark.

I forgot my fucking coat, my friend shouted,
ran back inside leaving me piling
pavement slabs inside my mind, to some
residual trace of euphoric-trance.

I'm hazy, but this lady ambled over
(from which club I couldn't see, only
that over the road
three of her girlfriends were giggling).

Obviously off her heels on pills
given her glassiness as she came nearer
and her struggle to figure out
where to place her feet on a flat surface,
a foal finding a stable stance after foetal.

Picking at a McDonald's paper bag
she ended her mysterious slalom to me
and slurred: What's someone like you doing
out so late and clubbing? I never knew
you people went clubbing.

She leant over (I remember
a white puffer jacket, but otherwise
nothing of what she looked like)
and asked: Do you like Big Mac?

put her left hand in the bag,
shook it around, lifted it out again
then (palm painted-dripping with food)

pressed everything over my face,
rubbing quickly left to right in the style
of Tango TV adverts at the time,

laughing and laughing and laughing,
shouting: Have some Big Mac!

I opened my eyes and she was gone.

It took seconds to tell my hair was wet.

I still recoil at the smell of fast mustard.

My friend came out of the club wearing his coat
and (I didn't mind, it was dark, and I loved him)
looked around the town and couldn't believe,
he said, the amount of makeup
some girls could get away with wearing.


*All of the above poems are from Burnhope's recent book Species published by Nine Arches Press and reprinted with their permission.


Mark Burnhope is a poet, editor and disabled activist from Bournemouth, UK. As well as appearing in various journals in print and online, he has co-edited Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot (English PEN), Poets Against Atos online, and, more currently, the magazine Boscombe Revolution. Mark has published two chapbooks: The Snowboy (Salt, 2011) and Lever Arch (Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2013). His debut full collection, Species, was published in 2014 by Nine Arches Press.