Man Down

Let it be known: no man is entirely alone
No man is a man all through.
I’ve seen you. Shivering. Fleeting weakness.
Cold rain scuffing its feet on the beaches.
Young human. You. All feeling, flesh.
Brine eyes. Man, but human first.
Stand up. Tall and strong and curved.
Your body makes my body hurt.
A godkid. Perfect. Gloss and dirt.

None of it’s real, we are made manifest
By the hearts that bang hard on the bars of our chests –
Let them out.
But we can’t though. Too much to lose.
You’ve got to keep face, keep pace. Keep cool.
And what do I know? You’re the man here.
I’ve got to stop telling you things.
You’ll give when you’re ready.
I’ve got to stop wanting.
Your mind’s made up.
I’ve got to stop pushing.
You’re trying to keep steady.

No man’s too man to hear things.
No tears no tantrums. Resorting to type. So handsome.
No woman’s too woman to take it all in.
Quietly solve it, not try and control it,
But fix it so subtle that no one will notice.
Be all that you are, all woman all soft.
All man. All soft. All flesh. All bone. All organ.
I find you more than yourself. I hear you talk to yourself in the night-time.
But don’t worry, I won’t say a word to your friends.

Your voice. Your tears. Your cries. Your panic.
You are more man when you break and weep.
When you shake and sleep,
Body wrapped around your pillow
Safer than a body that bites back.
Your billowing shirt as you sprint through the dirt. Night cap.
One for the road. But the road never loved you.
I love you. I love what you hate in yourself.
It’s perfect.
Let it come out.

The best boys would feel like a lady in your arms.
The best girls would fuck like a man, given half the chance.
The good ones are good ones because they are whole ones.
We’re at our best when we mean it.
We all start part of a much bigger notion.
And lock ourselves down like we don’t have a say.
We come from man and woman combined
And we’ll carry those parts till we see our last day.
Hear me. Let it be known.

Your muscles are mine, let’s stretch.
Dawn by the bins. We giggle and wretch –
The dawn’s on your skin. You’re shivering, wet.
You’ll cry from your pores if not from your eyes.
Your blood’s the same colour as mine.
What a man ever was is enough. It’s enough.
Stop trying. Give everything up. No shame here.

No woman’s too woman to stand tall and strong.
No man’s too man to want loving. Need guidance.
All hearts shrink before violence.
All fists clench for their friends.
We’re from here.
We carry it.
Everything that ever went wrong here.
Every single body that gave in.
Caved in.
Break through the boards in the windows.
Find a man thinner than string.
Trying to keep everything in.

Foul smell of the things that we do to escape
There is no glamour in this. No rock and roll.
This is just endings. This is just grief.
And you’ve got a soul worth living for.
I’m blocking blows for you. But I can’t protect you.
I’m too slow for you.
I’m too alive to be near all this death.
I love you. I will not walk off.
But each time my heart falls out of my chest
And sits there, knees pulled up to its chest
It strikes me that there’s hardly anything left.
For all of the things that we learnt in this city.
For all of the things that it taught.
You are more than the last pair of trainers you bought.
Never just one thing.
We’re all things.
But all things fall short.

A man is a man when he clings to his friends.
A woman’s a woman when she holds it down.
A man is a man who takes up her cauldron.
A woman’s a woman who takes up his crown.
And wears it for all the right reasons.
And stirs it for all the right reasons.
Born with the bodies that need to release.
Find me inside you.
Let me be all that I am.
Tiresias. Wringing my hands.
Tiresias. Singing the hymns of the land.


from Hold Your Own (Picador Poetry, 2014), © Kae Tempest 2014, used by permission of the author.

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