the lake is calm tonight 

                         the moon has dropped white feathers on the water 


tonight      the lake is calm 

                     the wavelets lap like rustling wings 


the lake       tonight   is calm 

                            but look who is coming in to land 


to tear the peace asunder 





my first time in water 

I was unnaturally good    heavier somehow 

so much power inside me 

arms forcing the water away 

like prising someone’s mouth apart 

to take out what’s inside 


only ever more water that comes through 





then the year everything was swan 


       feathers on my pillow    on the floor 

wet prints in the hallway where I’d walked 

men in white costs   little pellets in their heads 

the shadow of my back    curved again the wall 






the black swan of debt 

the black swan of my own body    of my mum 

the black swan of sex 

the black swan of the house    of the wall    the loft    the damp 

the black swan of rain 

the black swan of the dog 

the black swan of weddings 

the black swan of the neighbours    of him 


each one furry-footed in my stomach 





then the year everything was darkness 

                              the red beak of my longing 


the wedge of men in flight from club to club 

banked in at every bar 

loneliness   as though I’m dying of thirst 

I think the men must be where water is 

I always go face-first to drink 





sing a swan of sixpence 

a broken-hearted guy 

four and twenty whoopers 

kept locked up inside 

when the door was opened 

the swans began to hiss 

what is the solution 

for such a man as this? 

they see you in the living room 

saying things are wrong 

they see you napping fitfully 

when all y our strength is gone 

your mind is in the puddle now 

soaking up the rain 

they’re coming now to peck at it 

your damp and ruined brain 




vii      queen 


mother              don’t eat me 

mother               I’m trying so hard to get better 

I’m sorry I’m a queer 


remember how small I was   mother 

newly-hatched cygnet    like a cloud fallen down on the water 

now it’s only rain mother         so much of it 


hitting the lake        bringing it to the boil 




I plucked each feather from myself 

slight resistance and then a rising-out 

like pulling up a weed       when I was bald 

I beheld myself in the mirror of the water’s edge 

my neck looked ridiculous 

my eyes the only part of me that still had life 

I raised each failed wing     just flesh now 

noting for the wind to get up under 

the mirror cracked with the tides 

I reared up      I jumped   I watched myself 

broken     fall towards myself 

From Pandemonium (Jonathan Cape, 2021), © Andrew McMillan 2021, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

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