Singular They

A Lunchbreak Poem
Don’t get confused

By perceived plurality

There’s just one of me

You see? I’m here, queer

And singularly singular.

I am ‘singular they’.

It’s an exception to the grammatical rule

A bit like the royal “we”

Except, unlike her majesty

 I do not think I am better than you.

And though what you learned in school

Might tell you different, My “they”

Is no more than his “he” or her “she”.

And it should taste just as sweet on your tongue

And it’s not just a fad for the young

There are singular theys 

With hair that is grey

Who’ve been what they are much longer than you’ve been you.

And yes, it does mean that you’ll say

“This IS Sez, and they ARE

Forcing me to change the way I look at gender, and grammar and societal lies

And I won’t deny that it’s hard for me to acclimatize.

But I think I’m going to be OK

Because there’s a lot worse things that can happen to you

Than having to use the singular they”.


Toxicity and Wisdom 

Remember your first cigarette?

You know, the one 

That older, cooler kid at school

Handed you with a smirk

Said “go on then”

And watched, and laughed

As you choked

On the smoke?

Remember that feeling

Of being poisoned.

How, when you caught your breath

You felt light headed, 


But the cool kids’ smiles

Included you now.

So you took another drag.

And told yourself you liked it

Till you found

You couldn’t do without it?

Remember the wisdom your body had then.

Its outrage, its pain 

In that first intake of grey-white curls of bad air.

“This is poison.”

What if you had listened?

It isn’t your fault

If you believed others and not yourself.

We are taught to trust the older cooler kids

Who are taught to trust the older cooler kids

Who are all just breathing in the smoke

So nobody will know the truth.


If you meet someone 

Who leaves a strange taste in your mouth

Makes your head swim

Leaves you gasping for air,

Feeling sick.

But everyone else seems to like them…

Don’t take another drag to please the crowd

And even if their smiles include you now,

And even if they laugh and pat your back,

Listen to your body.

Because your body knows about poison.

And your body cares about keeping you safe

More than the cool kids do.


The Ballad Of Saltwater Taffy

Off the shore of New York and New Jersey you’ll find

There’s a merperson tribe of a different kind

They’re the freaks of the ocean, and rarely they’re seen 

And the one they call Saltwater Taffy’s their queen. 

Forget about mermaids with combs in their hair,

Or with strings of bright pearls in their ringlets so fair;

Not Saltwater Taffy! She uses, instead

A razor clam shell on the sides of her head.

She’s got no time at all for the stereotype 

Of the sex-appeal siren: she can’t stand the hype.

No bikini for her, that would make her feel ill

But her faded T-shirt still reads “Bikini Kill”

She likes to swim close to the land late at night

Watch the drunks on the beach who smash bottles and fight

Drink a leftover beer, have a smoke, maybe two

Watch the kids on the boardwalk to see what they do.

She won’t tempt you to drown with the songs that she sings 

She just hasn’t got time for all those sorts of things

When a hurricane hits you can make out her form

As she thrashes and screeches and howls in the storm

And she smells like the coins in a pinball machine

And her smile may be wise but her mouth it is mean

And her eyes are like oil slicks, shiny and dark

But with rainbows inside, and a dangerous spark.

And the humans who seek her are kids with tattoos

And a look in their eyes that has nothing to lose.

And when everyone else calls them broken and wrong

She will spit on the sand and remind them they’re strong.

But the teens and the freaks and the life-battered queers

The sort who, well, once in a while, disappears

If they do not survive, if the world was too rotten,

They don’t just fade away, and they are not forgotten

Off the shore of New York and New Jersey, you see

There’s a merperson tribe made of people like me.

Though it’s easy to feel like we’re under attack 

We’ve got Saltwater Taffy, and she’s got our backs.


Advice For A Fellow Poet

It gets into your ideas

And it pretends to be the truth

And it voices all you fears

That you’re stupid and uncouth

That you shouldn’t even do it 

You were mad to think you should

At that everybody knew it:

You were never any good

It will tell you that success

Is never something you deserve

It’ll tell you to confess

That you would never have the nerve.

Do not listen to the liar

Don’t believe the things it said

Do not let it light a fire

In the hollow of your head

Though it tells you it’s a moment

Of the purest clarity

It’s a false and evil omen

Tell it “you don’t speak for me”.

Though your inner voice will quaver

And you’ll feel like giving in

It is just imposter syndrome

And you cannot let it win.

You, and lots of other poets,

Have a talent that I lack

I’m a charlatan, I know it

I’m an amateur, a hack

And I shouldn’t even be here

And I’m wasting all your time

And it’s really rather twee, dear

If your poems always rhyme.

With my rumty tumty rhythm

I’m a second-rate Pam Ayres

I am boring – that’s a given –

And nobody really cares…

But it’s you we were discussing

Have some courage! You’re the best!

When that little voice is fussing

Just ignore it, don’t be stressed!

It’s not truth, it’s an impostor:

Do not listen, rise above

There are better things to foster

Like self confidence and love.

It’s so easy when I say it,

But it’s harder, far to do.

When it’s me, I must obey it

For the things it says are true.

It is not imposter syndrome

When it’s me, just when it’s you.


Christmas 2016

My wife asked me to write a comedy Christmas poem. It went wrong.

It’s Christmas 2016

Forgive me if I’m hesitant 

To open my presents.
There’s a precedent 

This year, for the unpleasant 

To surprise us. 

Trump is President 

Elect. And I suspect

That for us peasants

It’s only going to get worse.
Don’t wrap gifts to place

Under the tree.

Don’t you see, we can’t face

Any more of this year.

We’re hiding from tidings 

That tend not to be glad.

There’s sadness. There’s fear.
Don’t send me a card 

Don’t you know this year it’s hard

Even to open an email

Who knows what terrible news 

The round robins this year will contain

Just, please,

Send funny cat memes

And no more bad dreams
This year

Share predictable joys.

Books and even toys we remember

Seeing each other enjoy

Before the flinches 

And sucker punches

And horrible shocks

And all too accurate hunches

Of the last January to December
Let’s be gentle.

 Let’s try to be kind.

And if it’s not quite the explosion of unbridled joy

That the season has usually seen

Nobody will mind:

It’s Christmas 2016.



I poured myself a glass

 Of water

Delighting in the novelty 

Of pressing a button on the fridge to choose


Extra chilled
Crushed ice

Or cubes.

My host cried out

In horror
“Don’t drink that shit!”

It isn’t filtered. 

Are you kidding me?

You need the smaller faucet

On the side of the sink.

That’s chilled and filtered.

The chilled unfiltered shit 

From the refrigerator?

I wouldn’t give it

To a dog.”

I sipped my filtered water

From my disposable cup

I caught an aftertaste 

Of teargas.


At Thanksgiving Dinner

He said “I prefer all lives matter.”
She said “You know they killed a cop?”

They gave thanks for their god and their family

And nobody mentioned the kids who were shot.

He said “I think you’re overreacting 

Sure, Trump’s bad, but he’s not a dictator.”

She gave me some turkey and stuffing 

Filled me a Tupperware to take home later

They said “So, it’s your first real Thanksgiving

With the pilgrims and Indians and all?”

I thought of the Dakota Pipeline

But we didn’t talk about that at all.

She said “Well, it’s been so good to see you

And I’m glad that we didn’t fall out

Over politics. Peace and goodwill, right?

That’s what this holiday is all about.”

I sat at the table in silence

Full of words that I didn’t dare speak

And this is the way that the world ends 

Because cowards like me remain weak