Rachel Long



This morning he told me
I sleep with my mouth open
and my hands in my hair.
I say, What, like screaming?
He says, No, like abandon



is a short film you commissioned.
A red net curtain billowing in slow mo.
At 1:22 a girl’s face appears behind it.
Two brown hands – the camera’s? – reach out,
find only fabric


They are with us in this room.
Mum taught me how to feel them
on my back. How to plead The Blood, thumb
seven crosses between my blades,
in the centre of my forehead.
She didn’t teach me how to lose them
on my way home from the shops.
If you can’t find a tree, walk
three times around a parked car.
Don’t look in the windows. Don’t smoke
till you get home. They are attracted
to sadness.


I can still only tell if Mum is laughing or crying by her breasts
─ up-down for laughing, up-down
then into a heavy sway for crying.


Remember why you’d eat two dinners
then as many broken biscuits as it took to taste metal
on the bridge of your mouth. You knew,
somehow, that to die was to be hungry.

Ha! You once thought heaven was a shack on a cloud,
Mary smiling serene, walking between the rows
of scythed corn-people laid out on the bare floorboards.
You kept trying to get up
like the only live crab in a box.
Each night she squeezes your shoulder, says, Stay down.
She has the voice of a social worker.


Seventh Night

Mum said Auntie V tried to palm her cancer off.
High-up witches can do that ─ see a sickness coming
and deflect it. Mum was driven to the seaside

to bathe at dawn, then back to the corrugated church
where she was placed, shivering, before the Lord,
her body outlined with candles instead of chalk.

For seven days and seven nights, she lay in the rain
of their ceaseless prayers. She’d forgotten the language
of her girlhood, but there, on the floor, remembered

three words, and repeated, Amin, Jesu Kristi. She rose
only to use the bathroom, and the payphone once, to call
her agency: I won’t be available this week, I’m sorry.

After the honey and holy water were sipped
from an upturned bell, and the last candle had crackled,
pooled ─ the police arrived to carry Mum to the altar

which was, she saw as she got closer, an operating table.
I should say that in dreams/visions/parallel realities, the police
are angels. The tallest, wielded a scalpel, made an incision

beneath her breast, and from that new smile
dragged handfuls of teeth. It took them all night.
But night there was so bright.



This morning she told me
I sleep with my mouth open
and my hands in my hair.
I say, What, Mum, like screaming?
She says, No, baby, like abandon.


Rachel Long is a poet and the founder of Octavia Poetry Collective for Women of Colour, which is housed at Southbank Centre, London. She was shortlisted for Young Poet for Laureate for London in 2014 and awarded a Jerwood/Arvon Foundation mentorship in 2015. Rachel has run poetry workshops for The Poetry School, The Serpentine Galleries and at University of Oxford.  She is Assistant Tutor to Jacob Sam La-Rose on the Barbican Young Poets programme 2015-present.