I’ve never hated boys, even hanging on the corner when their laughter isn’t laughter, on days the newspaper is all reasons:
all taking and toughtalk and joining Isis because it glorifies men like 7 pounds an hour in retail, saving up for a mobile, can’t,
or dragged Jane Doe in suburban moodlight, the relentless unfunny banter: ‘she’s deader than Trayvon Martin’, and how it made gang-rape look so unenjoyable – like killing your sister for a kiss is, I imagine, or watching sand suck blood because the other boys are because you are.
Boys. They start so early with their dinky sweatpants and prison stripes and hoodies, their affinity with monkeys, the way they never rock dolls but decapitate them probably. My toddler even, whose lion ROARS, who tears round with the nee-naw car we bought him; whose wild, cramped crayon scribbles, so easy to call fierce, are not easy to compare to roses.
But boys saved me once: boys tender from divorces, making mugs of tea for mums. Boys overestimating girls they couldn’t get as Jeff Buckley’s You Should have Come Over made a room unreal with weed become the saddest river; let their simulacrum selves run howling into gunfire game over and game over.
And can a boy bulk up to power through bullets?
Look at them outside the chicken shop: the muscles of their arms hard from lifting and lifting themselves off the floor; that lump in their throats; the sag of their crotches hiding the secret soft purse, the crooked hood; the tiny stables of their armpits; the blood raring in its trap and their laughter that’s not laughter and their legs patted down as they lean against the hoods of police-cars.
Boys, you kill me, I know you really I know you really didn’t want to.
O my son’s helpless fists; his ferocious roses.
O the tender kiss his car gives the lion.
Clare's note on the poem: I'm a feminist but I love men. I don't mean that in a 'but hey, I'm still sexy' way. I mean that the most important relationships of my life have been with my father, my husband, my son. I feel protective of boys, though that can be hard to reconcile with what I see in the news everyday. But then I was reading about Ferguson, and though of course it's about race it's also about sexism – the assumptions people make about young men. The way our culture encourages them to behave a certain way and then punishes them for it. I think boys can be just as cruelly trapped by gender stereotypes as girls. This poem is just me trying to articulate some of my muddled, complicated feelings about them.
Clare Pollard was born in Bolton in 1978 and currently lives in London. Her first collection of poetry, The Heavy-Petting Zoo (Bloodaxe, 1998) was written whilst she was still at school, and received an Eric Gregory Award. It was followed by Bedtime (Bloodaxe, 2002) and Look, Clare! Look! (Bloodaxe, 2005), which was made a set text on the WJEC A-level syllabus. A CD of Clare reading her work is available from The Poetry Archive. Her fourth collection Changeling, was published in June 2011, and is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. In 2003 she won a Society of Authors travel award and an Arts Council writer’s award. The Independent named her one of their Top Writers Under 30.