Poem In Which No-one Touches Me

I go to the Underground just so that someone with a heart
rubs up against me. My heart is an eye and it sees heat
in colour. I’m filled with pink noise, and in the drone of trains
and voices I want to slip my hand into someone else’s pocket.
Tonight, I won’t dream, because nobody
has held me and no hands have strayed and even
though I’m drunk with love, my arms are empty.

When I was little I used to draw
pictures of men and women kissing.
An older girl had taught me how to French kiss-
it was very wet but I wanted to do it all day.
We slept together happily in a caravan parked
in my nana’s driveway. These days when I see her in the street
with her husband she avoids me.

When they told me I was mad, nobody wanted to touch me
in case it infected them, too. The doctor had my mother
and father put their arms around me so I couldn’t move
and I squealed and they shouted, is this necessary? They didn’t want
to hold me and I didn’t want to be held.
The doctor nodded his head solemnly as though he understood. Later
I gripped onto my pillow and prayed.

I think it was something people just got used to, the not-touching.
I tried going to Sunday Service, and nobody shook my hand-
I tried the swimming pool, but you’re not supposed to
touch anyone on purpose there, they think you’re a perv. I tried
dates in bars but they all swerved
when I leaned in for a kiss. You see,
when I touch someone, I’m there-

right there, in their body like a disease or a shrill noise-
I put my hands on your body and you freeze-
I have you in me like cigarette smoke,
I keep my hand on your chest and keep it steady.
This is too much for amateurs.
I need someone who can take it,
the guy whose armpit I’m currently beneath

on the Northern Line, I’m invading his space,
I could squeeze the life out of him
as soon as look at him.
Tonight, with limp arms I gather up the bedclothes
and sleep with them in a big heap, full and warm.
I don’t undress for anyone. Nobody whispers my name
in my ear. I lie there with my body-of-bedding

and think of all the doctors whose hands I’ve shook
and whose pills I’ve swallowed and whose touch
I’ve craved and whose prescriptions I’ve procured.
And I think of all the men running away
like gingerbread, how they cooled down just enough
to flee, how I saw them out of town, how I would beg
for someone to kiss me until I faint.

Melissa Lee-Houghton

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