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i follow your footsteps through the fen,

dragging past the cotton grass,

slipping on the scree,

and you turn

to say to me:

“when i was

your age



the army.” at 16,

and three days.

childhood razed:

furrowed, like a field fresh reaped.

beside us are swathes of yellow petal,

but your hands scrape only the dry gorse,

and i am left holding your footsteps: university,

and the plan to become an architect that you couldn’t

afford. single mother; we’re on the tor now

resting our bones on its licheny stone,

history stacked between us as a cairn.

the clouds cry onto my cheeks,

rain, gentle, landing on our feet,

boots marked with damp sparks,

like mould on school ceilings,

dripping on me working

all the time

and you


all the time.

i never knew why,

you worked for castles in the sky,

and made me, your little foot soldier

of meritocracy. mum, your soles sink

into the feather beds, moss swallowing you

into fears of fucked-up parenting. i’m sorry

that my primary school friends try to kill

themselves with drugs and diet pills.

we sit by a stream, dragonflies

dancing in the water’s

rippling half-smiles.

and dandelions drop

their ashes all around.

“why didn’t

you ever


i ask you.

and no words

are said, of your sister’s

stunted dreams of university,

or when your mum was raped,

younger than me. you give me a half-smile,

and tell me you love me “up to the university”.

finley could never say it properly, but

the stars have more to judge us on.

your hands dig holes in the sod,

and i bury them with rushes.

in the middle distance

stands the dam;

you plaster

my knee,



to me,

“why is it

you want to


mum, they say

our town is full of scabs,

and that its kids, dear of them,

will never do anything that isn’t

a trade, the army, drugs or just fade

into the ribcage of where they were born.

but what they don’t see,

are the bruises we take,

the scars we cannot name.

a scab is just a plaster,

the body makes for pain,

a dam, to keep two worlds apart,

like the fen and the water,

sitting on two sides of meldon’s dam.

we leave a dent in the moor,

foot steps and fauna frayed:

depressions of our bodies,

and their hiking, unspoken


Photography by Sophie Sleeman


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