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HLR: a poem

Worried to Death

There was an inexplicable period when

we'd always drink a bottle of champagne before bed,

sometimes two. A ludicrous luxury; unsustainable.

I did not recognise myself but joined in gladly.

There was something different about fucking tipsy

on Perrier-Jouët – something glistening, elevated, fizzy.

I don't know where you found the money to support all these

popped corks; I never asked. Better to ignore my ignorance.

We'd always drink a bottle of champagne before bed.

We worried about those who didn't:

those who didn't drink a bottle of champagne before bed

& those who didn't worry.

We believed we were living the dream – though whose, exactly, I can't say.

You'd say, "Look at us, young & beautiful & in love & having so much fun!"

but I worried constantly, generalised anxiety & dread

& panic rotting the soft parts of me. You worried

about politics & social justice & inequality & about me, justifiably.

Once I woke up to you checking my pulse, my breathing, fearing

that I'd taken too many quetiapine tablets again & died in my sleep.

The risk was always there: suicidal tendencies.

Maybe that's why you'd make us

drink champagne so frequently: to celebrate

my body's tenacity, how it always refused to die, how it clung on

to being alive despite my efforts to render myself otherwise.

We'd always drink a bottle of champagne before bed:

it reminded us that we weren't quite dead yet.

***** It's absurd how I can no longer clink

a glass without thinking of you.

The image arrives automatically:

you, tangled in sweaty bedsheets, knife slicing

the top off a strawberry, plonking it into my drink

with ceremony, your face grinning gold, beaming,

& me, the next morning, discovering the knife secreted

in a pile of laundry where you'd hidden it from me.

"Better to be safe than sorry."

I was always sorry.

HLR is a prize-winning working-class poet from North London. She is a commended winner of The Poetry Society's National Poetry Competition 2021. She won the Desmond O'Grady International Poetry Competition 2021, and was commended in the Plough Prize 2022. Her debut collection History of Present Complaint (Close to the Bone) was longlisted for the Poetry Book Awards 2022. You can find her on Twitter here.


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