There’s no name for this part of the moor,
it’s too far east for the Brontës to have wandered
and no farmers come with their quadbikes and dogs

to graze sheep and tread any name into the hill.
The topsoil is too thin to hold anything
except dry grass and a few browning ferns.

There isn’t even any mud to freeze into ruts,
the earth hardening and splitting flatly
under the weight of the cold sky.

I’m walking to its centre,
the crack in the moor
where the earth drops down

and water comes sloshing
out of the hillside, frothing white
and streaked with dirty weeds.

I think: it has always been coming to this.
Sometimes I think
this thing people call grief

has always been folded inside me—
just as each fig holds
the pollen-stained body of a wasp,

needs its flesh to fruit—
I’ve been holding this grief
and headed here.

The first time I did tarot we used the Celtic Cross spread
and I drew ‘Death’ as my origin card.
This was an actual thing that happened

under Ikea ceiling lights.
Obviously, the death card doesn’t mean death.

There is nowhere else for me to go now—
this is as close as I can get,
lowering my body

into the strip of rock and water
at the centre of the moor, close
as I can get to everything under it alive:

pores in limestone, air suspended in liquid rock
that hardened and all the shale gas Cuadrilla want
to get out, picking up the hillside

like it’s a box with everything rattling around inside
because the moor itself is thin and hard
like a Christmas tin. There is nowhere else for me to go.


I think I see my dad, you know,
a little boy stomping around this moor he grew up on.
He told me about breaking ice on horse troughs when he was thirsty

and finding a human skull in a bag
at the centre of the flooded quarry
when all the water had dried into white sludge.

In his stories he’s always alone,
and when I close my eyes I can feel his life
running just below my own, but when I try to see his face

it whitens like a roll of film burning up in a projector feed.
Out of the hole on the cinema screen come:
steam trains, space suits, cowboys, cap guns

and they’re dribbling out of his mouth
except he’s a little boy in a man suit
babbling on about the EU and sovereignty like

it’s something that matters,
except to him it does, absolutely—
he wields it like a toy gun

and the pain flakes off him like old paint.
And I could say you’re not even really British
and all he’d say is British? British?—

punctuating the air with his hands.
I am supposed to understand
that this outrage boiling off his skin

is a complete argument
with no way into it, no way out.
And if I could bring him here

he’d talk about the fucking rock cycle
except he doesn’t call it the rock cycle
because none of his knowledge was learned in school.

Here he is out on the moorside,
trying to teach me how the millstone grit is formed
and because when he talks about these rocks

it’s like a sunrise breaks through his body
I can’t say anything. I think I might hurt him,
might make him feel a fool or take away

what little joy is left in his life—
but the truth is he wouldn’t listen if I tried.
The only way of loving him that works

is to let the light he gives off
warm my face.
The light he gave off.


I’ve tried to find something
to explain him here.
I have to keep editing his story—

I invent him as a little boy
being harmed in ways
he didn’t recognise

as harm, running under the wind
as it grinds into the East side of the moor,
moving like a sick cat

slipping under a porch.
I have to invent him as a little boy
because loving him was grief-stained.

Because living with him was like—
and here I give you a house full of bees.
Honeycomb drips from the ceiling

and soft bee bodies dribble over each other
filling the room with their humming.
There is bee-fur against your skin,

wings touching your eyelids, cheek, lips—
and because your body remembers
how it feels to be stung you begin to keep very still.

You find ways to lower your heart rate,
learn how to remove too many stings
but also how to harvest honey.

Its sweetness was there when the hospital
forgot to give my uncle his insulin,
and when my grandfather fell back on the bed

holding his big chest with his hands,
and when my brother slipped into death, right up to his neck in it,
and my mother disappeared after him

leading him back with her eyes
on the light ahead. There was no need
to keep my body very still

because we went outdoors.
He took me out across the hills,
he took me out to learn what the rock cycle was,

although he didn’t know it was called that.
There was my dad ankle-deep in the cold water
frothing out of the hillside,

pulling different stones out of the stream.
He put them in my hands
and as I held each cold, wet rock

he traced their layers and swirls
to make each one a map
you could follow backwards through time

to explain where it came from, and what had happened to it.

And when he was sweet like this,
how could he have been anything other than sweet?
And now I am living in a body

infested with honeycomb—
all I have is this honey and these holes,
but once, when I misjudged a dive at the swimming pool,

the burn of chlorine at the back of my nose
was the same as the smack of my skull into the hallway door
when he shoved me into it.

I floated in the water
churning with the kicks of other people’s feet
and felt a child’s skull inside my brain

and what shocked me
wasn’t that this child felt this happen
but how she knew in every part of her body

it was her fault. Here on the moor,
I’m that little girl again. I reach out
to touch the white wall under the hall light:

I touch it and nobody dies
so I keep touching it—the same white spot every day
until eventually I have to do it to keep everyone alive—

this is my magic power.
But I don’t know if these are things are true
or stories I dreamed in the hours he took to die.


More girls than boys are diagnosed
with OCD. Boys’ symptoms
are comorbid with religious-sexual complexes,

aggression and physical tics, whereas girls
tend to develop contamination fears
and eating disorders.

Boys push everything out,
girls take everything in.
It’s not about shame,

I’ve done nothing
to be ashamed of, but the fear of it—
the fear of doing something and being seen

has kept me
prowling the edges of my own life.
I didn’t want to keep everyone alive

because I loved them.
I wanted to keep them alive because their death
would be my fault.

I couldn’t live with that kind of collapse.
My body became a hillside,
my body became like this moor

with everything inside it tilting
and pressing against my skin. Sometimes
I think I have been walking my body

the same way I walk from my car to the front door at night,
taking the longer well-lit way, holding my key
like a blade between my fingers.

And when I’m home I keep the chain on
and before I go to bed I walk through the house switching on every light
believing that what I have seen—

the four plain walls of each room—
means the same thing as being safe.
I’ve convinced my husband

I live with him. I lay my body next to his in the dark
and feel the bed creak under my enormous weight.
Sometimes, I think he knows

he lives with a woman whose body
is a house crusted with dead bees and empty wax-comb.
Sometimes I think he knows

that I know this and am sorry.
And when I make myself come beside him in the dark,
thinking about ex-boyfriends,

I think he understands that I do this
to keep everything inside—
because to slip under

into the room where I still love these boys
and move outwards opening doors and climbing
into the nerves that line my body

gives all this broken furniture and soft walls
the space they need. It stops the ground from splitting open,
and though I drag this house around

like the bloated abdomen of a queen,
I have kept myself on-time and well-presented,
infinitely reliable.

But now there’s nowhere else for me to go,

I have lowered myself into the centre of the moor
thinking I was chasing my dad
when all this time I have been living with the dead,

sleeping beside the dead every night
for as long as I can remember.
I have brought that into our home.


The death card made everyone very polite
and I can understand why.
When we say: Obviously, the death card doesn’t mean death

it’s a spell we say to make it true,
something we say to each other in our good-sized dining rooms.
I thought the death card came to me

because that was what my life had been:
I had sat in so many corners on stiff-backed chairs
wearing a navy-blue dress and eating cold sausage rolls.

I had watched rooms fill with black shoes
and black tights and black suit-legs
nosing towards each other.

I knew how to let myself be left
with people called Aunty who were not my aunty
and how people will leave you alone

if you keep yourself quiet, grateful and mostly outdoors.
But I have begun to think
that when I drew the death card

my body turned into a tarot pack
with a seam of death running through it.
It has always been here—

this grief spot, dead spot,
slit where I have passed through
and lived. Yes, I have brought the dead

into my home every night,
and yes, I have lied about where I live to my husband,
but haven’t I also lived knowing this body

came out of nothing and will fold back into it in the end?
And because this has been written in my bones,
haven’t I been kind because of it?

And if this kindness is something I’ve pulled on
like a good winter coat over a dirty jumper
to get me up and out the front door, well—

there are worse ways of doing that.

But there is nowhere else for me to go now
and this kindness has become a skin that will not do.
It will not keep everything inside.

I lower myself into this crack in the moor
to sink my hands into it.
To stand ankle-deep in the cold water

and pull out all these rocks and mud and worms.
And if this makes me messy and vicious,
I’ll be messy and vicious enough to say yes,

there is honey, there are holes,
and there is my head smacking
against the hallway door

and that was not my fault but his.
I do not say this is what happened
but this is what my body remembers.

Mariah Whelan is the author of the love i do to you, which was shortlisted for Melita Hume Prize, won the AM Heath Prize and was an Oxford Poetry Library Book of the Month. She teaches poetry at Homerton College, Cambridge, and is a Visiting Fellow in Creative Practice at University College London. Find her at @MWhelanWriter on socials or visit mariahwhelan.com


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