by Hannah Lowe

When Christine speaks of Milton, blind, composing
his poem by night, and in the morning, waiting
for a scribe to ‘milk’ his words, I think of the week
I left you, darling – you were six months old –
to fly to Kuala Lumpur, my breasts engorged
for fourteen airborne hours, Simon waiting
at the gate, an hour’s drive to his penthouse flat,
then finally, the guest room, a breast pump, relief.

Except the motorised suck is nothing like
a baby’s skilful mouth, more like a message
to the breast that it should keep on making milk,
a charge the left one heard far louder than
the right, long days and nights of leak and thud
and quietening the nipples’ dripping tap
with cubes of ice and sanitary pads.

Next door, Si had a local girl, three decades
younger and who, at his age, could refuse
the nimble body of a teenager?
Those evenings, while I siphoned in the darkness
and poured away my milk, they were naked
at the mirror – a blade, cocaine and chemical smoke.

That girl was territorial and scared
of me, and in my head I told her, look,
my left breast is a hedge-fund manager
with a pricey wife and kids at Charterhouse
whose epic fraud will soon be found; my right breast

is a train driver who hasn’t slept in days
speeding down the track toward a chancy bend.
It was dawn when I came back, and climbed the stairs
to find you sleeping in our bed, your bottle

on the pillows, drained, your dad’s exhausted face.
We had rats and climbing damp, and in my case,
six thousand pounds. It wasn’t what you think.

I sat, took off my shirt, my soaking bra –
held you to my chest to make you drink.