keep out of reach of children


remember when you were a kid
and you were sick
and your mum made you take calpol
but you were secretly excited
because though you were warned that
‘too much is bad for you’,

you knew it tasted good.
sickly sweet strawberry sticking
to the roof of your mouth,
coating the back of your throat,
soothing both your own and your mum’s worries.
‘you get better, faster, with medicine.’

but hell, no-one ever said that to me
when I was fifteen and it all became too much,
and I prescribed modern art onto my left arm,
impersonating a twilight sky colour palette of bruises,
underlined braille dipped in red ink.

my medicine didn’t fucking work.
and though it danced across my tongue
the same way the bottle of seven plus did,
leaving sweet snail-trails,
please and thank yous,
it made me feel feral,
but I still thanked it graciously,
over my left shoulder
with an asthmatic splutter.

and mum used to ruffle my hair
when I’d shown her medicinal ritual some gratitude
and called me brave.
my 'darling little boy,’
but now it’s, 'do you have homework,’
or a fake concern
or a grating plea for domestic help.

and i knew picasso wouldn’t be proud
of the faux constellations I dreamt and etched
but routine becomes a craving
an addiction
a need
and so i overdosed,
mad on the power of sans-adult supervision.

no wonder they stamp
'keep out of reach of children’
on those medicine bottles.


but then i hit nineteen;
or rather instead of hitting it,
i gently bumped into it and apologised for the inconvenience.

seven plus was a lost concept
but the sweet impressions of my replacement still stuck,
branded, bound to my bones,
sold on nightmares and gawking children
at swimming pools.

i’d found my remedy,
and her skin clung to mine like a nicotine patch,
her breath a puff of smoke in my aching lungs,
her lips a shot of morphine.
she was heaven and hell and purgatory,
fact, fiction, journalistic story,
iambic heartbeat and bacon and eggs in the morning.
she was not a placebo, but rather the swan song
that echoed in my mind’s cracks
where spiders had spun their webs
and called them home.

so my own blood wasn’t seen again -
it could change into its sweatpants,
and leave its hair unshaven;
i wasn’t interested in the metallic crimson,
but rather craved her saliva on my blushing pilgrim
lips, readily stood,
to urgently replace a tender touch
with a rough kiss.

my saturated thirst, sated,
anthemic vibrations,
drunk on dopamine,
a kick in my step again.

i wake up these days
and there are no iron bars.
the door is swung open,
key left lazily in the lock.
i am free and invincible.

- ryan bryce