Our featured publication for August is The Dancing Boy by Michelle Diaz, published by Against the Grain Press.
‘Assured and fresh, tender and brutal in equal measure, this book will knock you sideways – and it will pick you back up again. Held by the framework of one woman’s life, experiences from birth to death and everything in between are reframed in a language loaded with anger, loss, love and an unerring pull towards beauty. It begins in pain and it ends in love – and you will be a richer person for reading it.’ Clare Shaw
‘From the brilliant title poem about her son, “a child without an off button”, to equally startling portraits of family, love, childbirth, relationships, The Dancing Boy is a five-star debut, filled with raw humour, “I stir my latte with a pregnancy test”, wry metaphysics, “What we truly are is always on the back row, throwing popcorn”, and metaphors like shots in the arm, “The sky was full of nouns”. It’s this mix of intense feeling with stunning imagery which gives Michelle Diaz her distinct voice – visceral, quirky, not to be missed.’ Dr Rosie Jackson
He feels into my unspoken waters, is never hasty,
knows sex – what belongs to me.
No push or surge without the sigh of initiation,
his hands translate that this heat, this body is mine, on loan.
He is an explorer,
gauges yield with quiet clairvoyance,
listens like a fox for a rupture of heartbeat –
something fluid as invitation.
All men are bastards
falls to its knees, is trite fallacy
when one has learnt to read.
Some need heavy oars to navigate a river,
he has hands and eyes, knows the subtlety
of each gasp, the sound of love screaming,
discerns when God’s name is being taken in vain.
A Birth Journey in Nine Movements
We are en route to Yorkshire,
I stir my latte with a pregnancy test,
it shows up positive,
all the waiters do the Macarena.
My mother finds a Clear Blue box in the fridge –
it is full of eggs.
We have omelette for tea.
The family has never been so together.
I am carried around by four angels
who guard my apple pip cargo,
pump me full of oxytocin,
airbrush the stretch marks.
My body wages war on vegetables,
organic and tinge of green are off the menu.
I am possessed by the Honey Monster,
only pear drops and Jelly Tots will do.
Three weeks to go and somebody has let the bathwater out –
oligohydramnios – the midwife tells me you’re shrinking.
The sofa becomes a wet grave I bury myself in.
The hospital – I have a bed with a bell,
Mr Doc says emergency caesarean.
We float round the room like balloons in denial.
Seven days go by – you are still not out,
despite Doctor Patel’s insistence,
despite the letter on serious yellow paper,
despite my dangerously high blood pressure.
I sense we are dying. I am probed silence.
You have been leaked information.
You are not coming.
C-section. They find you. I become Mummy.
The room breathes morphine, the women sweat.
I am in Tenko. The nurse has a moustache.
She withholds pain relief, wheels away precious baby.
A cold star rises above the saline drip,
guards the broken nativity.
My old skin lines the corridor,
the curt nurse picks it up.
Strangely, I cry because you are no longer inside.
Your dad closes the curtain in case they think I am depressed.
I’m not. It’s just that I will never again know such intimacy.
I love the pristine crackle of your eleventh year,
still reachable, open-faced, wanting to talk to me
about the things you overhear, the playground whispers.
Mum, what’s magma skating?
My mind fills with lava, eruption, something dangerous.
You do it on your own. It looks like this …
(makes a hand gesture).
I don’t tell you.
Not because I’m prudish or shocked,
but because I like your name for it better,
want to inhabit this wide-eyed world of pre-knowledge,
to be eleven again, clueless,
skate around your lovely head before the curtains start closing
and I can no longer watch the play.
The Rebellion of Sleeping in
I want to scrape back clouds,
bring morning to you on a tray,
allow you that extra hour.
I want to scrunch the world up, pocket-sized,
then feed it to you
in pieces you can swallow.
Instead, routine makes a Colonel of me,
I bark instruction:
Face and nails, tie straight, cornflakes,
blazer. Hurry up, it’s late!
Today I will let you sleep till ten,
swim in your unseen dreams,
to hell with school, alarms,
the regimented day.
Your face is the softest peach,
The way things have to be
will not consume the fruit of you,
dribble you down its chin without care,
without tasting your sweetness.
Michelle Diaz has been writing since the late 90s and began her life as a poetry performer in 1998 at The Poetry Café in Covent Garden. She studied English Language and Literature at Manchester University and always had a love of words and a passion for poetry. In 2009 she had two poems accepted by Live Canon, which were performed onstage in Greenwich. Between 2015 and 2017 she hosted a monthly poetry group in Glastonbury. She also became a Wells Fountain Poet. In 2017, she won 3rd prize in the Mere Literary Festival Poetry Competition. She also began regularly submitting her poetry to a range of magazines with an encouraging amount of success. She has been widely published online and in print and has recently been accepted for several anthologies. She has been part of the open mic at Swindon Poetry Festival, Words and Ears in Bradford on Avon, Trowbridge, Wells Fountain poets. Poetry and a Pint in Bath and many other venues. In 2017 she was the inaugural winner of the Glastonbury Bardic Silver Pen award. She also won the 2018 Christabel Hopesmith NHS Competition judged by Wendy Cope and Lachlan Mackinnon.
The Dancing Boy is available to buy from the Against the Grain Press website.