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‘Your sister is a thousand eyes’ by Billie Manning

Your sister is a thousand eyes
and she has been looking for you.
In the park by the rusting swings,
in the burnt grass, she is looking.

She sees a thousand things. Chernobyl. Teeth
and hair. A dead father. Ugliness.
You’ve seen them. The burning
buildings, the falling bridges. Children
crying in the back of the car.

She is looking for you, you are
her sister. Your eyes are the same gold,
even if they were scooped from different
rivers, weighed by some other hands.

You can close them but
you will still see her.

Where are you, sister?
Did you want no more?
No more ugliness, no more crying.
The splatter and drips,
the gunk of days,
the candy blue violence of living.

Did you want to stay still?
Have your mouth feel nothing?
Be dry and unheavy.
The prettiness of not crying.
Did you want to be far away?

Your sister is a thousand eyes.
Look at her.

Billie took part in Dean Atta’s ‘Ugly Words’ workshop at the Parasol unit on 9 February 2019.

‘I wanted to come to the workshop as I thought the concept of ugly words was really interesting: ask many poets the purpose of their work and often the answer will include the idea of beauty. I am definitely not used to using the ‘ugly’ in my work and haven’t spent much time thinking about it.

The workshop was lovely and friendly of course, and Hyon Gyon’s work proved incredibly evocative, especially knowing the background to Gyon’s life and inspiration for her works as explained by the lovely expert (whose name I have forgotten!). It really got me thinking about what we define as ugly and why we turn away from ugliness, and why it might be important to embrace that ugly side of life, in order to experience things fully.

It was especially helpful to me at the tail-end of the workshop to be given the structure of the poem we were to write from the ‘opposites’ of all the perceptions we had written down about the exhibition. It almost meant the poem was already there, fully formed – we just had to discover how it was all to come together.


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