Both Sides of The Sky

Sketches from Both Sides of The Sky is a collection of poetry, literary snapshots and insights that explores the subject of inherited mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder/manic depression. One of the intentions of this podcast is to encourage others to use poetry as a tool to express their deep-rooted inherited tendencies. It was commissioned by Apples & Snakes.

“How do manic words taste on a balanced tongue? How do manic words dance in a mouth that is dark with depression?”

“If you are carrying a genetic tendency towards anything, be it a mental illness; a physical illness; a love of art; a passion for words; be sure to write it down, to speak it out loud and to preserve it for generations to come. This is your legacy, your grand inheritance. What you pass on to your children and their children should be the most valuable and treasured possessions that you have. Pass on your wisdom and your insight, pass on your courage and honesty, pass on your story and your words.”

A selection of poems from the collection…

Where does it hurt?

From the green fronds of childhood

I could reel off labels

root to tip

eyebrows to toe nails

in a keen French voice

my language ability

peaking beyond my humble stature


cocooned in my shame of solitary unexplained grief

I shed tears like skin

the scales fell

from reddened eyes

I had no words to share

despite the roaring tongues of my mind

Where does it hurt?”

my fingers would find my throat

it was the only answer I had

in my empty hands


no-one ever said

it was ok

to hurt it a place that you cannot touch

my fingertips caught against

the sharp ridges of savage emotions

blind in the blackness

this place I could not name

rich in colour

I had no words for

an endless landscape

voiced by a familiarity

that was mine alone

the climate of pain

deeper than my life-experience

and darker than the womb


this continent is autumnal now

an army of skeletal trees

puncture the sulk of the skies

the ground

cold in its bloodlessness

only the star of diagnosis

my bi-polaris

ever cast light on the savagery of stone

sculpted by an ocean without water



You were born on the kitchen table

spewed into life

on a tide of blood and shit

flooding against the mug rings

reminders of the desperate comfort of tea

your chubby limbs beating out against the glassy solidity

that was bitten by the pen knib

barely protected by the hymen of paper

virginal white

his last words

still traceable

her fingertips find them nightly

now she arches against the stability of the wood

and draws you to her

you so wide-eyed and alien

smeared with newness

she prays that you will be like your father

in all ways…but one

you were born on the kitchen table

where his fingerprints

still linger



You say you didn’t make a move

though you surely cast a line

and the line was formed of heartfelt words

and words are fractured rhymes

and rhymes are where my heart resides

as language forms my blood

so although you didn’t make a move

you touched me where you shouldn’t have

for to touch someone with your words

is the most intimate of acts

when you lick someone with your language

there is no turning back


Blank Canvas

Next week is a blank canvas

I want to thread it with your eyelashes

the collision where our smiles meet

the smudge of your fingerprints

warm it with your breath

and push the imprint of your story

into each fibre

soak it in your sex and substance

capture the tears

and the vicious rip of your laughter

I want it streaked with every colour of you

yet my gallery is crammed with portraits

that I recognise with shut eyes

there is no room for new

that doesn’t stop me

picturing you



I wear my shoes loud

in their colour and their clatter

and when I stride the streets

the scurf and seagulls scatter

well, we can hear you coming!”

the most salacious cry

though men like them

will never know

the voice between my thighs

they think that I mean business

but my true meaning is art

and my staccato steps

just punctuate

the ways we fall apart



You ask me if I’d like to use the craft knife

and slip the seductive blade across the table

head down I clamp the scissors

measured strokes

I shake my head

I’m ok with these”

I don’t know whether to be relieved or appalled

by your forgetfulness

how that blade once cut more than paper in my hands

my wrist still clings to the scars

white and submissive

like my perceived



My blood day

I am moist with menses

womb full as the moon

we buy knives without question

weighty steel

sharp enough to cut bone

and the fleshy stratas above

I love you more for your trusting amnesia

the glint of the blade


even now

but I will not act

I just need to lean against

the safety of its weight



I still have enough anti-psychotics

to kill a small horse

or perhaps a unicorn

if we’re being specific


I’m off the meds…

the sentence which instils fear in the eyes

of friends

and psychiatrists


It’s ok, I’m being careful…

careful as a maniac can be

I’m one of the few people I know

who can say “this last week has been manic”

and mean it


will there ever be a time

that I can dispose of them entirely

without risk of disposing of myself?

pristine chemical bricks

that bleach my mind

and build walls

where my soul longs to rage


I think the angels that visit

may be the truth

and the “reality”

we live in

to be the honest madness


but let’s keep the pills

that tether me to the earth

just in case

I ever return to higher plains


I hate the silence they bring

the slowness

the sedation

In my quicksilver state

they are the deadliest poison


If I am ever too conscious

seeing all that few else can see

they will bring me down

and mute the colours of my mind



When you died

people literally crossed the street

to avoid me

walking the cliché with nervous feet

like death is contagious

and killing yourself

is somehow more terminal


At the funeral

everybody told me I was beautiful

as though pain

had altered my features favourably

or vanity

is a girl’s mother tongue


Look after your parents

they urged

I was a child

I could barely look after myself


They didn’t mention you

or how you lost your head


Sorry for your loss

they’d mutter

words as downcast as their eyes

as if we’d mislaid you

through carelessness

which is precisely

what we did


Life Model

Breath creeps over the fullness of my bottom lip,

slipping within me shallow and sustained.

I ease it down past the rigid boards of my ribcage.

Clinging to its spectral tail with determined teeth.

It resurfaces and coils around my tongue.

The haughty tilt of my breasts and the balance of my frame,

unaltered by this measured motion.

My body, alert yet gentle in its rigidity

is captured in fast flurries of charcoal,

softly apologetic pencil lines

and the assertive precision of ink.

This teacher, more considerate than others

has positioned a heater beside my naked form.

The welcome warmth softens my nipples.

Lifting my public hair like fronds of seaweed

yielding to a loving current.

He describes

the exquisite curve that runs from breast to hip”

and the words stoke the embers of my pride

until my cheeks are licked by fire.

He speaks of caressing my contours with line and shade.

I feel each stroke,

tender and urgent against my motionless skin.

The crescent of observers see my body

in its most natural exposed state,

in turn I witness their intimacy with art

and the soft underbelly of their ambition.

They are the ones who are truly naked.


Artists with dirty fingers

I like my artists filthy

restless fingers ink-drenched

the arid kiss of terracotta crumb

like your hands are the landscape

where your soul settles


every still life is a dialogue

in my mind


I don’t observe beauty

I articulate it


I love that you reel-off-your-machine-gun-fire-fury-of-worded-bullets-with-such-sharpness-and-grace-when-the-spotlight-forms-a-halo-above-you

but your mouth

searches for all the right words

in your snatched



I like my artists filthy

stories that spew with horrific emotion;

reality & the grotesque decay of life

come to me paint-smeared

your fingertips dense with use

rosin-dusted trousers


Tap your fingertips to mundanity

let every tabletop be your masterpiece;

as you seek out the soundtrack

that feeds your life


I like my art blood-streaked and raw

the roaring in the vocal

the chisel cruel enough to cut bone

your world is framed & shot


as you pervert the rule of thirds

into exquisite fractals


Just weaving to the bar to buy a second coffee

is a dance to you

your tip toe trip graceful against the endless grey of the floor


Your fingers nibbled by needles

your mind a canvas of chaos & colour


Crowds become orchestral

you draw out crescendo

with each grandiose gesture


I like my artists oblivious of audience



when the line between the canvas

and the hand

does not exist


The thrill as you reveal each

new piece

of art

and all I can see

is your eyes



If I was a word on a page

I’d resent the uniformity of font

and that we all existed in monochrome

even though brilliance & darkness

are my truth


I would despise another word

being forced upon me

when the book shut

my reluctant neighbour’s weight on mine

for endless years


My airing would be a moment

eyes would skim my surface

I would not stand out

I’d be one in a string

a sketch of meaning

alone I would have no value


If I am to be a word

let it be in your hand

your careless cursive

your voice

settled in the notebook

that never leaves you

where each word matters completely

but secretly

I’m your favourite



The soil was rich where I planted you

in a place favoured by the sun

the garden suckling on my sense of unease

its filth creeping under my nails

soiling my sanitary sanity

kissing my knees with rough biting grit


I don’t want my skin ravaged by the elements

I am lily white, let me stay so


With the door locked behind me

I find my sanctuary

away from the wail of the wind

as the rain pushes her brazen nudity

against the transparency of the windows

all that is raw and raging

I am safe from

in my box of mortar and mortgages


I trust the earth to tend you

raise you skyward

in this faith

I become forgetful

until the clemency of the afternoon

and the persistence of obligation

take me to you


Your petals faded

beyond the point of perfection

overarching clumsily against a weary stem

I came too late


The door is thrown open

a collision of differences

my daughter returns from school

and once more

I forget the wilt of flowers


I am my own garden

and your fear of growth

has left you housebound



You are of the same tribe

you wear my mark like a compliment


just a glance

and the flesh burns


we are cut from the same cloth

but the fabric pushes pins into my skin


you long to find yourself in me

but we both know

that you will only drown in the extra weight



In my blood

your stories curl like smoke

each jolt of an ending

the fickle spark of conception

fixed in the double-helix

the burning welt of tragedy

shackled to sorrow

and the bleak reminder of consequence

I didn’t inherit your hands

just the dis-ease

that forces them

you plunged art into the heart of me

clinging to the blade of the sword with two edges

the flair of creativity

ignited by insanity

this is my birthright

my rich inheritance

the gnarled roots of the family tree

bitten and rotten by the shame of decay

the branches

touch the heavens

the bipolar

squirms through the biopolymers

two shades of intensity

coil around each other

seductive and serpentine


Dear Depression…

Dear Depression,

you’re welcome today

I feel you wordlessly slink in the back-door

clinging to the shadows

nibbling off the raw ragged edges

of remorse

I need you today

for right now

I am the one in the white coat

I want to circle you

with inquisitive eyes

find the heart of you

measure its skittish dance

I need to study the ebb and flow

of your darkness


Your fur is matted and dank

I’m not edging closer

to draw out your softness

to make you sleek and appealing

I need the roughness of your tongue

and the squalor of your stench


Bring your worst to me

lay it at my feet

a putrid present

overripe organs

swell into bloody juices

let me lay it out

on the pristine, white board of my paper

the perfect cadaver

and dissect it

with the sharpness of this pen


The System

The System is well-dressed

and well-heeled

but badly suited

to the screaming need

the most unappealing face of sanity

his words fall out

neat and prescribed

cut with sterile servitude


You have been climbing mountains

for too many eternities

you were born on the foothills

with a longing to touch the sun


The Cuts come

they circle you

carrion claws and vicious beaks

their dusty feathers

choke you to silence

snipping away the last ribbons of safety

knocking back

the dregs of comfort


You tumble in the dust and scree

bloody knees caked with earth

broken bones

fragile as promise

only your madness is complete

your only strength

your insanity


You make it to the summit

your audience with god

will last two reluctant minutes

you are a statistic

a neat little check box

fenced in by the boredom in his eyes


Look beyond him

the sky is endless in her pleasure

kissing each of the earth’s faces

she is playing with your hair

longing for you to dance



It’s the darkness that I see

the face bathed in shadows

not the vibrancy

the slither of a crescent



but it’s the velvet depths of darkness

that speak

to me



You brandish the suicides like trophies

forgetting they lead back to me

and every time that you yank them

you tear at my sanity

you slam the statistics on the table

all meaty and bloody and raw

clipped from newspaper fairytales

the ink still clings to your pores

your eyes are alive with the gossip

your cheeks flush full with the chance

to impart your heartless knowledge

in your circling vultures dance

I’d forgive you for tea and sympathy

or considering how I might feel

but the drama of my life excites you

so much that you forget that I’m real


Both Sides

You pull back my eyelids

an invasion of blinding brilliance

the morning-after

filled with bloody realisation

your laughter is the clatter of empty bottles

triumphant as the gathered contraband digits

the only rejection that you’ve ever known

is an exhausted bank card

you are my fly too close to the sun

wing-singeing beauty

my excess

my abundance

the lavish in the gift

dripped with jewelled generosity

such loud blinding splendour

that makes eyes and nations fall

you are

the loudest voice in the room

and the shortest skirt

you are

bite off more than you can chew

but swallow it down regardless

boundaries obliterate

the concept of personal space

does not apply to you

except in reference to

the entire galaxy that rages within

your mind is like central station

a tapestry of colour and opportunity

set to an insistent backdrop

you shoot for the stars

but fly far beyond

you are

the yes before the question mark

faster than the speed of life

retina burning

in your brilliance

sleep is for mortals

you brush it off with impatient fingers

you sign me up for everything

that terrifies me

then leave without a word

flicking the switch

as you shoot out the door

casting my world into darkness

where your sister grips me

clammy with neediness

stripping me of your finery

she is

the slow descent into grief

when no-one has died

she is

the terror in the morning light

she plucks my self-belief from me

and crumbles it to ash

she has never known a day without rain

she kisses my throat

and the swelling burns to the spleen

she pins me to the bed

with her cold limbs

and persistent cracked kisses

a tongue that dribbles out

the stream of my regret

her insistence

a blade that seduces me

her laughter

the death rattle in the box of pills

she is

the steel on steel

that stole my brother

she is

the darkest shade of emptiness

you both

exist in separate realms

slamming against the membrane that divides

never beside

you have yet to inspire the other’s discarded breath

you both shroud me in your precious clandestiny

a shared tendency to visit

without invitation

your luggage ominous and hazardous

as it clutters my space

no-one acknowledges you

but your eyes obliterate mine


my very self


Bare Bones

The darkness is alive

frantic with pulse and motion

buzzing like fury

the black in the blood


as the tongue wag of judgement



that pulls me from my roots

my tongue and hands lose their fluency

under your shadow

voice and gesture dismissed

by the precision in your swoop and steal

the pliancy of my flesh


to the parental stability of bone

throwing itself against the marble floor

of skeletal majesty

clambering carrion disperse

fragmented savages

a portrait of claws and eagerness

the sharp, selfish beak

my flesh falls from me

with the ease of autumn

bare bones bear brittle

soon sun-bleached in their exposure

each organ framed seductively

ripe for the pluck


swollen with juice



you take it all

morsel by morsel

leaving sinews

and the pounding heart

rich with blood and memory

you tear me apart

but leave me conscious and aching

riddled with pain and torment

the sands that surround

are sodden with your shit

and the limp shrug of your feathers


petrol blue in their insolence

© Holly Daffurn 2015

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