A Poem in Eight Parts by Andrew McMillan


the lake is calm tonight

the moon has dropped white feathers on the water


tonight      the lake is calm

the wavelets lap like rustling wings


the lake      tonight      is calm

but look who is coming in to land


to tear the peace asunder



my first time in water

I was unnaturally good      heavier somehow

so much power inside me

arms forcing the water away

like prising someone’s mouth apart

to take out what’s inside


only ever more water that comes through



then the year everything was swan


feathers on my pillow      on the floor
wet prints in the hallway where I’d walked
men in white coats      little pellets in their hands
the shadow of my back      curved against the wall



the black swan of debt

the black swan of my own body      of my mum

the black swan of sex

the black swan of the house      of the wall      the loft      the damp

the black swan of rain

the black swan of the dog

the black swan of weddings

the black swan of the neighbours      of him


each one fury-footed in my stomach



then the year everything was darkness

the red beak of my longing


the wedge of men in flight from club to club

banked in at every bar

loneliness      as though I’m dying of thirst

I think the men must be where water is

I always go face-first to drink


vi) queen


a swan of sixpence

a brokenhearted guy

four and twenty whoopers

kept locked up inside

when the door was opened

the swans began to hiss

what is the solution

for such a man as this?

your dad is in the living room

saying things are wrong

your mum is napping fitfully

all her strength is gone

your mind is in the puddle now

soaking up the rain

they’re coming now to peck at it

your damp and ruined brain



mother                     don’t eat me

mother                     I’m trying so hard to get better

I’m sorry I’m a queer

remember how small I was mother

newly hatched cygnet      like a cloud fallen down on the water

now it’s only rain mother      so much of it

hitting the lake      bringing it to the boil



I plucked each feather from myself

slight resistance and then a rising out

like pulling up a weed      when I was bald

I beheld myself in the mirror of the water’s edge

my neck looked ridiculous

my eyes the only part of me that still had life

I raised each failed wing      just flesh now

nothing for the wind to get up under

the mirror cracked with the tides

I reared up      I jumped      I watched myself

broken      fall towards myself


Freeman's- Love

“swan,” excerpted from Freeman’s: Love by Andrew McMillan. Excerpted with the permission of Grove Press. Copyright © 2020 by Andrew McMillan.

Andrew McMillan
Andrew McMillan
Andrew McMillan’s debut collection, physical, was the first ever poetry collection to win the Guardian First Book Award. It also won a Somerset Maugham Award and was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. His second collection, playtime, was published by Jonathan Cape in 2018; it was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation for Autumn 2018, a Poetry Book of the Month in both the Observer and the Telegraph, a Poetry Book of the Year in the Sunday Times, and won the Polari Prize. Andrew is a senior lecturer at the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University and lives in Manchester.

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