• “swan”

    A Poem in Eight Parts by Andrew McMillan


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    the lake is calm tonight

    the moon has dropped white feathers on the water


    tonight      the lake is calm

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    the wavelets lap like rustling wings


    the lake      tonight      is calm

    but look who is coming in to land


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    to tear the peace asunder



    my first time in water

    I was unnaturally good      heavier somehow

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    so much power inside me

    arms forcing the water away

    like prising someone’s mouth apart

    to take out what’s inside


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    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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