Poetry about invisible illness and the world of work

No castle tower, no benevolent fey, no intrepid rats
creeping across laps of revellers, fast asleep—only
a young woman who can’t get up in the morning

can’t take responsibility for her own life—(un)just

sleeps through the day; the sun rising and falling
on criticism; watches Icarus shooting across the sky…

It can feel embarrassing to share poetry. I am well aware that my vaguely bilingual poems, with their odd imagery and sometimes morbid themes, would potentially unsettle some of my acquaintances who have stumbled on my website by chance and now find themselves trawling the archives with a growing sense of horror (I joke… but only partly).

Nevertheless, I am happy that the following poem has been published in literary magazine Corvid Queen. ‘Sleeping beauty, 2021’ (written in late 2021, for context) is a poem exploring invisible illness and the pressure to be a high-functioning human in a world where worth is often equated with economic output and productivity. Personally, I’m able-bodied (at least for now – no-one can guarantee health forever), but I think a fair amount about disability and the pressure for people’s bodies to somehow be optimal, not least so that they can produce. ‘Sleeping beauty, 2021’ is a poem I wrote to examine some of these themes, transposing the sleeping princess of the fairytale into a world governed by the Protestant work ethic and the pressure to earn a living, no matter the challenges one faces, in order to stay afloat.

If you are curious, you are welcome to read the poem here. For reference, the word aïe, which recurs throughout the poem, is the French work for ‘ouch’, as well as (especially when repeated) a French expression for ‘oh dear…’. As someone who did over ten years of schooling in the French education system, both meanings are branded onto my memory forever…

Happy May – and be kind to your body,