Embarrased

Hollie McNish

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i thought it was ok - i could understand the reasons

they said there might be young children or a nervous man seeing

this small piece of flesh that they weren’t quite expecting

so i whispered and tiptoed with nervous discretion

 

but after six months of her life spent sitting on lids

as she sips on her milk, nostrils sniffing up shit

banging her head on toilet-roll dispensers

i wonder whether these public-loo feeds offend her

 

’cos i’m getting tired of discretion and being polite

as my baby’s first sips are drowned drenched in shite

i spent the first feeding months of her beautiful life

feeling nervous and awkward and wanting everything right;

 

surrounded by family till i stepped out the house

it took me eight weeks to get the confidence to go into town

now the comments around me cut like a knife

as i rush into cubicles feeling nothing like nice

 

because i’m giving her milk that’s not in a bottle

wishing the cocaine-generation white powder would topple

i see pyramid-sales pitches across our green globe

and female breasts banned - unless they’re out just for show.

 

and the more i go out, the more i can’t stand it

walk into town, feel i’m surrounded by bandits,

’cos in this country of billboards covered in tits

and family newsagents’ magazines full of it

whsmith top shelves out for men

  — why then don’t you complain about them?

 

in this country of billboards covered in tits

and family newsagents’ magazines full of it

whsmith top shelves out for men

i’m getting embarrassed

in case a small flash of flesh might offend

 

and i don’t want to parade this, i’m not trying to make a show

but when i’m told i’d be better just staying at home

and when another friend i know is thrown off a bus

and another one told to get out of the pub

 

and i’m sure the milk-makers love all the fuss

all the cussing and worry and looks of disgust

as another mother turns from nipples to powder

ashamed or embarrassed by comments around her

 

as i hold her head up and pull my cardie across

and she sips on the liquor made by everyone’s god

i think for god’s sake, jesus drank it, so did siddhartha

muhammed and moses and both of their fathers

 

ganesh and shiva and brighid and buddha

and i’m sure they weren’t doing it sniffing on piss

as their mothers sat embarrassed on cold toilet lids

in a country of billboards covered in tits

in a country of low-cut tops, cleavage and skin

in a country of cloth bags and recycling bins.

and as i desperately try to take all of this in

 

i hold up her head

i can’t get my head round the anger towards us

and not to the sounds of lorries off-loading formula milk

into countries where water runs dripping in filth

 

in towns where breasts are oases of life

now dried up in two-for-one offers enticed

by labels and logos and gold-standard rights

claiming breastmilk is healthier powdered and white

 

packaged and branded and sold at a price

so that nothing is free in this money-fuelled life

which is fine   if you need it   or prefer to use bottles

where water is clean and bacteria boiled

 

but in towns where they drown in pollution and sewage

bottled kids die

and they knew that they’d do it.

 

in towns where pennies are savoured like sweets

we’re now paying for one thing that has always been free

in towns empty of hospital beds

babies die, diarrhoea-fuelled – that breastmilk would end

 

so no more will i sit on these cold toilet lids

no matter how embarrassed i feel as she sips

’cos in this country of billboards covered in tits

i think i should try to get used to this

 

Hollie McNish "Embarrased" from Nobody Told Me: Poetry and Parenthood. Copyright © 2016 by Hollie McNish.

Source: Nobody Told Me: Poetry and Parenthood (Little Brown of Blackfriars Books, 2016)