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At Fifteen by Jenny Mitchell

Content Warning: child sexual abuse

At Fifteen

I stand against the bulge between his legs,

my teacher’s hand pinned to my back.

The sitting room grows dark. Mum’s gone

to make some tea, proud to have a guest.

Captured in the grey fog of his breath, I smile

because he tells me smile. Cigarettes are ghosts

on his large tongue, poking out to lick thin lips

again. If I try to speak – Don’t make a sound.

He whispers You might have a good report.

The door seems small, too far away.

Or shall I say you slept through class?

He moves a hand in circles on my bum.

His breath comes even louder than before.

Mum bellows from the kitchen Will Bourbon

biscuits do? A stain shows on the carpet.

He orders Rub my thigh. My head goes back.

The ceiling’s stained as well. I moan for help.

Stop that at once he says. There’s dandruff

on his suit, lapels that shine with dirt, a crash

in the next room. Mum shouts My fault!

It lasted for nine months – him coming

back to offer free tuition – before I told

the truth. She slapped my face, looked down,

then quietly said Don’t mention this again.

Jenny Mitchell won the Gregory O’Donoghue Prize for a single poem, and the Poetry Book Awards for her second collection, Map of a Plantation, which is on the syllabus at Manchester Metropolitan University. The prize-winning debut collection, Her Lost Language, is One of 44 Poetry Books for 2019 (Poetry Wales), and her latest collection, Resurrection of a Black Man, contains three prize-winning poems and is featured on the US podcast Poetry Unbound. She’s won numerous competitions, is widely-published and has performed at the Houses of Parliament.


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