(Content warning: references self-harm)


When I was fifteen in a toilet cubicle next to Talia,
I exclaimed IT’S HERE with my school skirt skimming
my ankles, white socks with two blue stripes, disinfectant
dispensers hanging beside blue tacked announcements.
When I was fifteen sweating through my palms, standing
in a carpeted counselling office. The man with rectangular
eyes repeated, show her what you did to yourself until
blood was no longer a milestone but a symptom.
When I was fifteen and wanted so badly to be anything
but girl. To be blood itself, not the cotton that catches it.
Wanted to be the softness of a football mid-air, when
it exists between release and recipient (untouched).
But I couldn’t play sports in a skirt. I couldn’t play truant
with this body. My unshrinkable shame formed a photo
frame: positioned me precisely within the shadow
of some woman I could have / should have been.
Still I couldn’t play sports in a skirt. So I never learnt to run.
Instead I spent a decade dodging labels and assigning genders
like ‘tomboy’ when I truly meant ‘almost boy’. Talia taught me
how to handle the bleeding, but I hadn’t addressed the wound.



This poem is in response to the photograph, ‘The photographer's shadow’ (1935)
by Olive Cotton and forms part of the Shadow Catchers exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.