41 Couplets for JK Rowling

winding river

Nature doesn’t draw straight lines,

although it feels like that sometimes.

I don’t end where you begin.

Myths of blood and myths of skin

serve to help us reproduce

but they’re open to abuse.

Borders set with a ruler

make us stupider and crueler

because that’s how we organise

ourselves into warring tribes.

Our biology’s the same,

it creates a two-team game,

a you and I out of a we,

so male and female’s all we see

when we’re gradients of both,

the ratios changing with growth

and age.


              The point is language,

the tool we use to manage

our affairs, such a primitive

weapon, allows us to live

in this bewildering forest

only by slicing as it must

through impenetrable tangles

(unfathomable angles

our brains’ geometry must lop),

otherwise, we come to a stop.


Or we might take the birds-eye view

as gods and politicians do,

and see a certain tract of land

with a river in the sand

twisting out a natural border

between two states. There’s order

in this meandering split,

‘I know where I live, this is it,

you’re on your side and I’m on mine’

we say. But people near the line,

where there’s some kind of bow or bend,

may be closer where they stand

to the centre of the other

state than their sister or brother

on the river’s farther shore.


There’s no universal law

or diktat of clear division –

that’s a human imposition.

All the problems which arise

from this (the almost-truths, pure lies

and inconvenient facts

around feminism) detract

nothing from this central theme

that contrary to how it seems

we construct ourselves from words,

make boundaries, more or less absurd,

just so we can understand

some small part of this strange land

called existence we’re walking through.


Accepting we in place of you

and I is one part of the work

(the slow, careful, magical work)

we do as writers and readers –

outside of social media’s

toxic, real-time, hunting ground –

of listening to the startling sound

that plays in our one human voice.

We might not know we make a choice

but we do, each time we engage

in this enterprise called language,

which frees even as it restricts

and allows within its edicts

us to see a little further

than the biology of other.


Maybe one day you’ll see these lines,

or else you never will, that’s fine –

an amateur with time to spare

has no claim on a billionaire

whose own is no doubt dearly bought

and likely has already thought

through everything addressed above;

but I will post them here with love,

as evidence of my refrain

to all who find them in their brain:

it’s not true that we stand apart –

one doesn’t stop where others start.



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