Every Lover an Ocean



Oranges at half-time

split like suns between our hands

under your leather jacket.

Longwall St. on a bicycle made almost for

two except with handlebars across which we

slung our indecision. We hadn’t quite worked

out how to play at love like grown-ups

but we talked Philosophy all the same, in your room

at St Catherine’s College with its monk’s bed and annexe of ‘80s vinyls,

the photograph of your ex in your bedside drawer. A curled lock of hair.

We slept, ringed by a moat

and the protection of our blindness. We lasted

barely a year before everything came away at the seams

but not before you’d planted a flag, carefully, with pride

in the ocean between us that we mistook for land.

I was yours then. You were my first.



A condom packet slipped under the door of your van

between the girls cutting cocaine off a rearview mirror in the back

and the two of us pressed close in the close heat of the front seats.

I’d smashed three cups against a wall earlier that night,

smoked my first cigarette on a balcony under a foreign sky heavy with rain,

and trailed my fingers in glasses bright with alcohol in a dive called Rivers

where we danced salsa and I flirted with a guy at the bar before hooking

a finger over the lapel of your T-shirt. ‘You’re coming home with me,’

I said, and you did. I asked you to keep your baseball cap on

because I couldn’t look you in the eye. I had a boyfriend back home

with curled hair I thought of as I gripped yours; browner, flatter.

Unfamiliar as your surfer’s body I couldn’t bring myself to be turned on by.



Somewhere in a tumble of sky

something broke like glass. Somewhere between

a station platform, a spill of photographs across bedsheets,

a broken curtain rail and a shaft of sunlight, a pack of international call cards,

a cast iron bedframe too small for the sound of you, or me. I forget which.


This is what I write about when I write about anything.

This is what I write.


You would shout down the phone receiver, years later,

as I lay crying on the worn green sofa at my parents’ house,

‘You think I don’t remember? Of course I remember. I remember

my right hand holding your left. I remember the sounds you

made. How you felt. How you smelled. What you looked like.

I remember everything. Everything.’



It started on a sun-splashed day

on a corner of grass where water lapped at

our feet. I was wearing a purple bikini,

and shaded my eyes to see you. To let you see me.


We walked along the canal; you pointed out

graffiti your friend had left tacked to the crumbled walls.

You took my clothes off as your mum vacuumed the hall outside.

The tennis was on: Wimbledon. You cranked open the window

before spreading me out on the bed. You started there, with your tongue

and I pressed my hands over my eyes, before saying, ‘Just get up here.’

It was over quickly. We walked back along the canal and laughed. ‘Did we just do that?’



You told me the best you’d had

was with a girl whose hair fell in ringlets. You used to like to

watch her as she gave you head. You’d also fucked a girl

in a Wendy House once, on a stretch of beach in Italy near San Marino.


I was jealous, though you kissed my forehead and said,

‘You don’t need to be. It’s you now. You’re the best I’ve had.’

I didn’t believe you. I practised, and practised, made you promise

you weren’t lying. You liked it when I was on top; when I stretched up so

you could see my ribs move as my breathing quickened. Could grip my

hips with both hands. You said you loved me but you tired quickly

of our arguments late at night outside pubs in Brixton, when I would hit you and

scream at you to promise you loved me more than anything in the world. You

said you did. I poured your words away with your morning whiskey, and left.

You swore you weren’t lying. You swore on your dead father’s life. I didn’t come back.



In the ring you moved with all the force

of an animal. You tore through walls with your fists, shoulders

wound up tight, always on the blunt edge of control. The

bedroom was the same deal. A barely suppressed anger

but also a tenderness that swallowed me whole. I was weak for you.

You brought me to orgasm for the first time. The second. The third.


             I learned that forgiveness is not easily granted.

(months after
                         fell apart

I waited in a hotel foyer, hands clasped, whitewater knuckles, whilst somewhere above the eaves
you masturbated.)


On the journey back to London, my body fell away from me. By the time we

arrived, my body was a thing

that did not belong to me.



You talked in metaphors

and I understood your language. We were

easy in the mornings, waking to your iPod, hands

moving over skin to find the parts that ached and smooth them.

Dinner with your housemates on the sofa. Reality TV in the living room, dirty

talk in the bedroom where I dressed up in outfits taken from magazines

we’d look at together, flicking through the pages before switching on the laptop, to

find a video we both liked.
                                    We spoke harsh words about our exes, crushed them into

harmless shapes we softened between our lips. It was a casual thing, to love without

loving. We did in our own way, and said so.


I promised to love you till you were OK.

You’re doing better than that now, and I’m glad.




We strung Christmas markets together

on a ribbon of almost-kisses till I was so nervous

I invited myself to Oxford for a weekend. ‘To stay?’ you asked

with a kind of wonderment that took my breath away.

The first time, it was awkward. You couldn’t find your glasses.

You woke me to try again. We found each other’s bodies with our mouths

and I wanted to break every kiss like a wave against you.

We talked about the jungle. About humans. About civilisations

moving through ages and how forward progress is not the same as evolution.

About life and death. You see angels, you said to me, gently, I see graves. I shook my

head. You knew bird names and sang with your head cocked, like a bird perched

on the swinging stool in your room filled with books whose names I did not recognise. I

wrote about you, night after night. You told me you thought me beautiful. Just once.

The rains came, and the floodwaters rose. We watched geese and ducks slide into the water

from the mist of your kitchen window. On the coach, I cried because you didn’t understand

that I understood more than you thought. I fell through the sky just before Valentine’s Day

and broke my neck on the way down. You didn’t notice. You didn’t say goodbye.




Your broad hands are rough

as the paper you write on and I want to kiss

each knuckle, soften it out like the knuckles of the quarrelling lover

in the poem you puzzled over, sitting on my bed, frowning at the words

on my laptop screen. I measure each response carefully; refuse to ask questions

like ‘when’, ‘how long’ or ‘with whom’. Draw lines around these with chalk.

You dance with me in a room with blue painted walls, then later, in your room

scattered with books and bedsheets; the connection between your laptop

and the speakers faulty, so it feels like you are writing emails in a storm.

The volume kicks in, then cuts out. You kiss me with a hungry mouth and

I spread my legs beneath you. We laugh after you orgasm and I want to

pull you closer to me, but don’t want you to worry about me loving you.

We walk through streets lit up with roses, under a smatter of rain.



Tomorrow I will rewrite this in the

past tense.

Tomorrow has already arrived and

is waiting for me to catch up.


But today is today is now. And now is as good a time as ever. To have a lover. To love. To count, eyes closed, up to ten. Then count back down again.

Song: Good Sex by Kevin Drew



Art Ilich is a professor of arts from Maribor, Slovenia. Her artistic style comes out of admiration for painters like Schiele and Basquiat and has evolved into illustrations with a conceptual twist. Instagram: @art.ilich. Visit her website here

Aki Schilz's poetry and short stories have been published online and in print including in Popshot Magazine, Bare Fiction, And Other Poems, CHEAP POP, and An Unreliable Guide to London. She is the co-founder of the LossLit digital literature project. Twitter: @AkiSchilz