3 poems by Ruth Horsfall


When I get on the tube, first I notice their shoes, and how they match the rest of their outfit, buttressing a swaying body, or delicately hanging from a crossed leg, toe pointed directly at my heart. Wearing lipstick, wearing delicious cupids bows, wearing my favourite earrings, nudging their soft necks as the train pulls away from the station. A shirt my mum would call smart. When they have their heads lean forwards, errant locks of hair dangle over their phones, and I’m jealous of the screen for being tickled by them. Later on, as they walk past me and their tailwind breezes softly along the bridge of my nose and it’s always the smell of unrequited love, the girl who was a friend first, the girl who made me feel decadent and reckless. The women who only exist as ghosts in the dregs of my compulsive heteronormativity. A coat that’s always just right for the season and a fresh manicure, wondering how those long fingers would feel on my waist, wrapped in my hair for warmth, around my neck.


Sleep dissolves on Monday, my heart a sturdy bowl,

your alarm is retching in my ear, the coffee’s not yet cold.

Your skin always speaks before you do. I imagine you

as the bottom of a tub of e45, sleek and slippery cold.

I remember the first coffee was strong, frankly, it scared me,

but for the gently showered scalp, wet hair, fingertips cold.

I fill your bed with my sloughed skin and expect you to be

grateful. I whisper my skin cells matter, catch me like a cold.

But you still bring me coffee, even if you find you have to say

‘I don’t know how you drink this Ruth; it’s gone completely cold.’


I honestly find it so rude that my nephews

have these tiny little toes, 

five perfect mushroom caps that

would be so soft against my cheek

and each time I come upon their toes

in a photo, I am arrested by their quietly 

modest but irrepressibly adorable presence. 

My nephew’s toes are new beginnings,

swelling hearts and fierce tears of 

longing and possibility and grief 

for all that I miss and I want them to know 

how important they are, and their toes, most of all.

I wonder when they will meet a person of colour

or someone gay or their partner, see my normality,

and be so fully formed. I want them

to be angry and queer and think that

their identity politics will save the world

before they discover class warfare

and tell you gently, but forcefully

I’m voting for a socialist. 

I want them to love me, and feel 

like they can be mad at me because

I’m trying to remember that conflict is healthy.

I want their toes and their heart to be a vessel

and to be full up, to care radically, and to crave 

emotional intensity and intimacy. Sometimes when 

their vessels are empty,  I want them to come to me

because I wanted to go to someone so badly.

When they read about their toes, I want them to ask 

me why their toes and I will say

something so devastatingly clever,

something I don’t even know how to say

yet and it will make them laugh, and 

their laughs will fall upon me and 

fill my own heart vessel with such unexpected 

care and tenderness.

About the contributor

Ruth Horsfall is a queer writer living and working in the UK. She grew up a settler on unceded Wiradjuri lands in Australia. Ruth has conventional interests such as reading and writing poetry and Harry Styles. She has previously been published in the online magazines Young Vagabond and Lipmag.

Related Articles

3 poems by Emma Lee

Stitching America (for Gloria) It started at Kansas, roughly centre, and two strands of blue for back stitches: the calm, smooth line of a river. At each stitch, it...

3 poems by Lynn Valentine

Lynn Valentine has won and been placed in competitions including Glasgow Women’s Library Dragon’s Pen Award.

Poetry by Marjory Woodfield

In this set of poem, Marjory Woodfield takes inspiration from travel.

More Like This

4 poems by Oz Hardwick

Oz Hardwick's chapbook 'Learning to Have Lost' (Canberra: IPSI/Recent Work, 2018) won the 2019 Rubery International Book Award for Poetry.

2 poems by Stuart Flynn

Stuart Flynn'sdebut poetry pamphlet was published in 2001 by the British literary journal Acumen.

A Poem by Vona Groarke

Vona Groarke's awards include the Brendan Behan Memorial Prize, the Hennessy Award, the Michael Hartnett Award, and the Strokestown International Poetry Award.

Sarah Davies 2 poems

Sarah Davies has been writing from childhood, with gaps for life stuff.

2 Poems by Caroline Johnstone

Caroline Johnstone has won the Waterways Storymaking Festival Award, Imprint Writing Award, and the Beyond Borders Round III competition.