Back to Issue Twenty-Four.

first time    penetration


we needed two attempts   the first time
was so cold   in the unheated loft room
of a friend’s house I’d moved to at sixteen
that all we could do was force our bodies
close enough to save a little heat

the second time   I planned a little more
a portable heater kicking out
a charred dust smell    leading him upstairs
the room artificially hot  stripping
off instantly how practical I was

not really wanting to be touched or   kissed
or to do anything that might delay
what I thought I needed   heater unplugged
the room dropping colder almost instantly
walking to the bed   kneeling down on it

as though praying   and him coming at me
with his bare inarticulate thrusting
that couldn’t hold off long enough for pain
to give way into something like pleasure
and I remember feeling something drip

I’ve left a present on your back he said
and I showed him out   past the bedroom
of my housemate   the bed I’d taken
to sleeping in most mornings   when she’d gone
early to the station   I’d set the bath

running   and keep warm under the covers
still muggy with her presence   one time
I fell asleep   woke to water coming
through the ceiling   as though the sky had slipped
inside the house   and I just lay there

not moving   thinking there was nothing
to be done but wait for it to pass through
the different layers of house   hope it might
dry out   might still be standing afterwards


Andrew McMillan was born in South Yorkshire in 1988; his debut collection physical was the first poetry collection to win the Guardian First Book Award. The collection also won the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize, a Somerset Maugham Award (2016), an Eric Gregory Award (2016), and a Northern Writers’ award (2014). It was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize, the Costa Poetry Award, the 2016 Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, the Roehampton Poetry Prize, and the Polari First Book Prize. It was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation for Autumn 2015. Most recently physical has been translated into Norwegian (Aschehoug, 2017) and French (Grasset,2018). He is senior lecturer in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, and lives in Manchester.

Photo Credit: Urszula Soltys.

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