“On Seeing Your Clothes on Someone Else” by Karen Downs-Barton

Karen Downs-Barton


Sometimes, waiting outside the dining hall, 
or standing in line for the school minibus
you’d spot a girl wearing the clothes you’d arrived in
reassigned through the home’s washday rota. 
She’d look pretty in the dress your nan made,
though the flocked daisies had worn smooth and dulled,
and the lilac cotton seemed cirrus-thin.
You wondered if the girl even cared that pins
from nan’s mouth had been taken one by one 
to hold the seams together, had stabbed you
when the hem was taken up and you wouldn’t
stand still, that your blood and nan’s saliva
stained the memory of when the dress
had been spring-bright and special. 

from Rattle #71, Spring 2021
Tribute to Neurodiversity


Karen Downs-Barton: “I am a neurodiverse poet with dyslexia, dyspraxia, and memory impairment. I’m studying for an MA in creative writing at Bath Spa University with the support of a proofreader and personal assistant. They help to highlight areas of spelling and grammar that become muddled, misspelt or are expressed in the wrong order or when chunks of thoughts have been missed out. However, I feel the mistakes I make take on their own logic, the ‘made-up’ words and ‘strange’ connections feel free and keep me amused. Sometimes my mistakes acquire a beauty that disappears when brought in line with neuro-normal expression, and losing them leaves me despairing for the thin but acceptable renditions. However, that doesn’t get me through exams or the right side of assessments, so I wade on trying not to drown in spellings, punctuation, especially apostrophes that never allow me to understand them. As I came from a culture where females didn’t attend school regularly, my dyslexia went undiagnosed until I was an adult, so I’m always playing catchup, which is tiring. My particular form of dyslexia also affects verbal interaction, and the obligatory university poetry reading aloud takes on a whole level of palm-sweaty horror as I maul my own writing and go off on tangents.” (web)

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