Tuesday 3 May 2022

Sarah James, "Blood Sugar, Sex, Magic"

Sarah James is a prize-winning poet, fiction writer, journalist and photographer, also published as Sarah Leavesley. Her poetry has featured in the Guardian, Financial Times and Poems of the Decade 2011-2020: An Anthology of the Forward Books of Poetry 2011-2020, as well as in a cafĂ© mural, on the BBC, on buses and in the Blackpool Illuminations. She is the author of eight poetry titles, an Arts Council England-funded multimedia hypertext poetry narrative > Room, two novellas and a touring poetry-play. Winner of the Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine 2020, the manuscript for Sarah’s latest collection Blood Sugar, Sex, Magic (Verve Poetry Press 2022) won the CP Aware Award Prize for Poetry 2021. In her spare time, Sarah is a keen walker, cyclist and swimmer, especially enjoying nature outdoors. Meanwhile, her spare room is home to V. Press, publishing award-winning poetry and flash fiction. Her website is here.

About Blood Sugar, Sex, Magic

Blood Sugar, Sex, Magic is award-winning poet Sarah James’s exploration of forty years living with type one diabetes, a life-threatening autoimmune condition that is now treatable, but remains incurable. The collection tracks her personal journey from diagnosis, age six, to adulthood, including the high and the low points, as well as the further long-term health risks lurking in the background. These are poems of pain, but also of love and beauty, taking in motherhood, family, nature, aging and establishing self-identity in a constantly updating world. The route to some kind of acceptance and belonging may be troubled by ‘trying to escape’ but it also ‘holds / more light than your eye / will ever know.’ The manuscript for Blood Sugar, Sex, Magic won the CP Aware Award Prize for Poetry 2021 and the collection is available from Verve Poetry Press here.

From Blood Sugar, Sex, Magic, by Sarah James

Thick-skinned, Thin-fleshed

on diabetes type 1

In the old young days: piss
          on diastix, and a glass syringe
twice the length of my palm.

On the children’s ward, I practised
          on thick oranges. Pushing a needle
through the fruit’s peel was so

unlike the ice-cold sting
          of pressing it through my own
thin-fleshed skin, the weight

of glass in my hand, pushing
          the plunger home. This sterilised
in my mum’s special saucepan,

while I played houses, and childhood.
          Later, lighter plastic for injections,
then a cannula and pump.

Blood tests now, for precision.
          Fingertips pricked to a scarred
numbness. For thirty-five years,

the red of life with a glint of steel.
          Each needle’s point etches
my mind; my body’s rubbed hard

by time. I carry the condition’s
          sharp sweetness in my blood;
its other daily stabs as invisible

as genetics. My fingers are a scabby
          black braille of blood-test marks,
and the smell of man-made insulin.

This wet dependence is survival.


He starts with a well-placed breath,
hint of a tingle blown gently
across the nape of my neck.

And again. I am a mouth-organ
with many quivering reeds;
silent vibrations amplify inside.

One by one, he un-hooks each bone
of my spine, lower, lower,
and still no lip-touch, no kisses, not

a single brush of finger on skin,
but oh, the soft rush of air,
the slow – fast, fast – slow press

of his presence. I breathe
seduction in.

Along the Edge

Living beside the canal towpath, every day brings doorstep birdsong, frogs and the water’s glisten, pulling me closer.

Moorhens snip the surface; a swan ruffles up a lace dress with her feather-stitched wake towards her reed-moored nest. Shimmering light hides the fast paddling beneath, the deeper flit of fish, and other sunken secrets – rusted metal re-sculpted by weed.

This evening, the hedgerow is a chorus of bird chatter and May blossom. Snazzy bulrushes and tall grasses sway to the late hours’ slow jazz.

As I watch from the footbridge, the sun’s touch warms my skin: a thin layer of amber silks across everything still within the day’s reach.

Here, I’ve no need for frog-princes – the canal carries my love without spilling.

Before night seals over, time skips a single heartbeat. It’s just long enough for me to lift my arms like wings, and dream the ease of quiet flight: rising as high as a whooper swan, looping and curving with the water, but always returning to this, my reed-moored home.

                                                                                     sleep is a ripple
                                                                                     of unseen breaths; a lone owl
                                                                                     hoots through the darkness

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