The Mad, Sad, Rad Collection by Beatrice Willoughby

09 Nov 2016
The Mad, Sad, Rad Collection by Beatrice Willoughby

Beatrice Willoughby’s poems “The Mad, Sad, Rad Collection” were nominated by PEN South Africa for the 2016 PEN International New Voices Award, along with James Clarke’s short story “Old Iron”. PEN Afrikaans nominated Frederick J Botha and his story “Please Help, God Bless”.

Read “The Mad, Sad, Rad Collection” below and our Q&A with Willoughby here.

The Colgate Cure

I like to brush my teeth.

I like the feeling of sins forgiven:

That extra cup of coffee, that red wine, the fizzy coke too,
all so very, very bad.

But a mere gosh-gosh – the electric bristles absolve, purify, cleanse.

That smoker you kissed, that garlic bread you relished in onion relish,

All so very, very bad.
All those things you said while three gins down,
About your breasts, about life’s deeper meaning,
about James Joyce being a bore,

Can all be scrubbed away,
gargled into oblivion,
flossed into atonement,

With the freeing feeling of the Colgate cure.

My Father the Glowworm

I collected glowworms as a child.
By the light of the sleepy sun I selected the biggest,
puffy-bellied larvae with neon bodies wriggling in the twilight,
found refuge in the nustersham leafed floors of my ice-cream tub enclosure.

But the glowworms didn’t stay glowworms.
Like you, that was just a disguise,
so that when I came to examine the bite marks,
I found dusty-skinned moths instead.

The glowworms had moved on,
I was never their keeper,
Just as you were never mine.

Driving with dad

To doom we drove,
To small country towns quivering with heat,
To men with sharp objects jutting from skinny chins,
To late suppers of undrained pasta,
To child-unfriendly parties that went on and on,
To sofas I cried myself to sleep on,
To waking with a dashboard-bashed head,
To your sickbed,
To your death bed,
To the authorisation of your departure
To your waxy, gaping face
To many a fatherless Fathers Day
To separate destinations:

You and I.

For my sisters, now passed

I pull away from sleep
I pull back my bedhead hair,
And pull myself into the bracing predawn blackness.

Back punch, back punch, drop kick, drop kick
Sweat drips down but I get up
Sit up, sit up, push up, push up
Slippery skin shivers, sinew struggles

Not for skinny jeans.
Not for the skinny genetics I don’t have
But for my sisters, now passed, who
Spent their lives trapped in crinkly crinoline
While men played cricket in comfy jodhpurs

I crunch for the corseted, the frilled, the hatted
I perspire for the sidelined and the side-saddled
I punch for the petticoated princesses, the hatted housewives, and the frocked femme

I tighten my torso for the tightly clamped knees hobbling in hobble skirts
I bob my greasy ponytail for the primped, the plaited, the pressed and the oppressed
I move my body freely in elasticated unfrilled lycra
For my sisters, now passed, who kick off their scratchy slippers in pride.

It’s not for me.

It’s talking till the waiter throws down his apron
+++cheese and wine on a mountaintop
+++you in sweat soaked squash shirt; it’s me in those short-shorts
+++phones off, lights off, pants off
+++crumpled sheets and sheepish grins

It’s mute digesting till the waiter raises an eyebrow
+++“Can’t make sundowners, working late.”
+++you in those stained tracksuit bottoms, it’s me in flannel pajamas
+++lights on, specs on, holey socks on
+++straight sheets and sheepless glances

It’s “love”; it’s not for me.

Lonely Heart Column

Short, sarcastic blonde seeks unavailable, unattainable well-proportioned male with a fear of commitment. Indifferent, arrogant and cold natures welcome. Existing partner optional, emotional scarring essential.

To express an interest, don’t.


I am an independent woman and I answer to no one.

Except for my bladder.


It started with my father’s shoulder

in the late afternoon warmth,
perfectly crooked in the square of his rusty beetle’s window.

My mother saw his shoulder,
saw his suitcase-brown eyes,
saw his large forehead,

saw me

Now, looking in the mirror,
I see his shoulder,
see his suitcase brown eyes,
see his large forehead,
looking back at me

And I think:
how clever, how foolish
how thoughtful, how thoughtless,
to have left behind these mementos


yes i’m low
low like the
lip beneath
your nose
like the
dirt beneath
your feet
beneath your
because you’re
not the one
making me
low now
i lower
myself down
to the ground
now I’m
low cos
i said so
not low
your thumb
i’m low
and i’m high
because of it.

The Unwanted Want

I want the want, the wrong, the wicked, the weird
I want the thing that goes bump in the night,
the sickly sweet,
the bad that feels good,

I want the wanton, the wild, the warning
I want the sticky, the sweaty, the blood and the bones
I want the bare breasted, tightfisted star-crossed kiss
I want sinew between my teeth,

I want flesh beneath my nails,
tissue beneath my fangs,
spit beneath my tongue

I want like a hunter, a hit man, a homicide
I want it primitive, basic, debased and faceless
I want the unwanted want

Let go

I want to thank you for cutting me loose,
For freeing me from the noose
Of your love.

I want to thank you for releasing the harness,
For making a carcass
Of my love.

I want to thank you for letting me cry till I thirsted for mercy,
For leaving me in that coffee shop – unworthy
Of your love.

I want to thank you for letting go
For letting me make the twine, cable and rope
Of my love.

I want to thank you:
For now I am my own harness,
And I won’t ever let go
Of my love.

Fast Sleep

I think you must be some kind of perfect;
Head pressed against the only pillow you allow,

Honey-bodied like a Cadbury favourite,
Icecap eyes – the kind that sink ships;
Keep on looking, never surrender,
You never do,

Even when sleep descends,
Even when you drop beneath it,
Even when red stains your pupils,
Even then,

Your skin still skips to the beat of an unbeaten heart,

You play the game,
You always do,
I think it’s what makes you,