Onion Poem

By Jessica Traynor

Lately I can’t stop thinking of the nun’s
yearly speech in school assembly
about peeling another layer of the onion
and how I feel I’m trapped
between the onion’s bitter layers –
this layer, the ball of uncried tears
my mother says is the cause of my asthma,
this layer, the skin of youth,
lifting and cracking to scuttle
across my kitchen floor,
this one, the taste I wake with
after another night of constant feeding,
my baby satisfied, but I am I am I am
always thirsty,
then this spindle at the centre
one end rooting, one end browning into rot.
It always struck me as a brutal metaphor –
to tear away the onion’s peach-fuzz membrane –
was the word that sang
in my mind, which when I looked it up
turned out to mean slicing the skin or meat
from a carcass
, and yes, that is what happened to us,
the whole school body,
we were flensed into adulthood –
pearl-skins falling from us,
and no one allowed to cry.


Directed by Matthew Thompson.

"Onion Poem" by Jessica Traynor from Pit Lullabies (Bloodaxe Books, 2022). Reproduced with permission of Bloodaxe Books. www.bloodaxebooks.com