Young Poet in Residence 2023 in collaboration with Hive South Yorkshire
Luke Worthy is a queer poet and fiction writer from Sheffield now based in Amsterdam. His work has been published in journals and anthologies including Poetry Wales, Youth Word Up, Surfing the Twilight (2019) and Dear Life (2022). He was shortlisted for the New Poet’s Prize 2021 and has been commissioned to write a piece of children’s literature for Leeds 2023. Luke is an alumnus of Sheffield Young Writers and a member of Hive Poetry.
For his residency with Sheaf Poetry Festival 2023, Luke wrote the commissioned poem Tun State, inspired by our festival theme of ‘Brains and Consciousness.’ Read the poem watch Luke reading it below.
I cycle east to a museum on microbes, nestled
in the type of neighbourhood you walk around pretending
you can afford to live there. By the entrance,
school kids are all noise wishing this was the zoo.
In room one, mould is raving through an unsuspecting
brown loaf. Bacteria embalmed in petri-dishes line
the walls like platinum EPs. Screens show
mitochondria tinselling the body’s coral, nuclei
chugs DNA, as if wanting to divide and forget,
like the cells that sprout tendrils to reach out and grab.
I move on, I know why I’m here – for the tardigrades.
I find them in the centre of an air-conditioned room,
in an enclosure no smaller than a bottle cap. I peer
through the scope, see an entire phylum of comets
bound in orbit, chubby, comma-shaped bears letting us
gaze at their tiny, translucent lives. They suckle
the jelly from each other, pad through the whiteness
like floating stairs, marshmallow accordions spinning
out a quiet wish. I stand there a while, try to listen. I want
to know what they want, why they are here?
I’m about to leave when a scientist leans over, says
they’re actually dying you know.
The light is scorching them. He’s smug, as if it was him
that coaxed them onto the machine with his algae-filled
pipette. I watch as they begin rolling
themselves up in glowing shields across the pyre,
hallowing themselves into crypts. I’ve been good
my whole life. Closeted myself when asked, never jumped
a loo turnstile. Discoloured my ass with Nair. But I know
a puddle, slick with lichen. And like those campaigners,
who break into Seaworld to take the orcas back out to the ocean,
I’ll free these tardigrades, tell their pea-milk souls that soon,
humans will be gone, and there’ll be no monarchy, no
water taxation, no rising in dark rooms for false Gods.
Just stillness. Moss. Eggs.