Poems for Exploring Shame Series 1


It will get better — your cage of sorrows
Will squeak and open on its rusty hinge.  
Life, as it must, will insist upon itself
And you will rise up into a morning
You sometimes thought would never come.
There will be meadows and wide horizons,
Majestic trees giving shelter to your dreams.
You’ll hear laughter bubbling in a stream 
Where once all you heard was the drip, drip, drip
Of your hopeful tomorrows leaking away.

One day a friend you were certain was lost
Will stand in a doorway saying, “What kept you?”
The smug young smile that used to piss you off
Entirely gone from their journeyed eyes.

There will be touch. You will be held again —
The warmth in a body will be yours to claim
And the tears will come, tentative at first,
then like a downpour or the great monsoon,
vast and unstoppable, sweeping all away,
drenching and cleansing, restoring, healing.
At last, you will stand, as on a promontory,
the same as you were yet utterly transformed.   
O, it will get better — all this will pass.

© William Ayot
Written for Shame Q & A part 2 on 17th May 2021


This is Not a Poem…

This is not a poem that talks to itself,
that curls like a cat round the feet of academics.
It cherishes the raw, the inarticulate,
and speaks to the heartsore of what they pine for:
a friend in the dark, a sense of belonging,
the ability to look a mirror in the eye.

This is not a poem that seeks the attention
of those who measure themselves in print.
It speaks to the unseen, unloved and unpitied:
you on your ledge, or in your lonely room,
broken down by the cruelties of shaming —
You my friend, with your downcast eyes.  

This is not a poem that wins competitions,
that shapes wily words to a judge’s delight.
It pats the floor, says, “Sit here with me.
It’s okay, relax — let your head go down.
No need to speak, just stay with the feelings
that come from a life out there where it hurts.”

This is a poem that opens a door,
that sits in a circle and unpeels its failures —
that fesses up, says it knows that being alone
or bound in armour, is cool but not forever —
that it’s finally time to stop pretending:
to let go, to let be, to let grief do its work.

This is not a poem for you to take lightly.
It’s a call, a remembrance, a muttered prayer,
a salve for a wound, a point of honour,
a stretcher on a battlefield, a proffered hand.
This is a poem that dreams of forgiveness,
a poem that turns with you, turns for home.

© William Ayot
Written for Shame: Questions and Answers on 16th March 2021


On Opening a Door

For brothers and sisters what can we do
but take in the silent, trembling souls
that knock on the door, like ghosts in the night —

their wire-taught bodies, their helpless hands,
the stocks and the pillories they were tied to,
the head-down, pigeon-toed places they’ve stood
and the howling silences they have endured.  

For that’s what they bring. It’s in their eyes
as they scan the room for a sign of warning,
or in the fingers that reach for the button
they’ve learned to twist when they need to hide,
returning to the safe little, curled-up room
they found, one time they needed to survive.

Take them in and sit them down
tenderly hold them in a curious kindness.
No need to teach, no need to save,
no need to be anything more than with them.
This is the one sure gift we can give
the welcoming grace of unspoken compassion.

                                                       © William Ayot 
Written for Treating Shame, Tools and Techniques on 8th Feb 2021

                                                If Only

If only we could stop the clock
a second or two before the slap,
the sneering remark or the hateful lie
that cuts the shocked young soul adrift.

If only we could rest a hand,
say, things don’t have to be this way.
This shame need not be handed down,
dished out again, like tainted slops,
from that foul pail we call the past.

Perhaps if we could learn to bless
to lay a palm on a troubled brow,
to touch the heart, to shed a tear,
to know that when we look in an eye
we hold a soul for a quiet moment
in the cup of our calloused hands.

If only… If only… If only we could…
the world might be a kinder place.
The sacred, silver threads we sever
need never be cut, nor hearts be soured.
Our broken boys and our dull-eyed girls
would rise anew like morning gods —
upright, confident, hopeful, shining,
ready to take on the world… If only…                                          

© William Ayot 
Written for Treating Shame, Tools and Techniques on 8th Feb 2021

Other poems read on the event: Treating Shame, Tools and Techniques on 8th Feb 2021
Back to the Numbers by William Ayot, published in The Inheritance 
Take her Down by William  Ayot, published in The Inheritance 
To purchase see http://williamayot.com/shop/



I wanted to speak of friendship
But the words got stuck in my throat.
I couldn’t say what I wanted to say
And I couldn’t find the right note.

I wanted to say something tender
But I couldn’t get to the point;
Afraid of naming a darkness in him 
That would let him down or disappoint.

I wanted to praise his kindness,
His giving heart, his happy knack
Of easing the hunger in other folk 
When he so clearly felt the lack

But hailing virtue’s coin can show 
The false side and the counterfeit.
Painting him as a kind of saint
Would only make me a hypocrite.

The shadow that came over him
That led to us drifting apart
Was the kind of thing that gnaws the soul,
That fouls your dreams and soils your art.

So, selfishly I pulled away
To protect what I was saving,
And failed my friend towards the end,
Left him to what he was craving.

The last time that I spoke to him,
He was trapped, as if in a spell,
An empty coat upon a hook,
Caught in his own devouring hell.

Passings are a time for guilt
And funerals are made for regret
But we must honour partings too,
Let friendships go and learn to forget.

I’m not proud to have left him there
But I’m sure of what I’ve become.
I know my friend would understand
Even though he was overcome —

For I lived a dream he would not live
And dreaming found my own way
While helping me freed a part of him.
I was the one who got away.                           

© William Ayot
Written for the Shame and Betrayal evening on 11th Jan 2021

Counting The Marigolds 

The fist came out of nowhere
He was nine years old and running up the garden path,
excited as only a boy can be
when he sees his father coming home.

Daddy, Daddy. I scored a goal!
It caught him right on the button.
Something split and he could taste the metal in his blood
before he hit the ground.

He was staring at a bed of marigolds,
concentrating, counting leaves and petals,
when his father picked him up and looked him in the eye.

I must have told you a dozen times, he slurred.
Never leave yourself open.

© William Ayot
Published in The Inheritance
To purchase see http://williamayot.com/shop/

Other poems read on the Shame and Betrayal evening January 11th 2021
by William Stafford from The Way It Is.  Gray Wolf Press
The Practice of Mercy by Alden Nowlan from An Exchange of Gifts.  Irwin Publishing.

Two Ways of Looking at the World

“Enough! Don’t talk to me about feelings.
I just want to see that you can deliver.
Sharing and caring and mooning around
ain’t gonna shift the bottom line”.

Red faced, red eyed, with a ruddy complexion,
he’s a man who rarely looks in the mirror.
He’s got the latest Bentley in the garage
but his kids are no longer talking to him.
He doesn’t so much ask as demand,
and he talks like he’s driving a Sherman tank.

“Take no prisoners… We’re gonna kill’em…
It’s about destroying the competition.”                      

Tomoukhet’s a man of a different kind —
a drunk at fifteen, washed up at twenty,
he blagged and lied and stole his way to prison,
then found himself back on the reservation,
battered and scarred from a hundred brawls.

He cleaned up, turned forty, and found his god —
seeing the visions that Crazy Horse saw,
before the long years of degradation.

Nowadays he works with kids in the Nations:
teenage no-hopers, abandoned by the world,
glue sniffing, self-harming, tattooed youngsters —
the ones the forgotten people forget. 

Somehow, he reaches them, turns them around,
gives them back the eagle-feather of respect.

Tomoukhet talks about our way of life —
how shame and the greed for things takes over,
swallows you whole and then spits you out,
makes you less than the person that you were.
His view of the West and its hidden madness
is a sobering take on our runaway world.

Having been burned, and having helped others,
Tomoukhet, has a word for the state we’re in.
He sees our shame-driven waste and destruction
and adds in our hungers, our insatiable desires,
then drops in a twist of raw addiction; 
the shame and the hurt, the hurry and the harm.
He looks at our culture and all that drives it —
and then he names it — calls it the Sickness.

“So don’t talk to me about touchie-feelies…
I don’t care if it’s Christmas, just lay’em off…
Covid is over… It’s business as usual…
We’re gonna kill’em… This time its forever.”

© William Ayot

Two Ways of Looking at the World was written for the Shame and Relationships evening on 17th December 2020. 
The other poem read was It Turns and Softly Speaks from The Inheritance.  To purchase see http://williamayot.com/shop/

The Bridge

“Working with shame, like working with trauma,
must be done slowly and carefully.”  
Sheila Rubin

The bridge had been broken years before,
its pillars cracked, its arches fallen, 
masonry washed away, far down the valley:
some sidewall here, some pediment there,
memories of a structure that once held good.

Warily they met at the water’s edge —
practically within reach but miles apart.
As the current swirled darkly between them,
they beheld each other. Then one turned away.

Gingerly, however, they both came back,
barely sitting at first, gauging each other:
one crouched, trembling, grey eyes haunted,
the other collected though far from sure —
then gently dipping a toe into the stream;
asking a question, risking the rebuff,  
abiding as the slow sun sank behind the hills.

And so it began, block by stealthy block.
Rubble at first, raised on shaky scaffolding;
the occasional blunder or stony collapse —
a flinching followed by a hang-dog return —
spandrels fanning out above rebuilt piers;
buttresses, a keystone carried alternately;
finally a path that brought them together. 

Parting they both felt a pang of regret;
Grey-eyes grateful but bereft of words,
the other relieved of the borrowed shame
they had wrestled with as it took so long.

Walking up the path that led from the river,
they turned at the same time, to view the scene
Below them the span they’d constructed together
glowed like a blessing in a kind patch of light.
Finally, Grey-eyes waved and was gone —
sure that the bridge would still be there.  

© William Ayot

The Bridge was written for the Shame Abuse and Trauma evening on 12th November 2020. 
The other poems read on that evening were The Medical Room and Back To The Numbers.  Both these poems are in The Inheritance by William Ayot.  To purchase see http://williamayot.com/shop/

Shame Baby

“Shame is the root of all addictions.”       
John Bradshaw

In the mornings
his shame called out for medication —
the feelings inside, of churning revulsion,
of nauseous regret and crushing exposure,
were with him from the moment of waking
so that he slithered into his day…
On more than one occasion he threw up. 

Try as he might to pull himself together —
the shave, the shirts, the shining shoes,
the cleverly constructed carapace —
he knew — as only a shame baby knows —
that under the veneer of his perfection
lay the truth, an inexcusable mess;
a cess pit, a crawling sack of maggots.

The drink, though essential as time slid by,
was not a first choice. He didn’t like the taste.
What made him feel better was going to work:
not the commute but the losing of himself,
the sense of leaving some pursuer behind…
It could have been gambling, or food or sex,
but when he found vodka, it was all over.

He was feeling looser by eleven,
by lunch he was able to crack the odd joke.
As he finished work he’d look in the mirror
and wink at himself, on his way to the pub.
Happy hour was often just that, as near
as he got to comfort in his skin. Onetime,
he even believed he might be brilliant.

Later, he saw it was those evenings
that set him up to plummet into darkness —
the persistent strangers, the drinking friends,
the ‘back to my place’ the falling into bed.
What happened then was often forgotten,
or consigned to later, shame-grey dreams
though he knew, they knew, everybody knew.

And so he awoke, to his bodily reaction,
half remembering but needing to forget —
the bile in his throat, the acid belching;
the first drink that oiled the squirrel cage.
Like a gnawing rodent on a treadmill
he’d crank up his wheel for another day.
Frantic, feverish, fed on false promises —
never quite managing to get himself free.

© William Ayot

Shame Baby was written for The Engine of Shame evening on 12th October 2020
Other poems read at the Engine of Shame workshop were 
A Silence   William Ayot from Small Things That Matter
Out There by William Ayot from Email from the Soul


You can catch it in a lift —
on a crowded bus, on your way to work
or noticing a stranger in the street
who, catching your eye, looks down and away.

Sometimes it’s something someone says,
in a meeting, over dinner, even on a date.
Like a half-suppressed but barked-out sneeze
that sprays its lethal shower of droplets,
a single word can work its way inwards
connect with your own particular receptors,
primed by love and learning to receive —
each affected part infecting its neighbours
downwards and inwards, breaking in,
invading your body, cell by hapless cell,
leaving you diminished and overwhelmed.

No one’s immune, we’re all susceptible
it’s just a matter of who, when and how.
A scourge as toxic as Justinian’s plague
It’s in amongst us, this thing we call shame.

© William Ayot

Pandemic was written for The Hidden Face of Shame evening on 14th September 2020

The Stick and the Stone

It’s not the words that hurt,
it’s looking in the mirror; 
The daily call to self-scar or curse,
Meeting the same cold loathing in the eyes
Every day of your diminished life.

That’s when you need to cast around
For the tiny, two-leaved seedling in the soil,
That emerald shoot of determination ―
Forcing its way up, drawn by the light:
Rained on, blown down, trodden in the wreck
But still there, holding on ― a little green god
That pipes up for living, that carols the spirit,
That insists upon life in its every increase;
Blessing all things ― including itself;
Opening its boughs to the wind and the sky,
Plunging its roots into ever-deeper darkness,  
Singing into being the great tree of soul.

No, never the words ― 
But the daily struggle at the mirror:
The unavoidable seeing of one’s self,
The turning of old scorns into tolerance;
Of tolerance into lenity, of lenity into joy ―
The slow internal alchemy that is love.

© William Ayot
Written for the evening You Can’t Outshame Shame – Exploring Toxic Shame and Compassion on 25th May 2020

Thanks to Online Events for organising these events

To see William Ayot’s website and purchase his published books go to http://williamayot.com/