When I was 19, I was given the opportunity to spend a year studying in California. It was the first time I had ever been on a long-haul flight and nothing seemed real when I stepped off the plane. I looked at the long, straight roads stretching into the distance and the acid-green palm trees against a fluorescent blue sky and felt that I could be anyone I wanted there, which was anyone but me.
‘You, Very Young in New York’ captures that tangle of youth, longing and possibility. In America, none of my actions felt as if they had any consequences; I lived purely in the present. I chased the illusion of limitlessness, as if every possibility in the world was open and anything could happen, to counteract the way I felt in London, of doors being closed because I didn’t have any money, or lineage, or cultural capital; as if everything about me was wrong.
This poem encapsulates that feeling; of being young and out of place in a big city, feeling a sense of possibility and a hunger to do something with it, while also being dimly aware of your own limitations. It holds the bruised longing of waiting for something important to happen to you and the stinging realisation that perhaps you aren’t important at all.
“You stand around
On the same street corners, smoking, thin-elbowed
Looking down avenues in a lime-green dress
With one arm raised
waiting to get older.”
First published in Three Poems, Faber, 2018. A recording of Hannah Sullivan reading the poem is available online here