Martin Hayes

Martin Hayes

Martin Hayes has worked in the courier industry for 30 years. His latest collection is The Things Our Hands Once Stood For, published by Culture Matters.

they want all our teeth to be theirs
Saturday, 20 November 2021 12:32

they want all our teeth to be theirs

Published in Poetry

they want all our teeth to be theirs

by Martin Hayes

they want from us total commitment
they want from us our blood and our hunger
they want from us our flesh
inked with the company's logo on our chest
they want our knuckles to our brains
and all the nerve-ends in between
switched off
they want our sinews and our muscles sewn together with steel thread
so that we can only move when they pull their levers
they want all of our teeth to be theirs
so that we can only chew when they chew
ache when they ache
they want us to show them where we keep our guts
so that they can sneak in under the radar
and pull them apart
angry thread by angry thread
until nothing is held
or stitched together anymore

and what do we want?

we want to be able to walk through the park on a Saturday afternoon
without feeling anxious
we want to be able to lay out on the grass
drinking ice cold beer while looking up into the sky
without worrying about office politics
we want to swim in the ocean once a year
and know how we are going to pay for it
we want a mouth full of teeth
that we know we can afford to get fixed or capped
if ever they should go rotten
we want to be able to enjoy the laughter and song
that comes from having food in the fridge the electricity bill paid
a car taxed and full of diesel
a medicine cabinet filled with floss sticks and Sudocrem
paracetamol and hand cream
Bonjela hair-bands Diazepam and Ansol

we want to be able to live in our block
without the fear of being redistributed
hanging like thick drool dripping from a councillor's panting mouth
because an entrepreneur took him for a £500 dinner
and promised him a place for his kid in the prep school
that will take our council flats place
alongside the £65-a-month gym business units
and 1.5 million-pound lofts

we want to feel
be able to say to ourselves
that we are human
and not have to give everything of that away
just so we are allowed to work
just so we are allowed
to exist

This poem is one of the winners of the 2021 Bread and Roses Poetry Award, sponsored by Unite, and they want all our teeth to be theirs is the title of the forthcoming anthology.

Afghan Ali
Saturday, 28 August 2021 06:47

Afghan Ali

Published in Poetry

Afghan Ali – courier call sign CH Four-Three-Eight

by Martin Hayes

he lays flatbreads over a bare gas flame in a shared kitchen above a Spar in Walthamstow
filling them with dreams that their mother used to fill them with better
before she lost her head to the Aegean Sea
his son makes weird noises in his sleep which he puts down to being lost
but if you ask the son he’ll tell you that it’s because he stays awake in his sleep
tying torches to trees
so that he can better help guide the American drones away
from his street

she goes to school in a flock of hijabs
to learn about mathematics and physics
how if you split an atom apart it can release so much energy it can melt skin
no matter what colour it is
or how strong the bones are underneath

in home economics she learns about waste
how it needs to be recycled
rather than put in landfill or tipped into the sea
like her mother was

before he logs on to courier for us at 8 he cleans toilets between 4 and 6 am
for a company whose owner puts £600,000 a year into the pockets of a network that spends our tax money developing systems that can let a bomb drop from two thousand feet
right on top of his grandmother’s head
just so he can get a tax break

she carves cat flaps out of her arm
because she’s been told so often how ugly the colour of her needy blood is
that she’s started believing it
and wants to let all of that animal out of her

there were only three of them left
when once there were four
and scores of others they could name

before there were even trees
their mother used to call out to from the kitchen window
but all of their leaves are gone now too
I don’t know
but I can imagine only the bare arms of those trees are left
for them to hold onto

Ali used to drive for Uber but when the pandemic hit the need for drivers dropped through the floor. A mate of his who was doing work picking up test-kits from care homes gave him my number. He called me one day back in June or July of last year and asked for a job. We got him signed up and we both hit it off – soon after that we started speaking on a daily basis – he speaks to me about his shit and I tell him about my shit – he is always worried about his children – I am always worried about my job – we both want them to be safe but realise that they are, ultimately, outside of our control.

We have worked together now on this covid shit for over a year – he used to call me Mr Boss but as we have got to know each other over the year he has plugged in to my winceing and cringing about things like that – he now calls me Mr White Man Boss – and now I call him, rather than Ali, Afghan Ali – we take the piss out of each other – he tells me he thinks that I have a small dick because anyone so wrapped up in their work doing so many hours as I do can’t be doing it in the bedroom ‘for the lady’ – I offer to show it him – he says I’m gay – that back where he comes from men like me get decapitated in sports arenas – I tell him back that where I come from men like him get shit put through their letterbox and slogans spray-painted on their doors – he says back – fuck, you think I don't know that Mr White Man Boss – I live in Walthamstow, above a Spar!

He doesn’t have a wife because she drowned in the Dardanelles Straits when they were trying to get away from Afghanistan and had got that far that they were ‘this far’ from leaping away from Turkey into Greece and then it’d be easier then to get through into Europe – ‘but then that happened’ he says, ‘I held the two kids’ heads up above the water but didn’t have any left over for hers…’ It's almost impossible sometimes, to deliver a poem about a life lived like Ali's - so what do you do? Do you write the poem or do nothing about you do nothing and let none of it be said? Or do you attempt this...

A great struggle to set something free: Ox poems
Tuesday, 09 March 2021 09:14

A great struggle to set something free: Ox poems

Published in Poetry

Martin Hayes presents 5 poems from Ox, his new collection. All images by Gustavius Payne

Ox trust

the oxen bought tickets to the annual oxen versus goats football match
which though having stellar meaning in the ox and goat world
nevertheless had to be played in a secret location
because oxen and goats are not allowed to play football anymore - silly

none of the goats were as forward thinking as the oxen
who because they were armed with infinitesimally bigger brains
had gone and got themselves a coach

the coach was not an ox
or a goat
but an ex-Farmer
who had fallen foul of The National Bank Of Farmer’s interest rates
losing everything

being on hard times
he’d answered an advert in the paper
and after one single clandestine meeting
landed the job
of becoming the oxen’s new football coach

he coached at a higher standard
than any goat or ox had ever done
and tactically
he was aeons ahead of all the goats and oxen
who all had clods for brains

all of the oxen were so happy and excited
they felt sure that with the ex-Farmer’s help
they were going to inflict the heaviest defeat on the goats
in history

on the night before the match
just after the team had been selected
it was revealed to the ex-Farmer
the secret location of tomorrow’s match
and as soon as the coast was clear
the ex-Farmer dialled the manager of The National Bank Of Farmers
offering him information
that would make him very important indeed
but only if The National Bank Of Farmers
gave him back
his farm

at the secret location
all the oxen and goats were slaughtered on the spot
and the only evidence
was the following unfinished sentence
scraped into the floor in blood
by what looked like an oxen’s hoof

once a farmer
always a far…



Ox in hunger worries about his colleague Mole

the starter
a torn-out tongue
tender with the years of grubby language
softening up its muscle

the Earth’s platter
spread with the scorched heads of its occupants mouths agape
stuck in charred-black laughter
from the high temperatures of a sudden cooking

loosened teeth
to be sucked clean of their leftover gum-flesh
hanging on to their upturned roots
as an ache inherits the mouths of all those that are left

the wine
blood upon blood
deep as the dark of Moles’ eyes
after culling

then later
the cream of white fat opened up at Orgreave beautifully rendered
beaten soft and silky
to drip like victory down their iron throats

the feast is never over never done
Ox’s tail still wags within its bones
but he knows it won’t be long
before Farmer will work out a way
to snap it open get in there
and lick at the marrow of his insides



a night in the leaky barn

this Ox and this Cow ate each other
it wasn’t ordered or planned or anything
they just became bored one night
and stoked up a hell of a hunger

gradually he chewed up all of her smiles
kept them in his intestines like eggs in a nest
she delighted in teasing his words
into the microwave
where she nuked them
into seeping bulging-eyed monsters
he munched on her eyes until all she could see was the back of his throat
she steamed away his tongue for that
he filleted of her womb to get her back
she peeled back the rind of his sternum
and licked on the marrowy insides like it were an ice-lolly
he uprooted both of her legs
then sank in up to his neck, the Hyena
she just laid back and laughed louder
sucking clean the mango stone she’d found in his head
he put his hands inside her stomach
and clenched them to fists as tight as he could
she jumped up and down on his eyeballs
as though she was beating meat
he put in the oven her nails and teeth
she brought out her blender and blitzed his penis

he said he was full now
she said she was tired
and besides
it wasn’t fun anymore

so they fell asleep
what was left fitted tightly up against what was left
and never woke up again

until morning
when the strapping into their ploughs
diverted their hunger away
from each other

Ox gets a visit from social services

they visited him once
never needed to knock
the leaky barn not being his
doors were left off latch
inside the filth afflicted
no pictures nailed the wall to yearn a lost heart
and not one but sixty of them stood
swishing their tails staring
at what the walls might bring their still beating hearts
language was not chucked around this place uselessly
everyone knew only one word none of them could quell
none of them!
they were prisoners of their own song
Hunger it was called



Ox dealing with the light

when light comes in through the cracks in the leaky barn
it hurt Ox’s eyes

when light reflects off the steel handle of Farmer’s thwacking stick
Ox’s flanks quiver and tremble

when the low morning light of the sun
reflects off the puddles in the yard
Ox’s heart sinks

when moonlight
bathes the dusty roots with its magic
Ox tosses and turns
thinking that a great spell is being placed upon him

and when the lights of the abattoir
burn through the night from a distance
looking like a search party
coming to the rescue
Ox hasn’t a clue
that is where it will all end

which all helps to prove
when you see an ox
momentarily pause in a field
swishing his head from side to side
like in a great struggle to set something free
there’s no need to worry
about the revolution starting anytime soon
because all it is
is Ox pretending again
that he’s got something going on up there
when really there is only blackness and fog
and the pain from all of this light

Ox is available here.

Ox and The Great Big Identity Trick
Tuesday, 18 August 2020 10:48

Ox and The Great Big Identity Trick

Published in Poetry

Ox and The Great Big Identity Trick

by Martin Hayes

Ox wants more food in his bowl
he wants the hours he spends strapped into Farmer’s plough

Hen wants to lay her eggs
au naturel
not forced out of her
by a billion-pound industry
who keeps mucking around with the light

Raven wants to hunt Worm
sitting in a tree of an early morning squawking up at the sun
coaxing the blues out of her black back
rather than having to stand on a slag-heap
pecking through plastic to get at the proteins and fat
she needs to carry on her struggle

Pig doesn’t want to be boxed into a shed and fed pellets
that bloats and makes her develop fat deposits
in places she doesn’t want
she wants to be left alone
to snort and rummage through the scrub
until she becomes naturally fat
for slaughter

that, she can handle

Cow wants to fall in love with Ox
her milk to be a secret
only shared with her offspring
not to be artificially inseminated
by any old oxen’s sperm
over and over again
so that all she has become
in some eyes
is a walking barrel of milk

Kestrel wants to glide
high up in the blue and everlasting
looking for things he can push back his wings at
then nosedive
not this slag-heap of dead dreams and boiling landfills
filled with the rubbish of one-eyed men
who think they are king

Hare doesn’t care
Hare just darts about
here and then there
running as fast as he can
hoping that nothing will catch him
like it seems to have caught everyone else

every animal on the farm
wants what they want
as Farmer sits in the safety of his farmhouse
laughing away at his luck
as not only does God obviously love him
but it seems that all the animals
have fallen for The Great Big Identity Trick
become so wrapped up in themselves
that they’ll never get together now
to burn his farmhouse down

The election: the intern
Thursday, 28 November 2019 19:27

The election: the intern

Published in Poetry

the intern

by Martin Hayes

the intern brought in to help the HR department
organise the warning letters and counselling session minutes
that they leave in big piles on their desks
not having the time to tidy them away into the staff’s files
because they’re too busy writing up warning letters
or chairing counselling sessions
eats rice crackers
and cucumber discs for lunch
because, she says, she can’t afford much else
what with her being on a ‘travel expenses only’ contract
whilst she’s trying to get some experience under her belt
packing up her CV with ticks and hits
which Chantelle, the mother-of-three telephonist, who’s
sharper than the edge of a sword
sucks her teeth up and tells her across the lunch table
that she's fucking mental
working for just the fare in and back home
and then she asks who pays for that?
where do you live?
which the intern explains is complicated
what with all her family living up North
not having enough to sort her out with her own room
so she’s sort of in between homes at the moment
but reckons that the next month is sorted
because she’s shacked up with a bloke she met at Pride - she’s not stupid
and a month is usually the length of time
before they get fed up with you not paying much rent
swerving everything to do with money
to which Chantelle says back
fuck that for a game of soldiers
but the intern tells her not to worry
because it’s only for another 9 months
and then she’ll have clocked up
the 2-years-minimum experience you need
before you can even apply for an HR job
a proper one
one that actually pays
which will help her clear off some of her debt
how she’s looking forward to that
to getting some peace and stability back into her life
some of her self respect back

just hopes she’ll be able to find one
that a company hasn’t got an intern doing
on a ‘travel expenses only’ contract

The proliferation of unpaid internships continues unabated. Companies think that a person needs to have years of ‘experience’ first before they can be offered a salaried job. But you can only get ‘experience’ if you do the job. Whatever happened to entry-level jobs, to apprenticeships, to 13-week probation periods? For years all of these were adequate systems in which a ruthless company could remove a new employee, and without much fuss, if they thought that a new employee wasn’t showing any promise in the role they had been taken on for and were being paid to learn.

The solution nowadays though is different – all the costs have been removed for the company, with the introduction of unpaid internships. But this takes away the opportunity for vast swathes of working-class people to get into journalism, fashion, the media, HR, accountancy, recruitment, even some sports-related carers now require a stint of ‘slavery’ first. And purely because they don’t have enough money behind them, or families with enough disposable wealth to support them while working 2 to 4 years in an unpaid internship. It's a type of slavery that only the well-off can afford to endur, leaving the working class behind to pick up the scraps, take a job in the gig economy, do nothing, become more disillusioned, or if they are lucky, hit it off with a mate of a mate's dad or uncle who needs a landscape gardener for the summer, at £80 cash in the palm three days a week.

But it’s not always like that. Those working-class young people who do have the guts to venture out on the path of an internship – to follow their dreams – they go to great lengths of cunning and quickly learn the dark arts of survival if they are to stand even a chance of making it through to the end. This is a poem about one of those people.

Mayday poem: hearts bigger than the sun
Wednesday, 01 May 2019 14:07

Mayday poem: hearts bigger than the sun

Published in Poetry

hearts bigger than the sun

by Martin Hayes

Chaplin had it
Keaton had it
and Laurel and Hardy had it

Lucas has it
as he walks in early for work
with a flask and Tupperware box full of sandwiches under his arm
with ‘mornings’ and ‘alright mates’
spilling out of him like birdsong
before he sits down at his workstation
spreading it out across the whole room

Rajesh has it
as he dances across the control room floor
turning and spinning like he’s in his favourite Bollywood movie
tapping colleagues on the shoulder
before leaning down next to them
and peering at them with bulging eyes
doing that thing with his head
from side to side
while wagging fingers at them
before spinning off again
and making himself a cup of tea

Ashley has it
as she sits at her phone station
every now and then letting that laugh of hers out into the air
dirty and gravelly as a docker’s
that burrows in through our ears
so that it swims in and around our muscles and our veins and our stomachs
warming up our entire systems

Antoine has it
as he sits at his desk
carrying on imaginary conversations with the controllers
while it’s roaring busy and the phones constantly ringing
about how he thinks those controllers
haven’t had sex in months
or proper kissed a girl since they were teenagers
things totally unrelated to work
that dissipates all of the pressure
and can make you feel
like you’re in a school playground once again
rather than in a control room
trying to protect your job

they are the only things they’ve got left
that haven’t been taken away from them yet
that despite the snide comments and threats
the traps they set
for them to fall over
in the third year of a pay freeze
with the purchase of the CEO’s shiny new Bentley
sitting outside in the yard
hasn’t broken them yet

these hearts of theirs
bigger than the sun
spreading their heat and light out
pulling everyone up
by the scruffs of their necks
this magical spirit of theirs
that keeps on pumping keeps on
laughing its magic
even when everything else around us seems to be falling apart
and designed
to make us give up

where once there was grass
Thursday, 18 April 2019 15:35

where once there was grass

Published in Poetry

where once there was grass

by Martin Hayes

the yellow and green of the ambulance
used to be all white
with just one single blue light
on the top of it

the boys used to swedge a little in the parks
fisticuffs and a boot in the guts
not saying that’s right
but at least they used to go to bed of a night
and were just about able
to rise up again next day
drink R Whites
and pull on a pair of Filas

the bobbies’ uniforms
used to be a slightly lighter
shade of blue
but they never used to wear
the armour
the Magnum side-zipped Panther boots
the steel extendable baton
the breast camera and pepper spray
the stab vests and Batman belts

TO USE police line do not cross

the blue and white cordoning-off tape
used to be yellow and black
and when you saw it
it was like this great thing had happened
that drew you in like a magnet
but now
when you see the blue and white tape
being hung around the kids’ necks
and again
you just swerve it
cross to the other side of the road
avoiding it like an annoying neighbour
so that your heart doesn’t have to drop
and splinter
a little bit more

things change
progress deems it so
a plastic society fed plastic dreams
gets dislocated
and dislocated

until it hangs like a useless leg
that no one can feel
or wants to be a part of

until a girl can’t even sit in a park
without fear of getting stabbed
until lives
keep disappearing
up into the air like smoke
and you can’t stop asking yourself
who can put these vicious fires out
where once there was grass

 1st Choice phorensic man in park

Free the peas!
Friday, 22 February 2019 16:29

where we got the importance of peas from

Published in Poetry

where we got the importance of peas from

by Martin Hayes

there have always been jobs
ever since we were able to stand up
and grew hands
things to clean things to cook
things to count things to watch
things to tie up
like shoes and birthday presents
things to iron
like shirts and petticoats
things that need fixing things that need sorting
things that need making and things that need breaking

but the jobs I’m talking about
are the jobs you see the dustman doing
and the doctor doing
and the fireman doing
and the woman at the checkout in the supermarket doing
and the man behind the counter who brings you your chicken nuggets doing

those jobs are not household jobs
but jobs that people get paid for
so that they can pay for a roof
to go over your head
or for water and electricity
to keep you warm
or for food and fruit
so you can eat
or a train set
or a bicycle
so you can play
or a trip to the cinema
or a new pair of shoes
so you can live

those jobs
believe it or not
we’re created by the pea

I know
it sounds impossible doesn’t it
but when a pea is born
it is born in a pod
along with lots of other peas

and one day
it was realised that peas were very special indeed
so everyone set about trying to get as many peas behind them as possible
because the more they had
the more it made them feel safe and warm

so important did the peas become
that competitions were set up
to see who could build a pile of peas
the highest

some were very good at this
and won competition after competition after competition
until they had so many peas
that nobody else had any left

so the winners of the competitions
created jobs for the losers of the competitions
to do

and when they’d been done
they paid them with a few peas
but only enough
so that they could eat
or rent a roof to live under

and when they ate
or paid for their roof to live under
they paid for them with peas

the same peas they’d been given
for doing their jobs
until they had no peas left again
until they had done more jobs
and earned a few more peas

so the winners of the competitions
always got their peas back

and this has been going on for centuries
and doesn’t look like
it will ever change
in the centuries to come
unless someone does something
about the importance of peas


Universal Credit: the telephonist who works under 16 hours a week
Tuesday, 27 November 2018 13:12

Universal Credit: the telephonist who works under 16 hours a week

Published in Poetry

the telephonist who works under 16 hours a week

for Unite's day of action against Universal Credit, 1 December

by Martin Hayes

there is a hole in her hull
and she is tilting in the harbour,
unable to go out to sea any more,
because the captain abandoned ship
leaving behind two crew,
she is letting in water
and every month the hole just gets bigger.

she has a leaking hull
and she doesn’t know what to do,
the system doesn’t seem to want to allow her
to fix it,
because after she has paid for the mooring costs
and the interest on the loan she took out
to buy a new set of sails
there is never enough left over to buy
any wood and nails, tar and brushes,
that would help her patch it up, stem
the flow
of the water.

all she wants
is to become seaworthy again,
but it seems the system is designed
to make her wait,
to fill in form after form online
that no one ever answers,
causing her hole to get even bigger,
letting in more water,
ruining her furnishings
and spoiling all of the food on board
so that there is nothing left to sleep on
or eat anymore.

now that she is in this mess
the system doesn’t seem to want to allow her
to mend her hull
preferring instead
to make her wait under the harbour lights
not knowing what is going on
so that she tilts even more
until she finally takes on so much water
that she will go under
and sink to the bottom of the harbour
along with the rest of the wrecks.

National Poetry Day: Fuck Off Darlings
Thursday, 04 October 2018 07:46

National Poetry Day: Fuck Off Darlings

Published in Poetry

fuck off darlings

by Martin Hayes

fuck off with your award-winning
fuck off with your writer groups
fuck off with your plastic covers of books that contain no heart
no guts
fuck off with your equations and rules
your blank little spaces that are supposed to represent a women's breath
a man's sweat
fuck off with your readings and open mic events
your slaps on the back
your reach-arounds
fuck off with your ‘suffering’ radar
it is so busy
fuck off with your dead pets your dead mothers who stitched
seahorses into your duvets and dressing gowns
and fuck off to your pieces that are so PC on-point
PC is stuck in your throats like a bunch of frogs
and whenever any of you speak
all we get is the same croak
the same storm of words
we need
a different raging
other than your obscure metaphors
your complicated words
and your irrelevant plots

we need you now
more than ever
but all you can do is paint pictures of seas crashing onto beaches that no one will ever sit on
littered with stars that no one can see
silk gloves
that will never fit the hands
of the men and women you punt
your dribble out at


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