‘Slave’ by Vincent Otterbeck

This week’s Friday Story is a moving piece by Vincent Otterbeck, a student at Fairfield High School. Inspired by his First Story sessions with novelist Sanjida O’Connell, Vincent wrote this piece at home, and describes his motivation behind it eloquently:

‘This poem all sort of rushed out from my head. It’s open to interpretation – I don’t think that there is a definitive theme. But I do identify some feelings within it, such as low self-esteem, obsessive perfectionism, self-discovery and growth. I think that it’s about persisting feelings of inadequacy and a distorted view of the self. Enslaved by this perception, we can go to painful lengths to try and change ourselves, tantalised by some obscure goal of looking, feeling, being without flaw. This can lead us into a really strange period, where the experience of simply being alive becomes intensely beautiful and gritty. In writing this poem, I tried to explore this experience and the incredible human drive to overcome internal struggle.’


You worked with a fervent devotion,

Pushed, strained, crushed,

Kept your head down, didn’t say much,

Screamed so loudly that no one could hear it.


Your bones ached, and broke

In two and two again; your skin,

Charred and torn, slicked

With sweat and blood, acrid –

Your veins grew turgid with spite.


Who knew that a body could move to such strange rhythms?

You ran until it hurt.

And in the beating of your pulse, and the heat of your breath

The physical self could feel,

That presence which it could not see.


It was beautiful to watch

You dance, in the dust,

Twisting, arching, writhing,

Like a man drowned in shallow depths.


The broken soul is not so easily visible; the wearing heart, not so easily mended.


But the spirit is boundless.


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