Maddie Godfrey
I grew up a shadow girl, with a man outlined inside me


The Art Gallery of NSW and Red Room Poetry invited six poets to respond creatively to the artworks in Shadow catchers, an exhibition of photographs and moving image from the Gallery’s collection.

Olive Cotton

Olive Cotton The photographer’s shadow 1935 (detail) printed 1983-1985. Art Gallery of New South Wales, accessioned 2013

When writer Maddie Godfrey looks back to their teenage years, they’re all too aware that, “There are gaps in my memory. Months that I can only comprehend through school reports and the occasional photograph still uploaded in a private Facebook album.”

And yet, certain images – like the intimate space of the school bathroom – abruptly transport Godfrey into the past as if time has melted away.

“I hope this poem offers a small moment of solidarity for anyone who has ever felt confused in a school bathroom. Those places are filled with shadows, as am I.”

I grew up a shadow girl, with a man outlined inside me

(content warning: references self harm)


When I was fifteen in a toilet cubicle next to Talia,

I exclaimed IT’S HERE with my school skirt skimming

my ankles, white socks with two blue stripes, disinfectant

dispensers hanging beside blu-tacked announcements.


When I was fifteen sweating through my palms, standing

in a carpeted counselling office. The man with rectangular

eyes repeated, show her what you did to yourself until

blood was no longer a milestone but a symptom.


When I was fifteen and wanted so badly to be anything

but girl. To be blood itself, not the cotton that catches it.

Wanted to be the softness of a football mid-air, when

it exists between release and recipient (untouched).


But I couldn’t play sports in a skirt. I couldn’t play truant

with this body. My unshrinkable shame formed a photo

frame: positioned me precisely within the shadow

of some woman I could have / should have been.


Still I couldn’t play sports in a skirt. So I never learnt to run.

Instead I spent a decade dodging labels and assigning genders

like ‘tomboy’ when I truly meant ‘almost boy’. Talia taught me

how to handle the bleeding, but I hadn’t addressed the wound.

Maddie Godfrey

Maddie Godfrey

Poetic reflections is produced in collaboration with Red Room Poetry 

With thanks to Together In Art supporter: Presenting Partner of the AGNSW Contemporary Galleries UBS