By Jill Abram
Here is newborn you in tiny white cyclamen.
I wrapped you in blankets soft as Stachys leaves,
clematis tendrils grip tight as your fingers.
The colours of your hair; baby blonde carnations
darkening through bronze fennel to copper beech –
your rebellious teenage phase of zinging poppies.
Pink frills of Monarda and your summer skirts,
velvet pansy petals for warmth in the winter,
tough-leafed hostas for your tomboy years.
Fuchsia tutus take me to your ballet classes,
Kerria pompoms to tennis lessons,
daffodils trumpet in the school orchestra.
Your cheeks blush like ripening apples, plump
as the tomatoes I water every day. Bees flit
from plant to plant, you skip from friend to friend.
Your temper flares hot as flaming Crocosmia,
spikes like a rose thorn. As twilight falls
you curl up with evening primrose to sleep
through the night. But I never met your father,
the season to carry and bear you passed.
I planted you around my lawn and raised you here.
When I was a child they said we were the Arabs in Africa. Now, I realise we are the Africans in Arabia.
Baba washes in my cackling laughter;
a black and white photo scraping away brush swept clay.
This is how I imagined my father as a child;
I think he’s heard it somewhere else before; (the laughter)
tracing a note to a common ancestor…
some days he tells me about sitting outside the headmaster’s office,
about the classroom and I must piece together everything else…
what to make of a picture and a throw-away comment?
Father and son time;
I am the never-child splashing bathwater on his best suit,
the same boy in the picture, curious at the searing flash of silver…
graffiti on the shop window (I think they owned a shop?)
Grandma soaking a rag in run-off water;
maybe she could see her children swimming in the polluted glass?
I like to imagine that the Nile divided the makeshift football pitch (or something like that);
imagine my father wading through the current
and emerging with his afro untouched.
When we sit down at the restaurant,
(melting candle wax; weary flame)
a red sea washes between our menus.
Tell me about home, Baba.
Home? Fahd, I can’t see, can you check for me? Can you check if they have fish?
When the news breaks and the tide cannot be turned
I find comfort in the Muslim call to prayer on TV,
its mathematical calm laps over me
like today as I paint, ripples of chatter
from the Eastern European family fishing
on the opposite bank of the canal.
I relax into the peace of incomprehensible words
the laughter of children – still the same –
the cheers when they catch a fish.
I wouldn’t eat anything from this water
maybe they wouldn’t either,
I push my assumptions down, drown them in paint.
We co-exist in this subdued day
Cloud muffling out any extremes
the odd phrase in English reaches me
and when they leave, a man calls out:
Beautiful painting- you come paint my house?
See you next time!
Not everything can be covered, made new.
When my friend’s appeal for asylum was refused
I went around; the nakedness of the packing boxes,
the panic in her daughters’ eyes
and her without her hijab.
Somehow, I couldn’t hug her
seeing her so exposed.
Three years later they let her stay.
Isn’t that all anyone wants,
a safe place to call home?
I go back to painting,
the grey green expanse grows,
soothing my eyes. If only
it didn’t remind me of the cold sea,
the slip slop of the brush like the slap of waves
lifting a dress to expose a nappy
breaking over pliable limbs,
on her head a swirl of dark curls
frames her little face,
as if in repose.
I Come From
By Dean Atta
I come from shepherd’s pie and Sunday roast
Jerk chicken and stuffed vine leaves
I come from travelling through my taste buds but loving where I live
I come from a home that some would call broken
I come from D.I.Y. that never got done
I come from waiting by the phone for him to call
I come from waving the white flag to loneliness
I come from the rainbow flag and the union jack
I come from a British passport and an ever-ready suitcase
I come from jet fuel and fresh coconut water
I come from crossing oceans to find myself
I come from deep issues and shallow solutions
I come from a limited vocabulary but an unrestricted imagination
I come from a decent education and a marvellous mother
I come from being given permission to dream but choosing to wake up instead
I come from wherever I lay my head
I come from unanswered questions and unread books
Unnoticed effort and undelivered apologies and thanks
I come from who I trust and who I have left
I come from last year and last year and I don’t notice how I’ve changed
I come from looking in the mirror and looking online to find myself
I come from stories, myths, legends and folk tales
I come from lullabies and pop songs, Hip Hop and poetry
I come from griots, grandmothers and her-story tellers
I come from published words and strangers’ smiles
I come from my own pen but I see people torn apart like paper
Each a story or poem that never made it into a book.
No one leaves Home unless Home is a pot of boiling oil.
You have to understand skin melts like cheese
and no one chooses to live in a body on fire.
No one could take the venom it injects in the mind.
Maybe it is softer than a rock crashing into your head.
I want to go to the grave where Home was buried
But that is nowhere, for Home is a bag of money gone up in smoke.
Home is a story left unspoken.
Home is the teeth of a deadly cobra.
No one leaves Home until Home starts to poison them.
squint-wishing a mist to rise from the ether
of beach resorts deadened
sand returning its infinite collar
bark lying still for a hundred years
children led back to the bay where once
it spit away ownership, when most knew the names
for a shore’s domed soul in dialect
my god you’re right the sea, all land
adjacent, godspirit cordoned from me
sit here while toes feel an ocean goddess
and she, nyi roro kidul, quietly ascertains
that security will be coming for us shortly
First published in Poetry Review
Your grandfather was a lighthouse, my mother tells me
You have uncles lining the edge of runways
Cousins blinking red across the London skyline
I know. I am from a long line of guiding lights
It only makes me want more
How do I become what lies behind eyes
What waits at the end of tunnels
When Racism Affecting Black Girls is Ignored
By Tara Betts
“I was overwhelmed by the thought of having to be a black girl for the rest of my life.” –Khadijah Costley White, The Washington Post
Ignoring more than obvious hands
slicing a people in halves, more
like eminent domain cutting
chopping up a neighborhood
to build highways and forget,
more like taking a shot glass
where the lip drops on a canvas
then cutting away what rests
beyond the glass, and insisting
that is the entire picture.
It erases all the known small faces
then denies where sons began.
This ugly says be strong and silent,
only to slap the deserving and reason
how she can handle anything.
This smothering quietly descends
keeps smiling and says,
Wait. Behave. Your turn is coming soon.
By Anne Enith Cooper
dedicated to Octavio Paz 1914 – 1998
We watch a movie together
content in the recognition
of the same codes.
Yet I can’t get into your skin
I can listen,
But you have your
and I have mine.
We can weave our visions though in the end,
I will return to the labyrinth of my soul
and you to yours.
When we walk in the park I wonder
if the green hues that wash my eyes
are the same for you.
I hear a dog barking
You kick a stone, together
we point at a cloud and laugh.
Published in Touched, Survivors’ Press, London (2006)
swaddle girls like me,
hissing venomous gibberish for
rebuffing the thought of belly becoming coop.
I sculpt shoulders that carry fields worth of cotton;
catapult arms launching stonewall rage,
lasering eyes, sifting crowds for violin waists;
tossing breasts into blender garments,
forging husky morning tones over phone lines,
landscaping hair and fingernails to midget form;
pistoling fingers making pussies rise like sky lanterns.
Who wants a ragdoll, sprawling out on both sides of the road?
They see me as tittyless carcass
getting in the way of traffic.
Survival conjuring reinvention of self.
the potential of diaper-wearing men;
wrapping self in skirts and dresses tight
like clenching assholes.
Allowing rifle to shoot load
into stainless pussy.
I prepare my stomach,
after the crippling.
A leopard parses his concern
1. I am concerned about Claudia Cardinale.
2. By ‘concerned’ I mean ‘in lust with’.
3. By ‘in lust with’ I mean ‘I sigh for’.
4. By ‘I sigh for’ I mean ‘my eyes are hungry for her when she appears on screen’.
5. By ‘hungry’ I mean ‘revel in her’.
6. By ‘revel’ I mean ‘enjoy’.
7. By ‘enjoy’ I mean ‘endure’.
8. By ‘endure’ I mean ‘wait in the hope that she might, like a god, pick me out to be noticed, even though I have done nothing noticeable’.
9. By ‘pick me out’ I mean ‘not actually come near me lest my reserves of charm desert me at a highly inopportune moment’.
10. By ‘not actually come near me’ I mean ‘actually come near me, preferably in a darkened Neapolitan hotel room’.
11. By ‘darkened’ I mean ‘the presence of Lampedusa will be evident; he will be sitting in a green damask armchair, his walking stick tapping out the beat of a fugue’.
12. By ‘fugue’ I mean ‘a Morse code translation of his most famous quote’.
13. By ‘quote’ I mean ‘the only appropriate approach to living’.
14. By ‘living’ I mean ‘love’.
By Anna Dolezal
Sunday dripped blood and beef fat.
Pink brown, roast brown, Bisto brown.
Monday larded salty corpuscles
On open fire singed toast.
Tuesday minced leftovers.
Shepherd’s pie, carrots and peas.
Wednesday scrambled eggs.
Offered up baked beans, bread,
Stringent HP or a tomato sauce splodge,
That sometimes landed on my plate
Coaxed with a knife, diluted with vinegar,
Breaking the monotony.
My guess is as good as yours.
Friday always fished and chipped,
Nameless, flavourless chunks of white.
Saturday is as good as forgotten.
Saturday dredges bottom-dwelling memory.
Inevitable hues repeated.
Same colours, different gravy.
By Cath Drake
(for Miss Brockman)
We learned the directions of the compass, names of brave sailors
who sounded like philosophers, coloured in their sailing ships,
drew map after map that tracked noblemen spun by wild winds
who tried to find spices, and almost found Australia.
Unwieldy ships were washed up on far-flung reefs or islands.
When finally they found it, they put up flags on hilltops, nailed
plaques to trees. Captain Stirling was certain he’d found Perth,
so certain he brought boatloads of people down the Swan River
to witness it, commission paintings, build houses, forge roads.
Australia was young and proud, our future was on a plate.
We filled our project books with drawings of early settlers
in smart soldier outfits, women in long skirts and bonnets.
They kept on finding, as they trekked through rugged terrain
to discover more and more of what had not yet been found.
We coloured in more maps, listened to stories of hardship
when tattered men perished for us in search of an inland sea.
Then our eccentric year 9 social studies teacher whispered:
Terra nullius? Terra nullius? Australia was not discovered:
here were already people here right across the beaches,
plains, forests and deserts, who knew every bump and echo.
She showed us slides of black men in chain gangs, eyes disjointed
with shock, frightened black women in shift dresses, archives
of river poisonings and battles for land where only one side won.
She showed us modern photos of black people on reserves
with scattered rubbish and makeshift houses staring out of the dust,
told of a whole generation of children taken from their parents.
There weren’t any pictures of brave men in sailing ships.
I wondered if we’d dreamt it all and what else they lied about.
Elizabeth Estate (Home)
In the mornings, the air smells of coffee and cocoa butter, mothers wipe away tears from crying cheeks and secretly slip strawberry lollipops into coat pockets; Elizabeth Estate awakes, swaying to the rhythms of each of her five hundred and twenty residents (seven hundred if you count the jobless uncles sleeping on the sofas and the long lost friends who were only supposed to stay for a few days). At midday, the kitchens are steamy from cooking, and the air is thick with the mingling scents of curried vegetables, jerked fish, and stuffed vine leaves. Golden sunlight trickles, rain falls; and the grey-white walls of the estate sparkle with false hope. At sundown, fathers trudge home from work with slumped shoulders, empty bellies and emptier hearts; and night workers awake. By dusk, the air turns prickly-cold, the last freight train rumbles on the rail track, causing the crescent-shaped block to vibrate, and Elizabeth Estate lets out a soft exhale.
Through the crack of the bedroom door
my father, his voice barking.
My mother’s sullen lips refuse
to kiss him sometimes and her stubborn mouth resists
the pull and drag of worn lipstick;
pieces of congealed wax and fat break up
and fall to the floor.
My father’s slow and heavy
now, as he moves towards my mother
treading wine coloured fragments
into the tan carpet, leaving an evident stain.
previously published in Red: Contemporary Black British Poetry
Haiku for Breaking Up
Dating post thirty,
like shopping in TK Maxx:
a lot of effort.
Art and Science tried
but Art meant it all too much
and Science didn’t.
I drown in my dreams,
where she used to tread water;
I remember Yeats.
I never thought I’d
love someone who’d vote Tory
but I really did.
Going out with you
was like dating a spreadsheet;
useful but quite dull.
Tis better to have
felt immortal and a fool
than to never have.
Words for Sorrow
When my great-grandmother
discovered she was the last speaker
of the mid-west dialect,
she ditched her songs
of wind and tumbleweed
to mime for me
ten words for sorrow.
Her garments were eased
to show a sorrow that salted
deep folds in her skin.
That rose and hooked
the back of her throat.
into an hourglass,
squeezing the very rasp
out of her. And how
the same word, with new
inflection, connoted a type
that flowed swiftly,
and formed a gully
she could not wade.
She taught me
the word for sorrow
that out-shrieks darkness.
That descends like gauze,
yet no beast can rip through.
A kind that fastens itself
to the span of just one day
or to a jutting peg
where cast-off jackets droop.
And when her hands measured
empty space, I saw it made
a difference whether sorrow
remained solely the vehicle,
or became the entire road.
Published in Primers Volume One (Nine Arches Press, 2016)
There’s so many songs to sing
so many stories that should be told
I’m privileged to join in
and wish the whole world could
But I’m not content to dream
and so I sing loud for liberation
however bad things may seem
I seek and sing for good
There’s so many things to learn
work, pleasures and wisdom to be shared
and I’m gonna take my turn
to give and to receive
These gifts hold so much power
they’re fundamental to liberation
and brighten the darkest hours
I know and I believe
There’s so much great potential
stifled by hate, fear and exploitation
I’ll bear witness and I shall
sing for all those confined
And though I have but one voice
I know I’ll never be singing solo
countless people brave the choice
to free and speak their minds
Minotaur tries to talk
Minotaur stands by the traffic lights
where is god when you need him
it’s like the buses
Minotaur shouts out loud (in his head)
as is his wont
Minotaur needs to talk to god
it is time that that they had it out
to know where they both stand
in the scheme of things
for god speaketh once yea twice
yet man perceiveth it not
or is it the other way round
Minotaur feels like screaming
but that would scare the five-foot two mother
waiting to cross with a child
in the blue-green tartan pushchair
Minotaur wants to talk
Minotaur (still in his head)
lets out a shopping mall scream
the child in the blue-green tartan pushchair
leans forward and makes faces at him
Minotaur smiles and sticks his tongue out
the lights change and so does the cast
Minotaur crosses the road
and goes into the underground station
if there were no inner god
we would have to invent one
By Peter Kahn
Funk Finecast Factory. Columbus, Ohio. Fall, 1984.
Not the sooty sludge of snot
that blew from my nose each night
when I drilled math equations into my head.
Not the smirking crooked-armed clock
stunning time like a thick truncheon,
clubbing each minute to sleep.
Not even my boss and his “come to Jesus”
coercions resurrected each $3.35-an-hour
day tattooing my ten-minute breaks.
It was burly and bearded Bear. The swastika
etched on his left arm. Staring at me
with each drop and dig of the dull-headed drill.
By Daniel Kramb
Oh, spare me the tag,
on mobile plans, blue jeans
The last time someone around here
used it with any conviction
I was seven years old.
But that Wall is gone.
Oh, spare me truth:
to know what it really means
you have to be caged.
And who around here really is?
Published in Popshot, Issue Three
The Charm of Friday Night
after David Berman
It all reminds me of what mum misses
from America – that smell in the streets of Boston
late at night after a summer day, when the pavement
has been baked, and you can walk home after making
love in a thin cotton dress. Heat you can rely on.
Or that night when I went to my favourite gay bar
and got on stage to answer questions about a
decade I don’t remember, so I put Monster Munch
on my fingers. And how we spent sunrise on the phone,
watching the city come back into Technicolor.
You know what I’m on about.
Tonight it occurs to me Jez Butterworth is the theatre,
and it’s nice to say this, when you’re almost sure,
and I see that critic who wrote the list of 100
books to read before you die, and said he didn’t “get
poetry”. Tonight he frowns, “it does
seem to be having a bit of a moment” but then
he’s accosted by a man with a novel.
Deciding to walk home, I see so many places whose
lit interiors spill beckoning fingers onto the
pavement, lighting the way back to Berlin.
I text my lover and say, we should move here. And
it’s certainly possible we will.
Now lean in, and I’ll show you something.
Somewhere in the future, I’m remembering today.
I’m remembering how I walked into a tiny, packed
room, on a hot night in our city, how my friend
got a standing ovation for his reading,
and how I said to DJ, let’s drink Red Stripes,
and how he turned to me, with his electric eyes,
and said, excellent.
We never asked to be made like this,
brutal and injured totems
with the vanity of mountains.
We were acorns once, picked by the sun
and groomed by the wind.
We heard news of the world
carried on the breath of moths.
We took our questions to the sea,
it told us to carry the burden
and broke its mirror over us;
a distillation of everything
sunrises to burnt stars,
the ground shook, trees were yanked
like limbs on a dancing puppet
shaking a map of roots free,
down-pouring rubble and rock.
In that atomic moment, we saw
where hatred and holocaust go,
sealing their rage in our stained wood.
In each battle we give and leave
armed with our weapons and ailments.
we stare at the sky,
waiting for God’s next order.
(After Thomas Schutte’s Krieger 2012)
Thinking it through
Chaotic minds lead to
Erratic surroundings lead to
Knowing where everything is leads to
Unique organisation leads to
A creative spirit leads to
Many miraculous inventions lead to
Things we cannot imagine being without lead to
Obsessions we need to get rid of lead to
A short lived routine leads to
Right where we started leads to
Imagining where we want to go leads to
Thinking how we’re gonna get there leads to
A brainstorm leads to
Infinite solutions lead to
Trying to decide which decision to follow leads to
Indecision led by the thought processes of a chaotic mind
Ugandan Golgotha – Part 2
By Nick Makoha
Acacia trees whisper and disappear.
A moonless night hides its face.
The line of you does not move,
cautious of how time and light
can be a revelation. You move
towards a twilight away from the city
that is no longer home or hiding place.
The blood of one man against a soldier,
against a clan, against the caravan of men,
against the flash of fire, against teeth and tongue.
By Harry Man
In practice this nightingale’s words swerve, herded into home video
air-stuffled foreground wall sound, the wind that wears at altitude
the aural cavities of avian hearing in the peace from the birch
where wash is a verb of weatherfront heard while circling
the circuit of hand-me-down hunting grounds, microscoping
the Medway-soaked plantain for what itches in the ultraviolet,
signals aeronautic, arcs synaptic across the hindbrain, midbrain,
forebrain, hover-held, a fulgurite voice-print following-fit phrase
memorised in the buffered bee-mind reckoning the rote intones
the thatch calyx of nest and the skull-vaulted song in air sacs
stacks the socketing of gases that surge-electric, sublate,
regulated by the lungs, the heart, the stomach, the stomach,
heart and lungs, the carrier wave of pulse is gyroscopic
through curves, curves of the skin-thick crown coast-magnetic,
less dead cert, but surfs a feeling for North, Norfolk, Shaker’s Wood,
next crests hemispheres, never blackening out, dips to pitch, downs
the tent of its wings, falls with the grain of the wind, a skiff skirting
the transparent cerebella of high canopies, weighing sail-search
with why, whichever perch works to see what kill comes
if it comes to kill first and shudders bursts of nerved stuttering,
the head saccading for the sake of the eye, the sinuses hum
in syrinx territory calls, chiaroscuro, resonant, stridulating
lift ululations, Senegambian, the wind changes —
you hear it; the nightingale, a female singing in nervous laughter,
a musical birthday card addressed to the dead,
a holiday-maker’s car alarm – loud and long and penetrating
and worrying between wanting attention and warning,
breaking off into an uneasy peace.
By Aoife Mannix
You do not have to wear
these different voices,
the stranger on the telephone,
the shout over the wall.
Our house is fragments of rooms,
shattered glass from a falling lamp.
the light left on over night.
Outside has become a different country.
The white wonder painted thickly
across the hill as the early morning sun
signs its name along my tongue.
There will be no more tattoos.
The challenge of being broken
into pieces, learning this new language
of isolation, how to navigate distance.
I set sail across the kitchen floor,
fearing the edge of translation.
There are such silences between us.
I want to write welcome in the window
even if the door is stripped naked,
closed until further notice.
U Fahder’s People
Is there something down by the water
calling me. Gambolling shades of blue.
– Azure on azure bled aquamarine –
saltwater white in it’s hurry,
whispering. Happy to see kin:
Cousin Charles said
Great-Gran-Fam worked this land
under same blazing sun. Growing what they needed.
Feeding what they needed. Just bound’ry tree
and silk-scarf-sea-breeze for shade.
Now Great-Fam dwellings, derelict and distant,
peek-a-boo through picka bush
to watch if their seed catch.
I view their green and scorched askance:
new house now skywards.
Secure, just inside to do.
The panoramic views
of one family’s journey . . .
Tek some Jack,
water. Soft drink or water.
We’ll toast to thirst,
cow, fowl and provision.
Sunset and silk-scarves
and them that’s dearly departed.
This acre’s peace, a masterpiece:
Now who could ask for more.
When a creative believes
they become anointed creators
transforming every crevice of their world
Make mountains of malevolence
imperialism and oppression move
with the power of voice
focus of mind
persistence of time
I have seen healing happen on pages
Felt the presence of The Most High enter
the darkest corner of the dancehall
as cob-webbed heart chambers opened
to a sanctuary
Woke like Socrates
Socrates is revered as the father of western philosophy,
and was renowned in his time as the wisest man alive
for the simple reason he was honest enough to admit: “I know nothing!”
Had he stopped there, no-one would remember his name,
but he went further to claim, “and no-one else does either!”
Now, this didn’t sit well with the leading thinkers of his era
from scientists to politicians, philosophers, and even artists
for their reputations and wealth were based on their supposed ability
to understand the nature of reality better than the average citizen
like gods spoon-feeding wisdom to dim-witted children.
Yet, when challenged by Socrates to public debate,
every single last one of them were exposed as charlatans;
his technique was simply to ask question after question,
delving to discover the first principle on which their views were based
thus forcing his opponents to admit their conclusions were mere opinions –
impressive looking castles built on shaky foundations
incapable of withstanding the storm of genuine enquiry.
Thanks to Socrates, we still refer to scientific theories
even though many people are fooled into believing they’re facts!
Eventually trumped-up charges were brought against him
of spreading misinformation and misleading the youth,
and he was sentenced to death for the crime of loving Truth!
Though the powers that be continued to smear his name,
till this day we remember that in Ancient Greece burned a flame
of courage and honesty in a heart untamed,
willing to die rather than accept the hoodwinking of the masses
by narcissists with corrupt agendas hidden behind altruistic faces.
That’s why whenever I’m faced with an important topic or decision,
I make sure to research into all sides of the argument,
and ask questions rather than merely accept the opinions
of so-called experts whose wealth and reputations
are often based on convincing the people that their theories are God’s truth.
Thousands of years have passed since Socrates was murdered,
and we now live in an era where it’s become normal
to silence and de-platform anyone who challenges
the official narrative being broadcast in mainstream media channels
(most of which are controlled by a handful of corporations)
kinda like chopping off your opponent’s hands before a boxing bout.
Of course not everyone who’s been censored or cancelled is correct,
but why not let them say what they have to say,
and trust us to make up our own damned minds?
Talk about condescending to our intelligence!
Only cowards or people who have something to hide are afraid
of open debate where all the evidence can be presented.
Totalitarianism is most effective when it hides in plain sight
by claiming to be a friend who champions your cause;
but all it really wants is power, and like a cancer it spreads,
simply because we the people acquiesce.
By Jocelyn Page
It’s nearly dark and the dishes are drying in the rack.
We sit with a bottle of Cantanac, my mother and I,
and instead of all the things I imagine I should say,
matters I often think of at my desk in London,
we talk of the U.S., and all the dams we’ve ever seen.
Mission, Blue Hollow, Deadwood, Hells Canyon.
There are lines to be drawn on the trips that we made,
together, apart, when he was there, after he died, but no.
We’re not tempted to guide like that and I don’t feel
the need to boss things around. We simply let things flow
as they please, agreeing that we’ve been around.
Barron River, Greyson Lake, Swift River, St. Cloud.
It’s well past midnight and into tomorrow when we finish
and climb the stairs, empty for having covered so much.
By Soul Patel
We’ll continue to call it the Roadkill. How it got here in the waiting room is beyond anyone’s understanding but it’s the only one here that doesn’t understand it’s beyond saving. My mother is sitting opposite and with each passing hour has curled further into herself until she has become more brittle than the air around us. The Roadkill is blinking at us. It’s unable to speak as its throat has been severed halfway into its spinal cord.
When the surgeon sits down he doesn’t notice it. Four more hours on top of the original three of the bypass operation have passed and this is the third time he has come to speak to us. While the surgeon tells us about the two extra arteries he had to rip from my dad’s legs, the Roadkill pleads. It can’t cry because its tear ducts were twisted out of its skin when its cranium was crushed. It wants to be saved. I pray it doesn’t follow us home.
Repair should be evident. It should strut an arrogant song, instead of pacifying quietly.
It should deny nothing.
She has never restored a single ceramic by hiding the cracks, the chips, replenishing
patterns exactly where their colours have strayed. Her sutures show, a defiant testament
to damage. The withered fingers lay down gold lacquer, honouring every imperfection,
every beautiful break. One scarred lover caressing another.
Repair bellows. It is not a bird, pecking seeds from a child’s hand. It is not the woman
who trades all she is for costume jewellery.
She is in love with the unused vase on the table, so exposed outside its shelter of
Styrofoam. It begs for the strength she will someday bestow, its surface so intact, so
ignorant of history.
(A slightly different version of this poem appeared in Shearsman)
The King With Two Shoes in His Name
At the dawn of the Scramble the King of Lesotho
lies dead. I am in the presence of his lineage,
drinking too quickly in a single bulb Shebeen
in Pretoria. The resistance brewed here less
than ten years from where I sit, is still seen
in the faces of men, served by Shebeen Queens.
“You spell my name with two shoes – Moshoeshoe,”
he jokes, but there is a razor at the throat of history
when pronouncing it: “Moshwayshway”, the sound
made by the King, as he shaved the beards
of his enemies in death, conquering raids;
the silver swish of victory. The King lost
his seeds to Dutch & British bullets ‘civilising’
the continent, leaving but a tenth that Africans
could call their own by the Great War’s end.
He takes me to Soweto, to a small home. I feel
whiter than Rhodes, but he insists. Tea is served
then quietly on leaving, money is given to our host.
It is the township’s permanence that strikes,
development is elastic, a contested mistake.
The land is said to be theirs now, but not the fruits
of their seed. Soweto and Lesotho are dry islands;
Kings & Queens remain – they are drowning with thirst.
Pant Y Plant
Blocked off water courses slowly forced
the shift. Movement noted. Shepherds
watched… and slept.
Collars buttoned, frantic and tidy,
their prayer for the thoughtless morning
is a news reel in black and white.
Mrs Rees, under her kitchen table
was saved from the mudslide
when they lifted her out.
Dance for Mrs Rees…
she’s lost her grandson.
Those folded hands holding Mrs Rees,
her hair pinned softly, made timeless
impact. Pushed before her to point my
toes, I wondered why wasn’t she crying?
Confused, but on mission, I knew
God watched the ward once you got there
– proved by Auntie Eunice’s frequent stays.
What couldn’t be spoken was, He didn’t stop it.
(Pant Y Plant is Field of Children in Welsh)
By Sarah Reilly
I used to think we were related to angels,
fourth cousin third removed, or something like it.
I’ve danced on the head of a pin with the best of them,
feeling blessed, feeling special and on top.
I even claimed Lucifer as my relative,
rather enjoying his descent – for we all love a sinner,
a bad boy, a bad girl. Don’t we?
But the story feels stale to me now,
the plump golden babes seem gaudy and sickly to me.
Irrelevant to the answers we obsessively seek –
some looking for God and some for the Genome Organising Device.
While all the time we’re living in the patterns
and recipes we share: geometry and numbers,
hexagonal dancing molecules working the rolling boil of water.
And we ask: Who did it? How? What for?
Questions so human, so important to us.
And from our constant enquiring we’ve learnt
that our closest relatives are chimpanzees, not angels.
And there’s a measly percentage of special human DNA
that bathes us, and clothes us, and gives us our place.
Get used to it animal. Get used to it fast.
For with big brain, in front, on top,
we have transformed ourselves from prey to predator,
and we who know best eat too much, greedy with our need –
extinction follows us like a virus.
So now we have moved thoroughly into our home
we could embrace our neighbour not as we have embraced
the globe; and we may be mindful to remember
that the human animal can cooperate, empathise, live alongside.
And this has become imperative.
By Mary Renouf
One morning, my father says;
‘There’s something I’ve got to tell you –
But I don’t know what it is!
Maybe it’ll come to me?
But for now, I’ll brush my teeth
For one hundred and twenty seconds
Followed by a few potatoes.’
Regarding his new, red trainers;
‘Their history’s not mine,’ he sighs,
‘They are too busy for my feet
And I don’t know I’m off-road yet?’ After lunch,
Watching a natural history show,
He repeats; ‘I too am a handsome fowl,
And was one of historical significance!’
From a lifestyle magazine he reads out loud;
‘He’s intelligent, talented, a fabulous shopper,
A good listener and very well-dressed!’ Signs
Hand-and-arm signals for dismount operations,
‘Back up bleeper required – approach
Entrance with extreme caution. The sun’s lonely
And the barber’s not shaved me for weeks.’
A Portable Paradise
And if I speak of Paradise,
then I’m speaking of my grandmother
who told me to carry it always
on my person, concealed, so
no one else would know but me.
That way they can’t steal it, she’d say.
And if life puts you under pressure,
trace its ridges in your pocket,
smell its piney scent on your handkerchief,
hum its anthem under your breath.
And if your stresses are sustained and daily,
get yourself to an empty room – be it hotel,
hostel or hovel – find a lamp
and empty your paradise onto a desk:
your white sands, green hills and fresh fish.
Shine the lamp on it like the fresh hope
of morning, and keep staring at it till you sleep.
By Denise Saul
He returned to the house
as promised, on a pale horse
that shied away from me
when I touched its yellow
coat, and the rider lifted
his face from a white hoodie
when he whispered my mother’s
nickname in my ear,
and I asked where he had
taken her that morning
for I did not like the company
he kept, and when he spoke
I smelt damp earth and cigarettes
and stale wine.
I did not ask why
his job kept him on the road
or about the men and women
he had been with
on the way to this house.
full moon at the hot pot
taking each other
in with sulphur
eager glowing bodies
on moon-bathed Sands
waits for the right man
to ease his ache
[p.14, Reader, I Married Him…, Peepal Tree Press, 2014]
By Yomi Sode
My father rewards my good behaviour
though I have no idea what I’ve done.
He sits me down on our sofa, its ripped
edges pierce my skin. My shuffling is
mistaken for nerves, his Duchenne smile
a comedic tragedy of sorts. More Melpomene
than Thalia. There is little sparkle in his eyes
now. Yet his shoulder eclipses the light bulb
as he stands, walking assured to the kitchen.
Bringing back a 7up bottle dripping in cold sweat,
hooking his canine underneath the cap then pulling
downwards. I watch his silhouette in awe,
I hear the sound the bottle makes when placed
on the table. My father rewards my good behaviour
with 7up. He pours it in glass only used for visitors.
For a moment, I see the dissipating foam as a dream.
He continues to gently pour then asks,
Do any men enter the house when daddy is at work?
A magician that knows when 7up reaches the rim
without overspill, without looking.
I shake my head side to side, holding a stare he soon
breaks. Am I in trouble now, Daddy? He knuckles the
filled glass towards me, then sits back, listening to each
gulp. I thank him, knowing I don’t know the good I done.
Mussels at low tide
When Lady Thames has gone out
and glimpses of her underneath she rudely
reveals, frothy skirts of foam do bibs
make which tucker up nicely under our shells to
serve as slurp-catchers for us messy-eater
bivalves. Silt-hungry, hinges creak open
to release our one-footed scoops of tongue
which lick the meat of the river into us. Toeless,
we dandle in mud ––cockles and mussels alive-oh––
snap shut against harvest by boatman, gull, urchin.
In the lull of eddies, we feast and filter sluiced by
drain slop, the juice of pipes. We boat and brick
and scavenge as she turns, lifts currents of
petticoat, hides us back under.
With dawn comes
With dawn comes
twitches in her half sleep and my room
brightens despite the dark curtains.
I shift, watch her pillow creased
face through half slits.
Her name is missing somewhere between
first pint and first kiss.
I pretend to sleep, cheap perfume
clinging to me like she did last night,
her legs a mix of muscle and flab —
an office girl who runs twice a week.
She bolts upright and snatches up clothes, tries to wipe
a cum stain off her red polyester skirt;
stuffs her laddered tights in her bag.
I began to drown
By Gemma Weekes
It will not be news to you
That the little mermaid is a black girl.
If you’re honest
You knew this all along.
Who else is made to sell
Her tongue for passage?
Most of us did not survive the flight overboard,
Descent into blue/ blue almost unto black.
The sun ran from us.
The light went soft
As a baby’s head.
And only those of us who kept
Our true names locked tight
In our mouths found memory
A good substitute
Living hundreds of years weightless
Without struggle or triumph
Fashioning homes of coral
Lit by clean white bone.
But even where I swam
I felt your soul crack
Along Its sutures
Under your father’s blind fist
And I began to drown.