Malika Booker, Sharon Olds and Warsan Shire (2011). Modern Poets 3: Your Family, Your Body. Great Britain: Clays ltd, St Ives plc.
She does not talk about that time.
She has buried it deep in the earth
where you bury shit.
Buried it with no wake,
no funeral, no coffin, no fanfare,
buried it whilst it was raw, stink and bitter.
It was early September. The phone ring.
Per out of sleep. Fumble. The red sky
of pre-dawn through my bare window.
My cousin’s guyanese tones, low,
whispering, voice broken. She sobs,
till I, too, begin to cry.
She stutters, stops, starts, tells me
about an advert, a plane ride.
They promised her work and a US visa.
I am a prisoner somewhere
in the South; they take my passport,
work us long hours, deduct our pay
for food and board, then give us a trickle.
I made more back home. We pick fruit all day.
She left her girl child home in her mother’s care,
now can’t send them no money.
I can’t see me way… help me, she sobs.
I make phone calls to older aunts in New York,
not new to this, who tell me they will take care of it.
A month later they call to say, we have her.
How? I ask. But they have buried it, too.
We do not talk about them things.
There are dark places drunk with grief where water
drizzles. There are wilted flowers and dried wreaths.
There is your grave hidden back there, behind
God’s back. There are clusters of Charles
buried here, neighbours in this family plot.
Two lone wooden stumps mark the grave
where you wait for that marble headstone
etched with your name. There is wild bush
and the broken fence where your nephew
crashed that rented car at your funeral,
when his vision blurred with tears. There are
the marks we leave and those that will be made.
Poem of thanks
Years later, long single,
I want to turn to his departed back,
and say, What gifts we had of each other!
What pleasure — confiding, open-eyed,
fainting with what we were allowed to stay up
late doing. And you couldn’t say,
could you, that the touch you had from me
was other than the touch of one
who could love for life — whether we were suited
or not — for life, like a sentence. And now that I
consider, the touch that I had from you
became not the touch of the long view, but like the
tolerant willingness of one
who is passing through. Colleague of sand
by moonlight — and by beach noonlight, once,
and of straw, salt bale in a barn, and mulch
inside a garden, between the rows — once-
partner of up against the wall in that tiny
bathroom with the lock that fluttered like a chrome
butterfly beside us, hip-height, the familiar
of our innocence, which was the ignorance
of what would be asked, what was required,
thank you for every hour. And I
accept your thanks, as if it were
a gift of yours, to give them — let’s part
equals, as we were in every bed, pure
equals of the earth.
Her Blue Body Full of Light
Can you believe I have cancer? Yosra asks,
a mug of tea between her hands,
almost laughing, hair cut close to her scalp.
I imagine the cancer auditioning
inside her body, tiny translucent slivers
of light weaving in and out and of her abdomen
and uterus, travelling up and through her throat,
needlepoints of light, fireworks glimmering down, the body
burning into itself, deep sea blue inside
her body, her ribcage an aquarium,
the cancer spreading and spreading, deep space,
her throat a lava lamp, sparklers beneath breastbone—
a lightshow, a million tiny jellyfish, orchestral womb,
kaleidoscopic ovaries, disco ball heart,
her skin glowing and glowing,
lit from the inside.
I think I brought the war with me
on my skin, a shroud
circling my skull, matter under my nails.
It sits at my feet while I watch TV.
I hear its damp breath in the background
of every phone call. I feel it sleeping
between us in the bed. It lathers
my back in the shower. It presses
itself against me at the bathroom sink.
At night, it passes me the pills, it holds
my hand, I never meet its gaze.