She’s a fatigued brown girl, in a sea of fatigued white faces

corpulent bus driver raises a sagging eye

at the jeune femme in shintijan and yelek, attempting to

lift metal pram through concertina doors without success

twiggy russet arms, hollow stomach pitching modern roil

she finds it hard to eat because she is already being consumed

by endless stares everywhere she moves, chains rattling her dark eyes

as if she is a somersaulting the red sea, usurping blue velvet.

Finally, succumbing to restlessness, a passenger says ‘get a move on!’

Impatient in Southern French late 1970’s heatwave

just another bloody persistent immigrant” they fret hatefully

with their cheap heavy out-dated prams and their annoying

interminable squalling babies, why can’t they …

Xenophobic maxim forgotten as bus coughs unsteadily forward

she is tucking herself into a corner where she’s always been

waiting out the worst sting of a perpetual storm.

She’s a dehydrated brown girl, in a dehydrated sea of white faces

the only dark hue in reigning alabaster space, her shadow casts no

comment, she can be noticed and rejected before

saying a word, because you’d have to listen first, and you never do

dismissing her the way she’s gotten used to

cutting invisibly through your glutted slice of life

like a blunt knife without hilt.

She’s a desiccated mother, to a desiccated white skinned babe

who doesn’t yet understand this born delineation

or why she’ll pass when you never will, how

that separates you both; nor grasp how you stare

into her green eyes and see nothing of yourself

as if birthing a cuckoo, who grew and grew

enormous and unrecognizable, further mockery

of what’s already been lost and trampled.

She’s a pinched trophy wife, to a pinched white skinned man

who takes patriarchy in comforted stride, paying lip-service

to her diminishment, her lost names, the depth of erasure

it’s easy to conceptualize in abstract, but there

is something indissoluble about prejudice that

sticks that bit deeper than safe paperback theory.

She’s a sea-bird employee to a sea-bird white skinned employer

who leaves her working late, unsubtle undermine

of her equality in myriad ways, collecting like unwanted

figurines in the soggy diorama of her life, as it unfolds fitfully

a wrinkled map, with no set course, she has

to prove herself to exhaustion and it’s still

never good enough.

She’s a river-stone daughter of river-stone brown skinned parents

who told her not to emigrate, who warned her

of the consequences, so how can she return now?

Let them know they were right, all along; ancestral reproach?

But what does she do with an urging flowering heart?

Seeking to escape the eternal pogrom of her people

to find out what flourishes beyond man-made barriers?

She is a fruiting-tree brown girl, in a fruiting-tree sea of white faces

attending night-school in purple circles and aching bones

her dark throat, tightly coiled black hair, stark against white cotton

she leans down to pick up her copy of Gisèle Halimi’s

Viol, Le procès d’Aix: Choisir la cause des femmes

rocking baby on thin knees, half eaten compote smeared on chin

prayers like spells, spells like curses, days bleeding into raw fingers

flicking through well-thumbed chapter, she raises her silver bangled arm

invisible amulets, pierced thoughts in glimmering skin, urging

to ask the first of many questions.

She’s my mother.

(*Ne vous résignez jamais is the title of one of Gisèle Halimi’s most known works).

3 Replies to “Ne vous résignez jamais*”

  1. I sit, absorbing this so different portrait of her, of her circumstances, and of us, the us writ large she finds herself among but not of. Wow

  2. What a grandly captured unfurling of a life. Against that eternally attempted diminishing, a miniature expanding universe.

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