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).