my slender mother bore a large-headed white baby with wrong eyes
strangers called her my au pair, without knowing the small flat
in a horrible part of town was not a place where au pairs would have stayed
she might not have either, if she hadn’t been still running on sore feet
marrying to escape eyes that watched in the dark and contained
something of a threat and something of eternal love
she wore the tattooed badge of shame and rage beneath her mosaic dress
even as daylight poured into our home, despite its lacquered dull basement
and lit her brown face with the wonderment of a future, laid open
like a pomegranate when special guests visited, which wasn’t often
often was her curled like a transplanted cat on the tatty brown sofa
chain smoking because it was easier than screaming and trying to climb
out of dirty ground-floor windows, where if the river flooded, we’d be
first to drown, among history of a foreign city, all their secrets coming to the surface
sometimes it was an appealing thought in a beautiful painful sort of way like
when i learned to swim at 4 years old and my grandmother, who wasn’t
much like my mother at all, chased off a peeping tom. Then we both knew
it didn’t matter what country you end up in, you are still a woman
falling into the maw of generational men without fire, without quell, without control.
My grandmother running, bellowing in several languages while i felt
the water growing colder and hands claiming me below where darkness
hid imaginations demons, faces like story books written for safe children
without real fears – i called out, in my new-found-land to be saved
from drowning and within a few years i won medals for swimming, when i
had only ever floated in terror. They still leave those ugly boats by the river collecting alae and
weeds and people who smoke hand rolled cigarettes and grow anemic flowers
sit in cheap plastic seats to catch rare rays of sun, on my way home
i asked to see the coveted collection of china puppets and he showed me
his kimono as sad as their painted faces, i wanted to cry and tell him to go home
find some earth and be nourished by a proper sun, but my mother had taught me to be polite
so, i clapped my little hands and enquired; do you swim? i’m quite good now
since we moved here, since I lost the ability to walk and instead, swam until
my skin sloughed off and it didn’t matter if I was a white baby to a brown mother
or if our home was ugly, we couldn’t invite anyone over, it only mattered
that I could cut through the weight of waves as if god had opened his mouth
do you see? Does that make any sense? Or am I mixing up my tenses? I do that…
there are no trees where we live, there are no birds, just dirty water smelling
of chlorine, they call that modernity, it feels like a stomach ulcer
his eyes enveloped in years matched his mouth stained by yellow cigarettes
in perpetual downturn, smiled briefly before settling back into folds of grief
a few years later she told me he had died, i knew then, broken hearts
possess a different language to any i can utter, there is no succor for some loss.
That August, my mother bought a new summer dress and packed a small suitcase
it was brown and green and looked like something left over from the war
but which war? i still see her long smooth fingers adorned with silver rings
and the weight of bracelets on her skinny wrists, the musical sound they made
when she softly closed my thin door and the radiant light
never came back on.
8 Replies to “Softly extinguished radiance”
I’ve no clever, let alone, wise thing to say to this but thank you for yet another glimpse into the mind and heart and life of the child you were.
awesome! I love this!
This is deeply sad and touching 💜
Very powerful. The mention of the pomegranate really jumped out at me.
Incredibly grateful for your kind words and reading this – thank you dear Avigail xo
I appreciate you dearest Willow – very, very much xxx
I am very grateful to you dearest Carol Anne – thank you so much xo
Have you ever read any of James Lee Burke’s work? I was influenced in the title by his – he’s a remarkable writer.
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