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.

9 Replies to “Softly extinguished radiance”

  1. 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.

  2. Incredibly grateful for your kind words and reading this – thank you dear Avigail xo

  3. I appreciate you dearest Willow – very, very much xxx

  4. I am very grateful to you dearest Carol Anne – thank you so much xo

  5. 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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