Hiatus in the Reasoning Mind

When they pulled us out
through the broken side window
the one I smashed with my cheek
as the car behind hit ours
– oh my God oh my God oh my God –
I saw a couple in their late 30s, perhaps,
soft, dark, kind eyes
but strong and wordless
familiar from I didn’t know where
dark curly hair
she was shortish
soothing and solid as a nurse
who takes trauma in her arms daily
he was young, too, black-haired
colour in their cheeks

I turned to hug my seven year old
both sobbing relief
pieces of blue shattered glass
on us, the seats, the edge
of the ditch we’d skidded into
metal violence of the impact
still shuddering in my bones
hot hurt on my face
blooming into a bruise
then our rescuers were gone
and a dozen others appeared
to console, assess damage to
the car – crushed concave
door lips now pressed eternally together
help pledged
glass of water fetched
the police in reassuring
yellow jackets appeared
from a restaurant down the road
embraces, explanations from the
man in the other car
his inflated airbags wilting and
cracked radiator weeping
“This isn’t what anyone wants, is it…”

Later, the car towed,
we shored up at Casualty
the young doctor tearing his hair out
at the amount of paperwork to do
told me to touch my nose, his finger, here
here, there, and there
hammered my kneecaps
said I was lucky I didn’t
break my cheekbone
– luck! –
the story spiralled
became a slip from death
in my recountings
as perhaps it was
packs of friends came by
like wise women bringing
organic praline and grape juice
to a giggling Mary with
half-Iranian baby Jesus on her lap
one even went home to bake us a cake
– luck! –

Five days later, I’d been
sick and sore, neck sprained
headachey but counting blessings
the baby wasn’t in the back seat
where his car had caught ours
– luck! –
so musing I went to change a charger
at a computer shop where the couple
always seemed fed up of selling tech
disgruntled, pallid, he
prematurely white-haired, she
a towering bottle redhead with
glum green eyes and
lipstick over an unsmiling mouth
We haggled a bit: he complained
the keyboard I’d taken back worked fine
made me buy a better cable than
then one I’d planned to buy,
gave a wry laugh about the
capriciousness of wires
As I’m leaving he asks,
How are you after your crash?
I point to the faint emerald crescent
on my cheek, the tiny scratch fading.
Did you see the car?
We were there, he replies, in the car behind,
saw everything. Lucky he wasn’t going so fast.
Lucky! They had to pull me out
of the window! I remonstrated.
That was us, he says quietly.
I pulled you out.
There is a glint
in his black irises
of a holy secret shared.

I struggle to pair this
slightly grumpy man
bored wife accomplice
with the couple in my memory:
it couldn’t have been them!
Confused, I explain that
it all went blank,
thanked them anyway, backed out,
spinning. Did I repaint them,
in the panic of the moment,
that hiatus in the reasoning mind?
Or was that a glimpse
of their best selves,
their waiting hero selves,
the strong, alive, kind selves
who are not worrying about returned keyboards
balancing books, the tedium of tablets
repeated conversations about
warranties and RAM?
That was not them;
that was them,
not disappeared, only
in waiting.

Fires of Regret and Relief

You sleep curled in a hungry embrace
filling the space your father left

her lips pressed to your forehead
eclipse the absence of his kiss

she strokes your hair and forgets
the hand that would sting if it touched hers now

your warm weight on her belly
almost replaces

her need to be encircled

You must have drunk in
her panic too

exposed like a mother cat
on a coverless plain

but you don’t see her
as she sees herself

scarred and tired
and less than lovable

You sleep in bliss
while she weighs her options

will stumbling and kindling
fires of regret and relief

Sleep. You are the sea she gained
when her spring ran dry

and while her cheeks sparkle with thanks
she prays she hasn’t given you

a taste for disaster

Like Gardener’s Hands on Silk

I am all elbows
leaning on ledges
strangers’ shoulders
eyelids falling involuntarily
after nights fractured
by screams as gums are
lacerated slowly by
a knife tip tooth

My corners catch on everyone
like gardener’s hands on silk
bunions build up on my edges
myelin thickens to muffle nerves
and stiffens my walk to a
peg doll pace
so I cease to bend
and instead
start to
cr
ack

How can a woman come apart
– limbs popped out like a doll
in the inquisitive hands of a 5 year old –
and drag the pieces along by
fibres of some unearthly substance
below the threshold of her vision
whereby lunches occur in spite of her
beans falling out of the ceiling
into pans that manoeuvre themselves
onto the stove
loo roll replenishes itself
the baby picks up crumbs and helpfully eats them
crayons roll off the edges of the floor
into holes that return them to their place
like balls under a pool table
bread grows back from crusts
rugs stretch out like a man in bed
teabags multiply in hollow boxes
the emptiness inside cupboards
solidifies into the shapes of
jam jars and pasta twirls

If children can meet on Minecraft
and throw ocelots at zombies
while being safe
in their pyjamas on the sofa
surely I can
make magic too.

The Mother With No Mind

The angle he sees me at
makes me all triangles
jawbone, earlobe, nose
elbows everywhere

A table is an overhanging rock
on a wind-bitten mountain path
the room a cave cathedral
with electric stalactites
the stairs a Giant’s Causeway
our diminutive patio is a
basketball court, zones marked by
patches of cement
dogs are like elephants
except the neighbour’s pug
which is more like a chaise longue
that snores
children are Titans
and we adults are mobile skyscrapers
with the power to pick him up
and stride vast distances
yet he is not daunted
by his size. His reality is not
that he is 8 months small but
that we are infinitessimally tiny
and he is merely
one degree tinier

*

Writing with anything
on anything –
stubby felt tip in
older son’s school book –
grabbed at any time –
5.30 am after a night of
insomnia induced by
unidentifiable itching
(a flea, or incipient allergy to lentils,
or too much coffee and thrillers)
I wonder if this
mothering life
is what they call
No-Mind?
Get up – don’t think! –
set the mechanisms of family in motion
food made, mouths opening,
“WASH YOUR HANDS!”
clean dishes, break up fisticuffs,
hang out laundry
(there is ALWAYS laundry)
continue thus until the bedtime story
is garbled as mouth loses contact
with brain and I crash out anywhere,
on anything –
is this surfing the crest of ego,
always slipping just out of its sticky reach?
It is khidmah, for sure,
although maybe my complaining
nullifies its bounties, or am I just
not taking time to witness them?

*

He sleeps on my lap now.
Here are the gifts: glossy curls
forming at the back of his head;
his hand laid flat on my belly
fingers kneading as he dreams;
his warm velour’d weight on me
and the breathing
deep and restful
even if I am not.

Hidden Under the Things They Grasped

image

They carried a plague on their fingers

when they went to seek gold and sell guns

took a ruler and pen to a map

birthed nations by caesarean

sliced human terrain in hot places where

their germs settled into the hot skin

and they returned thinking

their hands were clean

only the sores on their palms were

hidden under the things they grasped

They took back their queen and flag but

the disease was marrow-deep

fed by fictions of our happiness

ads for things they cannot possess

because they are working in the factories that make them

films with white heroes and brown villains

until some took the bait offered

by canapé waitresses at arms fairs

grinning bankers offering loans to pay for it all

and one surgically created side

was pitted against another

so the wound never heals

And the sickness we gave them never left us

the pockmarks on our diseased body

are hollows in the wet sand

along the outline of our nation on the map

And we decry their assault on our fortress

calling their desperation

greed

€1,500 to board a lethally overcrowded boat

invasion

the desire for a safe home and enough food

threat

And while the borders grow metal spikes

develop a rash of guard dogs

ossify into concrete walls

a man and his wife

hold hands each night

and try to leap onto a train

travelling fast underwater

until they reach the promised land

or die

Update: if you are London today (September 10th) head down to ExCel (Custom House or Prince Regent on the DLR) to join the Stop the Arms Fairs’s Conference at the Gates, aimed at disrupting as much as possible the world largest arms fair:

https://www.facebook.com/events/702315233214060/

Afterbirth

image

The carob seedling that took two years
to grow two feet was planted over
half of the placenta that took
nine months and eleven days to develop
and forty minutes to birth
into a bucket, so dense with my blood
it looked like crushed raspberries.

There are pieces of me buried all over,
one beneath a pomegranate tree
in a nearby Andalusian garden;
another under an apple tree in a
Norfolk farm – the only one in the orchard
to fruit the first year.

The goodness of meat
that once nourished my babies
before they opened their mouths to eat
the meat that died in the act of birth
now feeds those stalks and leaves,
sipped thoughtfully by xylem and phloem
(words I learned eighteen and a half
years ago, the only ones that have
travelled forward from Science GCSE)
and plumps out fruit that I
shrink from eating lest it be
cannibalism:
my flesh into theirs,
vegan victuals from viscera.

Parts of me are already underground.
The backward-rolling echo of tombs
reaches me half-asleep, feeding
a dozing baby, not knowing if an hour or
ten minutes have passed, the way
the mind dashes forward during prayer
and a third rak’ah feels like a fourth.

Time is plastic when one has already put
an organ into a tiny grave, when one’s footprint there
roots the soul to the soil. It owns me now
in three segments, yearning for the last piece
(currently in my freezer) to join them underneath
an avocado sapling, followed one day
by the rest. Like taproots busy seeking
low lying aquifers there are unseen ligaments
that tie me to the world
so that the hot air balloon of my thoughts
– straining against its ropes –
does not spiral off and be vaporised
by the sharp edge of the atmosphere.

There are parts of me
all over, buried too deep
for dogs and foxes to despoil
deep as the bones of an ‘aqiqah lamb
must be buried too.

Shamanism

Poetry is shamanism
for people who have lost the hang of it
whose bond has been severed
by the glass-shard-sharp
edge of brutality
or lost in
the muddle of
forgetting
abandoned in a frenzy of updating
running as horses do beside a train
never able to keep up, always exhausted
while the metal caterpillar
never gets out of breath.

Poetry is a shamanism
that requires no psychotropic
but curiosity
no bloody sacrifice
but your lacerated heart
no ritual but the rhythmic
scratching of pen or
tap-tapping of keys;
bodypaint is optional.

Poetry could be shamanism
for everyone ashamed of shamans
afraid of soothsayers and dreamings
unnerved by foreign words with
untranslatable meanings
whose minds fight feelings
discard them as they do
vegetable peelings
people for whom the unseen is a
room with a bust lightbulb
who fumble around in it
aching for a light.

But a poem – a poem
gives you ten more hands
a billion more nerve endings
feline eyes that see in the dark
the sure-pawed tread of a lion
certainty that although you do not know the way
it will become clear as you go
and you’ll see glimmering blue eyes
the nightmare scars of horrors
those lived and those handed down
and the poem will name them
give them the recognition they seek
and let them slip away into the
soft, enfolding gloom
that no longer seems a pincushion
of fearful unknowns
but the solace of a mother’s arms:
here, baby, let me take your pain
and absorb it ’til your pen runs dry.

To The Rejected

An estimated 6,000 Rohingya Muslims have spent the last 3 months drifting in boats between Thailand and Malaysia, abandoned by smugglers, escaping ethnic cleansing in Myanmar

An estimated 6,000 Rohingya Muslims have spent the last 3 months drifting in boats between Thailand and Malaysia, abandoned by smugglers, escaping ethnic cleansing in Myanmar

There is an island
edged by razor blade reefs
sharks with butcher’s knife teeth
mines that bob so innocent but sweet
they ain’t. “The Boat
Of Starving Refugees That No
Country Will Take In.”
Bangladeshi or Burmese?
Ambiguities such as these
made you flee the enemy none
can imagine – lethally violent
Buddhist Monks – and
board ships crammed 3,000 full
paid traffickers to save you
but they fled, too. Now
Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand
all kick your craft back out
to open sea where you eddy
so hungry a hundred die
in a fight over dwindling food.
You, Rohingya, Muslims
even other Muslims reject,
have drifted for three months
thin as nails in a box
yet you are still an island
a strange foreign word
rolled around in foreign mouths
so on this side of the planet
few repeat it.
Around you spins a ring of roses
a halo of ambassadorial poses
that slice apart your visible ribs
whenever you try to escape your isle
but Rohingya, there are people
who wish themselves swimming
taking off their buckles
to bring you broth
who wish themselves winged
to drop bread and meat
over your heads
who wish themselves winds
that can push you homewards
who wish themselves land
that rises up through the waves
to form a new island
a home no-one will contest
all your tests have been directed
vertically, payment before the debts
and all the wishers and the yearners
are there with you
building shelters
planting trees
hives for bees
sowing flowers because you need
not only food and water
space to sleep
but colours
companions
schools
gardens
employment
arms to rest in
arms to feel blessed in
arms that accept
the rejected.

(Read more: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-32776647)

A slightly more cheerful postscript: South America to the rescue! http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Latin-America-and-Caribbean-to-Assist-Stranded-Migrants-in-Asia-20150517-0001.html

You Forget

The same eternal newborn returns each time
to different arms, does the same belch
(in various tongues)
deposits the same spit-up
on T-shirt shoulders,
sealskin coats and jellabiyahs
saris, kurtas, kimonos
striped sweaters and batik robes.
Reeling back through its
tireless trajectory it
did the same on togas, Celtic cloaks
bare skin and button-neck Victorian blouses.
This is a well-practised baby
educated in how to curl its toes
when the sole is stroked
expert at rounding its lips towards
a touch on the cheek
it snuffles politely when hungry
– eyes closed to smell better –
or howls with gum ridges exposed
face the same outraged knot
no matter the colour of the cloth
and there is the same hiss as it feeds
same gulping, same satisfied silence
fists arrayed in sleep
as though a triumphant boxer.
I could be an Aztec and
the same rhythm would ensue:
change, feed, burp, feed, burp, sleep.
They cooed as I do,
kissed noses, tickled bellies
squished rolls of fat on arms
made up silly, fond names
crooned lullabies
walked about at night to calm a gassy gut.
All arms understand rocking
knees recall being half-crossed
to form a triangular bed
and bounced in regional variations of a horse
eyes find these delicate fingers familiar
rush to trace the extraordinary
tiny face, to meet the old, old gaze
so knowing it makes you bashful
lips always returning the refrain
“How amazing! So tiny! You forget…”
They intend it as parents of grown-older kids
who keep speed with their growth
so they never seem small
but inside that meaning is another:
they too were that ancient child once
fresh from the other world,
then the ancientness seeps out and
solidity creeps in
and you forget.
Go to sleep, little baby:
in sleep you are
returned.