When I was young,
full and fierce as a hunter’s moon
I promised her I’d stay.
I swore I’d let no man take me
from the place where she passed,
forehead ablaze with forests
of cocoa and fevered moths.
I wore charred wings in my hair
for weeks after she left,
I prayed to her in tongues
of wild grasses and deep water.
Still, he came, followed me
into the house’s dry cradle,
waning and weak
in the absence of her light.
He caught me by my grief’s throat,
blew smoke into my eyes
to tame me.
Some nights, I turn to face him,
her love lodged in my heart
like an antler.
I have embroidered her name
on my daughter’s left earlobe,
scratched it on the underside
of my best iron pots. I feed him
the burnt bodies of moths
when he is hungry, watch him
grow steadily heavier, stiller,
as solemn as timber.
Some mornings, my daughter’s face
is as gold and soft as sunlight.
I bless her in my mother’s tongue,
wrap her in a shawl made from
tree roots and the grey wool
of young doves.
see how I’ve grown weary and thin
between these white walls.
Coal Mine is a mouthful of earth
in my memory, teeth against stone,
dry lips against water,
over and over again,
They say you can teach yourself
to breathe underwater here.
I’ve heard of women who could do it,
hold their breaths till their veins
burst their banks, flowed on until
their hearts emptied in the sea.
I go down to the river each morning,
unlace my skin, spread the twin nets
of my lungs out against these rocks.
This is the same river I was born in,
the one my grandmother gave birth in.
This is the same river that bursts,
each decade, into a million lights
and if you learn to breathe here,
your body stays forever lit
with the secret.
They say the lights first shone
a thousand years ago
for a woman with my face.
They say the dead stars woke,
and the sleeping fish, the ones without names,
rose from the deep to swim with her
among the drowned stars.
Your father was felled by a giant teak
one purple morning, in the damp
of the forest’s aching mouth.
Your mother hears it a mountain away,
a rush of air sweeping from his lungs,
last broken holy offering of her name.
The house, now wild with her grief,
grows fibrous roots. Each empty room
smells deep and sharp as ginger.
After the burying,
your aunts undress you, show you
which roots to cut and which to keep.
They make you wash the forest
from your hands and eyes, teach you
hymns in shrill tongues of birds.
But even now, on the Blanchisseuse road,
the trees still whisper to you
The cry of the bell-bird
is your mother’s strange keening,
and all the fallen logs,
their names long forgotten,
are your father’s arms
waiting to bear you home.