woman at sea

sure, love
is a four-letter mystery and so is home.
my sister writes poems in the back of engineering class
learning to build bridges back
to a place that blew her out so soft,
the way a womb expels a life
out of water.

a non-resident
patriot now
a non-resident poet
tacking up shelters with words.
the passport a scissor on umbilical cord.
a page for the stamps unfurls
into a stanza into a boat.
there is nothing else beyond
the horizon of what you see.
is poetry the country
we could ever belong to?
the womb is full of water
and that is where they have left us –
rootless and flailing
crying “mother,
i land

the men don’t know.
so my sister tells the ocean or the internet:
megaphone into a void for the anonymous

behind white screens, those grinning harpooning men
place tenterhooks into her middle, they
reduce her:
her verses become small
recipes with too much spice:
1 immigrant narrative +
1 broken mother tongue
a dash of rosewater, turmeric, mangoes.
baby is an oriental dream, a sick fantasy,
baby you know nothing your pretty mouth is just
so pretty.

the men shrink
women into girls into things into salt
somewhere along the reservoirs of their eyes
on us.
the men like to break
crumble like their hard biscuits in hot tea
crush like cigarette ashes into the sea
they break and they break
us women and relationships and politics
into formulas now they think they’ll distil
my sister’s skin
into a equation to solve
with their touch –
they say that’s tough,

oh baby, there’s just no space
for words in different colours
for girls in different colours
writing, creating, loving and birthing
craggy mountainous zigzagging like border
-line imperfect

too much.
too much spice.
too much spice in your food
too much spice on your tongue
too much spice in that woman.

my sister and i know
a woman’s body is always flawed.
always ends invaded
by a man
always is a country carrying a sea
it may use to drown
to find peace
to fish out another fool.

my sister is from somalia
my sister is from punjab
my sister is from south africa, nigeria,
palestine and pakistan.

but you will not find her.
she is driftwood
somewhere along the rivers a man has created borders for,
ramming anchors into paper
in your africana studies class
in the writers of colour section of the local bookshop,
on your instagram
trying to recarve the maps
of her identity like a cartographer
of the self

for years we have learned
to wring the colour from ourselves
use it as ink
pen down
our narratives

skin soil land earth wall
the graffiti of what it means
to be but not belong

this world is a darkroom
and we are flimsy cut-outs
of film
trying to develop
like those nations our parents left
once, and then again:
yearning to develop
like those nations never got the chance to themselves.
“third world” barcodes on their chests
home: for sale.
heart: sold.
hope: transaction pending.

when they tell us we need to progress
do you remember how those hijackers came
and took the steering wheel away?
led the cars of our futures into micro macro
put the gear in reverse and then called us backward
they said “be grateful for this pain
we are burn-ishing you
we are making you
we are dipping you in the sun
shine for me, baby.
shine like glitter.

so we continue to churn
bleach like milk
to whiten our coffee
-coloured women
shine for me baby, shine like a white
diamond i can touch.
it’s a kind of stockholm syndrome
making poets out of immigrants
like my sister.

and at the end of the day
someone writes on instagram:
this is so moving. you have my
thoughts and prayers.”
and we applaud,
the palms of our hands


For Ijeoma, Chimamanda, Fatimah, Warsan, Jamila, Safia, Aziza, Melissa and the many others I read and look up to.

Artwork by Sam Kirk and Sandra Antongiorgi, “Weaving Cultures”

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