He touches my scalp
and suddenly I want to slide
into his waiting arms, like a finger
slick with cocoa butter, he’ll
trail down my center, sink into all my pores
and restore me to health.
We tangle over and under,
tying little knots around our knuckles;
pull it tight, pull it twisted,
working like cotton pickers
to build the wonder of us.
We paste grease into our elbows and
rub it in, bruising with force
one hour after another.
He plucks the plaits from my head
and threads them through with pellet
shaped beads. They beat against the back
of my head like little whips slashing at my ankles.
His thumb presses into my porcelain bones and
his words whisper of black tears that
soak into my ramshackle inhibitions
and tear them down.
I felt like the strained coffee stain
planted to the bottom of a cup.
Unwanted and yet immovable,
sticking to the rim in the print of thick lips.
He scraped at the grains and I embedded under
his fingernail – a beckon to come, a will to
to do more than linger at the edges of chipped
Sometimes, he looks at me as I am hunched over
the Sunday dinner, and his mouth drools. A river
spools from the corner of his mouth and he thinks
I don’t see it. He thinks he can suck it in, block off
his longing with a dam. So I whistle before turning
and fill my head with translucent glass.
I play the fool. I fall for him.
When we walk down the spotted pavement
the flowers wilt and bend their backs for us;
they coo at our caramel children and turn
red with envy once we’ve slipped away.
We never say thank you.
Instead, we grip our hands together tight, tentatively;
one finger going over, one finger going under,
rubbing against each other until our skin wears
paper thin. When I smile, he pulls my plaits
and his kisses taste like the endless sea.
A Family Gathering Between Four Walls
“Mama, tell it to me again,” I would beg.
And she would bow her head over me,
kissing my chocolate cheeks and
smoothing my unruly hair
with a smile dimpled in her face.
“A story of ackee an’ saltfish,” she’d start
and her eyes would glaze over and turn to
caramel dew. She was far, far away then,
in a land of sunshine and paradise.
“It a meal that bring all ‘em good folk together.
When dem see that saltfish soakin’ in the early morn
and watch that salt seep into the boiling water
them think: Me gonna get me some of that today.
An’ when it cool in the evenin’ air
after the hard work been done, and them backs
crooked from being bent over in that sunshine,
them men wipe off their brow on the back
of them hands, and bring their meager bowl
to me doorstep. And Mercy, you shoulda seen ‘em;
the way they eyes follow as I stir up the pot, follow
how I chop up dem tomatoes and all the yellow-y
goodness. That’s when your papa come talk to me, ya see.”
She’d pause for a breath, her hands suspended
somewhere midair. She’d sigh so sweetly –
a sigh for home, for the long forgotten
and then she would continue.
“He look up at me, a bowl in hs two big up hands
and his eyes all open wide, ya see
and say: please pretty lady
can I have soma your ackee an’ saltfish? It
smell so good.
“And I got the silver spoon in my hand and am
dishin’ it out to all them fellas, and I got the words
take it easy on my lips but when I look pon him
the world feel so in balance, kinda like how them oceans
always know where dey going and what it doing,
and I fill up his bowl like I ain’t filled no one else’s.
An’ I tell him: ya betta come back fo more, ya hear.
“And my little Mercy,” she’d say, her eyes focusing
on me. “He come back ev’ry day. It ain’t like them folk here,
where everyone lives in boxes and hides behind
their lil walls. There it be open, so open.”
Mama would walk out of my room then, but she
would leave a trail of dreams that marked the floor
with every step she took.
I didn’t want the drab, dreary colours of London
to press against my cheeks day to day.
I longed to be somewhere else, somewhere
magical, tropical. Where I would sit with my friends
around pots of ackee, listen to the waves and swear
we could hear the saltfish
sliding onto the shore.
In memory of Aunty Ida
A queen never dies
for her heart is not in her chest.
She dissects it, slicing the vascular tube in half,
examining with a wary eye
what is inside, inside, around.
When she has enough pieces
she smears her blood on the bone-dry table,
watches it soak in and saturate the wooden beams
before stitching up her chest tight, closed, tight.
Her heart is fed to the birds
that bury their heads in her rose bushes.
They engrave their claws into her shoulders,
scratching her with tenderness, with tears
hardened into hate and love, love.
When it is time to go, the queen
descends to the ground, her knees clinging
to the soil like talons, her being sinking
into the earth that birthed her.
She spits seeds of fat gold coins as her slender neck
is swallowed whole. Her eyes are dimes
glimpsing the riches she leaves behind.
The birds are there.
They are there with wide, human eyes
gnawing, cawing, crying pebbles of pain
before they fly away and wonder
what more food they can find,
a nourishment to smooth over their
souls which have been buried deep,
so darkly deep and so far away.
Out of Line
it is my pleasure to welcome
you to the special spectacle of
the endless queue of passport control;
now hold on to your Hawaiian hats, and
cling on to your kids – there could be someone standing still,
eyes turned to the desk, pinky pressed into their passport pages,
and they could be after your life, holding it in a tendril of their eyesight
wanting to snip it in two halves because you’ve created a powerful planet,
an orb of your own world in which you hold all the carefully counted coins
we watched you pillage and pick pocket all you needed from other lands, and yet
when we want to slide in between your gates, it’s some kind of game to you all, you watch us
with your hungry eyes, searching for a beam of black skin in all this white. We paint our skin
white and turn our hands palms outward, but you spot us standing in line as if we are
labelled and out we come, stand to the side, hands up please, this won’t take too long.
Or maybe it’s the hijab on our head that you see first, eyes narrowed, and you wish
you could pinch the end between two fingers and unravel, unravel the
mystery you can’t understand. Or maybe it’s the golden cross
hanging from our necks, too big and too much bling
to make it as an American. Or maybe it’s the
Spanish Chinese Indian Not American
sliding from our lips. Ladies
and Gentlemen, what a
spectacle you make
of people not
Olivia-Savannah R is a Jamaican-British writer, who writes poetry and short stories about challenging topics which have controversial opinions, or resonate with deep emotions. She is forever working on her first novel. If she isn’t writing, you’ll find her with her nose in a book, blogging, doing yoga, practising nail art, experimenting in the kitchen, and buying more books than she could ever read.