The writing life is rough. Gritty as sandpaper against the skin of all four of your cheeks. Some people talk of bleeding onto pages, they’re not that far off from the truth. It really is messy work. And so emotionally complicated. You are only as good as your last thing. Validation becomes lip-balm, continuous application is required. Especially during a dry season, when poems pool in puddles unfit for mosquitoes. Everything; every word, every image, every idea is slack and windless and your submissions to journals crash into thick-bricked silence.
And then some nice things happen. You get invited to participate in an online literary seminar, sharing the platform with a range of highly-articulate women who express themselves in boldly unique ways. And a short story you wrote is shortlisted for a prize.
To read “Out of the Blue”, my submission that made the short-list for the 2014 Writivism Short Story prize, click here. If you like, leave a comment with your impressions in the comment section underneath the story.
Here follows texts of some of the poems I read for Pen Powered Mic I. Most of these have already appeared on this blog in some form.
After the Miscarriage
It is all for the mother
the glossed eyes
the quiver at the edge
of sympathy and bakery biscuits
for the mourners at tea time.
The door to the nursery is closed.
The talk is of other things except
for that one aunt whose needles
have another one soon, it will be good for you.
The father slips out
to hold his nose to the blankness
of the brand new baby wrap.
Arabic lessons in Egypt
At a masjid in Madinat Nasr
just before Maghrib
I find Jidatee with her nose
in His signs while a metronome
of bone on bone
with each fatha
with each kasra
she breathes, those knees creak
as much as the scuffed plastic
of the chair under them.
She’s not really my grandmother
I hear only one word out of her hundred.
Ana la atakalam arabiyya the guidebook told me to say.
Ana talibah, min junoob iffrikiya was from today’s class lesson.
Jidatee, who’s not really my jidatee
fingers the dark cloth of my jacket
before pointing to my skin trying to ask:
South Africa but how, you are not black?
Ummi’s ummi’s ummi min Hindeeyah I stumble
I haven’t yet learnt the word for great-grandmother
Jidatee brings her finger to her forehead
makes a little circle with it in the middle
La, la, Muslim I say
sounds a bit like a song.
We laugh before we pray.
When I return home to the real jidatee,
I tell her the Arabic words for jam, love and need
are the same as the ones in Gujerati
and that her prayers asking Allah
to strengthen her in old age
were already made
by a woman in a mosque in Cairo.
I cannot eat dates without wondering
I often feel warm at Muslim funerals.
It must be the black cloaks of the women mourners
enveloping their embraces on the thin grey blankets
spread around the coffin
febrile tears disintegrating fisted wads
of pink and white tissue.
My very first funeral was cold though.
I look back to the camphor and calico,
my father anointed and wrapped
like an offering.
The final kiss on stiff lips.
The crystals of evergreen frost on his eyebrows.
My mother too young, far away in another room,
her world tossed into a corner.
Always in the aftermath of sorrow
guests are fed blankets are folded
the furniture is re-arranged
prayer books get piled up.
And those date stones we saved
to tally our blessings for the dead and to God
return to their plastic buckets.
Bones begin soft and unknit
to mould through mothers
to start this work of hardening frame
growing upwards to fall free when six
from the top of the world, fracturing fear
and breaking it in three places
a school-term cast in plaster
scribbled on with fruit-scented markers.
Bones, I drink to your strength.
The milk, always, in tall glasses
good for glugging in one go
and skillful lickings
of wet-white milkstaches after.
Under stretched-out bras and holy panties,
I scribble bones into perfumed diaries
that close with a heart-shaped lock
pickable with a paper clip.
Bones, you make good backs
built to bend
under the weight of adolescence
and spring up
when the world becomes
ready for a woman.
softer than stone
has run between
Safa and Marwa
for as long as
At her feet
gush the springs
of home and hereafter.
It is as if she has lived five times over,
moving from mountain to mountain,
carrying our hearts on top of her own.
I seek you out
in the cradles of hands
between the creased ditches
and the padded mounds.
My thumbs are search parties
covered in prophets’ ink
rubbing through the woven pile
of a prayer mat.
In a palmful of Joburg snow
children see you clearly.
things to eat & feel in Egypt
the found ground
in cardamom mud
sentimental syrupy semolina
the crazy comfort of koshary.