(for Mara, Oscar and Michele Gardini)
Where I am from we do not measure relation in
That is why I love you more than I know how to tell
and I tell you all the time
about the tiny Canadian
demonstrating the sting of the felt mantis-
He mouths it into your puppet’s pursed ear,
your mother and your father and your brother,
your Nonna who soiled her gingham dress,
in glee, by the pronutro pool at the old house,
in Zimbabwe- One day I, also, will realize
I am a grown woman
being chased by a monkey, and wee.
Bone memories speak a language of marrow, fried.
We were made for the government school,
the horse-prowled Benoni farm lands,
an Uncle’s seven-eleven down by the train tracks.
Are you scared you’re a coloured
and not Portuguese?
and I can’t stop laughing.
She told me that I grew in her heart
instead of under it,
and I imagined myself squashed in that cavity,
sucking on a cardial chord, like a slikkie,
more than blood, more than fat,
I am made of these white moments,
healthy as cells, with their new-mattress walls
by decades of cutlery and jars, the lazy susan
we spun to Durban and Cape Town and back,
a roulette I won, every time.
For Laura, who is four
We have drawn a picture of you, together.
My little, my white plaster cast
a first year installation, a story you read before
watching her glass-eye watch you,
the chink-wall of channels, shuffling.
She will not sleep,
has to tell you about each item in her toybox.
I love it! that tiny chest, straining towards
I love it.
This is my one hair (what happened to the rest?
They burned it off in the fires, you shrug,
but before I can ask)
and this is my dress (I know, I helped with that
Yes, you did, grudgingly)
and this my winky.
Ah, fat oblong.
I took you for a slipper.
She still takes you with to the cubicle,
that small hot hand, limp and protesting in yours,
the resigned murmur of “Uppies” when
there are too many spikes in this hanging basket of
being big, being useful.
You sure you have a winky?
Ja, I do.
I see a circle on the sternum, untoured.
S’that, baba? It’s where I got bitened.
We only change the sheets
for when you dream of your small mouse
trapped in the parrot’s cage
and wake up, missing!
This talcum powder give, this springy.
She tries again-
You know, you know when the wolf bitened me?
You know when the wolf and the ghost bitened me?,
peels a bandage from her finger,
sits it on the sketch’s collarbone.
Owie? I hazard.
Owie. She confirms.
Let’s intone a little rhyme about passing.
Necessity renovates the interior,
quick-cut job, gravel still in the letters’ ridge,
so he can feel his way around
the back room - a chest that won’t contract,
because that would mean it was made of muscle
when, really, it is a tight, stone slab of fat.
Epidural, around about,
wobbling solidly under inspection.
Squat on the floor’s tin
with your bog-hair slickened to skin,
feigning a wind thinned under the airline blanket,
whispering “organic” to the boy you love,
instead of amen.
Pucker up, you spackled pore.
Damp as a tuber, bursting with something
white-sauced and odorous,
these are the sumstains we tried to deodorize:
the sweat’s slug suggestion of facial hair, the lint
thin weevils that burrow through your digestive
You only wanted to grow it out of compost steel and
because you forgot the difference between shit and
The bile-pit is shot up with swab samples now.
Hypothetical sisters you didn’t know how to love,
ignoring the kisses their bilious knees scraped
as you tipped them in, grey limb by chalk limb.
A wing of skin tucked into your sleeve.
Things you chucked away, things you have heard
Assuming one could pass if fastened into his hide
she became a small acorn button, tacked to the
I showed it to him because even the acid
needs an audience, needs an arm
to eat its recognition through-
The Youth Leaguer spoke fluently, sure,
but there was a hairlip crack in his pronunciation,
a brown fissure underside to the fruit.
Reich little peach.
I sat on stoops with him, thinking,
who would have allowed this, a century ago?
I know what I look like:
the gold calving sheen, certain mannerisms,
my inked-in stocking seam.
It takes the right kind of blonde to acknowledge it.
That’s why we were in love when your hair was brown.
The girl at the video store asks-
what did you get for English?
I did ok, I say.