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Offering

you wake in the night
lips shaped
around a word that has not
yet
arrived

you close your eyes
wait
for it to grow into a poem

a poem that might breathe itself
into heat, form
into a body merged with yours

and if you entered that body
with every sense
ferocious, tender
nothing withheld

it would become a doorway
you could walk through
clear-eyed
find your country

see it truly
for the first time

and if you stood
in the sticky churning
red mud of your country
naked to the wind
the carrion

refused to shut
your eyes refused
to shut
your eyes

the word would arrive
cymbal in your mouth

sing history
back onto itself, sing tearing
whole again, sing altered
tally sheets clean, blood
back into bodies, blades
back to the forge

sing women
unviolated, infernos
downward to soil, crops
greenly skyward, sing it all
back to the beginning

in a language
none of us
has ever heard

have you ever woken
in the night? Reached
for the body beside you
as if its living warmth
could teach your hands
a new language?

in the dark
it is your own bare skin
the holy innocence of belly
unslashed
the fearless softness of breast
unraped
that whispers back to you

beloved

history is a million terrors
tides that have engulfed your country
you were never going to arrive
in time

it began before you
will not suck itself
back through the doorway
of your longing

and a doorway
is not a body
to wrap you
in the night

a body
is not a poem
that will teach
the language you yearn for

the poem you seek
will never
fit
grape-round, grape-sweet
into the shape your mouth makes
when you wake in the night
lips open, crying
for all we once believed
we knew

all we once imagined
our struggles had made safe

crying
for all those
choked, drowned
in the quicksands of history
the history we did not arrive
in time to drain

beloved

what remains
blossoms out of the skin
of your belly
nudges into your palm
on your breast
a pulse you fit words to
one by one

breathe
see
choose

truth
work
love

you will wake with your fingers
wrapped around them
breathe see choose

wake with them salty
under your tongue
truth work love

they hold your right of return
to the country of childhood
they map where you will stand
in the scorched erupting soil

breathe see choose

they are your passport
to morning

- Shailia Patel (2008) © All rights reserved

Kenyan poet, playwright, theatre artist, Shailja Patel, is a member of Kenyans for Peace With Truth and Justice. Visit her at: www.shailja.com

 

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