by Imtiaz Dharker
I may raise my child in this man’s house
or that man’s love,
warm her on this one’s smile, wean
her to that one’s wit,
praise or blame at a chosen moment,
in a considered way, say
yes or no, true, false, tomorrow
not today. . .
Finally, who will she be
when the choices are made,
when the choosers are dead,
and of the men I love, the teeth are left
chattering with me underground?
just the sum of me
and this or that
Who can she be but, helplessly,
Some day your head won’t find my lap
so easily. Trust is a habit you’ll soon break.
Once, stroking a kitten’s head
through a haze of fur, I was afraid
of my own hand big and strong and quivering
with the urge to crush.
Here, in the neck’s strong curve, the cradling arm,
love leers close to violence.
Your head too fragile, child,
under a mist of hair.
Home is this space in my lap, till the body reforms,
tissues stretch, flesh turns firm.
Your kitten-bones will harden,
grow away from me, till you and I are sure
we are both safe.
I spent years hiding from your face,
the weight of your arms, warmth
of your breath. Through feverish nights,
dreaming of you, the watchdogs of virtue
and obedience crouched on my chest. ‘Shake
them off,’ I told myself, and did. Wallowed
in small perversities, celebrated as they came
of age, matured to sins.
I call this freedom now,
watch the word cavort luxuriously, strut
my independence across whole continents
of sheets. But turning from the grasp
of arms, the rasp of breath,
to look through darkened windows at the night,
Mother, I find you staring back at me.
When did my body agree
to wear your face?
© Imtiaz Dharker, from Postcards from god (Bloodaxe Books, 1997)
With kind permission of the poet