proud

She speaks often of sunnier times. playing kabbadi with her sisters and trips to Mombasa seaside. on the rainier days, she helps me to navigate this world when my mind is too loud. Our language is, to me, the most comforting sounds with its borrowed words and familiar intonation. embodying the journey of a displaced generation that they never taught us about. Here we are now in this northern estate, my heart still fills when we share a plate. sat together on the rug, we tear the bread and pass it around.

I am the granddaughter of a sleepless shapeshifter who has demonstrated sacrifice and strength in equal proportions. She will defend her pride endlessly. with sleeves firmly rolled since the moment she crossed the ocean. She reminds me often, that she raised me in my parents’ absence. I do not know, still, who is the most proud. but I promise you she has a wicked laugh. One that has brought tears to my eyes and probably always will. I have the privilege to know how that sounds.

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wildflowers

sometimes i keep a little distance

because i know

if i were to become familiar

with all your intricacies and imperfections

i might start to grow wildflowers

in what you see as cracks

all will the best intent

i might try to heal the raw skin underneath that mask

 

or, i might grow accustomed to only your fingertips

only your lips

 

then feel helpless when i realise

that there are some things i just can’t fix

it’s out of my hands but firmly in mind

 

your rituals might in some sense remind me of home

consoling without intent

heaven sent but earth taken

 

so, instead i keep some distance

disappear

light some incense

remembering

its out of my hands

but firmly in mind

 

 

the rest tend to speak of permanence not purity

promises not clarity

ultimatums, not trust

forgetting that we are all temporary

and that circumstance can be a beautiful and equally merciless thing

and that you can’t really promise me tomorrow, nor would i wish it

we knew this from the onset

besides, forever is a distorted concept

if you offer me today i will share with you these hours,

we can drink tea, converse and plant wildflowers

no more, no less – these minutes are mutually priceless

you and I are wonderful, but are not to be ‘kept’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watermelon

The year that diluted me

My stomach forgot how to feel hunger and my eyes forgot how to sleep

The year that melon tasted like hospital wards

Pomegranate tasted like lips laced with homesickness

Bittersweet and finite, I was helpless to it all.

Temporary and taxing, we sacrifice so much for any form of consistency.

I grew apathetic to my own mental health

Because wealth is what we think will provide security.

 

My best friend said she worried that when this is all over, there won’t be much left of me,

Another said your tears are so expensive

But I saw his worth

Even though unrequited, I embodied his hurt

We are both displaced

And opportunity feels so distant when weighed down by exhaustion and when you begin already standing in last place.

I’m homesick too, can’t you see me clutching conflicting compass with a mouthful of mother tongue but nothing more.

My empathy has no limits

but you saw me as your Monday girl

And nothing more

But nothing less, I am the new-week empress

You made me feel like everything

Then stripped it away by sunrise

I’d pretend to be okay

The high is so appealing now I realise instant gratification is no substitute for self-healing

And that intimacy is not synonymous with love

And that selflessness without self-care as the foundation can shatter you, and that I am worthy of

More.

what are you?

asking me to unpick shards of family history

although my skin is thick

my patience is pierced and wearing thin

let’s stop pretending it’s not a loaded question. unquenched by anything less than an explanation of elders’ migration. Why has it got to be the first point of conversation? fetishized ambiguity, repetitive invasion, silent bets on persuasion.

emerald

Oh, how sweet it is. I’ll allow myself to forget to eat sometimes, when the sunset is too appealing, or when the sunrise is so bright it draws me from sleeping. My hair is as long as my patience for everyone else other than myself. I’m working on it whilst the months are working on me. Renew and release like seasons until I am at peace. In winter I basked open-mouthed under constellations. Clearer than ever in the absence of artificial light were the aspirations of those I love. How sweet it is to see what they can. I traced the words thank you in the sand and waited for the tide to acknowledge. My mother swam in the same water her ancestors crossed to reach Kenyan shores which brought a tear to my eye. I had to wait until we returned before I could understand exactly why. In the summer I shed everything just to see where things would fall. Witnessed by honest eyes, patient words – I know I sometimes make things worse – with untimely clauses, pauses and clumsy words. Autumn came when earthy colours and friends like sisters kept me afloat, but from above I could see the debris.

Sleeve heart, what have you done? Where do I even begin collecting the pieces? Don’t you understand that there is risk in romanticising the everyday because not everyone sees the shape of tree-silhouettes or cloud formations in the same way? Sleeve heart why do you seek life in the most unlikely of places. Why do you see bouquets when others see empty spaces?

I give you nothing

and you grow fruit.

Sleeve heart, you can’t stay here – you have too much to lose.

 

October came and dutifully I shed everything again and again and again. I became light and unbound and had only myself to sustain. Daunting at first. The elements hurt my new skin. I built wall upon wall, only to tear them down when familiar eyes warmed my heart and welcomed me back here again.

Sure enough the bricks turned to soil and an emerald garden began to grow.

At the first sight of colour, sleeve heart arrived proud, and ever-optimistic. Ready to sow whatever would appear and wear it like a gemstone. ‘Look at what you made here’, she’d say. Allow yourself to step back. Try look at it this way.

It sure is beautiful.

Those scars, they are just new landscapes and well, your fallen hair strands are rivers which will return when your mind is more calm. Spring and sunshine will come soon, I promise, just please try not to hide that heart on your forearm.

 

loose tea

Leaf-laden footpath, lead me to my new house. Where I can retreat into low-fi hip hop and thick socks. Candles lit, they alight the evenings spent hiding with friends. Inside with cheap wine. Percentage to price ratio, we know how to make the best of it. Our smiles go to show. But I always try to find the time to write the further ones a letter. Remind them that in my darkest moments they were my anchor, my shelter. Years spent grappling with this idea of home. Loose tea brewing, thinking of the fourteen bedrooms past. I don’t mind being alone. I hear my ancestors sing songs of encouragement. Twenty one years before I visited our land. I brought back a heart-embellished sleeve and a rucksack, filled with their smiles. Embodiment of belonging. I unpack them in this new room. Light the incense and see them dance. Delicately. Towards the ceiling.

Some sense of cultural healing.

Becoming realigned. Until now, half of my body felt displaced. I always chased acceptance and people always demanded a race. I’m sure they still will.  But I have no need to run. I have come to know my place. Much to their disappointment, it is not static. I can move as much as I want. Nothing is predetermined apart from my right, to bring it with me. Carry it in my vocal chords. Wear it in my hair. No longer diaspora without a compass. Armoured in love and grounding even when stripped bare.

didi & bhaia

Your hands are so small

yet in three weeks they have become my world

you can hold a universe between your finger and thumb

you are the sum of e v e r y t h i n g

 

and then you sung!

 

you spoke and projected for all to hear

I felt so proud

and you danced and you smiled

and you showed no fear

when many twice your size would have cowered

 

full to the brim of aspirations and surprises

we shared few words but each minute spoke thousands

sores on your hands only make us hold them tighter

 

it breaks my heart over

and over

and over

when your sisters said they wish they were whiter

 

 

Because I have never seen so many beautiful souls

How much of a hold you have, I doubt you will ever know

9 hearts captivated by three weeks in your presence

Your small hands are the seeds of change and promise you will be allowed to grow

Be allowed to flourish and bask in a society that respects you as much as we do

Anything we do from now, we do it because of you

Patchwork

I am a blind seamstress

For three years you watched me undress

You take pleasure in what I can’t see

Normalised to taking your word and consuming it, whilst the sentences consumed me

I am a blind seamstress

Wanting only to mend

Gentle hands work in the dark in fear of reprimand

Eggshells crunch beneath cold feet

Heightened senses, echoes loud

Overbearing so I can’t speak

 

Sometimes reduced to a whisper

 

 

But love heals all in good time

 

Even my wounds of mishaps with needle and thread

Skin like paisley, dappled crimson red

 

But I just wanted to fix and bind

Honestly, I didn’t mind

I didn’t mind until I’d tried every patchwork under the sun

I was so selfishly selfless because you said I was the one.

Swatch Card

MY ARM HAIR IS NOT UP FOR DEBATE. IT IS THICK AND DARK LIKE MY HISTORY.

I HOPE IT MAKES YOU UNCOMFORTABLE AND CRUMPLE YOUR BROW. TELL ME AGAIN,

WHO IS EXOTIC NOW?  AND TAKE THAT OFF YOUR FOREHEAD.

DON’T TELL ME THAT MY HAIR LOOKS BETTER STRAIGHT OR TO SMILE MORE.

THEY ASK WHERE I COME FROM THEN DISMISS MY FIRST ANSWER LIKE I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND THE QUESTION. LIKE I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND THE DIRECTION OF THE CONVERSATION. I SPEAK OF HERTFORSHIRE WITH CONFIDENCE YET THEY WANT TO HEAR MIGRATION PATHS AND CLASS.

I SEE THEIR SWATCH CARD.

CATCH HARSH GLIMPSES OF IT THROUGH THEIR SLURS.

DANGEROUS.

BUT NOT AS MUCH AS OUR WORDS. WE DO NOT CRAVE THEIR VALIDITY. THERE IS NOTHING TO HIDE. My skin is drenched in humility as much as it is pride.

I come from ground cinnamon, turmeric and chai. From Swahili and Cymru. Gujarati and grace.

But they demand one place.

One definitive location. One single race.

 

 

Please, allow me to serve this pint, sir.

Now, how does that taste?

haha

 

weight of a waitress

iris incision, thigh and breast butcher

best

look down because you know its wrong

 

stomach churning

burning for her age eighteen to be turning

yearning, he’s a selfish soul

she’s still learning, earning money to pay for driving lessons

 

but he calls her up in college to fill tender ears with harrowing confessions

 

she’s missing

 

her

 

creative writing

pushed aside,

she saw the councillor and lied about what was eating away at her voice

 

she cried for long nights on end, trying to pretend she could handle

this mangled soul who strangled the idea of intimacy.

 

‘he’s older, so he should know better than me’

 

she thought

 

he bought her gifts and cigarettes

but never split the tips that she’d earnt

whilst compromising what she’d learnt at college

knowledge washed away as she wept

kept upright by cocodamol, washed down after she slept.

 

the city four years later still sends shivers down lone spines

 

edging round shopping centers and glancing around too many times.