Grandfather, on visiting the village,
found there a woman in the throes of pregnancy
with whom he struck a bargain:
if he is a boy, I will be his friend
and if you birth a girl, I will marry her.
This girl became your mother.
There you are, Ba Jasper, in the flat on Cavendish Place
sat beside the cloth you inherited from my grandmother,
of which I still have a tattered strip.
The fullness in your cheeks puts you pre-diagnosis.
How remiss of me to have forgotten the quality of your smile.
What do we mean when we say we see, in the face
of an infant, this or that characteristic?
Who am I to recognize, here, in what I know is a portrait
from a time that cannot, any longer, be?
They let you hold them before taking them away.
You were enraptured by their bow-leggedness,
those legs that never ran down these stairs and along the road.
I always say: I was supposed to have three siblings.
Amid the clothes and shoes and electronics,
this, your most apposite bequest: a box of cassettes,
each one signed with your initials,
that we might once again inhabit the same room.
To say something of equatorial sky:
what the mind cannot remember
the body knows. So it is I still feel the breeze
tickling the hairs on my arms.
What became of canny and cannae and divvint?
Words, sharp as dandelion and burdock on the tongue,
lost to me as those I left at the gates
of the fee-paying school in Mufulira
where I was mocked for my demotic bemba.
Above almost anything, your namesake
likes to sit at your graveside.
To think our fear of these resting places
might be learned.
[No Ball Games]
Stephen Lawrence two years gone.
This country’s elementary lesson
in harm taught me to fight;
that following rules didn’t mean I would survive.
And if every image is
a self-portrait of the photographer
I praise what stirred in whoever took this
to endure and not look away.
The years bring out Tata’s likeness.
When I visit his brother, who never thought
he would see me again in this life,
he says, in my dark glasses, I look just like him.
The woman I came to your grave
to tell you about
wore your wedding ring
the day we married. And if, as I sometimes believe,
objects transmit energy,
this wearing brought you back.
Your worldly possessions are gathering dust
in a storage unit off Goodmayes High Road.
No one will take the dressing table.
What need have we for these ornaments,
old textbooks, the wedding dress you never wore?
The year clouded with news of a virus
that will decimate all digital life
passes like any year except
it leaves you behind
two months after my thirteenth birthday.
Why, even now, it is preferable the person
speaking would just come out with it
goes back to an afternoon I was nineteen
waiting for the call; my test results.
I had it in my head that it would be bad news.
[Cream of Tomato Soup]
Mother’s nakedness —
how bony she was —
she asked me not to be ashamed,
since I was cut from the place I wouldn’t look.
I’ve lost a sharp recollection of her face
as it was when she lived
the face we take with us to our long homes
the face that is our last and only face
hiding under the subterfuge of flesh.
At the congress of orphans
we start proceedings
by welcoming those new to the fold.
And does it get easier?
It doesn’t get easier.
[A Cambric Shirt]
Canticle from childhood.
A song that teaches better, maybe,
than any song
the impossibility of keeping those we love.
A few days before the day
we commemorate the day
you were laid to rest
we reminisce, bring you back to dwell in our midst.
Image © Kayo Chingonyi