Grandmother Ghosts

By | 1 February 2019

In country towns
I search the faces of men: young and old
For familiar reflections

My grandmother never lived long enough to know me
Small brown woman, cheekbones look fist-proof in this sienna photo I carry
Where she once walked these streets in her cheap leather shoes
Flat sensible scraps scrimped together from the war effort

She and I both offspring of one rootless tyrant and many gentle wanderers
(like her fading old people, striding tall from camp to camp,
following the seasons like their old folks did)

Her thin dress swishes over our skinny brown body
She was not a lady who lunched
She made the food, set the tables, and cleared them away
But was never allowed to enjoy the fruits of her labour

Her hunger pains stab into me too

I live inside her, cradled between hipbones
An egg inside another (but Mum absorbs most of the shock so I don’t break)
We guide her true, because
They stole her from her mother being able to

We pull at her belly when she takes a wrong turn,
Talks to bad men and listens to their flattery
Do not deliver us to evil!
We rattle our cages, making her sick

But occupation is nine tenths of the law
He squats her womb with no invitation at all
Working her fingers to the bone
A broken back for stolen wages and a belly full of baby

Later on, when Mum smuggles me out
We go screaming into that good night

But the cheek of this man

Just a cheeky slap, here and there, then:
A fist cracks a cheek and knocks some teeth loose
She’s bleeding pus and pissing blood
Not just her own, but the blood of our ancestors
Clots up in her brain

But a woman’s work is never done
(to wash blood out of cloth: scrub with very cold water before using soap)
Laundry wrung out and hung up like white flags of surrender
Sunlight’s the best disinfectant

For shame

He cleaves her liver with well-placed knee
She bleeds pus and pisses blood for the last

Time

Ain’t nothing like pain to bring you back to the present

As we walk the grand streets of this small country town
I look from face to face for echoes of my face without a mirror
Listening out for whether my blood sings or boils

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