Deserts and Promises

1 February 2016

My people make
deserts and promises.

I can live quite beautifully in words
assembled and disassembled so easily,
as if we conquered the world with riddles.

I once lived on an island
with no word for thank-you,

this is the art of small places.

When the colonialists came
they took the teak and sandalwood and cinnamon,
and left a please and a thank-you
where once the forest stood.

My father left his island, cold,
where the people speak like songs,
and talk in stories,
and whisper that the name of their city is a lie.

I was raised in a forest without trees,
a forest that existed only in the memory of birds
they would come winter mornings
and suck dew from the grass.

My mother’s people, from the high country
lived in a place once called after a river,
but now bears the name of a long-dead colonel
in a battle that only the cannon survive.

This town
is called by a word
we don’t understand,
a symbol
carved from a language
expelled from the landscape.

The name may mean ‘red earth’
or ‘bend in the river’,
or ‘where the wide waters meet’.

It could be a crooked curse
or a lullaby,
a passport
or a prayer.

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