Mum-mi

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The woman who birthed me
wears around her neck
security, adornment, heirloom

Her freshly-baked softness
is gilded in three places:
earlobes, collar, wrist

In my mind they are part of her
not unlike the raven tresses
which grow from her in waves
gold blooms from her flesh

I have framed the second-hand
memory of my mother
holding her mother in her arms

Together like this they
circled God’s House
aching with a strength
only found in golden women

– zainab d.

Journeys in poetry: Migritude

The year 2017 so far has been a year of introductions. One introduction that was made to me this year was the world of poetry influenced by migration. This is not solely written by and about immigrants, but also poetry written by descendants of immigrants, and the continuing effects of migration in their lives. The first poems I read about migration were by Warsan Shire in her collection Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth and I was blown away (I’ll see if I can gather my emotions about that book enough to form a blog post.) I began to scour the internet for more of the same thing, like an addict searching for his next hit. I found nothing that satisfied me. Then one day, as I scrolled down my Instagram feed, I came across a poem someone had taken a picture of from a book. It was a fragment from Shailja Patel’s poem ‘Dreaming in Gujarati’ from her collection named Migritude. The fragment read:

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Part of the appeal of this poem for me was the ‘solid ancestral pride’ Patel wrote of, my mother tongue, Gujarati. It is a language I rarely see mentioned, as South Asian focused literature mainly uses Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi. Gujarati is a minority language, with “only” 46 million speakers, and as my uncle once told me, it is a dying language. In the poem, Patel talks about how she struggled to speak the language, being mocked by elders as a result. This was something I could relate to deeply, feeling as if I am missing a part of my voice. She touches on the internal identity crisis caused by not being fluent in one’ mother tongue, but being fluent in the language of the people who colonised her ancestors, the people who attack her for her race.

Their tongue – or mine?

Have I become the enemy?

 

In her poem ‘Shilling Love’, Patel portrays the grim realities of the migrant experience, explaining how her parents displayed love to their children.

 My mother propels us through / tutors, exams, scholarship applications / locks us in rooms to study / keeps an iron grip / on the bank books

Fifty shillings to the pound / we cry over meltdown pressure / of exam after exam / where second place is never good enough

 They snap / their faces taut with fear / you can’t be soft / you must be strong / you have to fight / or the world will eat you up

Although their parenting methods may seem harsh, for migrant parents, harshness is a necessity. To ensure their children had a better life in the long run, they had to be tough with their education to ensure they held high qualifications. Education meant opportunity in the West, meant that their children would never have to have hands callused by decades of hard labour. The love of migrant parents is sharp and hard to swallow, because they did not have the security that many of us enjoy.

Love is a luxury / priced in hard currency.

 

In her poem ‘The Making (Migrant Song)’ Patel fuses the immigrant experience with musings on colonialism and modern imperialist culture. She reveals the bleak moments of cultural integration (We cringe in silent shame for you when you don’t offer food or drink…Insult us without knowing.) Her rage against the exploitation of black and brown bodies is almost tangible, and she does not shy away from recognising injustices that still exist in the world today.

We all love to see bodies from Africa that move. We all love to move our bodies to rhythms from Africa. But we are terrified of African bodies that speak.

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Migritude draws from history to form a collection of creative work on race, ethnicity, immigration, and colonialism. It is at once a work that one can relate to as well as learn from, and even if that is not what you are looking for, it is still a shining example of stunning poetry and prose.

 

Washing Dishes

Water poured forth from the tap

Dirty dishes turned to gleaming artefacts

I’d sit at the table watching mum with eyes glazed

No sense of her pride of place, by the sink she would stand

Where bubbles rose and fell, a metal kingdom so grand

I’d have danced amongst the bubbles, swam in rivers of lemon-scented soap, I’d have-

‘You’d make too much mess and waste too much soap.’

Mum’s voice came down like a guillotine

Crushing my watery dream

 

When I was younger, I always wanted to wash the dishes but my mum never let me. So this is dedicated to my mum, you should have let me do the chores back when I actually wanted to.

The Night Theatre

I watched my sister every night

Before the mirror she sat,

Dressed all in skimpy clothes,

Topped with a red silk hat.

 

She stayed out all night

But returned every morning

With food aplenty for the table

And sacks of coal for burning.

 

She told me she was an actress

At a theatre that hates the day

‘The best shows come on at night,’ she said

‘When the wolves come out to play.’

 

Later she found me all dressed up

With rouge upon my lips

Shadowed eyes, shimmered cheeks,

And painted finger tips.

 

‘I’m coming with you!’ I chirped,

‘I’ve tickets for the show,’

‘A man came here earlier,’

‘Said I’d have a place in the front row.’

 

Ready to leave, I went to the door,

But my sister got there first

With teary eyes she turned the lock

As I cried and screamed and cursed.

 

Witching hour: the door fell open,

And my sister stumbled through,

Her clothes were ripped and torn,

And her skin was black and blue.

 

Before her soul departed she whispered,

‘My love, I had no choice.’

‘Let me tell you just one thing, dear sister,’

‘Stay away from boys.’

Second Generation

The tongue’s the place of hybrid culture

Spitting languages like fire from the East

But the other comes more naturally

Saarey jahaan se achaa and God save the Queen.

Am I thinking like a coloniser?

A child of the colonised

A heart split with betrayal

Because in my mother tongue I struggle to

communicate. No, I’m a picture of the East

born into the West. My culture’s neither here nor there

– it’s all mixed up. Us children of immigrants

we’re something else entirely. We take the best of each

and create our own. No fixed place, we’re nomads,

through cultures we roam.

How To Write A Poem

Start off

With a vague sentence

That wanders into your mind

Devoid of context

But has that meaningful sound to it.

Scribble it down

Abandon it for a few days

(Or weeks)

Then come back

And wonder why on earth

You ever thought this sounded good.

Cross it out

Maybe rip up the page for good measure

Erase any trace of it having existed

Curse yourself for not being deep enough

To have anything interesting to write about.

Search online

For how to write a poem

Scoff at the results

‘Get creative’

‘Choose the right words’

As if it’s that easy.

Suddenly at 2am

Write a page of poetry

Marvel at the words spilling

Out of your pen

Until they come to a slow,

Disappointing,

Stop.

Convince yourself

That you’ll finish it one day

That it’ll come to you.

Go on to write other things

As that sad little half-a-poem

Gathers dust.

This is my first ever attempt at poetry and I’m pretty pleased with it! I had to write a poem for one of my creative writing assignments and was racking my brain for a subject when this came out. I was a bit wary of it at first but my teacher loved it and I got a first on the assignment which made me a lot more confident about my writing.