Monday, 30 September 2013


Ramses station, Cairo

We turn a corner, underground. 
A tumble of us pressed together,
a shoal swimming to the escalator,
swept on a wave.
My lungs are stoppered gills.
I am the flailing hand of a compass.
Cummin, sweat, tobacco. Choking.
Everything turns to shadows.
And on the platform, a muffled roar,
the smell of burning hair. 

In the ladies carriage, I am  thankful.
Perfume, and  averted eyes.
My seized heart rocks. I wretch.
Your thunderous sky
Pressing down on me, bending ribs.
Your hands, a chain around my jaw.
Your eyes, shovels for the dead, oblivious.
Your mouth, a twisted abyss, bitter.
And worse, you  cannot stop.
Oh, how I loved you once.

Your tongue, a vicious reptile. 
I cannot spit it out. Fear has robbed me.
Anger is nurtured. Hate, a fool’s party.
I am a dish for both. We are drowning
together.  Like a child I close my eyes,
to vanish you. A gelid  voice spits.
Ugly, ugly, ugly. Old. Bitch and whore.

I lie as still as winter.  Your face, a wolf now, 
snarling from a bestial place.
We were blissful, once.
There’s  honesty in fluorescent light,
too bright to hide  intent: you will kill me
for what you cannot have.
Be soft, be delicate, you said,
so I can wipe you out. 

I run, gulping, shaking. My eyes
hold on to everything.
I can’t remember where I live.
The taxi driver swears.
Something  of me is left behind
in that ugly, cluttered room.  
I’ll never want it back.

I wash you from me, every cell and hair of you,  
scrub your DNA like chalk from a board,
a furious washing, my cunt musked to rid
its smell of you. We  gurgle down the drain.

Later, you called. Said your  forefathers
were from the delta, settled, hoeing, tilling,
not bedouin, wandering, pitching tents.
A stranger now, you laughed, remorseless.
You wanted me as if I were your land to harvest. 

I want to hold the hand of the woman beside me,   
but we are water sweeping through a sluice gate
onto the platform. I gather my breath like flowers,  
mount the stairs, emerge where books are sold.
In their deft calligraphy I lose myself,
each page a healing hand,
their poetry salvaging what’s left of me.

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