Years of Living Dangerously

1933
Babushka kept a pig in the bathtub
while the Red Army raided barns
and larders enforcing Holodomor.
Out on the Kiev streets stick bodies
staggered, bloated and staining
snowdrifts like squashed bluebottles.

The children named the pig Nina
against their mother’s warnings.
Come slaughter day they waited
on the balcony with scarves tight
round their ears but the screams
rang loud and their tears froze.

1974
The British three day week; fish, chips
by candlelight. I strutted my hot pants
to Bowie and Bolan on Pirate Radio;
sniggered when Papa built secret shelves
inside the chimney breast to hide tins
of flour, sugar, rice, pasta and preserves.

Babushka, me and Mama chopped
and shredded cabbage, carrots, onions
like swathes of virgin lace spilling
over the yellow table, pickled in old
sweetie jars with faded labels. The blue
room soured with the stink of vinegar.

2020
The year of Covid 19; I empty bookcases,
arrange tins of soup, sweetcorn and tuna.
Lockdown. The silent sky tumbles
sapphire and stags browse my garden.
Their antlers spark a murder
of crows spooling from the willows.

When the amber light fades to dusk
ghosts come knocking at my door.
I look out at a deserted street, counting
down every wavering heart
beat. In the still mountain night
I hear the echo of Babushka cheering.

Babushka UK 1960s

Noddy Speaks in Tongues

Break-time. The English sip milk through a straw, crunch crisps.
I am the foreign kid, cornered by Miss Blowers, stick the tip
between your teeth. The them there this. The they them, like this.

Her tongue protrudes from her mouth like a sliver of salami.
De dem dare dis. De dey dem, like dis, I repeat.

Miss Blowers holds Noddy and the Magic Rubber. Her sharp
fingernails tap the cover; rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat. Thwack.
I am crowned with Noddy. I detonate with pain and shame.
The they them there this. The they them! roars Miss Blowers.
My tongue strikes, three thunderous thumps, thanks.

Back home Mama prepares borscht, slicing beetroots, carrots,
Chop, chop, chop into small. Her knife slides through red
flesh with no resistance, taps as it hits the chopping board.
Don’t like bosh, says I. Not de bosh, but de borscht! says Mama.
Not de borscht but the borscht and out comes my tongue.

 

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A Light Bulb Moment- photo by the author

 

 

 

Wait for Me

your roses bloom
in winter
turn to rust

your companion
is black magic
a willow tree

your sea sparks
treasure at twilight
galvanised

your wind tastes
of lavender
blows crushed glass

your watermelons
smell of sunrise
shrivel like mice

your cheeks are plump
as summer
are opium

your sins
are forgiven
lie underground

your sons sprout
high as fountains
drowned before birth

your neighbours
sweep away demons
pass me in the street

your cupboards
hold dusty memories
crammed with lace

your blue walls
fade newspaper
a crystal ball

you leave
doors open
so I will come

 

 

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Image by the author

Reunion

They say blood is thicker than water
so I will build a bridge, a stunning

suspension of disbelief
spanning the oceans between us.

Blood will call to blood, an interweaving
of broken strands. 25 is the magic

number. You will come to me, nameless
and lost but loved since always. Brother,

sister, can you hear me, can you feel me
twist in your heart, burn

in your bones, a splinter in your gut,
a memory of what might have been?

Do you dream of dark streets
in a northern city? Do you cry out

in your sleep? Are your eyes flecked
with gold like mine? Do you sport a gap

between your front teeth? Is your skin
smooth as avocado? Are you keen on cryptic

puzzles? I hold a clue and so do you, together
we will find answers. So let us rendezvous

on the scarlet arc across the blue.
I have prepared a place and I am waiting.

 

Note:- on average the amount of DNA shared between half-siblings is 25%

 

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Image created by the author