Fisherman's Daughter

Safiya Sinclair

In this wet season my gone mother
climbs back again

and everything here smells gutted—
bloodtide, sea grapes in thick bloom,

our smashed plates and teacups. Dismantling
this grey shoreline for some kind of home, scared
orphans out bleating with the mongrels,
                                                              all of us starved

for something reclaimable. What chases them,
her barefoot rain, stains my unopened petunia, shined
church shoes, our black words, our hands.

I’ll catch the day creep in, dirt marking my father’s
neck, oil-dreck steeped dark to every collar,
her tar this same fish odor I am washing.

I know I am one of them. The emptied:

How night comes raw, open-wounded,
her gills wafting in the iron’s heat, sea’s marrow
unrelenting, my heart one coiled mass

and sweating. I scald a ritual cleansing.
White poui tree of my youth
stripped bare, her burned hair,
what starched pleats of uniform.

My skin a red linen pressed through with salt.
The house. Even the body burns.
Carbolic disappearing; scrubbed pink into fingernail,
a prayer, bone of coral

scraped, kneaded
into breasts and thighs.
Frankincense and swallow a bar of soap.
But no washing will avail me
                                             of this ghost.

I smell her at school and sulk my head
into the sand, watch my body carve
                                             this resurrection—
its dull gleam of scales, a new ache:

For salt, for sea grapes, her brown flesh
sucked down like a thumb. Sun and snapper-eye
sucked out, her spine like a straw.

I cannot help myself.

Her keen and shadowing.
My hair still tied in her old handkerchief,
Pray, pray she is not here today.

Teacher, unbeliever. Chasing me home
to wash myself. Last week’s daughter,

twelve years old, heart still for sale.