Ratisena to Chandragupta Maurya
from ‘The Courtesans Reply’

While you sleep, I take
your white shirt
from the unpainted chair,
smoothe it with my hands
the way I smoothe
the tiredness from your body,
pressing my self against you.

Let me take your worries,
your secrets – those sharp
small stones you carry
with you always.

I know you have women half my age
– I see them in the street, swaying
like long grass, their saris
concealing slim legs
that circled your waist.

Are you my King
or the boy I met at the well
so many summers past?

I watch you sleeping.
My small bed cradles you,
my only child,
my only man.

[published in Modern Poetry in Translation, 2010 and The Courtesans Reply, 2012]


Mwanza, Malawi

I am Edith, I am eight.
I have two brothers, Jomo
and David. When we are hungry
my mother holds us close
with her body and her eyes.
Some nights I dream the same dream
– my mother covered in flies.

I jump out of the dream
leaving my mother alone
in the dark and the heat.
This happens again, again,
until a time the dream comes
and dream-me holds her eyes open,
puts one foot in front of the other
– goes like this to my mother
because of how much she hates flies –

and reaching her sees
a fine, black shawl covers her
with shiny, black beads
running over her like rain…
and my mother is sleeping
in the cool of its shade.

[published in The Financial Times, 2010 and TEN.]


My Mother’s Embroidered Apron

I am lost in my mother’s apron –
green parrots drip from the trees,
a peacock brushes past me
pulling its clockwork tail of children’s dreams.
I breathe in the heat of cinnamon,
the fug of yeast. My mother’s voice
fills me like smoke and her stories
lift me – I rise like a yellow balloon,
my feet, white ribbons trailing in the long, wet grass.

[published in PN Review, 2011]

You can read some more of my poems here:

Poetry International

Modern Poetry in Translation

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