Sisters in Arms


The edge of our bed was a wide grid

where your fifteen-year-old daughter was hanging   

gut-sprung on police wheels

a cablegram nailed to the wood

next to a map of the Western Reserve

I could not return with you to bury the body   

reconstruct your nightly cardboards

against the seeping Transvaal cold

I could not plant the other limpet mine

against a wall at the railroad station

nor carry either of your souls back from the river   

in a calabash upon my head

so I bought you a ticket to Durban

on my American Express

and we lay together

in the first light of a new season.


Now clearing roughage from my autumn garden   

cow sorrel overgrown rocket gone to seed   

I reach for the taste of today

the New York Times finally mentions your country   

a half-page story

of the first white south african killed in the “unrest”

Not of Black children massacred at Sebokeng   

six-year-olds imprisoned for threatening the state   

not of Thabo Sibeko, first grader, in his own blood   

on his grandmother’s parlor floor

Joyce, nine, trying to crawl to him

shitting through her navel

not of a three-week-old infant, nameless   

lost under the burned beds of Tembisa

my hand comes down like a brown vise over the marigolds   

reckless through despair

we were two Black women touching our flame   

and we left our dead behind us

I hovered you rose the last ritual of healing   

“It is spring,” you whispered

“I sold the ticket for guns and sulfa   

I leave for home tomorrow”

and wherever I touch you

I lick cold from my fingers

taste rage

like salt from the lips of a woman   

who has killed too often to forget   

and carries each death in her eyes   

your mouth a parting orchid   

“Someday you will come to my country   

and we will fight side by side?”


Keys jingle in the door ajar threatening   

whatever is coming belongs here

I reach for your sweetness

but silence explodes like a pregnant belly   

into my face

a vomit of nevers.


Mmanthatisi turns away from the cloth

her daughters-in-law are dyeing

the baby drools milk from her breast

she hands him half-asleep to his sister

dresses again for war   

knowing the men will follow.

In the intricate Maseru twilights

quick sad vital

she maps the next day’s battle

dreams of Durban sometimes

visions the deep wry song of beach pebbles

running after the sea.

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