This Country’s Women
To survive, the women in my country hide
secrets beneath breasts, at the curve of spine,
between each hip: the first places shame ever licked us.
Tucked at the corners of our wrappers
bank notes folded into our modesty to trade at the market.
There, the caverns of our bodies rattle with the weight of war
and all the stories we cannot bring our mouths to tell.
Because here woman is both property and sin. And once sin,
no one cares that the border officer stole your only bale
from Tanzania and forced his manhood into your palms.
Or when the girl who holds your name on her tongue
makes her home inside your mouth every night for six months,
then swiftly decides you have been target practice for a boy,
for a body that cannot be
beaten and bloodied,
and burnt if caught between her thighs.
Because here love will kill you both.
Or your father shattering your mother’s cheeks into
swollen half-moons at the door right in front of you,
and your mother—exposed flesh
tender, barely breathing, seeing you see—insisting she’d fallen.
Because there is a monster in your home and you are half-ghost.
Because here our women are born dead.
Or when the men come with loaded fists and your sister’s ashes
in their nails. When,
at the beckoning of their God, they part this body like sea.
Staff after staff, discerning amongst themselves and He
how much water each crevice could hold.
How many can fit between
your teeth. And how many times. And for how long.
My mother is ashamed of me. When I return to her fold
my brothers laugh at the way, each year,
my tongue sits heavier inside my mouth, how it struggles
to a rise, stumbling to the music of her language,
stepping on her toes with alcoholic lilt.
No one believes she’s mine.
I am ashamed of my mother. When the Americans ask of her
I say, “You wouldn’t begin to imagine
such a frail little thing. I left her long ago. After
the white men came and she swallowed us inside
and shrank and shrank and shrank.”
Now I am full woman in a half-vacuum. Landless
in my own home, I am larger than my mother
and it’s killing her.
When we sleep, my mother’s bell tower
heart rings against the confession booth
of my ribs and we curl into each other.
In our dreams we remember floating in the lake
before the darkness. In our dreams
we speak forgiveness fluently. In our dreams
salvation is not God’s to give.
while my lover sleeps i count
the islands in her spine, each
stubborn, edgeless, drowning
in the sea of her skin.
the war left her country
but stayed in her blood and body,
grew into a house for grenades.
i can still smell gunpowder
when she speaks. it’s been sixteen years.
it floats to the roof of her mouth
flies from her lips, taunting, daring someone,
to move close. strangely,
this is not how she tastes.
soon, approximately two a.m.
she will explode from terrors
i cannot begin to know.
ABOUT THE POET
Born in Malawi and raised between Blantyre and the UK, kyle malanda is a visual artist whose work—writing, photography, fashion, and film—explores the intersections of sexuality and gender, mental health, tribalism, and generational trauma in an increasingly globalised world. kyle is currently based in Boston, MA.