Language is thankless Service

Samuel Samba
FIRST PLACE: Charles Simic Tribute Poetry Contest
“Where it says knife, read you passed through my bones
like a police-whistle. Where it says table read horse
Where it says horse read my migrant's bundle – Charles Simic” (Errata)
We started out as twin loins—
softened into a blur in the hazy bright weather.
Ma folds in between, weary as a naira note ribboned with dust.
she prise open her fist as though to imitate a gunshot.
bullet is one imagery this town cherishes. sound coloring the landscape.
blood, tarring the roadside in gentle worship, in ways this city outlives us.
Ma flattens her wrist to trade notes with a cabman.
the small of her loin, whittled into a plea.
a dagger takes the shape of his hand knifing a wallet. say, I lock my palm 
around his, chances are they would return wet-ripe with rust.
each approached lamppost—wielded in defence.
when Ma unsheathes her skin, she's saying:
pardon me for daring to live past question marks,
past Iowa stamping our loin into the brutal hands of a cop—
like exhibits splayed against pink flesh in the dying light.
Iowa blurs the negro in me, Ieaving the brown stink.
I live for language & this little white I bring.
in my dialect, we lack the phrase to say 'thank you'.
gratitude: a clasped applause held to the death.
where I'm from, appreciation is inheritance handed down to a stranger.
once the cabman's gaze meets the lack of my palm,
he runs his fingertip down my hip—‘let us put ourselves to use.’
I swallow the whole of this phrase in one attempt. my loin: a protest eager for quench.
language is thankless service. Ma mouth these words, till I learned to speak 
with both hands clasped. ‘we oil language with gesture'
she laps her fist on each other, in careful show of a warning.
I melt her effort into braille: bare fingerprints of charcoal-stained writing,
debone the wisdom in it.
in my dialect, water is how we flood into perspective—following our gut feelings.
Ma calls her body water, to quench a town that wouldn't quench our thirst in return.
she empties herself into a headlamp to invent brighter grammar.
language, sharpening into Sanskrit.
the cabman slits the jewelry off her wrist. 
his soft-meated hands lubed with blood.
all of our ancestry—snatched in one brief uncuffed moment, 
as darkness blurs the windscreen. Ma reciting salat.
I watch her dip her tongue into henna,
caw in the accent of gunshots.
her throat rusty from chasing a melody the bullet does not approve.

Samuel Samba (he/him/his) is an indigenous writer of poetry & other works of art. Samuel's works have been previously published or forthcoming in Exist Otherwise Magazine, Australian Poetry Journal, Australian Access Poetry, Hill Hoist Magazine, Munster Literature & elsewhere. He got an honorable mention in the 2022 Christopher Hewitt Award in Poetry.

"Tokyo Yellow Cab" by Street Photography candid is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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UNDER THE MADNESS
A magazine for teen writers—by teen writers. Under the Madness brings together student editors from across New Hampshire under the mentorship of the state poet laureate to focus on the experiences of teens from around the world. Whether you live in Berlin, NH, or Berlin, Germany—whether you wake up every day in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North or South America—we’re interested in reading you!