Joy Chambers & Reg Grundy Award – Open Age Other Poetry
by Ella Ruuskanen
Dada, your grave is so little
that when I lie beside it
I am twice as long,
although you were born long before me.
my head is in the shade of the bush,
but yours - you must wait
in the heat and the white
of the sun
for that little while longer,
until the shadow
to envelop your mound, brittle-skinned
Had we buried you under the papai tree,
the dirt of your grave would smell sweet,
like those bars of soap
that white men once gave us
(though you were more thrilled by the men - 'oh,
that skin!' - than their gifts).
But Mama said no;
'you'd be dug back up
the moment we turned our backs';
the tree was too far from the road.
your dead body is so very precious, dada,
that people would be willing
to cut more limbs,
your hair from your scalp -
all for the sake of superstition.
Your legs - they will have been sold by now
to a witch-
doctor, who will have stripped them of flesh
the blood-pink bones,
and ground them to a powder,
to be added to his lucky potions.
But only for others, is your colouring a blessing;
you, as a person, were cursed.
This I learnt from the village children,
the name-calling, sharp-fingered,
who would crowd around you like a coconut husk
as you huddled there
in the heart, like a coconut pearl –
that rarest of botanical gems.
I never did try to save you.
Frozen with fear, I stood
on the fringe and clung
to the ring like a hair,
too weak to penetrate the thick
hard shell of hatred that closed around you,
my dada, 'zeruzeru'.
And the night that the men came hunting you,
through the door, black-soled, like shadows,
whispering, 'quiet, or we'll cut you too' -
I held my breath.
I closed my eyes and wept.
But I said nothing - I just
for your cry, which never came,
because they cut that part of you first.
Dada, my dada, rare gem, Adimu,
I miss your white face,
its forgiving smile, and your strength
in the face of darkness.
I have planted on your grave a papai tree
and one day, when it is grown,
I will join you
in the peace and the quiet
of the sweet-smelling dirt.