The Mother Portrait
By Ishion Hutchinson
Nyame, my mother, you are sick.
I am afraid, as if I were in darkness
and slit-white eyes are mocking me.
The Healer Woman says you’ve been marked,
that your enemy put a coolie duppy
on you, so mornings when the basil
rise in the nose, the duppy is outside.
Nyame, why you? You never trouble people,
you don’t hang with rum-head district
women on the plaza, cutting eyes, lapping
skirts on people’s business whole day.
They call you things, I hear them—
Lady-a-the-Night, Ninny, Bird—
the dishtowel names hang on fences
to quail in the sun for all to see.
What wrong you caused, what damage?
Is it us, your two precious
you boast of, our father
who ran away to the streets of England;
we who wear shoes out of
the once-in-a-blue moon parcel
to school and eat out of crockery,
and must not romp with village pickney?
Nyame, did I fertilize their envy
and push their hands to obeah?
To watch you turn fool, madwoman
running across yards, chased by a white-hair,
shrilled-voice coolie duppy.
Nyame, I see you sick and hurting
and I can’t help you, I afraid
to look in your eyes or touch you,
my own mother! It kills to watch
your mouth corner froths and dry
with the sickness, the strong smell
of Healer’s potions in your skin,
oil in your creases, in your ears and neck,
and your wrists tied to the bed;
vomit on your bosom, blood in your torn hair,
fury in your grunts and screams.
Nyame! My mother, you are sick!
But you are not dead, not yet,
though that horror is in your eyes,
and I piss myself like a boy
who’s lost and hungry in the night
swamp where morning will not light.
Oh God, Nyame, I am too weak
and I am watching you dying
while my sister sleeps on the floor,
her dreams troubled by the opened vials.
Father, hear me now: take me,
leave my mother for the other child.