In the clay yard of childhood, my aunt
bloodied and soot-kissed, sheds her clothes
upon the mossy lip of a well. An offering
rinsed in dawn’s coral light, the steam
rising off a fresh kill. Her hands clutch
the tar-bound rope, each vein a thick blue
knot hoisting bucket after bucket of dutiful
libation. With each drop night’s omen
returned to the lightless eye of water.
Though afraid I do not resist her
or the cry of the muezzin like a cold blade
against my skin. I want to touch them all—
burnt patches, pale worms pleating
breasts and belly, the shadowy rooms
of slaughter. How each gesture glistens
in memory like a scar. Years later
they will find her dead behind a door no one
thinks to open until the stench of rotting
flesh seeps through the brick walls.
I will not weep or fly home, burying only
that morning when small and naked
I stand with her marveling in the cool
breeze, like goddesses, exposed
beyond the avarice of beauty
as the volcano hemorrhages
its viscera above us. Tracing wrack
lines where the sun has dried
moments before we brush them away—
cicada wing on an elbow, salam leaf
on a thigh—evidence of unrequited
thirsts. Accidental drownings. The body’s
risk. Believing I am stronger than
the silence which swarms like beetles
around my heart. Clamber. Break
I do not hear the eruption when it happens.
Boiling lakes of mud and falling
timber. Bones catching fire.
The refugees we suddenly become.
Even now I tell myself I’ve escaped
the magma’s gambit; the lucky one
looking for God in the ashes.
Two women beneath a weeping
cherry in full bloom. One brushes
earth with her hair, deciphering
the calligraphy of fallen petals.
The other lifts her face to sun, laced
by branch and flowers like tiny
palms of snow. Almost a postcard
of spring, who could guess
the bounty on their heads, the men
with knives behind, how they listen
for their lives in what will never
be said. Give thanks. If only today
the world is their sons rolling
down hills of grass, the boughs
bending around them like mercy.
Cynthia Dewi Oka is author of the poetry collection nomad of salt and hard water (Dinah Press, 2012). A VONA alumnus, her poems and essays have appeared widely in print and online publications across the U.S. and Canada. She is currently based in New Jersey and working on her second book of poems. Visit cynthiadewioka.com.