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 apart. Spill— 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.