Winter 2005

Amy Small-McKinney


Amy Small-McKinney's chapbook, Body of Surrender, is a 2004 Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work has appeared in a number of journals such as Elixir and Manhattan Poetry Review and online in The Pedestal Magazine and For Poetry.
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     Rwanda, Africa

Lake Kivu plaits through the Rift valley,
a current of despair and revenge.
I was the Hutus' favorite daughter,
Pauline Nyiramashuko.
I am their nation; a lakebed,
my mouth a volcano,
a danger to anything that breathes.
My nation insisted I become a nation,
scissors, opened and closed, life sliced
in two.  I sent my son, Shalom,
to young Rose, the Tutsis' plea to God,
to where she hid, to the fields
where her faith fought back.
I called to the Tutsis, exhausted as rain:
Here is your food.  Here is your shelter.
All of their death took only an hour;
a red chested cuckoo asked why.
I told him: My eyes are split open,
I am sorry; I am not.

     Bombay, India

This will never end, my wandering
into the twilight, out of my Bombay
backyard, my parents' final basket of fruit,
my peafowl sashaying to the males' courtly
help help of recognition.
I miss my peacocks more than mother or father,
birds of prey who could not comprehend
this girl's longings.  
When the males release
their plumage, they call ahhh ahhh;
the peahen mutters Hell-o  Hell-o.
I can not tell you
what you want to hear,
cannot remember the travelers' eyes, faces, words,
any kindnesses as I drifted out of my skin,
as my mouth became the rapist's chick, wingless, blind.  
This will never end.  No, I am not that girl:
her sorrow song not mine.

     Provincetown, USA

I do not wake up every morning and thank God
that I am a man; I love my mother.  
I will never tell my wife.
What I love most is morning,
my line cast for stripers,
their obedient mouths.
The girl was pretty, tall, lean enough.
In the graveyard, the headstones
shut their eyes, their mouths sang
silently, she did not hear their sympathy.
All of my life looked
meek in the setting sun.
I heard her No, but who
could stop in the throes of opening.
That was another life.

     Meerwala, Pakistan

She was never my true child.
My snow white crane,
her red right eye, her hysterical cry
entreating me, Faz Mai, to feed her.
I hear her
in the shallow waters of the Indus,
but my breasts are not milky,
the weeping sustenance that calls
my fledgling home for food
is only rain.  Even my tears
have dissolved into breaths I take
when I must breathe, have to breathe,
for the child who floated out of me
into my blister of nothing.
And for my cousin Naseem,
like me, forced to spread herself
into our country of dread,
into the fields where white bulbs
of cotton are slowly dying.
     Pennsylvania, USA     

That was another life.
I had not yet cradled my daughter,
she had not suckled
my lexicon of milk.
I had not forgiven myself
for being a body,
a dutiful daughter,
for inhaling my era's
numbing acceptance.
I refuse to remember him.
I refuse to remember the Portuguese
stones of loss, the nearby sea
smacking its futile fish.
He kissed me.
He did not kiss our child's sigh
as I slipped it into the waters
of the Holiday Inn, my thumb nail,
my lily, I named No, Please No.
At times, I want to be his body,
to feed him with regret
I need to imagine.
Now white bulbs push up and out
of my hardened suburban soil.
What I have learned is lime, water,
what returns and will not return.
Still, there are times I want to be you,  
Naseem Mai, pesticide flowing through
your still body like fresh milk.
Now I am milk. My daughter has eyes
so blue they become the sea,
daybreak, another country.

I return to the sink, the toilet, the mop, the clothes,
the little neck splayed opened, my husband's
silky undershirt, its smallest tear.

My husband snaps a picture
of our daughter shaping mud
for her report on the prairie photographer
who fell in love with sod,
the wonders of sod,
gave up everything for sod:
medical school, lovers, home,
to travel, to take pictures
that would be lost
in a fire, all 1500, except negatives,
imprinted on glass,
sheltered from obscurity
so, finally,
nothing was lost.

I love my imaginings of this man,
this Solomon Butcher,
the long stretches of land,
the wind, the occasional tree,
the lone dugout,
how he wanted to discover the world,
discover the woman, her fire
beneath the caldron.

I love my life,
my mislaid child,
this century of tears,
life before life.



Amy Small-McKinney: Poetry
Copyright © 2005 The Cortland Review Issue 27The Cortland Review