Poems in response to Wash Your Dirty Linen in Public

Last night, I had the honour of being part of a turning point in the history of Peterborough’s cultural offering. Live Art exhibition ‘Wash Your Dirty Linen in Public’ opened on 11th February 2016 at City Gallery, Peterborough, and I was invited to write poems in response to the work of artists Charlotte Barlow, Penelope Harrall, and Gaganpreet Gill Kaur. I read them yesterday (19th Feb) as part of a special performance weekend. Here they are:

 

Chapatti Wife’s Bindhi

It never loses shape,

even when the two hairs at its centre

dance in the heat of the frying pan,

even when she offers it to the floor

and the pressure of her head

should smudge its symmetry –

it remains heavy with colour.

You watch two peeled onions

find their place on the chopping board.

 

When they centre, she invites you to sit

with her open palm – she must never speak.

She takes a knife, holds it to her braid

cuts off loose strands of hair

and they fall into the grinding pot.

She adds her mother’s sun-cracked heels,

the curve of father’s left slipper,

the belly wobble of her brother’s laughter,

sister’s home made perfume,

the o’s and a’s of grandmother’s necklace,

bristles from her neighbour’s broom,

and the moisture from your breath.

 

She grinds the mixture and cooks

until the centre of the pan

is an orb of red paste.

She pours a portion on to a chapatti

she had prepared earlier,

the rest is jarred and shelved

to last a generation of occasional touch.

She rolls the chapatti up and bows,

offering you the plate and returning

her creaseless brow to the floor-

she must never watch you eat.

There is warmth in your jaw,

maybe this is what it means

to have a wife give herself to you entirely.

 

an uncleanable speck

she always was

full of things

in her silent white house

a sweatshop

scour dilute repeat

she paints a mushroom

on the wall

in slow circles

scour dilute repeat

her hands porous

never dirtless

her feet blistered

sore and powdery

she smelt

of hidden secrets

a stuffed hoover bag

fluffed at arm’s length

an abandoned pillow

she was like

the mouth of quicksand

still surfaced

underneath

scour dilute repeat

thuds of walled wolves

she heard the

whisper

some would

look in

they only ever see the filth

they only ever see the filth

look in

some would

whisper

she heard the

thuds of walled wolves

scour dilute repeat

underneath

still surfaced

the mouth of quicksand

she was like

an abandoned pillow

fluffed at arm’s length

a stuffed hoover bag

of hidden secrets

she smelt

sore and powdery

her feet blistered

never dirtless

her hands porous

scour dilute repeat

in slow circles

on the wall

she paints a mushroom

scour dilute repeat

a sweatshop

in her silent white house

full of things

she always was

an uncleanable speck

 

Thread in Three Parts

 

I

she is watching the sky leak

from lipped clouds

and catches the shattering sun

in the seams of her white dress

 

she runs home as fast as she can

to show her mother the fire seeds

she will grow all for herself

 

her mother sends her upstairs

to clean herself immediately

before the men wake up

 

she says the smell of hot metal

is a ghost we must keep to ourselves

so the men aren’t reminded

of chains and hellfire

 

II

a red worm stitched through an apple

sits umbilical

 

a hunched pigeon fumbles and tugs

eventually drops it in water

 

III

the oldest girl pulls it out her pocket

dangles it like a dead rat

rosy cheeked and curious

they jellyfish around her

underwhelmed by its softness

 

one girl thimbles her thumb with it

unravels it and plays seamstress

makes a luxurious white dress and scarf

for Barbie to wear on her date

but Ken is terrified by it

what it shows and what it reveals

 

Dirty Linen

A man should be clean

a man’s filth should remain unseen

a man should be a barren landscape

a man should hold his shape like a queen

for a woman to take him as her own and own him

a man’s emotions are an artefact of hormone

a sin for which he will forever atone

a man should smell of sweet relish

a man should be content as a side dish

a man should cherish all women

for a woman should be respected by all men

a man should be a penned hen

a man should be confined to his woman’s home

where a man is inclined to cook and clean and scrub

for this is how man was designed

to wash the dirty linen of a woman’s throne

 

I see uneasy faces before me

and of course you are free to abhor the décor

upon the door to which I have opened this poem

perhaps I should clean up the metaphor

we are stuck believing the dynasty of opposition

that everything is binary and every entity has a rivalry

and there is no power struggle more primitive

than the systematic ying yang of he and she

we are aggressively exposed to every day

and I am just following the rules I mentioned before

and imposing the same rhetoric in the opposite way so therefore

the man I call man is not a man more subversion of one

and a man undone is nothing more than a woman

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