Before dada first did me harm
he sat on my bed and stroked
my right leg, the one he would soon ruin.
I watched his Adam's apple heft the axe
and split his thoughts into sounds.
He let loose hardwood splinters.
They slid beneath my love, attached themselves
to my heart, buried themselves deep,
formed black lumps so that in later life,
whenever I was hugged, a splinter shaped
the responses that escaped my mouth.
'My heart,' dada began, 'you see, or soon will
if you do not already, or if, sadly, your mother
has failed to warn you, is as black as the inside
of a coffin with the thick lid nailed shut;
made that way when my da took revenge in the night
for the things done to him, over an apple, long ago.'
A single tear clung to the thick lashes
of his left eye – a mountaineer poised on the cusp
before the advancing avalanche. 'I have to warn you,'
he continued, 'that I am unable to love properly,
I find the touch of your mother's lips intolerable.'
His nails scratched the skin
beneath my shoulder blades raw while dada
continued talking. 'Unlike you, my da
made me sleep in a Hessian sack, would you believe,
and, with nuncle Pat as his side-kick, threatened
to throw me in a river if I forgot myself and fell asleep.
I'll do no such thing to you,' he said, 'but must
release the hellhounds that gnaw my organs
in a fashion that allows me to keep breathing.
So in fairness and in warning, my scion, and to ease
the hammer that thunked the flesh inside my chest,
in three days time, I shall begin to hurt you.'
Dada wept several tears. I watched them
slide down his cheeks and lost them in the stubble
and shadow of his chin and throat.
He said, 'I would like
to be brave but find it easier to send
you down into the darkness
than to make the difficult journey myself.'
Three days I waited.
I felt walls crouch close
and nip at the air before it passed my lips.
Three days I waited.
I forced myself to sleep with an eye open
and my hands placed firmly between my legs.
Three days later he began on my leg.
He manacled my arms to the bed,
pulled back the sheet and took hold of the leg
where it stuck out of my pajama pants.
His left hand held it firm. His right hand
grasped the arch of my foot.
As he sung Goodnight Irene he began to twist
until first the ankle cracked and then the knee was ruined.
He revisited that leg every night for forty nights.
I fought, sought pity, thrashed - a fish
trapped in a plastic bucket, swimming in pain -
the bones crushed and re-crushed
until marrow escaped, muscle fled and the leg, from
the knee and all below, flopped and puddled
beneath the thigh, the colour and consistency of porridge.
Next he fed me the flesh carved from the back of mother.
He cut the meat into thin strips, sautéed in peanut butter,
skewered and fed to me with bowls of Basmati rice
and gentle green tea. If I vomited
he returned to the kitchen. I heard my mother's screams
and then he brought me a fresh batch of meat.
To hold her meat down I bit the pillowslip.
Mother came to me every morning.
Gingerly, she lifted her shirt
and showed me the flesh missing in patches across her back
beneath the tight horizontal strap of her black brassiere.
My teens were spent in dada's cellar,
fearful of his visits where he would whisper
and pound my spine or pluck single hairs
from my head
or bite the knuckle of my thumb
until it bled.
One night, with pliers, he snipped off
my left hand's little finger.
He told me about a brother I should have had
if dada had let him live. 'That one,' he whispered, his hot breath
forced into my right ear, 'sleeps at the bottom of a river.
I had to, don't you see, rid myself
of the fear of that damn Hessian sack.'
I wet my mattress at night. During the day I dried it
with the heat that emanated from my frail body.
I coughed up the best years
of my adolescence and spent myself time over
on the soiled, spoiled sheets of that prison bed.
At 21 dada released me.
Mother kissed me. She touched my forehead
with her hand and handed me a crutch
to hobble with.
As a final gesture, dada pushed me out the door
and shoved me down the steps. He laughed
as I fell and put a front tooth
through the flesh of my bottom lip.
I found a job sitting beside a beach
polishing hermit shells I stole off the crabs
as they wandered the shoreline
beneath the lapping light of the half- moon.
I sold the shells to children, told them
it was not the ocean they could hear
but the cries of crabs lost upon the ocean's dark floor,
seeking their mothers' familiar claws
or fearful of the snip if they encountered their fathers'.
I found a wife and brought her home
to meet the family. Was shocked
when dada seduced her; he forced
my mother and I to watch
while he coupled her.
She, I forgave,
but blood should not be forged into a weapon.
I plucked out my eyes
and threw them at dada.
He never paused but rushed onwards, faster
than a breached dam.
The dogs barked as he rutted
and when she cried out part of me went missing forever.
I left that place, took my wife,
or let her take me, rather,
but soon lost her and never sought
to discover if she went to that home,
to his bed
where I was first brought into existence.
Eventually, months and years diminished
my revulsion and I was drawn north to south.
I slithered over the back fence
and took up residence in the back shed, fed
by my mother in secret. Blind in the darkness, heartless,
I listened to the dull leather sound as dada
beat my mother. I offered no solace
when she brought me food in the morning.
Finally I left the shack
and discovered, like others before me,
that the road back is harder still
than the slide into the darkness.
I found a new woman who had three children,
lived with her beside a river,
ate apples every day
and planted their seeds at night. I watered them
with my tears and the gentle stories
I told her children.
My ears heard the laughter
as water scampered across tickling rocks
or the joyful squeals of her children
as she chased them, pretending to be a monster.
I unearthed a large boulder and placed it
upon my own monster. I know
a seed cannot grow without light.
I discovered, one winter, a son that she gave me
and bit my tongue off while I held him; smelt
the skull that had captured sunshine
and the scent of the deep blue wings of a butterfly.
She stood beside me, her hand
around my shoulder, her lips
painting, with breath, the hairs
of my ears and I thought of my mother
and the apple trees blossomed
and shed their petals
as gently as death