They Say I Get My Cheekbones from My Father’s Side of Family, My Feet from My Grandmother Who at Fourteen Started Treading Great River Gully

by Yashika Graham




My mother
told me I was not her child
if I couldn’t travel through trees.

With every climb, I become.



Papa woulda radda
len out him fork dan him machete

A fork a one can hold
and not shift its shape
bent in its ways
til it breaks.

But a machete is personal
an it come to know the farmer
like fren, like kin,
know which bush to devour,
sight sacred pumpkin vines
to side-step, and tread steady
through pathways of seedlings.



Today I put a piece-a dry coconut
an ripe banana togedda
an I taste mi granny yaad,
taste fruit I can’t recall,
taste di riddim of being young
and full-a rampin
an I wonder where the years have gone,
wandered outa di city
into the board house in the bush
an re-entered me at eight.
An to think how I longed to be big an tall
an outa parental ordering,
longed not to be deemed fresh and feisty
by misunderstanding,
an how now, close to thirty,
with new eyes petitioning my knees
I long for that place.



To buck a bull
on your way from spring
is to become strategist.

It is to approach lawd-god-mi-dead,
to swing your water jug,
to reel, to run.

It is to sit on a rock taking stock,
your brothers leaning on a guava limb
half-laugh, half-cry saying “Give thanks,
is nuff tings we survive.”



I do not tell my mother. She is still that little girl bearing up brothers, brothers-in-law,
law men. I hold it like the recurring blood saying I will mother no one.

I learn from her that all feeling is secret, that any letter to a boy
will be intercepted, cut from my gut for tempting ruin.

I kissed the page red-lipped, cracked the earth, released it. I never say
men pushed me into pillows anyway, turned me to pulp under thunder cover.

And I skip the part about leaving home, how I swelled, turned
red, carved my name between bumps on the lemon tree,

willing the yard to release my body but keep me. I don’t say
how my aunt claiming me for the town school ripped

me from the prongs of my stepfather, his fat fingers
cutting caverns into the mouth of my new balloon.

I learn to keep that lie stuck to my gut.
Don’t look into big people eye when them talking.

You is likkle girl. You mustn’t so fresh and out of order.
I suck the wound underskin. But I want to let that galling gut come up,

drag his nails from the quick, sharpen them on flint rock, drive them back. I want to make
a monument of his nicotine teeth in the middle of a dead yard. But I leave that part out.

I never talk about his thick stumps for fingers,
the greening yard against that first rain, me and him alone,

how I bit when he said suck, chose some other line
for first time. I leave that part out.



We are 26 86 90; we touch hands,
my young bones turning against their tides.

Mama no longer blackens her hair,
content now or having left bother behind.
I roll my hands within her ringed palms
and note the shining, the gloss of years of doing.

She calls me river maiden,
we laugh–an age-old bettering stance
and accept the day gone down,
the lamp without light.

Papa’s joints mimic the mountains,
swollen monuments curved in cutlass memory
spread like coco tree dung-a gully.

And still there is no coming home, not exactly,
always the stranger served in the good dish
propped up on veranda till evening come.

We touch hands, 26 86 90 and track again
the trail of us children through the yard
Papa in khaki suit, hat, and water boots,
Mama wading through trees,
reaping tomatis over common.



Yashika Graham is a Jamaican writer, poet, performance artist, and teacher who has led workshops all over the Caribbean, United States, Panamá, Venezuela, and the United Kingdom.

View the short-film version of Yashika’s performance poem “Directions from the Border

The winner of the Mervyn Morris Prize, her poems have appeared in such magazines as The Caribbean Writer, POUi, Spillway, PREE, and Cordite, among others.

Enjoy an interview with Yashika, as she talks with Loop.

In recent years, Yashika Graham led Kahini’s 2017 and 2018 writing workshops in Negril, Jamaica, as part of the Jamaica Writers’ Retreat, as well as teaching in 2018 and 2019 at the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference.

View the short-film version of Yashika’s performance poem “Time Travel.”