tevere: Jihae, solemn with hint of smile (Default)
Ineke ([personal profile] tevere) wrote in [community profile] forkedtongues2011-03-12 11:42 am

Shilling Love Part 1, Shailja Patel

I recently reviewed Shailja Patel's poetry collection Migritude over in my journal, but at [personal profile] dhobikikutti's request I'm cross-posting here one of my favourite poems from the collection. Patel is a Kenyan Asian now living in the US, and her poetry and performances concern the lives and experiences of migrants, particularly women of colour. (If anyone has had the opportunity to see one of her live performances, do please share your thoughts!) Apologies to those who have seen this post before.



They never said / they loved us

Those words were not / in any language / spoken by my parents

I love you honey / was the dribbled caramel / of Hollywood
movies / Dallas / Dynasty / where electricity surged
through skyscrapers / twenty-four hours a day / hot
water gushed / at the touch of gleaming taps / banquets
obscene as the Pentagon / were mere backdrops / to
emotions without consequences / words that / cost
nothing / meant nothing / would never have to be
redeemed

My parents / didn't speak / that language

1975 / fifteen Kenyan shillings to the British pound / my
mother speaks battle / storms the bastions of Nairobi's /
most exclusive prep schools / hurls / our cowering,
six-year-old bodies / like cannonballs / into all-white
classrooms / scales the ramparts / of class distinction
around Loreto Convent / where the president / sends
his daughter / where foreign diplomats / send their
daughters / because / my mother's daughters / will
have / world-class educations

she falls / re-groups / falls
and re-groups / in endless assaults on
visa officials / who sneer behind
bullet-proof windows / at British
and US consulates

my mother / the general / arms
her daughters / to take on every
citadel

1977 / twenty Kenyan shillings to the British pound / my
father speaks stoic endurance / he began at sixteen / the
brutal apprenticeship / of a man who takes care of his
own / dreams / of pilot / rally driver / relinquished / to
the daily crucifixion / of wringing profits / from beneath
cars / my father / the foot soldier / bound to an honour /
deeper than any currency

you must / finish what you start you must / march until you
drop you must / give your life for those / you bring into the world


I try to explain love / in shillings / to those who've / never
gauged who gets to leave / who has to stay / who breaks
free / and what they pay / those who've never counted
love / in every rung of the ladder / from survival / to
choice / a force as grim and determined / as a boot up
the backside / a spur that draws blood / a mountaineer's
rope / that yanks / relentlessly / up

My parents never say / they love us / they save and count /
count and save

The shilling falls against the pound / college fees for
overseas students / rise like flood tides / love is a luxury /
priced in hard currency / ringed by tariffs / and we on the
raft / devour prospectuses of ivied buildings / smooth
lawns / vast libraries / gleaming science labs / the way
Jehovah's Witnesses / gobble visions of paradise /
because we know we'll have to be / twice as good / three
times as fast / four times as driven / with angels / powers /
and principalities on our side / just / to get / on the plane

Thirty shillings to the pound / forty shillings to the
pound / my parents fight over money / late in the night
my father / pounds the walls and yells / I can't / it's
impossible / what do you think I am?


My mother propels us through / tutors, exams,
scholarship applications / locks us in our rooms to study /
keeps an iron grip / on the bank books

1982 / gunshots in the streets of Nairobi / military coup
leaders / thunder over the radio / Asian businesses
wrecked and looted / Asian women / raped / after the
government / regains control / we whisper what the coup
leaders / had planned

Round up all the Asians / at gunpoint / in the national
stadium / strip them of what they carry / march them
fifty kilometres to the airport / elders in wheelchairs /
babies in arms / pack them onto foreign planes / like
battery chickens / tell the pilots down rifle barrels /
leave / we don't care where you take them / leave

I learn / like a stone in my gut / that third-generation
Asian Kenyan / will never / be Kenyan enough / that all
my patriotic fervour / will not / turn my skin / black

As yet another western country / drops a portcullis of
immigration spikes / my mother straps my shoulders
back with a belt / to teach me / stand up straight

Fifty shillings to the pound / we cry over meltdown
pressure / of exam after exam / where second place is
never good enough

They snap / their faces taut with fear / you can't be soft /
you must be strong / you have to fight / or the world will eat
you up


Seventy shillings to the pound / they hug us at airports /
tearless / stoic / as we board planes for icy / alien England /
cram instructions into our pockets like talismans

eat proper meals / so you don't get sick / cover your ears /
against the cold / stay away from the muffathias / the ones
without purpose or values / learn and study / succeed / learn
and study / succeed / remember remember remember / the cost
of your life


they never say / they love us

[personal profile] nh4ever 2011-03-12 01:35 pm (UTC)(link)
By God that powerful.
Sent chills down my spine.

[personal profile] noldo 2011-03-14 08:57 pm (UTC)(link)
This is so fantastic. Thank you for posting -- I must check out her collection now!
secretsolitaire: Flowers dripping with rain (Default)

[personal profile] secretsolitaire 2011-04-02 01:17 am (UTC)(link)
Amazing.