The Old Justice

My grandfather was a construction worker, a travel agent;

I knew him as a sea-captain, wink like an eye-patch,


the gap in his teeth a keyhole I might peer into 

but all I could pick in the whistle of air was a shanty,


sweet on his breath, whiskey foaming on his upper lip,

and his blood salivating, a kind of poison he survived on.


Auntie was the dark green storm of a glass bottle.

She made herself dizzy, swatting the air like lightning,


drunk on those unspeakable nights she went below

deck with the man who set us on the doomed voyage, 


his bad eye sliding over each plank, moving low to the ground, 

like a crocodile sculling in the shallows, or an island 


sinking back into the ocean, a horizon flattened by the sun,

the shape of his smile a tide held up by the mast’s ropes.


When they told me he died I retched, thinking of the house,

that seasick corpse floating down river, the hollow flush


of a minute hand passing time at a funeral cut down by rain

and my absence, the echo of it heaving in a toilet bowl.


That night, I imagine surfing on his coffin, taking a sharp nail

to his heart and pulling up a rust-blooded square of flesh.


In the dead air, I creep into auntie’s flat, slip the quiet pulse

in the panel behind the grandfather clock where the wax nativity 


slow roasts by the fire, her living room crowded with vials, 

auntie, the mad concocter, weighing his deeds like a wine-glass.


is a poet and editor of Ethiopian and Yemeni heritage based in London. His work is published in Poetry London, bath magg, Butcher’s Dog and Magma. He is an alumnus of the Obsidian Foundation, graduate of the Writing Squad and member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen.



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