The summer before I was murdered, I walked Brick Lane every day. Sewing a few days a week at a ladies shop, gathering scraps for the boot maker, and at night, I passed the evenings as I needed to. As we all needed to from time to time. Trading a man’s pleasure to pay my bread and a place to lay my head. A place you might rest without being rousted up red bitten by fleas or prodded by a stranger for a shag in the middle of the night. I gathered my share of men’s bruises and scoff, "bang-tail" they'd holler at me as I passed, or "step right, slag," as if they was the Queen's own brigade. The night he cut me open is just a shudder of light against the pavement, the wage I paid to pass there.
I wander these same streets, a soul half-lit, untethered.
Now, Brick Lane is populated by dark-skinned women in sari's and scarves brilliant as the finches and larks the bird-catchers used to sell here. And I am spirit covered in spice: saffron, curry-clouded. I cannot stop watching them, these bright Bengali women.
My life fed on the hope of a boiled potato, but my shadow trails the taste of sweet curd. The girl, Asha, works in the curry shop on the corner, just past where the Ten Bells used to be. As she pours mustard oil, I hold out my hands to be pierced by gold. Illuminated in liquid. I am a haunt mad-hungry for touch, and she, just a girl who forbids her own desire. Her smile is widened by scars purple as plums. Cuts made by a man whose affection she did not return and thought her face his knife's tapestry. Her name in Bengali means hope, but Asha tells her mum that her name is a lie. She says, "a ghost with a murdered face walks in my shadow." But I can't leave her side. Her mum says, "You will make me a grandmother one day." She repeats the words lighting incense, touching her head and heart, hoping the Goddess Kali will hear her and make mercy from smoke and ash. When her mother speaks of men and babies, Asha sharpens her knife and says nothing. The women cut and chop, cut and chop. Knives and spatulas crushing and rolling. Hands made for giving. Palms resplendent as sunrise. They use every root, peel, and stem. I love them. I worship every move, for nothing is waste, not even the tiniest scrap is judged trash and thrown out.
the sharpest blade never turns to hurt,
cuts, and cuts
to cook comfort.
Slit the necks of nothing in my name. Slaughter only the sound of breaking ice. Bring the ashes of my incinerated child, stillborn and unburied. Bring my grey babe out from the furnace. Garb her in my own christening gown, for I was an infant once too, anointed on a sacrifice. With my cindered offspring, bring rope of maiden's hair, soil from the Telemark, pitchers of glacier-melt from Svalbard, I'll mix them in myth and pour them into my womb for binding. Lay out herring and pork with bread and honey. Fill the troughs with mead. I'll need four man-eating mares left on guard. Leave me silk to sew my own sails and as I stitch, I'll sing my daughter to sleep. Leave me fresh eggs. I'll swallow the golden centers whole, spit them into the sky and chant the sun into burning my passage home. Whisper my saga to whales. Let them sing of me if they will.
No man's voice need attempt my tale.
When they bury my ship, understand that we sail beyond Valhalla. We clutch the mast and I trace the map carved into my shinbone. Our eyes trained on a lost astronomy, past the origin of North, known only by gods and giants.