A Proud Blemish

by Kayombo Chingonyi

A Proud Blemish

The year I graduate from size eights,

learn to walk in the grown man’s shoes

contradicting the diminutive frame

I parade across the Arndale estate:


2step is an airborne sickness, infecting

every discerning cassette deck,

after-hours wine bar, joy rider's car.

Most weekends I try to fool a woman


accustomed to the lies of men, sneak home

an hour shy of her footfall in the hallway,

to rehearse my lines: I was home…I just

didn’t hear the phone, the beep


of the answering machine, her repeating

my name till it’s a prayer, voice two parts

ire, one despair, that her days are riven

between shift patterns and her only son.


By the time I graduate size nines, understand

Caesarean, when she answers my question:

did it hurt? shows me the dark groove hidden

under her work shirt, a proud blemish in skin


rippled with ridges from weight loss, she knows

it’s not stress. Still we sit, lumps in throats,

wait on tests. They don't know what’s wrong

she says, next day she’s back to underground


tunnels, thousands riding the same choppy waves.

Soon she’s too weak to walk or wash herself.

The bones of her skull vitiate a face that once

stunned grown men into mumbling stupors.


On a grey ward, two months in to size elevens,

she speaks in my mother tongue, begs me trace

the steps of its music, but the discord of two

languages keeps me from the truth I won’t hear.


She’s dying but I won’t call her dead, can’t let mum

become: a body, a stone, an empty hospital bed.