30 June, 2021
Dženana Vucic is Running Dog’s poet in residence for May and June 2021.
Each month, a poet produces new work, which is distributed via Running Dog’s monthly newsletter—Stray. If you haven’t already, sign up to our newsletter.
Content warning: This poem evokes trauma as a result of war, genocide, and islamophobia. It makes reference to past and ongoing instances of ethnic cleansing, genocide, apartheid, sexual violence and murder.
• • •
my mother took up smoking after we escaped the war
it didn’t last long but the cigarette trembling in her hands,
the flick of the lighter—once, twice, flare—her face
pale against the summer, will outlast plastic and concrete
and whole civilizations. she was twenty-four once and
I want to be dead unfilled from her mouth and slid to the
ground between us & we buried it alive & we watched it spawn.
This is not the poem I intended to write, though it is the poem I am always writing. I have said this before. I will say it again. This is the poem I am always writing.
my mother is scrupulously clean, my sister too. we are a
family of compulsion and anti-bacterial spray. it is because we
are dirty. we have always been dirty. we bring the dirt with us,
between our skin and our hijabs, hoarded under the tiles of our
mosques, in the mouths of our imams and the meat of our halal
chickens. we bring the dirt with us until we are cleansed & we
have been cleansed & our country has been cleansed of us.
my sister was born into a dead country, in need of ablution.
this is how we learned to be clean. it is more than taking
off your shoes when entering your home. it is learning: the
home is not yours. in the home that is not ours, 8000 brothers
the home that is not ours is cleansed & we are cleansed.
my sister was a little girl once, big wet eyes and a knife under her
pillow; she spent hours straightening the fibres of her carpet so that
each would lay just so and, if disturbed, warn her: intruder. intruder.
in case of dread: break glass, remove hunger, chew. oh, but we have
been hungry / little girls with crusts of bread and sharpened stomachs.
now my sister is broken glass, jangling. the clack of her teeth begs &
shards fall to the ground & pierce our soles & there are always little girls.
Twenty years later people call it what it was: genocide, a word that only exists in past tense. It has definition, purpose and, in the present, would require us, if only to stop it.
Other words that exist only in past tense include apartheid and concentration camp.
We are not required.