Well

@KaremIBarratt

woman lakefc

 

Sometimes I am trapped inside my skin.

Literally.

My muscles shrink and expand,

Without me having a saying in the matter.

I shake.

I freeze.

I twist.

My eyes close and for a minute or two

I am blind.

Paralyzed.

A serpent tied to an electric chair.

But inside, I am singing lullabies.

I tell myself stories.

I remind the inner me that I am alive,

Well, in my very own, particular way.

And I’m hearing everything,

Aware of it all, in spite

Of my convulsing body,

My rolling eyes, my twisting tongue,

And my funny snores.

I exist.

In the middle of the storm.

I am more than a condition,

A mental health code.

I am the shaking, sleeping, confused

Woman, who apparently

Cannot control herself.

But inside I am floating on a lake,

Looking at my own sunset,

Alive, alert,

Knowing it will well, somehow.

I will be well.

 

 

 

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The Void

@KaremBarrattgenesis-carmona

(The girl in the image is Genesis Carmona. She was killed by the Venezuelan government for daring to protest for freedom and a better life. This was three years ago. In the past three weeks, almost 30  Venezuelans, between 14 and 60 have been killed by the government forces for protesting)

 

The parent of a dead child

Learns to live with the unimaginable.

Echoes of a voice walk by her side,

The phantom of a laughter

Rests upon his shoulder.

The parent of a dead child learns to

Live with an unfillable void.

A gaping wound that never quite heals.

A hole around which she and he have

To learn to build a new life.

The parent of a dead child sometimes

Wishes the world would stop,

Become quiet, frozen. Slow, until

There is no motion and life becomes

A still shot from an old film.

The world never does.

It never complies.

It cannot afford to stop rotating,

Moving, changing, making leaves fall

And then bloom again.

And the parent of a dead child

Must learn to live with this:

With this going on, this flow,

This life that stops for no one.

No even a grieving parent

Trying to come to terms with

The unimaginable loss.

They tend to walk a bit slower,

The parents of a dead child.

They tend to stop more, watch

The roses, see the bees come

And go among them.

They tend to sit longer.

In the park, on the bench,

In the garden.

Eventually they smile again,

A little at first. A resigned smirk

That sometimes grows like a

Waxing moon, showing all the teeth.

And yet, at the end of the lips,

Where the top and bottom one meet,

There is a sigh, a longing,

A desire to reach out and get her

Back, embrace him once more,

Hold them tight, the dead children,

Breathe life-force into them,

See them grow in one minute,

Watch them go, whole, sane, into

The shadows of the people enjoying

The sunset, the end of the summer,

The bonfires on the beach.

The wish that will never come to be.

And they walk home,

Back to the little hole in the soul,

Sometimes so minuscule you

Could miss it, sometimes so huge

It could swallow you in one gulp.

Big, small, visible, intangible,

But always there.

The void.

 

 

 

 

The Water Wind

@KaremIBarratt

rainy-window-sad-child-girl-window-rain

 

The water wind rolls down the mountain waves.

The day’s forgotten wash fights it bravely, like a bull.

Out side, a bomb-less war of flashes and blows.

Inside, chicken and corn, my bored head hanging

over late homework, while Mama stirs the soup,

Humming to herself, and the babe watches

the kamikaze rain splatter over the window pane,

Andrea hugging her battered doll,

sucking her thumb, furiously.

‘It’s alright, child,’ Mama chants, undecided,

between thyme, celeriac or parsley, the beads

Of the rosary gleaming, as she rolls them

Incessantly around her left hand.

 

 

The First One

@KaremIBarratt

shadow

 

We knew it would be difficult, but that was about it. Most, if not all kids in year 4 and 5 were quite ignorant of what exactly waited for us at the Institute. And those who did know, those who had passed the test, would not speak about it. Some would smile a little. Some would smile a lot. Older pupils would murmur with certain fondness about their time there. Others seemed less incline to even mention their experience. The closest thing to an advice I got came from a boy with a huge scar across his cheek. He told me not to get too attached to anyone until year 6.

We were excited, just the same. Because if we achieved the goal at the Institute, whichever this might be, it would mean that we would be considered proper citizens of our nation, apt material to be part of the glorious army or the venerable governmental offices of our magnificent country. Or, depending on how things went, we could end up as labourers –but it was best not to even consider that possibility, although Father insisted that they too helped make our land great.

Our parents were extremely serious the day they dropped my sister and I at the Institute. Mother hugged me so strongly I felt she was going to break my bones. Then the officials took us to our room. And that night we met our Monster.

I thought I was going to die that very first time. Later I thought it could no possibly get worse. As days and nights passed, I thought I would eventually get accustomed to the pain. I was wrong.

Every night we would hold hands, my sister and I, and look at the long shadow that slithered under the door and swung to and fro, like the pendulum in a grandfather clock. Some time it would stop, right in the middle, and stand still -so still that it would melt with the darkness and disappear, as if she were not there on the other side, waiting, smiling, her long canines ripping the edges of her full mouth. That’s when we would stop breathing, my sister and I. We would stop shaking, and thinking and praying and living. The blackness of the room would seem to swell as our heart beats became audible and she sniffed the air, on the other side of the door, smelling our terror. Then the door’s handle would come down, slowly (oh so excruciatingly slowly!) till the click liberated the beast and the wooden door creaked, letting her in. And we would wish we were dead, like the ones before us. But it was not to be. Not yet.

We did not plan to kill her. Not what you would call real planning. I don’t believe we even thought she could die…or that she was even alive for that matter. She just went one step too far, did a hurt too many and we finally fully lost it –our last trace of fear. I stroke the first blow, literally. I took one of the chairs and crashed it over her head as she leaned over my sister. She did not scream. For a moment, everyone stopped moving. Then my sister punched her, hard, and as she bend in two I broke the chair onto her back and we stood up, my sister and I, and kicked her, once, twice, one more time, you bitch, now you cry, now you beg, now let your blood paint the walls red, now let it be you, again and again, you, pleading, crouching, crying, your tears washing the floor, watering their bones, becoming the only sign of mourning your death shall ever get!  

It felt good.

Empowering, my mother would later say. The whole family was waiting for us on the other side of the door the next day. Grandmother had a beautifully decorated cake on her hands and Father beamed as a high street on Christmas Eve. They waited for the officials to enter the room and confirm our killing. Then they ran as a pack and embraced us, cleaning the blood from our face and hands with their kisses.

‘Two weeks!’ exclaimed uncle Hoover. ‘It only took you two weeks to destroy her! Girls, that’s remarkable. I am so very proud of you both!’

‘Your first monster! Oh, my babies are all grown up now’ Mother said, wiping away a tiny tear.

“It took uncle Hoover and I a whole month to get rid of ours, remember Hoov? asked Father.

‘How can I forget?’ uncle Hoover replied, pointing at his empty eye socket.

We all laughed.

‘I think is time to take them home and let them have a good rest’ Grandfather said.

We all agreed.

Behind us, the officials were busy, putting the body of the woman in a black sac. Nobody knew for sure were did they get them, these monsters. Some said they were bred; others said they were hunted from alien worlds. They looked just like us. And like our enemies. Father thought that we should erect some sort of monument in their honour. It was thanks to them, he said, that our nation was grand; that we could walk into battle without trepidations and had been able to conquer and obliterate those who endanger us and our illustrious noble land. Mother believed that there were better ways to spend money than to glorify animals. As we left the Institute, a boy and girl of about nine were being brought in by their parents. I thought about the bones in our cell room.

I wonder if they ever made it.

Mangoes at Saffron Sunsets

@KaremIBarratt

house beach white

 

There is a house nested like a fat white dove

In front of the Caribbean Sea,

And when my world was new

I used to dance there, barefooted,

To the notes of the braided, thundering waves.

I raced the echo of my steps in the long veranda,

And shouted, pleased, as I touched the warm snow

Of the wooden wall, coppery at saffron sunsets,

When we would sit, my sister and I,

Scratched knees and wild grins,

And eat ripe, juicy mangoes under the green

Hood of the wide studded door

-Our fruit-smeared fingers mixing gold with gold,

As we pretended to touch the melting, sizzling sun.

I hardly see her anymore, my sister.

But when the grey city bites my soul

And life starts fires in my eyes,

I dream us back to the house veiled

By bougainvilleas and coconut trees.

We are sitting, in the glossy,

Ivory tiled kitchen, making tamarind juice,

The wooden spoon tinkling against the icy glass,

Like tolling bells on a Sunday afternoon

From long, long ago,

When the world was so new

Some things had no name.

Our eyes were so very young.

 

Beaten

@KaremIBarratt

women-abuse

 

He drank from me,

Until my essence dripped from his lips,

As he smiled, satisfied,

And left me.

Empty, unloved, unwanted, alone.

Just me and nothing else,

Me and not one more,

Too weak to crawl out of the hole

Where he threw me.

My soul a jungle of horrors

That puff like magician’s dust

Into bonfires of smoke.

No warmth, no glow.

Just charred wood and ashes.

 

Under the Brazilian Nut Tree

Brazilian Nut Treel@KaremIBarratt

 Lights die in Santa Barbara when it rains. Prepared to the end, Grandma finds the match box placed next to emergency candles, while we kids get into our drill: find the plastic covers under the beds and place them over the mattresses. Mama, Auntie and Uncle move sofas and chairs away from the waterfall building on the top of the lounge’s ceiling. Grandpa, paced and yawning, puts the water to boil and prepares the coffee and chocolate. Afterwards we sit, nesting our warm drinks in our hands. Then comes the never–failing ritual. It starts with the adults complaining about the electricity company and it ends with the adults talking about their ghosts – literally.

‘Remember, Paula,’ says Grandpa, his face glowing over the embers of his pipe, ’when your father used to haunt the backyard?’

‘Sure. It started when this young lady was born,’ she says tussling my hair, ‘and it took years of rosaries, masses and an exorcism by an Italian priest to convince him to get out.’

I shudder and look at the watery darkness of the backyard, resembling a painting inside the window’s frame.

‘So Mariana came to this world with a ghost, uh?’ teases cousin Pedro.

‘Shut up, you moron!’ I replied with all the eloquence of my fourteen years.

Uncle clears his throat and we hold our tongues, throwing angry stares at each other. Grandpa continues.

‘He used to come everyday, around six, mumbling and grumpy – his natural state, really, since that day his Isabel ran away with the Portuguese merchant. What was his name, Paula?

‘Joao Something…’, says Grandma, her mouth twisting into a dried fruit.

‘Who’s Isabel?’ asks cousin Leticia, sitting on Uncle’s lap.

‘She was Grandma’s youngest sister.’ answers Grandpa. ‘A real pretty thing, sweet and shy, like a bird. It was a real shock when we received the letter, saying she had left with…Joao, is it? She was so young, no more than fifteen at that time.’

‘We were living in the Capital then.’ Grandma adds, a sadden note lingering in her voice. ‘We have asked Father if Isabel could go with us, telling him it would complete her education, but he would not hear of it. Maybe if he had she would still be here, wrinkly and grey like the two of us.’

An angel passes over our heads. At least that is what they say around here when people become suddenly quiet and noises mute to nothing. We turn into a family portrait, painted in the golds and shadows of the candles’ light.

‘Anyway,’ said Grandpa, breaking the spell, ‘Old Baltazar’s ghost would circle the house, looking like he always did – cropped hair, khaki trousers, a lighted cigar hanging eternally on his lips- and go through the hen house, making the poor birds soil their bottoms and run as if a falcon was gliding nearby. He would pay no attention to them and continue his way, past the vegetable patch, to the Brazilian Nut tree, where he’d disappear.’

The hairs in my arms do a unison stand. I could see this man – had seen this man, through the panes of the bedroom I shared with Mama.

‘When did your father die, Grandma?’ I ask, drawing my skinny knees under my chin.

‘I don’t know… about thirty years ago? But we are interrupting Grandpa, again. Go ahead, Alfonso.’

‘Thank you, darling. We thought Old Baltazar had buried some sort of treasure. People used to do that a lot in those days, with all the revolutions and counter-revolutions shaking this poor country – until the arrival of General Montenegro, God rest his soul.’

‘Amen,’ mutters Grandma, as Mama and Uncle roll up their eyes.

‘Did you find the treasure?’ asks Pedro, his eyebrows arching.

‘No’ smiles Grandma, ’but your grandfather here had the time of his life trying. He dug the backyard for years!’

Everyone laughs but me, as memories gust like a gale on my head.

***

I was six or seven, sitting at the desk by the window, doing my lines (ma, me , mi, mo, mu ) when I saw him go by. He puffed and mumbled, his khaki shirt dishevelled, sweat falling from his forehead. And then I heard it: an “eee” or “peace”, something like a whine, like the plea of a mouse dragged by a jaded cat. Finding the perfect excuse to abandon my tiresome school work, I tip-toed out the hallway, crossed the kitchen where Auntie and Mama separated beans, and scurried out the backyard, hurrying behind the trunks of the mango and guava trees, to make sure he wouldn’t see me.

He stopped and I stopped with him, finally having a good look at the thing he was hauling. It was a girl. A big-bellied girl, kicking furiously, her pale lips slashed by a black cloth.

I tried to scream, but I couldn’t. The rosy evening turned into moon-lit night. There was a square, no, a rectangle, opened on the ground, right by were the Brazilian Nut tree was supposed to be, it’s absence filled by a scraggy twig poking from the grass.

Isabel saw the unearthed grave and shrieked, uselessly, as her father rolled her into the void, and somehow me with her, attached to her, enclosed in her, the fall softened by something supple and still warm. It was a body. She did not need the pale light to realise it was Joao, his torso caked in blood, his hands tied, his open mouth a centipede’s nest. Earth began to rain as she wept, sodden clumps of mud, pebbles and roots cramming the space, licking her feet, her calves, the baby, swimming desperately inside of her, the dirt walls closing in. Isabel screamed, begging her father to stop, please, stop, Papa, stop, STOP! But the earth rose, mercilessly, burning her lungs as she breathed it and petrified into it – her bound hands touching the damp night air, the last thing she was to remember.

***

‘Nope,’ sighs Grandpa. ’There was no gold, no silver, no jewels – nothing.’

‘Not even bones?’ I whisper.

Grandpa inhales his pipe, his eyes fix on me.

‘No’ he says, his words floating in the grey smoke. ’Not even a tiny, wincey monkey bone.’

There is a flash, and the lights come back. The kids clap, the grown-ups smile, the plastic covers go back under the beds. Grandma turns on the TV to watch “Nobody’s Daughter”, the new prime-time soap she’s already addicted to. Mama and Auntie herd us to our rooms, amid protests.

I pull the covers to my nose and study the marks on my wrists, which no one has been able to explain. Mama thinks they are abrasions from some forgotten Indian and Cowboy game and Auntie believes they are scars from the time I fell into the thorn bushes, behind the park. They resemble faint, rusted braids, circling my hands like a ghost.

‘Have you said your prayers, Mariana?’ asks Grandpa when he enters the bedroom.

I nod.

‘Good night then,’ he whispers, kissing my forehead.

‘Grandpa?’

‘Yes?’

‘About that story…’

Grandpa halts my fears.

“It’s just a story, nothing more” he says, as the cropped-haired man walks by the threshold behind his back.

Three Hours Before The War

@Karem Barratt

Venezuela soldier aiming at civilians

(This is an image from a Venezuelan march, violently repressed by the government. Dozens of people have been killed for daring to protest, 28 alone in the past three weeks. Hundreds have been detained, there are political prisoners and some detainees have been tortured, according to Human Rights organizations, both from Venezuela and abroad.)

 

Cinnamon dreams fly from porridge bowls,

In the cool, early morning light.

To the music of a xylophone, the radio

Announcer chants the bargains of the day.

Humming, she goes about, in the warm

Embrace of the kitchen I don’t want to leave.

But the bus is coming, driving slowly

Over shaded lanes, the sun spinning

Delicate laces through the canopy

Of the acacia trees, birds singing sins

(My father used to say), choiring with

Crickets and tea pots, while iron pans

Fry merry dawns out of humble eggs.

The bus honks, and she calls my name,

Her eyes bright with dreams

That will not come to pass.

But she believes, and I believe with her,

Because last night I saw a man

Walking on the moon, weaved in

A tapestry of grey blinking stars

That sounded, at times, like the sea in a shell

-But the bus is waiting and she kisses me, hurriedly,

Her breath a waft of mint and honey

And toasted corn bread.

I wave good-bye and run off to my last day

Of innocence, three hours before the war

And the absence she is to leave.

The bus turns at the corner of King’s road.

The paper man sits, bored,

On a table of news tainted red.

 

 

Under The Vulture’s Eye

@KaremIBarratt

vulture child
The river is dried. The blistering earth begs for life. With  fly-ridden, scarred lips, her shadow grows; there is nothing to stop it. No grass, no cattle, no trees, just the barren laugh of the scorching wind, making trolls out of dust that dance, burst in her throat and settle in. The child crawls. Her head surrenders to the implacable sun, her brittle bones crumble inside the papery skin. And she parches and whimpers and shrinks, until her watery eyes follow the river, flowing in mist to the far, far off sea. The vulture begins to eat.

Yellow Butterflies

@KaremIBarratt

yellow butterflies 2

 

Madness.

The only cure is madness.

 

 

Yellow butterflies that come and go,

Appearing in the night like specks of light,

Phantoms from above, perhaps below,

Maybe the Other Side, the Summer Lands,

The Golden World, the place

With no end where all is well and

Shakespeare dances with Morgan la Fey,

Camelot is real and the planet stopped

Moving on April 1st, 1912.

Titanic did not sink.

No archduke died. There was no atom

Bomb falling from Japanese skies,

No Korea divided, no Vietnam,

No guerrilla in Latina American jungles,

No economic break down,

No taking Wall Street,

No Aleppo turned to carcass,

No murder in Caracas,

No toddlers face down

On a Turkish beach.

 

They come and go from my mind,

These yellow butterflies.

The yank me away from the thickness

Of my bad dark. No velvety

Night for lovers to kiss under,

My bad darkness. No cosy,

Warm, mother’s womb.

It is more like tar, sticky mud, quick sand.

Sucking me, drinking me, sweeping away all

The beauty from the world.

And they come, my yellow butterflies.

Hook me, pull me, save me,

As they chant my name,

And remind me of the tea party

At the foot of the Everest.

And I know that they

Cannot be real.

And I know that butterflies

Cannot possible speak my name.

And I know I will never make it

In time to the meeting at Everest.

But I hold on to them, just the same,

To yellow butterflies, my golden feys.

I shall send my apologies tomorrow.

And reschedule the party

For another day.