From Issue 12: DNA

Tanaka Mhishi
At fifteen my mother curled inwards,
dredging up pearl and brine
from the sewer she kept in her stomach.
She painted worlds like liquid skyscrapers
and suckered poems onto her wrists like barnacles.
I was fourteen when I tried to die,
folding school tie into an escape ladder.
Later, I told lies about the hole in my ceiling
I still don’t think she believed.
When my father cried for the first time in years,
his own mother smooth and small in her coffin
the aunts sang their tears
into a hundred paper lanterns
their faces puckered by grief,
like fistfuls of brown paper.
When my sister uncovered her bruises
I didn’t dare to show her mine.
I said
Leave him.
Love will not keep you alive.
Some nights I dream of a daughter;
of her tiny fingers, soft as prayer,
of her smile, forged in more countries
than she has teeth.
Of her African eyes.
I want to promise her that she will never lie
feeling the emptiness change her blood to bullets.
That living is as easy as dropping milk teeth.
In my dream she has no mother;
she is all I never was.
I hold her close.
I tell her
This is our family.
I tell her
You are new, soft, unmarked.
Your body is not a sewer line.
Your heart is not a wishbone.
I tell her
This is our family, my love,
and we are marvelously broken.
profpiccTanaka Mhishi is a poet, playwright and performer based in London. His work has recently appeared (or is forthcoming) in Rogue Agent Journal, The Rialto and other publications. For more of his work, visit