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‘The Number You Have Dialled Does Not Exist’ by Fathima Zahra

(After Hyon Gyon’s ‘We Were Ugly’)

Your granddaughter –
Wild fields of skeletons your
Gardening books didn’t teach you about.

She writes letters to your dead husband,
Loves a boy in secret,
But you don’t know that.

You know her from a time of closeted
Tongues and unaware
Grandmothers loved better.
There’s only so much
30-second phone calls
And bi-annual faux hugs can cover.

I don’t remember what your serving of love
Tastes like
But hands,
Unlike your own,
Have planted flowers in my belly
They’ve almost
Outgrown your weeds of indifference.

I taste the rust in my mouth from every time
Umma bit her tongue
Her clench in my shoulders –
Answers to your voice.

If this painting spoke,
If I were a rosebush in your garden,
You’d walk a hundred miles
Calling my name
And never find me.

Fathima took part in Dean Atta’s ‘Ugly Words’ workshop at the Parasol unit on 9 February 2019.

‘Dean’s infectious energy made time fly by in a three-hour workshop. His enthusiasm and simple instructions prompted me to write a poem I would not have otherwise arrived at. We looked at poems by Warsan Shire, Hieu Minh Nguyen and artwork by Hyon Gyon exhibited at the Parasol Unit. While the workshop was titled ‘Ugly Words’ and navigated difficult topics, Dean’s ability to create a safe space for conversation and sharing our work was instrumental in making me feel motivated to create more. It was a cathartic afternoon with well-planned exercises that served as a map to think, question and write.’

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