Sea-grapes bloom heavy in high tide,
and everything smells like gutted fish—
the dirt ring around my father’s neck
marking dark oil-stains on every collar,
the stench raw as an open wound,
coiled in the mass of my sweating hair,
folded in the pleats of my uniform, wafting
in the iron’s heat.
At school I hide in the corner,
sit very still. Ask to be covered in sand.
Weekends I buy bars of red carbolic soap
to dig my fingernails and knuckles in, to knead
into my breasts and thighs. I rub until each bar
disappears, and I am sick from the smell of bleach;
until I throw up brine pickled with the stench of fish.
In the mirror I notice the dull gleam of scales,
at night I crave the taste of salt.
Peel away the orange flesh, suck each sea-grape
like a thumb. Suck the eye out of every roasted snapper,
suck at the spine like a straw.
Once, a bone small as a hemming pin
lodged in the muscle of my throat and I coughed blood
into a basin for days.
Saw my lungs come up like a pink balloon,
flopping in the basin like a dying fish.
At night I eat whole clusters of sea-grapes.
I cannot help myself.
I discover dark slits at the nape of my neck.
I try to swallow a bar of soap.
I pack night-jasmine in the open wounds.
Tie my hair in a handkerchief.
Pray there is no wind today.
Again, teacher sends me home to wash myself.
Fisherman’s daughter, ten year-old, rank;
still for sale.