Habiba Dokubo-Asari

Remember the House

Remember the house, brother?
Beacon white on the outside
& inside walls veined with throbbing red.
Father put up a new coat every year, racing
against the scarlet flush. He liked to say
he had one rule, ‘Don’t touch my walls’
but it was a thousand spooled rules.
He liked to keep his walls high,
crowned with concertina russet
from skinned knees of needy children

trying to climb over.
We put our ears a breath away
from those walls, silenced our lungs
so we could hear the thumping; argued over
if it was our own hearts beating or father’s
locked behind the walls,

argued if father even had a heart.
Then we saw him, once, through the slit
in his office door, chest cracked open,
polishing petrified padauk,
pigment so deep and dark
it fractaled the light like a crystal.
We’d never seen him handle a thing with such care.
Not us, or mother; just wood and walls.

Mother was a wisp, friends with the wind,
only it could hear her. She grew into dust
whistled away by the wind; her bones became
woodwinds became an orchestra
folded into the walls.
Father grew into a copse
of petrified trees, an untamed jungle,
a beast whetting claws and fangs
on our bones

You grew like the sun in summer,
bartered fists for words, loved grown men
tears wetting your knuckles or the blood
of the walls, mixing with yours
when you split skin against concrete.
& I grew like a dammed river,
creeping along the walls, fingernails raking
white paint and bursting vessels.
The only way we knew to hurt father.

I still carry ten blood moons in my hands,
still carry the whispers hissing, Cursed
child of a cursed father.
Do you ever hear them brother?
Do you ever think of the night?
When father’s padauk heart
splintered against the walls.

& it was Noah’s flood & the Red Sea parting.
All that midnight blood, moonless blood, starless
blood, churning us out the nazareno door.
The night with rain black as sin, as tar
washing walls, stripping all that white.

Last time I saw the house; or you,
cloaked with sweat & stars,
blood & bone moon. You left,
me right. We had one rule, which was a thousand
spooled rules: No looking back. Ever.

Back, the colour of salt, lying white
sheathing seething ugliness. We left that
behind the walls. But back is also
the colour of home, of us
making our own suns
within those walls. Did dawn ever come
for you after that night, brother?

See the house now, outside
blossoming birthwort, bindweed, briony.
No white to be seen
without Father to hide it, all that death
become manure become life.