Catherine-Esther Cowie

Natural Inclination

 

how could we not in this place, where galvanized roofs take flight, airborne guillotines, 

decapitating a cow, halving a horse; we pick the dog, small and chained, a stick in our hand,

our hand raised—

you’ve seen the stick before, in the hand of the man in the field swatting 

the backsides of his goats and cows; in the hands of villagers who blinded  

and clubbed pigeons for meat, for sport, in your hand—the girl, the boy in the corner, 

their hands crossed and pressed against their foreheads, your arm undulating.

how could we not—

in the north where the sun slaughters bush and stray dog alike, we pick the church, 

the petrol in our hand, we pick the nun, the priest, set fire.

Salt

after Salome 

Outside my nieces play 

ring-around-the-rosie.

They whir. And on the kitchen floor 

I’m forced under—Anne.

Rise—sketel. 

I inhale. Salt. A strand of blonde hair. 

That he is my sister’s husband, 

that I am sixteen, 

does not matter to him. 

 

After, I call the children in, 

bring him a heaping plate 

of fish, rice and peas. 

 

I imagine breaking a kerosene 

lamp in his plate, hiding the glass

amongst the grains of rice, 

his insides ravaged like mine—

 

When my sister returns from the capital,

I learn to count the stars, 

my back flat against the dirt,

his hand pressing my mouth shut.

After, he calls me doux-doux 

darling, sweetness.

 

How many times does he balance over my belly? 

I am dizzy, dazed, a swollen river 

whose end opens wide 

to the sea. I grow a fishtail, 

gills. I am slick and shiny. 

I grow a taste for salt,

and his fine linen skin.

What I Know 

Men are threatening presences. —Lucy Ellmann

 

 I.

 

St. Lucia, 1950

 

I hit Auntie in the face. 

She tried to sell my sisters.

I hit her again. We hid. 

The spoon was wooden,

broke Auntie’s nose. 

She said our mother wasn’t coming back.

She said tourists love mixed girls

but I was too old.

I told my sisters, if Auntie finds us,

brings them to a big white ship,

if men try to touch them,

remember our mother is the sea,

jump.

 

 

II.

St. Lucia, 1990

 

I hit my daughter. Even now

she throws the past at me,

the Brownie uniform I cut up 

when she was twelve

because she came home after five. 

One of the many ways 

I stopped her 

from being her, she says.

It wasn’t safe, I explain.

She argues the sun 

was just beginning to set,

she never dilly-dallied,

she didn’t even have breasts.

I say, that would not have mattered. 

She reminds me of how I cuffed her ear 

when she refused 

to take off the uniform.

I tell her, this is what I know, 

my hands staving off men.

 

Catherine-Esther Cowie is from the Caribbean island of St. Lucia and has lived in Canada and the US. She is a graduate of the Pacific University low-residency MFA program. Her writing has appeared in the Penn Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Forklift Ohio, Flock Literary Journal, Moko Magazine, The Common, Potomac Review, Southern Humanities Review and Portland Review.

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