experiments in freedom

Honourable mention, creative writing contest (non-fiction)

Illustration credit: Marie A.-C. via Flickr

on the eighth day

Moon descends amongst the fruits and branches of the Tree of Knowledge. Her mouth carries the future in prayers, when all solid things have dissolved into blood and air, leaving young and old to live on words alone. Their dialects have collapsed into one galactic cry tunnelling backwards to what they believe is the beginning.

There is a mass grave here. The broken skins of some of the fruit reveal eyes, nasal cartilage, thumbs. Bones of all shapes and functions nest in the crooks of the rough bark, like small children playing hide-and-seek. Dangling femurs swordplay to the music in the leaves and half-grown ribs hang off branch tips, dream-catching. Deep in the Tree’s heart, Serpent is moderating a conference of branded skulls.

He is their loyal brother. His eyes have shed hills of salt to learn their names – these marked ones returned from the frontlines of time, with pain’s millennia seared in their calcium. When they arrive crushed, Serpent wraps himself tight around their pieces, absorbing their torture until they remember themselves whole.

Each skull speaks three distinct languages: one of birth, one of love, one of betrayal. They share memories of ships’ bowels, trenches and execution rooms. They whisper about the man in the garden who does not want to know, and the woman who does, because she is considering all possible endings to the lives she will bear. Every so often, they commemorate kisses.

Moon’s arms are full with the bones of a man from Georgia. A man undimmed by twenty years on death row, whose arteries pumped fifteen minutes of poison behind a glass window while he negotiated his killers’ redemption. Troy Davis does not look, taste or smell like prison. His eyes are twenty-one years old, holding the road to Atlanta mugged by an August sky and soft as his sister’s shoulder beside him.

Serpent and Moon lay his bones beside those engraved by Anna Mae Picton Aquash. The leaves still their song, tilting their lips to catch one thousand elegies raining like heartbeats on Savannah soil. He left behind a nation of hemlock fingers and children assassinated by their terror of light.

A tree of bones at the centre of Eden’s red earth drinks the dust of rivers, grass underneath the city, stars washed in kerosene. The woman in the garden eats of its fruit. Her babies spend their nights remembering and forgetting the murders corded in their bellies.

-tribute to Troy Davis (1968-2011)

postscript to Marx

here is my labour stripped off the shirt of a woman
her sweat and clumsy tears salting pavements of flesh

against the wind her head crooked, some hope it stays
that way so the world can go on happening

here is something she made the day she died and nobody came
for her unregistered body, her body outside the temple of language.
all there was was her abused uterus,

a tight cursing pellet for the people to swallow.

nobody came to see her shot-up heart. my labour
that is not being done on a slant. it is just here, without a crown,
flat with unsightly bumps where tripwires are buried – her

myriad uninteresting explosions that made continuing possible.

she was never really here, never above her skin
or the way her life was taken by a pen.

here is my labour ready to be polished into desire’s fingernail
but she was too goddamn poor to fix.

she left the house that day with her eyes in her hands
the mouth of a gun between her legs wearing
nothing but the smell of children and burnt soup

she found there was not a roof

to meet her naked labour: my heart
shot up still wanting to beat


— n
1. Queen of the Olympian gods, sister and wife of Zeus: I watch her stumble to her vow, sea-filled kneecaps, finger she unfolds a manicured thorn for Hera’s chin; behind applause, I catch perfect technique of her teeth, gnashing bits of ventricle.

2. the here and now: he wakes up to moonlit, half-digested chunks of beef stew beside the heater, re-collecting drafty joints knocking wet wood, Pacific salt in nostrils, spreading rash around his mother’s eyes; after the second Bacardi Silver, here is always the boat.

3. this place: they stare past each other’s hair at peeling walls, skin stung by after-sex, soles wandering each collateral wrinkle on cheap flowered sheets; regret rain’s beat spider-crawling back of knees with nowhere to go from here.

— adv
1. in, at, or to this place, point, case, or respect: they come here to watch planes take off when their syntaxes fail to meet in the middle; here the moon edgy enough to penetrate smoke curtains huffed at manic pace; sunk deep, they miss the heavy crunch of cop until here is nothing but bleach light and lungs lurching.

2. at several places in or throughout an area: I sit next to her tension the way I would approach a wasp; he is explaining again why she shouldn’t worry – because he only sells the dope here and there, only sniffs it time to time, eventually he will diploma himself into rickety livelihood of the working underclass.

3. indication that one is about to perform an action: Nina Simone is pounding ivory keys when her water breaks; ain’t got no friends, ain’t got no schoolin’, ain’t got no love, ain’t got no name, but her bags are packed and here goes anyway.

4. formula to propose a toast: dilapidated Christmas lights blink-barb her hand as she cuts, out of season, the wedding-frosted vanilla cake; here’s to her write to dream, whipped cream smug on the priest’s upper lip.

5. short-lived; transitory: shadowing in at 4 a.m., the room spinning, his thighs turbo engines; drags a numb finger across her warm cheek, slips rubber-bound cash under the pillow before pocketing her cell phone; love obliges a circus, here today, gone tomorrow.

6. an event or process is about to repeat itself: I study maps with her, overdue bills staining carpet, phone accumulating messages; here we go again, staking indefensible claims to water, to movement, in the method of ancestors.

7. of no relevance or importance: her open belly, napkin poems under bed, broken script of her eye, neither here nor there inside a baby’s cry; the clock elongates, bent elbows a basket for tiny, quivering ribs.

8. an emphatic form of this: we stay within distance of a breath, self ticking into soil, organs corrupting imperceptibly like the sudden yellow of an album; before the line scatters, only this here, a part kissing time into place.

citizen apocalypse

for the 492 Tamil refugees who arrived on the shore of British Columbia, unceded Coast Salish Territory, on August 13, 2010, and were subsequently detained by the Canadian Border Services Agency

terror on surface open / sea
premonition’s children / chest bullet

proof / glass / kiss smoke sing / life
numbered shoulders / august / wheel

light / air blood / earn mask
write uniform death / strike

turn / tread / whisper / gauze
pale hearts / first world citizen-

ship / cage / loved ones pearl
river bottoms / brown

will to live / splendid
biological weapon

(unsubmitted) prospectus of a native informant

[subject/object construction]

through skin of pearl my hip billows
pliant pink in mouth of day. I offer
insolvent body, the negated form –
a flower’s fanatic hope for sunrise
as it chokes on the city,
as I cut the lines.

time to realign bone in the text
of my spine, first and only barricade
against siege of loans, sleep
hesitating along paths of clear
stung blackness, the tidal wave of rent.

my body’s ship resolute as photograph
the page inters whites of my eyes –
they say, pray to the yawning gods
of oily hair and coffee-rust teeth.
either way let’s be methodical about the gutting.

[ontological premise]

postcolony is nomad’s avenging oath before legs are removed in a single stroke. it is believed the oath’s fulfilment carries within it the World’s end.

migration is the ocean’s response to coal’s aggression. multidirectional retreat. a scatter. postal codes replace shrines.

inheritance is a parent’s humiliation. albums of mysterious cousins. spoons.
propensity to lower eyes. threadbare pillow cases. a psychology
of exit doors. distrust of own name in another’s mouth.

palimpsest is my back broken of insolence and ironed for mercury to engrave
any alphabet, any thought at all.

thesis is (coiled enough, the neck will bow in agreement) Yes, These Renegade Questions and Half-Open Eyes Will Keep Us from Dying.

appendix a
legs can fade like stamps, paper, italicized fonts, or twenty years of someone’s life in an outlaw tongue. easily overlooked in taxi cabs, public bathrooms, food banks.

appendix b
when I dream grass sprouts from my body. worms dig tunnels in my frontal lobe. birds drink crimson milk from my navel.


the bone is a ghost inside you that lingers
just long enough to sketch permanence.

it grieves like no union, army or bureaucrat.
it does not renegotiate terms of labour.
it derives no prestige from ivory.

the bone loves you, and gives you up
remembering you shroud the earth.

[preliminary findings]

nomads know a thousand and seven ways
to hide inside your glance:

recant the moons in my name,
trade your compass for mine,
spool breath into a nuclear annotation.
I know what it costs to beg
for time and calcium, my roving light
shaved down to gristle. memory’s crust
imploded, churns tiny hammers
into a guerrilla heart.

Hailing from Bali, Indonesia, and Vancouver, unceded Coast Salish Ter­r­itories, Cynthia Dewi Oka is a New Jersey-based poet, editor, activist, mom, and the author of Nomad of Salt and Hard Water.

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