Poetry London Clore Prize 2018 COMMENDED 2: Tiger Gran by Pascale Petit

My grandmother of the flying electric blanket,
who speaks Hindi in her sleep,
who has gharials in her black eyes
behind steamed-up glasses, a long nose
like a mountain between two countries – one hot, one cold.
Who mothered me when I was newborn,
and saved me from going to the bad.

My grandmother of seven tabbies, who lives at Number 7
where I live for seven years from age seven,
the River Severn down our lane.
My grandmother who returned me to my mother twice,
which meant orphanage, which meant other people’s homes.
My grandmother who works at the chippie, who takes in
neighbours’ washing, who cleans big houses,

who makes me work in the garden for my keep,
for whom I would weed the world,
for whom I would pump the Severn to save her black hybrids,
for she is a hybrid rose who has been saved.
My grandmother who keeps a jungle folded in her greenhouse,
who lets me join her in its heat-heart.
My grandmother who I catch peeing in the greenhouse,

who explains she has only one kidney
and can’t always make it to our toilet.
My grandmother whose hair fell out
when they removed her kidney without anaesthetic
while she was pregnant with my uncle.
My grandmother who shouts Avert your eyes! when she undresses,
so I won’t see the permanent tan under her clothes.

My grandmother with the curse of second sight,
but the blessing of second birth to her father’s wife
so her real mother, the maid, would not be stoned.
My grandmother who was left alone in a jungle tent
by her white step-mother, for the tiger to eat,
who, when we are riding the winged blanket,
tells me how she watched the vision enter

and reached out to touch his dazzle, who was spared
because she was not afraid, who held
the wonder’s gaze and saw his icicle teeth drip
on the red tongue at the gate of paradise
but did not go down that carpet into the tunnel.
My tawny grandma with as many wrinkles as tributaries
in the Ganges, her face the map of India when it’s summer,

the map of Wales in winter. And sometimes her wrinkles
are stripes that scare me if I look at her
when she is flying the tails of her stories.
She who was left to run wild by her doting father
when she wasn’t slaving for his white family,
who I am allowed to cuddle so I can sleep.
My grandmother the tiger-girl. The Untouchable.

 

Judge’s Report by Kwame Dawes


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