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Digital Poetics #7 ADVICE FROM MY GREAT-GRANDMOTHER: POEM FOR THE DAUGHTER I NEVER HAD: Bhanu Kapil



Avoid spaces in which white people you don't know congregate.

[Sorry, but that's the end of the poem. It's the last day of May ***, and it's the only thing I need you to know. Don't worry. The other stuff is there. In my notebook, I've scrawled the recipe for saag* and a remedy for menstrual pain**, in the long tradition of instructions passed verbally within a family until they reach the descendant. Can a ghost be a descendant****? What happened to your blood? Who drained you off?]

*Add a tablespoon of red lentils.

**Blue cohosh, vitex, nettle, valerian root, motherwort, boiled to a simmer then strained.

***A month of carnage and ambivalence, characterized by the prevailing belief that whiteness confers a kind of greatness. The imperial category was both acute and weak in the first six months of 2020. We snapped it in two but it tripled, evoking a bygone past. We noticed, also, that it wanted its own comfort**** at all costs, and that when comfort was denied, it froze to a high sheen. That sheen was a wet mirror. It absorbed and deflected any glare. "I was protecting my wife and child from certain violence," said whiteness. And: "I did nothing wrong."

****Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun: "The belief that those with power have a right to emotional and psychological comfort; scapegoating those who cause discomfort; equating individual acts of unfairness against white people with systemic racism which daily targets people of color."

Avid, precise, murderous.

The syllabus, once a radical category, was out there more than it was in here.

In the world you live in, I'm not sure if there are universities, or a country called The United States, or another country, The United Kingdom.

Daughter, this is a poem and so I'm sending you my courage.

And I'm sending you my love.

What I know of your great-great-great grandmother is this:

Under British rule, she wove a hemp rug dyed with berries and other natural things.

On this rug was a leopard.



The leopard was wearing a diamond choker.

A bloody tongue poking out.

Goodnight, said the leopard, a word stitched vertically in front of its face.

Can you discern it?

Goodnight, Empire.

Goodnight, white supremacy.

Your veins are dangling from my teeth.


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Bhanu Kapil is the author of six full length works of poetry/prose, including How to Wash a Heart (2020), Ban en Banlieue (2015) and Schizophrene (2012).  


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This publication is in Copyright. Bhanu Kapil, 2020.


The moral right of the author has been asserted. However, the Hythe is an open-access journal and we welcome the use of all materials on it for educational and creative workshop purposes.

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