Breath, like memory, is not loyal: two poems by Vuyelwa Maluleke


I know I may not have you for long
so while you sleep, I roll myself next to you
feel the honey sticky of your cheek against mine
and get myself stuck.
if you weren’t sleeping
you’d like it as much as i do then tell me
it’s an ‘unsolicited violation of your personal space’
you won’t mean this
by now I can predict your clouds
when you tell me you’re dangerous
I have no reason to doubt this about you
you are a tired quilt of women,
a patchwork of petrol fires that burn when you’re awake in the absence of your father,
your hands remind me of home- the warm bed, my father’s distance.
you remind me of no other lover
you don’t do it on purpose, I like this.
so I give you a shelf , in a wardrobe of a flat im renting out
the vacant assurance
that you’ll be here
i’m not stupid, i know we’re not for keeps
still, I wish I was the only place you hung your shirts
I wish you’d stencil my hand over the aches,
I will always be here to
to plant healing with chicken soup
and handsome adjectives
and it will cost me nothing.
But you’d tell me that
breath, like memory, is not loyal
that tomorrow I could build myself a temple
on someones elses collar bone
write better poetry to sail there and worship there
Five times a day, with love as it is
hot then cold- it’s in that 3am shiver
that our spines tell tales on us
of the lovers before
the teeth in their hands
the treasures they were given
and not given,
all the while carving stone shelters in the soft caves of backs
they would abandon when your laughter no longer brought out the stars for them
while you sleep
I catch the saxhorn growl in your chest
match its crescendo with mine
we make good music
This is where you belong.
you never say yes
never stay long enough to share the grocery bill with me
I bury myself with you anyway
you don’t notice how deep.
Your lips, are red sirens littered with commas
I want so badly to hear them speak yes.
Instead knowing you are someone else’s
I follow the fists your eyes make against your nightmares.
I think damn he must be a hero behind those brown doors.

If You Should Kill Me

The clouds have been threatening to break the rain loose
you try the same shaky trick on me.
no one hears you tie pillows around the screams
and hold my breath under yours,
you are quick anger
a bayamo wind that sneaks up on both of us
the clouds will break the rain loose tonight, I will pour
who will clean up the puddles next to my tea cup?
and if I run too slow,
who will mop me off the floor when you’re done
chasing your vengeful rumble through me
how good a job will they do putting me together this time?
and this time how many needles will they use
I can’t recall when your thunder got this vile
how it cooked itself so big, in the back of your mouth
and sat between the word we shared
waiting for its seconds
in a desserted room.
when no one could hear us both
fighting to be heard and forgiven
I don’t remember the day I started running
or how fast  needed to go,
where did I think I could go?
your eyes questioned in a smirk i knew could open fresh wounds
‘what did you do when you caught up to me?’
you say you’re sorry
that i don’t know how to be careful with you
to prove it, you grieve the purple deaths along my arms and ribs with me
but we know it will happen again.

and if you should kill me this time
what will you tell them happened
when they ask?
tell them/don’t tell them
don’t tell them it was you
tell them I was awkward
that I could never walk straight without
tripping on a carpet I knew was there
and hitting a wall we’d decorated with ourselves
pull your hair out in saddness.
even if you don’t mean it
do it anyway and make it believable.
wail, but there must be no tears
that would be too big a lie to tell
I don’t want anyone to remember us like this
we’re too ugly, I didn’t tell them that part

Breath, like memory, is not loyal: two poems by Vuyelwa Maluleke

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