Poems by current and past members of Malika’s Kitchen

My Girl

By Jill Abram

Here is newborn you in tiny white cyclamen.
I wrapped you in blankets soft as Stachys leaves,
clematis tendrils grip tight as your fingers.

The colours of your hair; baby blonde carnations
darkening through bronze fennel to copper beech –
your rebellious teenage phase of zinging poppies.

Pink frills of Monarda and your summer skirts,
velvet pansy petals for warmth in the winter,
tough-leafed hostas for your tomboy years.

Fuchsia tutus take me to your ballet classes,
Kerria pompoms to tennis lessons,
daffodils trumpet in the school orchestra.

Your cheeks blush like ripening apples, plump
as the tomatoes I water every day. Bees flit
from plant to plant, you skip from friend to friend.

Your temper flares hot as flaming Crocosmia,
spikes like a rose thorn. As twilight falls
you curl up with evening primrose to sleep

through the night. But I never met your father,
the season to carry and bear you passed.
I planted you around my lawn and raised you here.


By Charlotte Ansell

When the news breaks and the tide cannot be turned
I find comfort in the Muslim call to prayer on TV,
its mathematical calm laps over me
like today as I paint, ripples of chatter
from the Eastern European family fishing
on the opposite bank of the canal.
I relax into the peace of incomprehensible words
the laughter of children – still the same –
the cheers when they catch a fish.
I wouldn’t eat anything from this water
maybe they wouldn’t either,
I push my assumptions down, drown them in paint.
We co-exist in this subdued day
Cloud muffling out any extremes
the odd phrase in English reaches me
and when they leave, a man calls out:
Beautiful painting- you come paint my house?
See you next time!

Not everything can be covered, made new.
When my friend’s appeal for asylum was refused
I went around; the nakedness of the packing boxes,
the panic in her daughters’ eyes
and her without her hijab.
Somehow, I couldn’t hug her
seeing her so exposed.
Three years later they let her stay.

Isn’t that all anyone wants,
a safe place to call home?
I go back to painting,
the grey green expanse grows,
soothing my eyes. If only
it didn’t remind me of the cold sea,
the slip slop of the brush like the slap of waves
lifting a dress to expose a nappy
breaking over pliable limbs,
on her head a swirl of dark curls
frames her little face,
as if in repose.

I Come From

By Dean Atta

I come from shepherd’s pie and Sunday roast
Jerk chicken and stuffed vine leaves
I come from travelling through my taste buds but loving where I live

I come from a home that some would call broken
I come from D.I.Y. that never got done
I come from waiting by the phone for him to call

I come from waving the white flag to loneliness
I come from the rainbow flag and the union jack
I come from a British passport and an ever-ready suitcase

I come from jet fuel and fresh coconut water
I come from crossing oceans to find myself
I come from deep issues and shallow solutions

I come from a limited vocabulary but an unrestricted imagination
I come from a decent education and a marvellous mother
I come from being given permission to dream but choosing to wake up instead

I come from wherever I lay my head
I come from unanswered questions and unread books
Unnoticed effort and undelivered apologies and thanks

I come from who I trust and who I have left
I come from last year and last year and I don’t notice how I’ve changed
I come from looking in the mirror and looking online to find myself

I come from stories, myths, legends and folk tales
I come from lullabies and pop songs, Hip Hop and poetry
I come from griots, grandmothers and her-story tellers

I come from published words and strangers’ smiles
I come from my own pen but I see people torn apart like paper
Each a story or poem that never made it into a book.

Flood Season, Jakarta

By Khairani Barokka

When the brown tongue of water
rises up to meet us here,
the house will be gone.
While inside the minds of islanders—
cushioned on the hills
of this sinking spectacle
of cardboard, blood, roads
twisting on each other like yarn
and neon, the flash of a
smile for the cameras,
journeys for food, immune to eviction,
the rasping grey of the air—
we will be none.
Specks of paper floating
and mooring to the curb,
collecting under a tent
and against the grate.
While inside us,
we will never have felt
more present in the world
nor deadened, alive to the whims
of rivers and the sea, and bare.
Meaning bolts itself to hunger,
like the promise of fleshy
endless layers in a rice grain,
soft, half-fermenting, caught
under the folds of a nail.
Into our dreams will seep slowly,
until soaked with them,
paddy fields withered with drought,
or heavy and drowned; pebbles and glass
under trucks rushing manic to the capital,
bringing and wresting, oil drums, men,
boxes of ginger candy, forests of logs,
chairs made of water hyacinths.

First published in Poetry Review, Spring 2017.
From Rope by Khairani Barokka (Nine Arches Press, 2017)

i am the tears that spring unbidden as you spread peanut butter on toast

By Anne Cooper
i am the tears that spring unbidden as you spread peanut butter on toast

i am a butterfly
i am the waxing moon
i am the overflowing rubbish bin
i am the leaves on the wind
i am the stars on a cloudless night
i am a cynical twist of fate
i am a field of wheat
i am the smoke you inhale
i am tiramisu
i am a broken bottle
i am a chest of drawers stuffed with unwanted clothes
i am the highlights in your hair
i am an unwritten book
i am a blossom in bloom
i am storm water rising
i am an undiscovered planet
i am a disaster at sea
i am a coral reef
i am an empty womb
i am a parcel waiting to be delivered
i am a red flag waving in the wind of chaos
i am a donkey whose legs have given way
i am the brandy in your glass
i am an equation no one really understands
i am the clean sheets on your bed
i am a play no one wants to see
i am a frightened child
i am the soft rain on a summer’s day
i am a fortune in the making
i am an unfinished symphony
i am uncertainty
i am sure of everything
i am nothing
i am everything
i can be anything

I am somebody

Inspired by the call and response poem, I am Somebody, by Rev. William Holmes Borders, “I may be poor, but I am somebody, I may be on welfare, but I am somebody…” Rev. Jesse jackson delivered this poem to meetings of the RainbowPUSH Coalition that had its roots in the Black Panthers and in May ’68 at Resurrection City, the site of an enormous protest, part of an anti-poverty campaign; at it’s height attended by 50 000 people in the Washington Mall. He famously performed the poem on Sesame Street in 1971.

Anne E Cooper © 2010

A leopard parses his concern

By Rishi Dastidar

1. I am concerned about Claudia Cardinale.

2. By ‘concerned’ I mean ‘in lust with’.

3. By ‘in lust with’ I mean ‘I sigh for’.

4. By ‘I sigh for’ I mean ‘my eyes are hungry for her when she appears on screen’.

5. By ‘hungry’ I mean ‘revel in her’.

6. By ‘revel’ I mean ‘enjoy’.

7. By ‘enjoy’ I mean ‘endure’.

8. By ‘endure’ I mean ‘wait in the hope that she might, like a god, pick me out to be noticed, even though I have done nothing noticeable’.

9. By ‘pick me out’ I mean ‘not actually come near me lest my reserves of charm desert me at a highly inopportune moment’.

10. By ‘not actually come near me’ I mean ‘actually come near me, preferably in a darkened Neapolitan hotel room’.

11. By ‘darkened’ I mean ‘the presence of Lampedusa will be evident; he will be sitting in a green damask armchair, his walking stick tapping out the beat of a fugue’.

12. By ‘fugue’ I mean ‘a Morse code translation of his most famous quote’.

13. By ‘quote’ I mean ‘the only appropriate approach to living’.

14. By ‘living’ I mean ‘love’.

Words for Sorrow

By Katie Griffiths

Words for Sorrow

When my great-grandmother
discovered she was the last speaker
of the mid-west dialect,
she ditched her songs
of wind and tumbleweed
to mime for me
ten words for sorrow.

Her garments were eased
to show a sorrow that salted
deep folds in her skin.
That rose and hooked
the back of her throat.
That contoured
into an hourglass,

squeezing the very rasp
out of her. And how
the same word, with new
inflection, connoted a type
that flowed swiftly,
and formed a gully
she could not wade.

She taught me
the word for sorrow
that out-shrieks darkness.
That descends like gauze,
yet no beast can rip through.
A kind that fastens itself
to the span of just one day

or to a jutting peg
where cast-off jackets droop.
And when her hands measured
empty space, I saw it made
a difference whether sorrow
remained solely the vehicle,
or became the entire road.

Published in Primers Volume One (Nine Arches Press, 2016)

Minotaur tries to talk

By Mehmet Izbudak

Minotaur stands by the traffic lights
where is god when you need him
it’s like the buses
Minotaur shouts out loud (in his head)
as is his wont
Minotaur needs to talk to god
it is time that that they had it out
to know where they both stand
in the scheme of things
for god speaketh once yea twice
yet man perceiveth it not
or is it the other way round
Minotaur feels like screaming
but that would scare the five-foot two mother
waiting to cross with a child
in the blue-green tartan pushchair
Minotaur wants to talk
Minotaur (still in his head)
lets out a shopping mall scream
the child in the blue-green tartan pushchair
leans forward and makes faces at him
Minotaur smiles and sticks his tongue out
the lights change and so does the cast
Minotaur crosses the road
and goes into the underground station
if there were no inner god
we would have to invent one

The Red Heads

By Maisie Lawrence

When I cut off my hair, my
then best friend told me,
stern-faced, that I would no
longer be able to wear dresses.
I wore only suits
that summer.

A few years later, I read about
the young girl in Nebraska. On a
birthday rollercoaster, jealous metal arms
reached down, trapping her lovely red hair and hung
on, keeping part of her, as she tried to cling on
to her skin. where’s my pretty hair?
When she reached the ground,
passed out, her head was
a little lighter,
brighter red.

I keep this story close.
I wish I had known it when my
then partner shaved my head
without permission. I cried
away two hours and would
not leave the house
next day.

Now my hair is a red flame, and
only I touch it. We share that – this
young Nebraskan girl and me –
unwanted hands have touched
our heads and set them
on fire.

The Roadkill

By Soul Patel

We’ll continue to call it the Roadkill. How it got here in the waiting room is beyond anyone’s understanding but it’s the only one here that doesn’t understand it’s beyond saving. My mother is sitting opposite and with each passing hour has curled further into herself until she has become more brittle than the air around us. The Roadkill is blinking at us. It’s unable to speak as its throat has been severed halfway into its spinal cord.

When the surgeon sits down he doesn’t notice it. Four more hours on top of the original three of the bypass operation have passed and this is the third time he has come to speak to us. While the surgeon tells us about the two extra arteries he had to rip from my dad’s legs, the Roadkill pleads. It can’t cry because its tear ducts were twisted out of its skin when its cranium was crushed. It wants to be saved. I pray it doesn’t follow us home.

The Japanese Vase

By Michelle Penn

Repair should be evident. It should strut an arrogant song, instead of pacifying quietly.
It should deny nothing.

She has never restored a single ceramic by hiding the cracks, the chips, replenishing
patterns exactly where their colours have strayed.  Her sutures show, a defiant testament
to damage. The withered fingers lay down gold lacquer, honouring every imperfection,
every beautiful break. One scarred lover caressing another.

Repair bellows. It is not a bird, pecking seeds from a child’s hand. It is not the woman
who trades all she is for costume jewellery.

She is in love with the unused vase on the table, so exposed outside its shelter of
Styrofoam. It begs for the strength she will someday bestow, its surface so intact, so
ignorant of history.

(this poem first appeared in Shearsman)

The King With Two Shoes in His Name

By Peter Raynard

At the dawn of the Scramble the King of Lesotho
lies dead. I am in the presence of his lineage,
drinking too quickly in a single bulb Shebeen
in Pretoria. The resistance brewed here less
than ten years from where I sit, is still seen
in the faces of men, served by Shebeen Queens.
“You spell my name with two shoes – Moshoeshoe,”
he jokes, but there is a razor at the throat of history
when pronouncing it: “Moshwayshway”, the sound
made by the King, as he shaved the beards
of his enemies in death, conquering raids;
the silver swish of victory. The King lost
his seeds to Dutch & British bullets ‘civilising’
the continent, leaving but a tenth that Africans
could call their own by the Great War’s end.
He takes me to Soweto, to a small home. I feel
whiter than Rhodes, but he insists. Tea is served
then quietly on leaving, money is given to our host.
It is the township’s permanence that strikes,
development is elastic, a contested mistake.
The land is said to be theirs now, but not the fruits
of their seed. Soweto and Lesotho are dry islands;
Kings & Queens remain – they are drowning with thirst.

Mussels at low tide

By Joolz Sparkes

When Lady Thames has gone out
and glimpses of her underneath she rudely

reveals, frothy skirts of foam do bibs
make which tucker up nicely under our shells to

serve as slurp-catchers for us messy-eater
bivalves. Silt-hungry, hinges creak open

to release our one-footed scoops of tongue
which lick the meat of the river into us. Toeless,

we dandle in mud ––cockles and mussels alive-oh––
snap shut against harvest by boatman, gull, urchin.

In the lull of eddies, we feast and filter sluiced by
drain slop, the juice of pipes. We boat and brick

and scavenge as she turns, lifts currents of
petticoat, hides us back under.