In a recent feature on DAO Louisa Adjoa Parker wrote about identity and its impact on her as a writer. Here she shares a selection of her poems and short stories.
Louisa is a writer of Ghanaian and English heritage who is based in the west country. She lives with anxiety conditions and chronic fatigue. Louisa writes poetry, fiction, black history and opinion pieces, exploring a range of themes including place, gender, and ‘race’. She began writing to explore her experiences of racism and domestic violence, and is passionate about representing marginalised voices through her work. Her poetry collection, Salt-sweat and Tears and pamphlet, Blinking in the Light were both published by Cinnamon Press.
Louisa’s work has appeared in a range of publications including Envoi; Wasafiri; Bare Fiction; Token Magazine; Under the Radar; Out of Bounds (Bloodaxe); Ink, Sweat and Tears; Writing Motherhood (Seren Books); Open Pen; The Colour of Madness; and Closure (Peepal Tree Press). She has been highly commended by the Forward Prize and shortlisted by the Bridport Prize.
Louisa recently completed her first short story collection and third poetry collection, How to wear a skin, and is finishing her first novel. She has written for a number of exhibitions and books exploring the BAME experience in the South west.
Louisa has performed her work widely at open mic events and venues across the South West and beyond. She supported Linton Kwesi Johnson at Exeter Respect and Exeter Phoenix. She has delivered many creative writing workshops in a range of settings.
Louisa’s forthcoming collection How to wear a skin, is to be published by Indigo Dreams in 2019
Next to bone-white huts
in the half-dark, where red and green lights
hang like necklaces, strung
against the sky, I want to tell the woman
with the little boy who trails behind her,
while she calls out Charlie
every now and then as though the word
will reach him, wrap itself around him
like rope; pull him close, I want to say
I lived here once, I lived here, me.
First published in Wasafiri
Woman, stripped bare
It is late. I watch
as my nephew makes a journey
inches but hours long.
This is animal,
it’s a she-wolf, crouched
in her lair, snarling.
It’s a stripping back
of womanhood, layer
by layer, a peeling-off
of dignity to reveal pink flesh,
bright blood and screams.
Somewhere, cities are crumbling
to make way for him. White
cherry blossom trees are bursting
into flower. With a new day, new light,
there comes new life.
First published in Ouroboros
Afterwards, I swaddle you in plastic sheets;
yellow and crumpled as an old raincoat,
they will protect you from the rain. Today
is the first and last day. I will not look
at your face, tiny and still-pink,
I know it will accuse me. But I see
your little fingers, cold and stiff as icicles
in the morning air. It’s better this way.
I place the only things I have to hand
in with you, to help you on your way;
my favourite shorts, hewn from faded jeans,
the hem trailing cotton strings
like mucous. The shorts he ripped
from me. The pink bag I always wore
on my back – I give these to you.
You are light in my hand in the bag
as I walk, sore and torn and bleeding,
deciding. I want someone to find you.
You weigh less than a bag of shopping,
as I lift you into the bin, leave you
suspended in a plastic womb.
First published in And Other Poems
Shortlisted by the Bridport Prize
Today, when I am minding being alone,
I cannot face the hordes of tourists: smiling
Mummies using the ‘D’ word to their kids –
Daddy will get the fish and chips –
cheerful Daddies giving shoulder rides
and loving their children, and not being dead.
Prickly-eyed, I turn and walk another way;
what I need is solitude and the stink
of seaweed, brown ribbons shining in heaps;
what I need is the shush-shush sound of waves.
What I need, is to turn the corner, and not see
a pair of rainbow-collared pigeons, kissing.
Take Back Control
Take children from their mothers
wrap them in chains and brand their skin.
Take half the world and wash it pink.
Take history, take lives.
Take racism and smash it into chips.
Take gold, take spices, land.
Take food and let them starve.
Take the best bits of other people’s cultures.
Take race and slice it thinly into cards.
Take truth and replace it carefully with lies.
Back to a golden age, a glorious time
of paki-bashing, the stampede
of Doctor-Martened feet, shaved heads
and swastikas; of making England great again.
Back to a time of waving flags,
shouting Go Home to anyone who looks
as though they might be foreign.
Back to a time before political correctness
went mental, and stitched good English lips
with silence, so they had to preface
every sentence with I’m not a racist, but…
Back to a time before England –
like a sober friend –
laid her hand on forearms
in pubs across the land,
said with a pained smile and shake
of her head, Bruv, not cool. Not cool at all.
Control the borders! Build a wall
so we can keep them out. Control
the hordes, the floods, the swarms,
the waves of foreigners who wash ashore
our island. Control the welfare state!
Do not give money to the undeserving.
Control the immigrants
who run around like cockroaches
with pincer hands and dark-shined bodies
taking things that don’t belong to them
– our jobs, our homes, our way
of life – to their filthy, vermin nests.
Written as part of a collaborative piece with Josephine Corcoran for The Enemies Project
And when a child is born
The close of summer.
Neneh Cherry on the radio.
The room is bright
and shines like glass.
The baby’s tiny, dark like me.
When I wash her hair
she looks like him, she has
his mouth. Someone
in the town will tell him.
He will come. Of course
he will. I’ll wait.
The baby fattens quickly
as a lamb, puts four pounds on
in a month. She’s a tiny fireball:
her constant cries flare brightly
night and day. I make her fennel tea
and wash away my milk from where
it runs into the creases in her neck.
My sister’s gone to Switzerland.
The baby likes it when we dance
and I sing along to Neneh Cherry.
Seven seconds soon becomes her song.
I have to see her belly rise and fall.
I have to make sure death
isn’t just around the corner.
I have to make sure it won’t come
and crash into our lives again.
First published in Ink, Sweat & Tears.
Pieces of glass
When she sees her chance she leaves. She doesn’t take her shoes, or the coral lipstick she insists on wearing, although she’s seen the care-worker’s pitying looks, as though they are thinking, What’s the point, at her age? She picks up the scarf one of her daughters gave her, ties it round her waist. She’s not sure if that’s where it’s meant to go, but hopes it will keep her warm.
The girls with fat bottoms and long, cow’s lashes and plastic nails are outside smoking cigarettes and laughing. She walks out of her room with its neat bed and thick, swirled carpet, through the hall and out of the front door, which she closes quietly behind her. She knows where she is going, but isn’t sure she remembers the way.
She makes her way past cars parked on the gravel, and through the village. Everything is dark, apart from the yellow glow of light from windows. Her bare feet are like ice; stones and dirt press into her skin. She climbs down the steps towards the beach. She wants to see it one last time; the place she used to come with him. They’d lie under the giant rock shaped like a man’s face, with beaked nose and protruding forehead. She’d worry that a piece of rock might fall off and land on them, but he’d say, Silly bird, and kiss her nose. She can still remember the heft of him, the sea-salt smell of his skin.
She climbs onto a rock. Her mind might not be what it once was – sometimes she forgets words, or where she is, or who she is – but her body is still agile. The women in her family have always been thin as birds, and strong. She stands staring at the starlit sky, the ink-black sea. She imagines holding her baby son up to the stars, the way a lion did once in a cartoon, then laughs as she remembers he’d be forty-five now. She’d written to him once, and received a polite letter in return. I wish you all the best, he’d said. But I won’t be coming to meet you.
She’d not coped well after they had taken him away. She remembers the keening, animal cry she’d made, how she’d walked the streets for hours. And as for him, well, he stopped speaking to her when she’d told him. His family wouldn’t allow him to marry her. Perhaps he’d moved away. She hasn’t seen him since. She’s tried to forget, but can’t. The two of them are lodged in her heart like pieces of glass.
She hears footsteps crunching over pebbles and sand, voices shouting her name. The sky seems lighter. All this fuss, she thinks, for one old woman. Perhaps she’ll tell her daughters about their brother now, before it’s too late. Perhaps the words will no longer get stuck in her throat. She turns, and is blinded by torchlight.
First published in Visual Verse
I didn’t catch your name, he says, as he leans against the bar. His hair is very short and black. He wears a bright white T-shirt which looks brand new, tight against his arms and chest. His eyes – a cloudy, gold-flecked green, like river-water catching the sun just before it goes down – are a stark contrast against his sand-coloured skin. He has the wrong colour eyes, she thinks. They should be brown.
He pulls the last cigarette from a packet and puts it behind his ear. He rips a piece of cardboard from the empty packet and passes it to her. Write it on there, he says, and your number, too. She writes both in waxy red lipstick. She worries it will rub off on his T-shirt, stain it. He takes the cardboard from her, reads it slowly. Amelia, he says, elongating the ‘e’. Are you sure that’s your real name? I’d have put you as a Grace, some film star’s name. It’s pretty though.
It really is my name, she says. Aren’t you going to tell me yours?
He smiles and looks towards the door where her friends are waiting, flush-faced and impatient in sparkly dresses and impossible heels. Melie, they shout. Come on.
You’d better go, he says. Yes, she says. Well. Goodbye then. She runs her hand over a cap of dark brown hair, tucks a strand behind her ear. Picks up her handbag and picks her way across the wooden floor, careful not to trip. She can feel him watching her, but doesn’t turn around. A blush is spreading from the skin above her collar bones to her cheeks. She wonders, again, if her dress is too short, her thighs too fat.
As she walks along the street, part of a female chain, she wonders if he’ll call. Wonders if his nights are spent catching the eyes of girls he thinks are pretty, using the same tired lines, in different bars, in different towns. She wonders, as she clip-clops with her friends like horses trotting in the night, how often he succeeds. How often does he take them home, lure them in with whispered compliments and wine? She thinks all this, and yet she wants him. Those eyes of his. Those eyes. Those arms.
He calls ten minutes later. She pulls free from her line of friends, drops to a slower walk behind them. Some lads behind her whistle. It’s me, a voice says, the man from the bar. She smiles into the phone. Where shall we meet, she says, and when?
Previously unpublished. Shortlisted by the HISSAC Flash Fiction Competition