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Four poems by Nica Cornell


I lived in a land of drought
stark, harsh

do not smuggle your stepmother’s shampoo
her hair is lush with water
and your father’s love
her skin – never scrubbed
she grows roses
pretty, greedy and foreign

you are small, untidy, tough
a boer
you belong to broken lands like this one.


National University Shutdown, South Africa, October 2015

My lover
there was a day like yours once –
the first of a year, with gin and dry lemon, on a green garden patio, when I still ate potatoes
how hungry I was
to live/love/learn
I didn’t know, then –

Blue dye on voluptuous knees.
A grandmother looks away while a grandson is thrown.
Shopping for nappies for children chased from their homes (and cigarettes for their mothers).
Thank-full when the priests came – surely they will not hate us now?
Tearing blackface posters down, trying to breathe through my breasts.
My voice crawling down my throat to hide in my gut.
Vomiting wheels – my body a small child begging, “Please don’t make me.”
“I’m sorry Granny. I can’t defend your faith here. They will lynch me.”


Sea Shells

I gather seashells like men
make a pretty necklace out of them

cavalier, cutting, chaotic

I gather seashells with men
wear colour when I write

timid, taut, territorial

I gather seashells as men
seek souls

gleaming, guileless. Godly.


Characters in a Psychologist’s Waiting Room

  1. the Girl with eyes wider than her thighs
  2. the Boy who keeps his face covered in the hallways – always
  3. the Woman who sleeps beneath the purple blanket she brings in her bag
  4. there are no men.