The broken-throated sound was not this boy almost cutting
his brother’s head off, it was his mother burning
herself with animal fat. The oil melted her forehead.
She cleans the bishop’s sacristy and boils his rice.
She washes his face when his hands won’t stop shaking.
Her boy cuts down his bananas and spears his fish.
He tries on collars and rings and padlocks the gate
when the compound power cuts for weeks at a time.
The high title men swear he doesn’t speak
well and can’t count. It can be explained by her hair
teased out from a rock, the night she walked on someone’s land,
someone’s grave. The wrong woman found her hair
and cut the strands and spoke and singed the braids
so they curled and smoked and shifted the mother’s uterus
to the throat. Her cousins cut her bra and rubbed her
with coconut oil, with prayers. They say the dead man’s face
marks her womb. It always will. Now the mother’s veins stick out
like trails on her forehead and the animal fat fades
her face with heat and blood. When she screams
the women grinding copra down the road remember
the voice, the mother who slept in a room next to the bishop
in case he needed her help holding the Eucharist.
They remember she screamed the year of the landslide,
the year the mountain fell, when it sounded like a woman ready
to be a mother. The boy came with no father
and her uncles stopped speaking. They hoarded their mangoes
and gave them to the flies and the pig chained by the shore.
The boy’s fingers rot the scales off bluefin and mackerel.
In mass, he swings the censer and the incense stink stays.
He reeks of it days later, like a body badly oiled.
The girls still young enough to run naked hold their breath.
The boys hide in tree beds. Now the woman’s face looks sad.
The place where she should cry is raw and shiny with flesh.
The place where her sadness sags from her eyes is gone.
This is where a ghost would go. This is where a ghost would go
if it wanted anything to do with her.