Oh Carys, the white child, I should have known
the moment you came from me in gusts, crown
already wrinkling up my last salt-lick kiss
to a tidemark – the same way the glow
of your simple skin would resist
the cream I smeared over your hips,
lifting the strings of your unnecessary bikini
to reach your nape, cupping your waist easily
with one hand, holding you in place, though
you only shifted to sweep away the wind-
whirled hairs, brined into brittle twine,
from your face, so you could stare, unbroken
at the waves revealing how the solid world spills
under their motion, again and again and again.
Oh Carys, I should have known the whiteness
of light carries within it the silent ultraviolet
to strengthen our bones too.
Me, I was only concerned with browning
myself, turning on my towel
like a rotisserie, while your brother flung
fistfuls of pebbles, strafing the spray like a gun.
But you, lifting one eyebrow at the wetness
beneath, spooned out a rumpled hole
in the ground and asked us to bury you.
I should have known, Carys, after we shaped
the velvet mount that swathed your body
(so still that only the rhythm of the sighs
of the slipping of sand sieving itself
back into the beach made me remember
you were still breathing) and you murmured
I can feel all of their tiny souls, Mummy
from all of these tiny skeletons
that you would always be too white for me.
Commended in the 2017 Winchester Poetry Prize by Sarah Howe
First published in ‘Somewhere to keep the rain’ by Winchester Poetry Festival