Contains references to violence against children.
Does a capsized ship show you its weakest side? Omar Sakr’s “Sailor’s Knot” is a bruised punch of a poem. Yes, a bruised punch: a vehicle of violence that is itself wounded. It curates the history of pain and substance abuse that marks a mother’s relationship with her child. When called on the telephone, the mother tells her child, “‘my son, a lifetime of never submitting, / not to any man or god, yet the angels / I can feel them dancing on my skin. / Who’s laughing now?’”
The poem’s speaker, the mother’s son, shares news about his mother’s character dispassionately, in ways we sense are intended to injure. She is a woman who never calls, except for cash: a woman described in the voice of an unnamed cousin as “drug-fucked”. In fact, no one in this tableau of hurt and dislocation is given a name. Mother. Son. The figures could be anyone, but the ache and anguish is specific. The cellular memory of this homegrown violence resides in every punishment ever administered from mother’s fist to son’s back: “Maybe every beating / she gave me was warning / to flee a sinking ship.”
Even in the act of total emotional submerging, there’s no escaping the legacy of the mother in “Sailor’s Knot”. What I love about this poem is that it’s methodical and meaningful in its hurt. It uses maritime lexicography, trades in imageries of rope and floundering, to tell us about what can never be rescued, for mother and son alike. Even above the ocean, sometimes that pain meanders upwards, like “empty plates & knives
floating to the ceiling.” What has been passed from parent to offspring here is not so easily voided as casting something to the sea: whether it takes a few weeks or a lifetime, the sea will return it.
This is the twenty-eighth installment of Here for the Unicorn Blood, a Queer POC Poetry Reader which runs from June 1 – June 30. Historically, June commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Riots, heralded as the birth of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States. #PrideMonth’s global significance, its unabashed celebration of queerness, its marshalling of non-heteronormative joy, resistance and tenacity, motivates this close reading series, which specifically engages the work of POC Queer Poets, in international space. People of colour have been vital to queerness before queerness had a name: this is one way to witness that, to embed my reading practice in it, and to raise my brown, queer fist in yes.