Poems by Brandel France de Bravo

The Food of Belonging

What could I do
when I saw his face
but send that baby back.
His eyes empty as a cob
without kernels.
His mouth like a hollow gourd,
cracked and dusty
like the midwife's hands.

One rainy season and one dry
I ate every day the flat bread
my husband's mother made for me.
I did not know,
coming from up-river,
anything of their customs.

If our sons ask to marry a girl
not of our tribe, it is true,
we tell them
drive the bride price down.
But once married the girls
never want for anything.
We feed them for the first year
from the crops of our forefathers.
We feed them the food of belonging
so that we may love them
as we do our own daughters.

As my mother-in-law talked
I saw for the first time
the cowry shells she wears
are like a woman's sex with teeth.


When planting time came
I was so big
I had to open wide my knees
to bend and sow the seed.

One day my hoe hit rock
or what I thought was rock.
My husband's mother and sisters,
hearing the hitch in my breath,
came to where I was standing.
It was my first time to see
a head picked clean by death.
It is nothing, the sisters said.
It is our way, the mother said.                    

Beneath these fields are buried
the skulls of the great ancestors.                                                                                         
To you we gave bread made from flour
from the field where Molefi,
the healer, lies.
At first we used to hear him
whispering in the wheat,
words we could not understand.
Then he started knocking,
calling out, wanting to come in.
Through you we will know
his wisdom once again.

Behind the house
with only the gossip
of the roof's fronds
for company, I dug a hole
four hands deep
and lay the newborn down.
Then I pushed the piles
of dirt back in,
patting and flattening
until the ground was smooth
like a girl's stomach
before marriage.
Only then did his
keening cries quiet.

I say let the old medicine man
look for some other womb-door
though I may be punished
with no one to eat the grain grown
from my young bones.


A sarcastic Egyptian always speaks
of apricot season, which comes and vanishes
faster than dreams over morning coffee.
Oh sure, he’ll take care of it—in apricot season
which falls between mañana and the cows coming home,
a time so fleeting, ephemeral,
it might as well be never
or what we cannot recover:
the buoyant forever when we held our noses
underwater where no one could see
and touched tongues for the first time;
the certainty that certain transgressions
meant no turning back.
It isn’t innocence we miss
but the thrilling moment that we let go,
a stem splitting from the branch, fruit in free-fall.

Cecilia was the first among us to ripen,
breasts at eight, and shortly after
rendezvous with boys in the bushes.
No one called her “slut.”
She floated above us
like Mary in a procession,
her wooden robes fluttering in the wind.
We supplicants longed for a guilty glimpse
of her panties, her early bloomers,
named for Amelia Jenks Bloomer,
who like Cecilia was ahead of her time.
While others fought for suffrage,
an end to slavery,
she dreamed of simpler underwear,
a garment so free, it might as well be nothing,
loose as an apricot,
that precocious apple,

 Lolita of a peach.

Brandel France de Bravo’s poetry collection, Provenance, won the Washington Writers’ Publishing House prize in 2008. She is the co-author of Trees Make the Best Mobiles: Simple Ways to Raise your Child in a Complex World and the editor of Mexican Poetry Today: 20/20 Voices. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Black Warrior Review, Cimarron Review, The Cincinnati Review, Fairy Tale Review, Gargoyle, and The Kenyon Review. Read more at www.brandelfrancedebravo.com.

The Food of Belonging and Apricot first appeared in Provenance, Washington Writers' Publishing House, 2008.

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