Journalism in Verse – EST. 2016


When the Smoke Clears

in Culture/Obituaries by

for Ya Haddy Sisi Saye aka
Khadija Saye, artistic photographer

When the smoke clears
there are lumps, charred clothing, human
meat and bones separating, melding to things
that once had other forms and other uses
or turned completely to ash,
where there should be people with faces,
slumbering between the alarm clock
or the newborn’s wail, the Bengali
argued in corridors, and under sheets
this time their color doesn’t divide the neighborhood
color that barely clads the curling flesh

Was the kitchen your only studio? The bathroom?
The wet, shiny photographs hanging on the lines
strung across the room like tongues
of sepia or monochrome, holy and native
the tub full of water with squeak toys and sponges
in the corners happening to fall in,
wanting to be part of the experience
the kitchen table overwhelmed
with pans of chemicals, with the chairs taking up the slack
and taping blankets or sheets to the windows
to urge artifice in the dark
on a sunny day, bringing pictures into being,
making magic with the camera
your mirror

I’ll bet your mum was patient, when she understood
Her cooking must’ve bathed the apartment
vied with the aromas of the pots downstairs
and next door, wiping the fumes clean with Gambia,
as if scrubbing the steps to your door, magic rising
like incense smoke from the cow horn
and the amulet medicine and muse.
Now every apartment has become an oven
that cooked the dreams from everyone’s sleep
while staying in place
dwelling in their space they could not breathe

As she looked down from the 20th floor,
sometimes marveling in the view of her city,
she was not taken in by that mirage. She
and her mother were at Grenfell—that island—
by grace not god’s. Around them was £10 soap,
the suspicions of the coppers,
empty, crumbling houses worth more
off the market than roofing lives,
amid new modern slapdash
she and none of her neighbors could afford.
Success was coming towards her
its matchless fingers primed for embrace,
but she hadn’t made it yet, a living for herself
and her mum, there was no one and nothing to whom
she felt superior, she gloried in the next achievement,
and the next, and the next. It was still illumination
lighting every pore

That perfection is what she had created,
and where she had finished;
she was humble before acclaim, overawed even,
laughing and smiling like the round child
she still was. Her art was not an idol
that she worshipped, apart and speechless
she spoke her brilliance from within
Wrongfully arrested, the police kept her cell phone
though exonerated; they took away her voice to call out
to call for rescue. Gone may be the negatives,
the dead ends, the false fronts,
the revelations, gone may be the crowns
and the Eid

yet that fire remains
that fire

Read More:
The Spiritual Photographs Khadija Saye left behind [Hyperallergic]
Tate Britain displays art of Khadija Saye in memory of Grenfall Tower victims [The Telegraph]

Gabrielle Daniels is a writer whose work has appeared in magazines like Sable and The Kenyon Review. She was a recipient of a Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation Grant in 2004 and the 2005-2006 Carl Djerassi Fiction Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, University of Wisconsin. She has been resident at Yaddo, VCCA, and the Headlands Center for the Arts. Her work will be featured in “Writers Who Love Too Much: New Narrative Writing 1977-1997,” edited by Dodie Bellamy and Kevin Killian.

Original art titled “Khadija Saye” by Elle Aviv Newton.

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