Picong by Desirée Seebaran
‘Picong’ is a Trinidadian word for taunting, and this poem addresses the experiences of colourism and cruelty that are so insidious and ubiquitous, not only culturally but within families. Written in tight, controlled, and rhythmic verse, judge Warsan Shire called ‘Picong’ ‘a beautifully written and important poem, honest and striking.’
You are 30 and too late: picong blisters
the wrong side of your skin: black & ugly.
Like iron screwed to ship’s hull, the timber
twisting cold metal into sin, black & ugly.
Your face is a mask: eyes shuttered,
calabash cheeks and dark skin—black & ugly.
The chorus leaps to your lips like prayer,
a torrent of tongues that sing, “Black & ugly.”
These words are spiky,
acid spells that slit the skin, black & ugly.
They burn like cotton wicks
in wax turned to sooty film, black & ugly.
Maybe the words hit your cheek, wet, flying from
another woman’s grin: Yuh black & ugly!
Some tantie may have held you, consolingly,
“Doh cry, sweet ting. You’ll just get more black & ugly.”
How these words tied you is trivial. What matters are
their hooks, spreading black & ugly keloids
down your spine, forcing flesh to flower
to survive: torn & swollen, black & ugly.
And rage is frothing gently under lung
as you smooth yourself into black & ugly panties.
Paint your lips, see if that floral perfume
hides the bite of your skin, black & ugly.
You smile, speak, simmer. Then catch a glimpse
of yourself in some mirrored surface—black & ugly…
Desirée Seebaran is a Trinidadian writer. Her work has been shortlisted for the 2014 small axe literary competition (poetry) and shortlisted in Frontier Poetry’s Award for New Poets Contest 2017. She’s been published in Cordite Poetry Review 81 (May 2017) and by Anomalous Press, Moko Magazine and Interviewing the Caribbean journal in 2019.
Illustration by Alaa Alsaraji