Finding my dad in a can of baked beans

By Isabelle Baafi

In supermarket aisles, you teach me to need; stacking cans

up to my chin – baked beans, corned beef,

carrots, peas. I heave our trolley against the weight

of a fear you have never unlearned.

 

At night, your prodigal car lights creep across my bedroom wall,

and I add you to my list of things that come to us tightly sealed.

On school runs, I plant tiny feet in the back

of your driver’s seat – hoping you’ll feel something.

 

Beanstalk-tall and paraffin-scarred:

Google Translate says your laugh means

           wandering echo

And me – your youngest bean. If I knew the way back, I’d bury

 

scoops of me for you to find: in the Bantustan, near your

mother’s house; the chirp of grasshoppers saturating the bush.

In the tracks on sloping road, made by your father’s dusty Navara.

In the belly of the mine that swallowed your brothers every night.

 

The first time I hear your language, it’s in the song of a baked beans ad.

White families rush through drizzling streets to huddle in kitchens,

fall into dining room chairs. Uniformed, backpacked kids

drift home to the baritones of Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

 

You’ve played that song on the stereo. I don’t know

the words. But you say it’s about

wise men, who cross the world looking for home

in a man they have always hungered for.

 

At the table, I nudge beans around my plate, clustering stars;

trying to navigate the miles between us. At the window,

the sides of the curtains shine like the rim of a half-opened can.

In the pauses between ads we chew on silence.

© 2020 harana poetry

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