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Poetry of Key Ballah

Introduction by Liv Sidall

Paintings by Manuja Waldia

In the summer of 2014, a small but remarkable book was put out into the world. Preparing My Daughter For Rain is a collection of poems – or lessons – by Canadian writer Key Ballah, penned as “notes on how to heal and survive.” The collection was written with Key’s daughter in mind, as a kind of manual for life. However, the tender musings didn’t stay within Key’s family for too long: their simplicity and strength were universal enough be applied to any mother-daughter relationship worldwide, and the book was a huge success.

For Key, writing those poems feels like a lifetime ago.

“I wrote these poems in my early twenties. Sometimes I want to reach back through time, grab my 22-year-old self and say, ‘Just wait three years, you don’t know what devastation is yet.’ But I remember what it felt like then to be heartbroken, to become obsessed with not appearing obsessed. It was a constant performance, that was what was different then. It hurt but I pretended it didn’t, my writing was my only space to be broken.

At 27, I’m much less afraid of allowing the mask to shift, much less fearful of my humanness. These poems remind me of then, the love that slipped away, and the way I performed sadness then, with thick skin and a poem. Now I understand that heartbreak is a condition of humanness, it cannot happen in its own distinct time, everything cannot stop because we are sad. Instead now I see how our heartbreak is packaged with the good fruit. You cannot have one without the other, everything comes at once like a wave, and performing sadness like it is a scratch when it is a rupture only prolongs the pain. Only leaves you grieving the loss later when it should have already healed over.

These poems are a reminder for me, that we are both fragile and resilient in tandem. That devastation and heartbreak should be expected, so should joy and love. Allow them to come like water, together together together.”  

 

I prayed,

and you came,

like a plethora of suns.

Like a sky full of moons,

and a mouth full of well wishes.

Like hands full of warmth,

and a heart that has ached for a

century,

finally finding love.

You came as a result of my asking,

as a result of midnight prayer,

and midday begging.

As a result of red hot skin

and puffy eyes.

You are so much good,

birthed from years of sadness.

You are a proof that God exists.

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Your body wasn’t made to be loved on

occasion.

It was made to be loved every night

with warm hands.

Every day with dedication,

in the same way that the sun goes to

bed every night, and rise in love

every morning.

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A Self-Love To Do List:

• Rinse your skin with warm water.

• Use your first finger on your

right hand to eat honey out of the

jar.

• Write yourself a love letter.

•  Ask your mother to tell you how

• much she loves you. Listen carefully to the truth in her

• voice.

• Tell your father that you forgive

him.

(Try to forgive him, as cliche as it sounds, forgiveness really is

for you).

• Read the first chapter of your favourite book, if you can’t stop,

read until you can.

• Go outside. No matter the weather,

even if you just stand on a balcony, even if it’s only for a

few seconds. Fresh air buries sadness.

• Stretch

• Touch all of your scars and

remember their birthdays, remind

yourself how far you’ve come.

 

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I wanted you,

in every way someone shouldn’t want

someone else.

In every way that God begs you not to.

The kind of wanting that your parents

lock you away for.

The kind of wanting that leaves your

mother bawling and crying on the floor

of the foyer of your house,

at 3:30 in the morning,

slapping her chest and pounding the

ground,

beseeching God, asking him why he gave

her a daughter like you

after you come home covered in finger

prints,

that look strikingly like the devils.

 

This edit of Key Ballah’s poems and Manuja Waldia’s artwork first appeared in Riposte #9.

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