By moonlight and by fire

A Poem

By Tanya Akrofi

My mother taught me how to pray.
she unfolded her mysteries to me like a blanket
that she had held long and tight to her chest.
It wasn’t always bended knee with steepled hands by my bed,
she showed me the prayer is the song you wake up singing
and are still singing when the day ends.
I would watch her, chopping onions
to the rhythm of half-hymns and the nearly lost fragments
of a poem she had loved at school. She would blend these 
like the tomatoes she stirred as she twirled like 
the long wooden spoon in her hand.
We spun around the kitchen intentionally inciting 
the spirits and seducing them with song. 
Drunk on the wine of mixing with The Divine
Pointing at the sky she reminded me:
“don’t forget, don’t ever forget to look up at the trees. 
Just keep looking at the trees” 
This was how she planted a forest in me. 

I have grown.  Added spices to my own life.
Cooked up my own styles and my own smiles.
I too am beginning to hum under my breath
almost remembering hymns sang in church 
While fighting off the devil and sleep. 
I too add the odd word of Maya and Mary, 
maybe Hughes and Poe.
Mix them together and water my woods.
I’ve found the forest growing up and around me,
too thick too fast for my simple skills. In those moments lost and alone
an angel appears, often dressed as a spider.
And since I have been taught about Anansi in all 
their forms and disguises,
I cross and kiss my fingers – a prayer I made up myself. 
The wind shakes the branches over my head, 
something catches me, holds me and tells me I am safe. 
That I am loved. I breathe –  
wonder to myself, “how in heaven does my mum know of these things”.


by Tanya Akrofi

I use smells as punctuation
divide my life 
into olfactory sections.

I once bought a new perfume
to go with my trouser suit
wore them together, so that 
I smelled as pink as i looked.
walked into the upstairs room
of a place i’d never been.
blended the floral mix
of roses and ylang ylang
with the static aftertaste
of old beer and chips.

  • called it the first day.

I began a religious order
in the name of lavender.
poured oil like libations
on my pillow, my floor. 
prayed for peace as the smell
lifted me up to the sea.

  • called it choosing to live

that smoky rasp of sandalwood incense
burned with dried wild sage dipped in 
lemon oil (frankincense if i can find it).
soak myself in ginger oil for extra effect.
drunk until I am lost.
swim around in the layers
their meanings and my ghosts.
fade into the strands,
let them tie me up; bound and alone

  • call it ‘help me, i’m lost’

when the milk eventually came
I would hold the warm wet cotton pads
to my nose, close my eyes, breath in so 
strong, it would lift me off my feet.
the cream-stained breath of your yawns,
chalky talc and the space my nose finds
in the silk curls around your soft spot.
I go there still.

  • call it safe house

call it anchor, call it ‘find me’. call it shell. 

  • call it home