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The Red Wheelbarrow Poetry Prize 2021 Shortlist

A Very Old Story


Karin Schimke


Have I told you the story

of my mother’s mouth —

my mother’s weeping mouth,

toothless in pain, her

mouth wounds, the

bleeding palate, the

blood on her chin, the

blisters, the clear run

of the sores on her

gums, her lips swollen —

during that time she lost

all her coordinates, but

pushed back, pushed back

hard at the dark from the blur

of the pain and the blue blindness

of her eyes without their glasses?


Of her bed of days? Of her sleeping,

the light and heavy on- and on-ness

of rest I hoped would heal what had

hurt her? The mouth of my mother?

My mother’s mouth.


On the ninth day of that time,

resurrected like the unremarkable

miracle of every woman whose luck

ran out when she married, my mother

spoke from a mouth that had been broken.

Her sentences were clean as hospital sheets. No,


I have not told you about my mother’s mouth.

It is a story longer than her own life.



KARIN SCHIMKE is a poet, writer, translator and editor. She works from Cape Town. Her Instagram account, where she talks about books, is @readingdarling.

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