Sea Salted Caramel

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Illustration by @henrikaau

I came to the kitchen
To chop tomatoes
But my mother said,
You dice them,
Like rolling your fate across,
A blank chalkboard,
I was martyr before I was a soldier,
And I made my home on the ocean floor.

You wouldn’t be able to tell apart,
The water I drink,
From my tears,
Sea-salted caramel skin,
And I’m spread-eagled,
Pinfinger on the charcuterie board,
Like my home on the seabed,
I couldn’t sleep unless I knew,
You were out there,
With a pillow and would suffocate me,
If you saw me,
A life isn’t life,
Without life no more,
Than darts sunk in a human shield,
And I could hurt no one else so I used my own,
Body, sea-salted caramel skin,
And I made my home on the ocean floor.

I came to the kitchen to chop tomatoes,
And I chopped my arms off instead,
And my tongue with my mother’s love,
And hung them above my door,
Before you enter, let my hands hold you,
Your face and you’ll feel what I never felt,
My body is then invention,
And intention to love,
With time in it’s palms,
My body is what lover’s invent,
When they think they are inventing God.
Before you enter, let my fingers touch your,
Aging skin’s folds and hold them,
Like they were iced lemonade,
To a burnt throat,
And butterflies on dead bodies.

I’ve learnt that my mother calls me ugly,
Because I was martyr before a soldier,
And I martyred my body before I could,
Teach it to fight and wield a knife,
And I glued my scars shut,
Before I heard them sing.
I am a sinner the way I’ve,
Murdered myself eighteen times over,
And dare to call God a killer.

Sea-salted caramel skin,
And starconch eyeballs,
Barnacled bark and,
Coral overalls,
Sad, lonely sailor,
Play your windsong for me,
I promise, my wounds will sing for you,
From my home under the sea,
I promise I will vomit brine,
And breathe sand,
And choke up my lungs,
Before I can smell,
The alcohol on my father’s hand,
And the cigarette ash in my mother’s hair,

What do you call a mother tongue,
When you have cut off your tongue?
Perhaps, I’m a refugee,
To a foreign tongue’s camp,
For what do you call a mother tongue,
When you’ve seen no mother’s
Midnight oil lamp?
What do you call a mother tongue,
When you have martyred yourself on your motherland,
What do you call a mother tongue,
When you’ve never held your mother’s hand?

To speak your language Ma,
I’ve shoved blades in my mouth,
Dug up grandmother’s grave,
And sewed on her tongue,
Stuck her photoframe to my face,
Sea salt, caramel rum,
Honey, rust, breadcrumb, pepper spray,
Smile and run.

But you didn’t smile when I spoke,
Your teeth recoiled and your spine was wrung,
With fear.
You ever raised your hand to hit me,
For that is what grandmother would have done,
What do you call a mother tongue,
When your mother leaves you undone?



A neurodivergent 18 year old who is still learning about herself, you’d usually find Shazia either lost in an Ocean Vuong novel or watching people go by on the road with a marlboro in her hand and music blasting in her ears. An aspiring English Honours graduate, she is trying to make ends meet and failing miserably at it, for there is so much to do, a universe to learn and such little time.


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