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    bunch of sugarcanes tied with twine

    Poem: “Sugarcane Memories”

    By Sherry Shenoda

    May 31, 2022
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    This poem was a finalist for Plough’s 2022 Rhina Espaillat Poetry Award.


    When I ask him to cut as’ab
    he hesitates, then shudders it gone.
    He pulls a stalk away, shows his grandson
    how to stomp it down, crack the stalk at the base
    so the roots keep growing, shows him oud,
    musical knuckle of root-band, bud furrow and leaf scar.

    Canines tear and molars grind, we tongue
    the sweet sting, spit pulp and pluck string while he
    tells us how neighborhood kids spun quarters and
    whacked them with a stick of as’ab.
    Whoever stuck the spinning quarter got to keep it.
    The quarter or the cane I ask, and he laughs.

    Then I grew up. He holds the as’ab along one forearm
    like an offered prayer, drives the knife down,
    peels down the purple-green stalk and spins
    one about fellahin who were sucking sugarcane
    telling stories all night, couldn’t find their canes
    and had to hobble home in the morning and he laughs
    and we laugh hard, as hard as the year.

    When I ask if I can help he shakes his head
    because he once drove a knife down
    into his forearm cutting as’ab
    and his memory of sweetness with pain is long
    and long, as long as the sugarcane.

    Contributed By SherryShenoda Sherry Shenoda

    Sherry Shenoda won the 2021 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets for her poetry collection Mummy Eaters and was shortlisted for the 2019 Brunel International African Poetry Prize.

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