East London woes, East London dreams

by Nele Petri

her dress is the softest thing my fingers have ever touched
and i struggle to touch her at all
– my fingers leave black stains on her silken cape –
never have i held anything as beautiful as this

and i have held my baby sister the night she was born
when my mother, lying in dirty rags and coal dust,
– theres always coal dust everywhere in my life,
seeping into my skin, seeping into everything i touch –
took a last ragged, desperate breath

i held her weathered hand in my blackened palm and
i didn’t know how to cry
but i knew that i was on my own in this world from now
– without a penny in my pockets –
with a father and a two sisters dead in the mines

the doll in my hands bears none of the signs of coarseness
that mark every aspects of my life
she has porcelain smooth skin, white blonde hair,
not a crack in the perfect surface
– there are too many cuts and fractures in my surface for me to count –
i wonder if all the young girls who play with dolls like this
have perfect, unchipped bodies, too

i wonder if, underneath all the dust and dirt and damp sweat,
i could reveal skin like that
an unmarred face and immaculate hair and graceful features
clad in wonderfully clean and soft clothes
and, finally,
someone to tuck me in come evening.