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Image by Annie Spratt


the madrigal, volume iii.v


by rachael pennington

What we’d talk about afterwards
would be the last day. Midnight
mass at Our Lady’s, Warwick Bridge
– the pews were so packed I stood
at the back, you turned to wave
and when we sang Silent Night
I could hear the familiar notes
of your voice      rising
and falling to rest among the polished
wooden beams and festive cheer.
After the last Amen, I sent a quick
Merry Christmas in your direction
– you were deep in conversation
with Father John and I’d been told
in hushed tones my car
was blocking someone in.

What I’d really like
to talk about afterwards
would be the words.
Of how I’d always savoured the way
Chatterjee sounded in my mouth,
as though your married name were a collective
term for conversing women.
Of how I could still hear the thick
honey-like substance coating
the words you spoke in Bengali;
me cross-legged on your kitchen
floor, wrapped in swathes of new smells
and terms like luchi and macher jhol.
You recounting the story
of a young midwife who swapped Cumbria
for Calcutta, where words moved
your lips in ways the English language
never has.
Of how since that very first day
when you delivered me into this world,
the unfamiliar notes of your voice have been

and falling,
becoming my godmother tongue.

Rachael Pennington, originally from the north of England, is a translator and emerging writer who lives in Barcelona. She has also worked as an assistant managing editor for the literary translation journal Asymptote. Her poetry has been seen in Loud Coffee Press, Tast, Parentheses and The Broken Spine.

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