Poems by Catherine-Esther Cowie

February 2022


Today, I am drowning—
the back balcony filled
with too many basins to count
of soiled sheets, soaking.
I scrub the floor
until it gleams
like the scales of a fish.
Mama has gotten worse.
I stink of bleach.
In my dreams, I listen for you
calling my name, Marié,
and I am a girl again,
sitting in the doorway
of your beach hut,
sucking the juice from a mango,
you, ruffling my black curls.

Papa, remember our house,
the grass long and creeping
up through the gravel driveway.
You gave Mama things,
satin yellow ribbons, gold bangles,
she never stayed.
I remember the trees, thick and nameless
rimming the plantation’s edge,
the air scented with dung.

I remember the women who came
to the house, your bedroom door, locked,
my ears pressed to the wood.
In those days, the night came in
first blue, then pitch black.
Anita, my only full-blood sister,
and I made a
game of the dark,
guessing what each shadow
was in the moonlight

shooting out between the clouds.

I remember our Sundays,
the pot of rice and peas
and smoked mackerel we shared.
How after, we licked the oil off each finger,
the loud clap of your voice, c’est bon.

I remember what they said about you,
how you emptied your wife’s hips of love.
I remember the lace curtains thick
with dust, what Mama said you did to her.

Papa, remember the day we found Anita
on the other side of the hill,
worms crawling out of her mouth.
The doctor said she died of roundworm.

You disappeared into the jungle.
Mama came, took me away.


Cousins Wrestle

I am big and you are small,
I pin you to the mattress,
you giggle and thrash,
your pink plastic bows
loosening in the sheets.

I am big and you are small,
your arms so thin
they could twist
off like a doll’s.

And in this hour
before our mothers
call us to supper, 
you stiffen, cower
as you watch the lights come on
in the dark of my eyes.

I am big and you are small,
I smell my cruelty
like a broken bottle
of castor oil,
release your pinned arm,
you scramble for the door.


Catherine-Esther Cowie is from the Caribbean island of St. Lucia and has lived in Canada and the United States. She is a graduate of the Pacific University low-residency MFA program. Her writing has appeared in the Penn Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Common, Potomac Review, Southern Humanities Review, Poetry South, Little Patuxent Review, West Branch Journal, TriQuarterly, and Prairie Schooner, with work forthcoming in RHINO Poetry.