Malika Booker

La Diablesse’ s Masquerade


“The high hawk caws over a dead thing, a love
that was pure punishment.”
.                                                Derek Walcott

Outside her window commuters
bust a city hustle. She is a pot of water,
ordinary, tasteless, until inside something begins
to bubble as her TV repeats a litany of dragged
up archives; chapters ransacked from caged
kids now grown. Birds. Broken, singing
hoarse songs through beaks rusted on silence,
causing black robed priests and wrinkled
rock stars to be hustled into police vans,
hooded heads bowed causing her bubbling
pot to pitch until she’s a pressure cooker,
steam rising to a guttural hum. Her fingers
strum the thick vine of waist beads around
her middle, like a guitar. Each bead a trophy
in this place where fruit rots and shrivels
on branches, with no splatter.


“Blood in the north, blood to come in the south, and the blue crying
red in between.”
.                                                Merle Collins – The Colour of Forgetting

That night she anointed herself:
Whore, Jezebel, Crow, Venom,

became Masquerader and revelled,
raised conch shell to each ear to catch

home rhythms, till waist start pepper
air, feet dancing goat nimble, and beast,

wide rim broad hat slanted to one side
long skirt rippling, heels clicking, a woman

walking her own beat, ripe gold, stalking
the road like she own it, cars slowing,

men wanting to pelt that waistline, slip fingers
up she slit, to knead the leg like raw meat

.                                                                            (An Aside) – Rumours followed her

.                                                                            – was she not born with a caul
.                                                                               sheet covering her face

.                                                                            – she not here to make friends, su su,
.                                                                               or mako or skin teeth

.                                                                            -They say she shine that steel heel’s
.                                                                               sharp point like farmers oiling they cutlass

.                                                                            – death is the infant she suckles at her
.                                                                               breast.

“… a hawk on the wrist/ of a branch, soundlessly, like a falcon,/ shoots into heaven,
circling above praise or blame, with the same indifference as yours, now dropping
to tear a field mouse with its claws. ”
.                                                Derek Walcott – White Egrets


She sits under this placid sun; air thick with vehicle fumes,
her only pleasure the sound of foxes mating, savage and how
disappointing the foxes’ timidity, the way they slink.
she a brown nutmeg is, disappearing into this dank place too.
How this place sharp teeth and frigid breeze gnaws her
skin as she tries to walk its steady rhythm, but London is
too stagnant, no stars in its night sky, No monkey break he back.
No crick just crack. She is learning how brown women lose value
here, become more worthless than sand, invisible, dug in,
but she will not be pummelled like dough under a bakers muscles,
not with scent of home blazing cocoa on her skin.
Fresh scenes of sand flies owning the dark, penny wallies
flickering like floating fairy lights after dusk flounces
her red, orange and pink silk petticoat eclipsing clouds.
Remembers all the high places a man could fall
and break they damn necks, like Mount St Catherine,
Precipices, ravines, and cliffs, with the sea as background
orchestra, kissing and slapping rocks, moody as a menopausal
woman. How fishermen’s boats bubble on the tide, men bulging
arms, hauling nets pregnant with wiggling fish.
Its all in the skill of the catch and where you cast yuh net, they say,
heaving, then bending, over and over in rhythm, to reel in
and come again. She remembers the sound of ripe fruit too
heavy for its branch, splattering on hard ground, and on
bright full moon nights sitting in shadows on unlit crossroads,
deserted after midnight save for lone drunks, fuelled
on Clarks Court and beat he wife before he fuck her.


.      deserted Junction / lone masquerader / cars slow / men / lonely / No / she shakes head
/ sways / hums / then / him / behind his eyes / bloody knives in clenched fists / young
girls cower / she smiles / yes / muscles / fishermen hauling nets / wears danger like skin /
tough thug / she leans forward / voice gurgling river / his ears move closer / vessel for
rage / worthless woman / seeks to hold down / spoil beauty / break jaw / blacken eyes /
yank hair / She walks / fingers / waist beads / he follows / strong back / hard back man /
block of flats / piss stench / used needles / used condoms / she leans / peals back hat /
hums / Take warning you better take warning / on loop / unease / he is hard man / bad
man in the endz / can’t move to shove her against steel wall / fist coiling throat / snails /
crawling on her tongue / shakes head / is weed / too strong / nah / shakes head / weed
strong / humming / humming / he want to slap / her bloody mouth shut / boarded up flat /
she stalks / he step back / balcony railings / she / leans in / mouth rancid / grave yard /
rears back / fright / pores raise / palms on chest / singing the evil that men do… / glides
like athlete over high jump pole / high heel kicks like football / hurtling from 16 th floor /
balcony / air sailing / splatter on hard ground / she a branch / shaking rotten fruit /
laughing Kya, kya, kya / watching / The Shard / full moon / tonight / splatter


Malika Booker is a British poet of Guyanese and Grenadian parentage. Her work has been longlisted for the OCM Bocas prize, and shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre prize, and she is published with the poets Sharon Olds and Warsan Shire in the Penguin Modern Poets series. Malika is a fellow of both the Complete Works and Cave Canem and was inaugural Poet in Residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company. She is a Creative Writing Teaching Fellow at Leeds University.