Clean

by Soraya Peerbaye



I have
a white floor
and the floor was clean,
there wasn’t any mud on it,

said Kelly’s stepmother, testifying
in her daughter’s defense.

Cool linoleum.

The Gorge by Craigflower Bridge,
full
of seaweed and filth and mud,

her daughter’s skin

clean, white.

Notes on the Poem

We marvel at how Soraya Peerbaye can pack so much power into such a spare, soft-spoken poem such as "Clean", from her 2016 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted collection Tell: poems for a girlhood. Benign, simple, compact, single syllable worlds such as "clean", "white" and "cool" seem to be imbued with menace. Why is that? Difficult to articulate as it is, there seems to be so much cruelty packed into this poem's spare words, lines and framework. The sense of space in the poem - between lines and around its often sharply truncated lines - could connote the emptiness of what is not spoken. The verb "testifying" tips out over the edge of a line with awkward prominence. The noun "filth" seem to leap out of the poem with a vehemence that signals something terrible has happened. You can sense it even if you don't know the poem's tragic real life connections. The judges' citation for this collection captures well what this slim poem achieves: "the power of this book derives only partly from the unbearable facts of violence, hatred, and alienation. The true miracle of Tell is not merely its choice to sing of such things, but its ability to sing in such a way as to urge the reader to embrace painful sympathies."

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