small inheritances’ by belinda zhawi -Reviewed

Reviewed ByEmma Lee

Emma Lee’s publications include “Ghosts in the Desert” (IDP, UK, 2015). “The Significance of a Dress” is forthcoming from Arachne. She co-edited “Over Land, Over Sea,” (Five Leaves, UK, 2015), is Poetry Reviews Editor for The Blue Nib, reviews for magazines and blogs at

'small inheritances' belinda zhawi

‘small inheritances’ belinda zhawi

ignition press 

ISBN 9781999741280, 23pp £5

Belinda Zhawi is a Zimbabwean-born writer now living in London, UK. ‘small inheritances’ is collection of three sequences exploring inheritances of family traits and situations rather than material goods and adapting to a life between two cultures. The first sequence, ‘small inconveniences’ explores becoming independent as a young adult. Part iv ‘evenlode house (self care)’ has the observation, ‘You might remember the only vase/ you owned: a rounded glass jar/ found in a skip. Cut stems put inside,’ and continues, the ‘new ashes’ are ‘rizla, resin & burnt roach’,

‘You prefer these new ashes,
they help you forget.

Will you remember the lilies
roses & carnations that only seemed
to bloom away from your gaze?

Will you remember that 
you once bought yourself 
flowers in that weekly ritual?’

The ‘self care’ in the title is ironic. The person being addressed is no longer looking after themselves and seems to be struggling with the adaption to independence. The burst of enthusiasm that rescued and cleaned a discarded jar to use as a vase and regularly bought flowers to put in it has gone, given way to the forgetting that comes with smoking cannabis. However, the situation is rescuable: the speaker cares and may yet succeed in getting the person being addressed back on track.

The second part, ‘small infidelities’, follows a failed relationship. The narrator loved a man who struggled to fit in, caught between two cultures and subject to racism. The sequence parts are all names of areas of London. In the first part, ‘deptford (of masculinity)’, a lover stopped by police who lashed out but was released without charge,

‘I said nothing: placed my fingers along the ridge that separates your shoulders. All my hands could feel was the deep purple bruises left by their hands. I bit my tongue to block the inferno in my chest. As the wind outside howled at the winter I thought back to the first date we shared instead. How deeply I stared at the amber in your eyes glowing in the gold wash of sunshine that fell through the wide pub window. How deeply I stared at your lips, black from years of weed & tar. The mouth of a man who, though in denial, secretly enjoyed eating women for breakfast.’

The narrator’s had to let go of someone she still cares for but can’t live with. She shows understanding rather than blame, perhaps the conversation about not provoking the police has already been exhausted. She favours tenderness rather than the howling wind.

The final part, ‘small inheritances’ looks at genetic inheritances, trauma passed from one generation to another. Part v takes its title from the name of a Zimbabwean village, ‘mazowe (1990)’ starts with a midwife barking orders at a mother, in labour,

‘before asking if her father’s sisters
hadn’t taught her that real, strong 
women birthed in silence,
tongues  tucked
behind gritted teeth.

The times she used belts,
switches, extension cords
for broken cups, curfew slips
& other small things.
You cried for her, mostly for yourself,
could never tell from those red welts
if it was     that you looked like your father
or because          birthing you almost killed her.’

Hints throughout the poems maintain that healing from trauma may not be fully achieved but can be endured. It is a strength that ‘small inheritances’ offers no easy answers but describes complex relationships between inherited trauma and present racism and sexism. Belinda Zhawi’s lyrical poems explore the gaps between two cultures, the sense of belonging yet not belonging and their effects on relationships with a maturity and insight that rewards re-reading.