My new poems podcast, Words by Winter, can be found here.
When someone in my family almost but doesn’t triumph at something, one of us might say But you didn’t, a phrase that goes back long ago to our friend Kareem, who almost but didn’t score an incredible soccer goal, and his mother who, after the fourth or fifth time he reminisced about the almost-ness of it, laughed and said “But you didn’t!”
It’s a code phrase known to all of us, the way Okay see youuuuu is what my younger daughter and I say instead of goodbye, the way the father in Kim’s Convenience, a show we both adore, says it to his customers when they leave his store. The secret codes between people who love each other, and how they can last a lifetime, are what I thought of when I read this beautiful poem by Yalie Kamara.
Besaydoo, by Yalie Kamara
While sipping coffee in my mother’s Toyota, we hear the birdcall of two teenage boys
in the parking lot: Aiight, one says, Besaydoo, the other returns, as they reach
for each other. Their cupped handshake pops like the first, fat, firecrackers of summer,
their fingers shimmy as if they’re solving a Rubik’s cube just beyond our sight. Moments
later, their Schwinns head in opposite directions. My mother turns to me, revealing the
milky, John-Waters-mustache-thin foam on her upper lip, Wetin dem bin say?
Besaydoo? Nar English? she asks, tickled by this tangle of new language. Alright.
Be safe dude, I pull apart each syllable like string cheese for her. Oh yah, dem nar real padi,
she smiles, surprisingly broken by the tenderness expressed by what half my family might call
thugs. Besaydoo. Besaydoo. Besaydoo, we chirp in the car, then nightly into our phones
after I leave California. Besaydoo, she says as she softly muffles the rattling of my bones
in newfound sobriety. Besaydoo, I say years later, her response made raspy by an oxygen
treatment at the ER. Besaydoo, we whisper to each other across the country. Like
some word from deep in a somewhere too newborn-pure for the outdoors, but we
saw those two boys do it, in broad daylight, under a decadent, ruinous, sun.