Flower/Head: 1024 poems (2020)

“The flower or the head?”— the question my father asked whenever things had to be divided between my sister and me, producing a coin. One of us would be allowed to choose a side. We always chose the flower—I never understood why English called it a tail, because a coin is not a snake—and never argued about who got to choose, or with the result of the toss.

There are a few stored with my passport now. Dull gold-coloured yen with holes in the middle. Pale grey eleven-sided two-rupee coins. Quetzales—one side shows the bird with both a head and a long, beautiful tail. Birr, with a ferocious lion’s head, but no flowers on the other side.

Heads and tails can be a false dichotomy. A coin isn’t a snake with two ends. A coin flip isn’t always about diametrically opposing choices. Sometimes you only want to divide things fairly, whether between sisters or between perspectives.

‘Flowers’ and ‘Heads’, like opposite sides of a coin, are from the same place, only looking in different directions. With ten coin tosses, you can construct one of the 1024 poems within—it might be one that combines the two views.

1        Flowers

2        The woman
3        wakes in the middle of the night,
4        sweating.
5        Those hormones again.
6        A good night’s sleep eludes her; she awaits
7        the bleeding—
8        perhaps then she can stop fake-smiling
9        through sadness and
10     that will let her deal with the pain.


lies staring through the dark at the ceiling,
full of wild ideas.
More strange dreams.
She should write it down now, while she has
to make the stories emerge
and tell the world the truths—
the truths no one likes to confront.

About this work

This poem, or set of poems, was written in the middle of the night, while Tehnuka was dealing with painful medical conditions. ‘Flowers’ reflects the weeks-long emotional and physical fatigue the writer would experience; ‘heads’ the intellectual side of that experience: Tehnuka finding an escape in writing, and inspiration in both emotion and pain.

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