Kweku Abimbola

Kweku Abimbola is a second-year MFA poet at the University of Michigan’s Helen Zell Writers’ Program. He is of Gambian, Ghanaian, and Sierra Leonean descent. As such, his transnational West African upbringing heavily influences his aesthetic, as he endeavors to uncover poetic connections across diasporic time and space. He is the second-place winner of Furious Flower’s 2020 poetry contest, finalist of the 2020 Ploughshares Emerging Writer’s Contest, and has work published and forthcoming in The Common, Obsidian, Sunu Journal, and elsewhere. Kweku is presently working on his first poetry manuscript entitled Saltwater Demands a Psalm, where he investigates colonization, black mourning, black boyhood, gender politics, and especially, the spiritual consequences of climate change in West Africa. His chapbook, Birth Elegies,is forthcoming in 2022 with Finishing Line Press.

I. Kwasiada

for Trayvon Akwasi Benjamin Martin
Kwasiada 1995 – Kwasiada 2012

I named him Akwasi,
whom you also call Trayvon.

My week’s beginning,
my worship—
anointed, yellow, new.

My week begins with flight.
Because he prayed to me
only: let me grow old enough
to be my own pilot, to find my own skies.

Each night, I painted his
eyelid interiors cerulean and wisp.
He saw himself, boarding
the latest Airbus A350

in crisp First Captain digs:
a deep navy coat and slacks,
overlain with bulbous gold buttons.

Three gold stripes on each shoulder
Three gold stripes on each sleeve.

His silver aviation wings pinned
squarely; just left of a slim lapel,
above the crease of his breast-pocket,
along with a Jacksonville Jaguars pin,
because this year will finally be the year.

He’d nod to the head flight attendant
and give his co-pilot a close-tuck dap,
before announcing some recycled, yet heartfelt

banter over the plane’s PA system.
Speaking coolly for all to hear
the tenor and water in his south-Florida drawl—

black boy pilot,
keeping black boy skies.

Even during turbulence
he’d measure the water
in each cloud.

Steer, measure, steer.
Titling heavy wings through
nesting cloud-water.

My week bleeds open
without its beginning.

III. Efiada

for Tarika Kaye Afua Wilson
Efiada 1981 – Efiada 2008

blood doesn’t platelet
into purple stanzas. that requires
you. you’ll remember her
as an exemplary mother to six children,
because that’s all you can find
in english, then you’ll forget
to remember. enough. she’s returned
endless, to Asamando: Asante Eden,
the place english cannot hold. the dead
shouldn’t be raised
in purple stanzas, only
to be killed in purple stanzas — 
finally, you’ll fail
to translate,
fail to interpret. and
there’s nothing as poetic.
nothing as poetic as:
eno, nko nnya me akyire oo
eno, nko nnya me akyire oo, osiantan
ena awu agya me oo:
aa mene hwan na ewo ha yi[1]?
it’s time you failed to translate,
failed to interpret.

[1] Poetic Ashanti dirge singing the life, ancestry, and origin of a deceased mother.

VI. Ɛbenada

for Tamir Elijah Kwabena Rice
Ɛbenada 2002 – Kwasiada 2014

Death is not a way
to forget, but to remember

time gone
body time.

Kwabena loved painting
with watercolors
naturally, being born
the same day
as the ocean.

He painted my water-
color best:

daubs of azure
tempered with a counter-melody

of silver— just enough silver
to mimic my lucence. 

Then, he’d add pockets
of butter-yellow: reflective

morsels of sunrise. Then,
with a snow-tipped brush,
he’d render my bubbly froth.

Because the art stores
in West Eighties often ran low
on watercolors, or because

the closest art stores
to West Eighties long left
West Eighties, sometimes

Kwabena would make his own.
Mixing four tablespoons of baking soda,
cornstarch, and white vinegar, with half
a teaspoon of corn syrup.

Then a few droplets of food coloring
to complete the elixir.

Add more than half a teaspoon
of corn syrup and it’ll turn
too thick; less like watercolor,
and too much like blood. He ran

Samaria’s pantry dry making
my watercolor.

But in the time it takes
me to wrinkle a wave’s
translucence to shore,
he was—   

still, all water has
perfect memory.

All water has
perfect memory,
especially snow.

I birthed his skin
with watercolor,

and welcomed him
in that fledging snow.

When we say it is water,
say that it is water.