Gbenga Adesina lives and writes in Nigeria. His poetry, essays and reviews have been featured or are forthcoming in Harriet’s Blog for the Poetry Foundation and in Jalada, Premium Times, Open Society Foundation blog, Brittle Paper, Africanwriter.com, One Throne, Vinyl, Prairie Schooner, Soar Africa (OSIWA anthology of new African poems) and others. In 2015, he was an Open Society Foundation Resident Poet on Goree Island, off the coast of Senegal. His first chapbook, Painter of Water, will be published by APBF in the spring of 2016. Follow him @Gbadenaija.
The friends who met here and embraced are gone:
each to his own mistake W.H.AUDEN
Long before we knew, as children of the liquid avowal,
that water was water and music the elixir of itself, we
would bunch by the piers and square pillars, aloes of the coasts,
fluting, caroling our rhythm to the lake, a vow hymned to the water
that it would take us to the places it would go.
Periwinkles were the sole witnesses to those testaments
and our religion was rhythm in yet unbroken voices.
Even in those ensembles, he was chief, Karibo, child of the Nile.
Slinging his guitar, the one Father Constance taught him to play;
He would sway his head and slowly twisting his waist
in arcs, would start to gift his voice to the sea:
Tender Physics: track on love and ache; Baby Flower: his ode to himself
the acre in his eyes and star lights to come.
And Willie Boy: the one that lobed me into tears, the one for
his brother, Abucho, who lost a leg to Polio.
Or when he twirled the air and it was my name in a song,
a baraka. California, Nevada, Marrekesh, Kingston, world tours,
the places we would go. The cursives of fever that
calligraphed through me, the sudden urge to roar up a wall.
None of those songs will ever play on radio.
But we didn’t know on those November evenings, on those piers
beside old men wearing wrinkles that were paths of light that didn’t
lead to light. Held as we were under the governance of such a voice
twinkling its way into the ordinary truth of the night.
How Memory Unmakes Us
Buni Yadi, February 25, 2014
It will take a cinematographer’s eyes,
mine will not do,
And she will need a button that makes and unmakes
memories. Perhaps with her we will go
into that morning again:
dim light actually,
the brown of night as it lifts away,
love-sized cupboards in neat rows, we zoom into
shoes and sandals, buckets and hostel bunks, beds
and snores and the kids, 12 year olds or 13 or 14, boys,
spread like peace, asleep.
Some pouting like girls in liquid dreams, others
clutching to the bed for once safe and far from the bully.
Ibrahim too, a half-smile on his face, shy even in his sleep.
His “To do for the Day” sketched on his palm: I will call mummy,
solve some Maths. Will tell Fatoumatou I love her like Lucozade today.
If she starts giggling that way she does,
I will run away.
For a moment our camera pauses, shifts focus and travels up
the wall to a gecko sticking out its tongue like some black
We zoom back to our boys—within that half of a minute—
But there are no boys now. Only ash and screams and
the flailing of arms. The beddings on fire, the buuum
of bombs, the animal calls and howls of the
Militias: Jihadu! Jihadu!
Some of the boys scale the window to sure death,
their weaker friends crying names, reaching out hands
out of this dream of fire. Some writhing on their beds, burning,
too shocked to die.
We are trying to pause the camera now, bidding
the cinematographer to please press the button that unmakes
memories. We are fidgety. Caught as we are between seeing and unseeing. We
are trying to walk out of that morning, muttering to ourselves that we
will walk back to discover
the fire had only been a mishap of seeing. But it is not.
There is a singe and hiss of bodies praying their last,
the un-ritual twisting of boys and their names into a mess
of flesh. And the clang of death, our death.
The unbelievable fact of history that the sun came out later
Victoria-Anne Bulley is a British-born Ghanaian poet and writer. She is a member of Barbican Young Poets, and recently completed an MA in Postcolonial Studies at SOAS. In 2015, she was commissioned by the Royal Academy of Arts to respond to works by American artist Richard Diebenkorn. That year she was also long-listed for the role of Young Poet Laureate for London. She was also one of six young producers selected by The Poetry Society and the Southbank Centre to curate the annual celebratory events of National Poetry Day Live. Presently an assistant facilitator for the Barbican Junior Poets programme, she is also developing a poetry, translation and film project exploring the interplay of language and generational and cultural distance between diasporic African poets and their elders. She is also currently at work on the manuscript of her debut pamphlet for release by flipped eye press.
all your love aside
I thought about leaving you
for one imaginary man
tall, dark, hair like mine
but cut back, shaped up
I was thinking of the kids –
about the kids
of the kids.
it seemed the safest way
to ensure they don’t come home
as I did, bearing artwork
portraits of the artists
white and blonde
aquamarine gems for eyes
in place of obsidian
too young to call it surrealism.
everything but us
from Disney to Hitler
will tell them to process the brown
out of themselves
everywhere will say
little brown thing
cut your husk off
trim your crusts off
them bits there are only
for feeding to the birds.
why can’t a K be beautiful and magick?
it exists in knots but nobody will say
how it appeared there, why, who snitched
and stitched it up, or when.
it makes a shark’s teeth cut as they do
when they slit enamel into bone easy
as plugs into coy sockets.
does the K have a temper? perhaps it should
because it sounds like a can’t. change the a to
a u and it sounds like rinsing your mouth out with Listerine.
this is a litany against the commonwealth of
anger displaced onto the K.
the K is not okay
the K is the most misunderstood, ignored, indentured
letter of all. but K is a creature
unlike any else. insouciance magical.
what and why and where did it never exist
until now? until now. till before, where when Kemetic,
Kush, Khan, Kryptos, Knight, Afrika, Amerikkka – hey bambaataa
you three Ks in a row that mean death. K where a C
used to be – watch me now – means a new life
existence evicted from exile into now
into the before-now,
don’t ask how, yet, but
not all pretty words end in Cs and easy-Es. not all
language is Romantic but all language is
loved and lived through so
don’t touch her hair
don’t say her name, it has a K in it
that don’t belong to you.
Mary-Alice Daniel was born in Maiduguri, Nigeria—birthplace of Boko Haram, the terrorist group that specializes in kidnapping the girl child. She was raised partly in Hausaland and partly in England. Since adolescence, she has called these places home: Nashville, TN; Suburban Maryland; New Haven, CT; New York City; and Detroit. She attended Yale University, where she was selected by Louise Glück to receive the Frederick M. Clapp Fellowship. She received her MFA from the University of Michigan, where she was a Zell Fellow and a Rackham Merit Fellow. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in American Poetry Review, New England Review, Black Warrior Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Callaloo, and other journals. Her adopted home is Los Angeles, where she is earning a PhD in Creative Writing and English Literature as an Annenberg Fellow at the University of Southern California.
For the Burial of My Uncle
(Who Died of AIDS Contracted at the Dentist’s Office)
1. If he dies during the Month of Brides it is a great shame.
2. Wash the body 3 or 5 or 7 times—Never 2 or 4 or 6 times.
3. We see Allah rearranging candlesticks in the starry hall of heavens,
creating spectral shapes, undoing them
and remixing the whole music of the situation,
in widening circles containing us in these compulsions,
as he wonders which fires he has left un-extinguished.
4. Who commits us to these instructions?
Your heavenly blameless Father,
his prophets and your earthly fathers:
superstitions and blind notions.
5. Welcome all to the funeral: Buddhists, followers after Christ,
those who believe in Chang’e, the lady in the moon,
who sweeps her vast cold palace all alone.
6. Remember the small black dogs your mother dreamt devoured
each other in play near the incense pit and know:
if there are night visions, there are mystical visions.
There must be a heaven, gods’ birthplace—
therein resides Allah.
7. The face must point toward the House of God in Mecca:
the living always walk beside or in front of death.
8. Into the grave, place no object!
9. Avoid burial at sunrise, high noon, and sunset.
10. Allow neither music nor emotional outburst,
for though we surrender our dead to the earth,
once again we shall bring them forward from it.
The procedure described above is the only one correct.
To Him do we belong and unto Him is our return.
Mefloquine Side Effect #2: Nodus Tollens*
*The realization that the plot of your life
doesn’t make sense to you anymore.
There was a screw in the hotel wall that bothered me
and we couldn’t get it out, even after using a t-shirt for leverage.
It wouldn’t budge.
Okay, so try a spell—
You can’t un-turn what you didn’t yourself turn.
No matter that you drove down to New Orleans
to unravel the clothing of the American mind—
bringing back an apothecary table full of what you found.
Dedicating it to Raphael, patron saint of travelers and pharmacists.
Maybe that’s why no one ever lit the voodoo candles you tried to gift.
We figured whoever screwed it in couldn’t be human.
The hotel manager was superhuman, subhuman, or pseudohuman, or
wearing a human face over the body of a void
that walks like us.
His is the giant movement of American evil.
Maybe he got booted out of every other job there was to have.
(But I am more interested in how dreams spiral
out from the center, either a little or a lot in each turn.)
Understand that in the city where you get your own god,
where you find everything you need,
you will perfectly recall your dreams and recall from them
all the madness of the planets.
The screw held in the city my great-grandfather should have disembarked—
if he hadn’t been pulled off the slave ships
during the culling of the lepers.
They sent him home, untouchable
in the sugarcane: those slavers moonlighting as missionaries,
their thoughts a bad box,
like— We want the papaya and brimstone Messiah:a bush man and a gentleman.
We want the part of the Bible where Black people were stoned.
We want a great revival full of high-caliber weapons and shit,
Where Jesus looms over the holidays.
The screw held. It never occurred to us to leave
it alone or to become like songbirds making a trip home—
Southbound, temperate, warbling
that manageable levels of the South shall rise again.
Chekwube O. Danladi
Chekwube O. Danladi was born in Lagos, Nigeria and raised there, as well as in Washington DC and West Baltimore. A Callaloo Fellow, her writing prioritizes themes of teleological displacement, navigations and interrogations of gender and sexuality, and the necessary resilience of African and Afro-diasporic communities. She is currently working towards an MFA in Fiction at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.
E tu tu
After Chris Abani’s “Benediction”
NEPA has taken light.
We fight mosquitos in the dim fog that remains,
Auntie suckling the flesh of watermelon.
I watch her house girl break beans for soup.
I am playing with my tongue.
Each bean is kpom kpom kpom clicking against my teeth.
Aunty inches soft fruit towards me,
night gleaming in the swollen heat,
my noise against its backdrop begging
the sap of the sky for memory.
The training begins:
nga nga nganga becomes
a dance – of love and divination;
abu – is a song;
aba a o bia,
ichi icho echu – an initiation,
a search for, I will collect water;
aguu aguu aguru – there is a hunger if it remains.
I am easily spun do I evoke
a native dish or the pleasure parts of me (oto otu)?
By the end it becomes:
evu avu ava – I am carrying a song of your name.
for Bouna Traore and Zyed Benna, whose deaths prompted the French riots of 2005
The boys offered their own benedictions, undeniably.
Who dreamt of becoming the martyr? The fear was
material and all they sought was home, a warm meal
from a warm woman to break the fast. Then,
midday came quick so even the ash caught fire.
Us? We hid in prayer and sleep. Do you know
the hollows the currents opened? All that remained
were the souls etchings, the quintessence evaporated. All that
persisted was the heat. This being the foreign arrondissement,
even the passion ignited. Did you know the bodies swallowed
the power? Took all the light so the block may sit in darkness
with them. The transmission was simple, the moral:
the only way out of the banlieue is immolation.
Ma Bouna and Ma Zyed still had not taken the boys home.
The pure French refused to sell them magazines and food.
They bathed themselves merlot red; We cloaked ourselves
in the night’s ether. There was a plea to bury the bodies in moist
soil. La police in Clichy-sous-Bois licked blackblood from
their fingertips, smiled out loud vive les français. qui vit
est qui parle. Les Africains murmured you cannot burn this hell
further than it resembles. The bodies at rest are singed or weeping now.
A slow fire is eating at the hair and flesh. It bleaches the bones to white rubbish.
Amy Lukau is the daughter of immigrants from Angola. She graduated from Arizona State University with a BS in Molecular Biosciences and Biotechnology in addition to a BA in Religious Studies with minors in Islamic Studies and Religion & Conflict. She spent over four years in the non-profit sector, served on the American Board of Directors for the organization Zion’s Children of Haiti and has worked as a policy researcher & analyst for select organisations implementing novel ways to prevent and deal with mass atrocities internationally. Lukau has worked for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and was executive director of Girls Education International, a not for profit organisation based in Colorado that supports educational opportunities for underserved females in remote and underdeveloped regions of the world (girlsed.org). Lukau’s work appears in Fanzine and Feminist Wire. She has an MFA in Writing and Poetics.
your long embrace
dipped in the
bruise of your neck
pillars of life
must balance on all fours
dropped from the womb
what was then pink:
a small body
rips milk in clusters
you, still pure
of y(our) mouth
who will survive America?
puff for you.
trunk of Solomon
will lay for you
where blood drips
A Callaloo Fellow from Nairobi, Kenya, Ngwatilo Mawiyoo’s recent poems have been published or are forthcoming in Kwani?, Obsidian, and One Throne Magazine; while her non-fiction appears on The New Inquiry and Creative Time Reports. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and the author of the chapbook Blue Mothertongue. She has has presented her work at major African and European festivals, and is to receive her MFA from the University of British Columbia. Ngwatilo was shortlisted for the 2015 Brunel University African Poetry Prize, and her latest chapbook, Dagoretti Corner, forms part of the 2016 New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set published by Akashic Books in association with the African Poetry Book Fund.
To go to Moyale
After Etel Adnan, February 2013
To drive home from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport after a week away with literature, snow and song, turn off Lang’ata road and see posters of strangers vying for political office, posters of parties that mean nothing. To Tweet and curse posters as pollution, watch the news, shun it, hear election poll predictions, shun them. To plan to travel to Northern Kenya to bridge North and South for myself. To fantasize about Turkana, Wajir, Moyale. To imagine the desert, conjure TV’s dehydration and diarrhea. To despair at the passing time, send May Day messages on Facebook and Twitter for a host family. To avoid despair, to hide from it in bed. To visit the friend whose watchmen are from Moyale, to speak to them, learn that they are Gabbra. To meet Ahmed. To answer, “I am not afraid,” obliviously.
The kindness of strangers. To believe someone will look for me if I am lost or stolen. To make lists of things to carry, to fret over money’s slippery quality. To hear Ahmed worry over my capacity to dress decently. To end the call as gingerly as a cell phone will permit, and phone Bob about a cheap taxi to Eastleigh. To agree on a thousand shillings. To linger, touching my computer like a friend. To steel myself. To wear a cream petticoat and a brown, ankle-length skirt, to look shady on purpose, shagsmodo. Count “petticoat x 2” as a research expense. To drape a maroon shawl over my head, turn it into hijab, fasten it with a safety pin. To hope to pass without offense, in some comfort. To leave home again.
To be stuck in Nairobi traffic with Ahmed, willing the old taxi to fly. To arrive in Eastleigh, to be shepherded to where northbound lorries load stacks and stacks of Afya Orange juice (from concentrate), Blue Band Margarine and Golden Fry Corn Oil, lorry-sized Firestone Tires on top. To see Ahmed discuss me with the truck owner in Borana, pointing with his eyes. To understand nothing beyond the Kiswahili instruction to leave my backpack. To walk in Ahmed’s Eastleigh, to share the special at an Ethiopian restaurant, fumbling for the proper amount of intimacy with which to pull injera from the tray and fashion it into spoon with fingers. To delight at the price: two hundred and fifty shillings, to hope my stomach doesn’t disagree with shiro today. To buy a knee-length hijab, discover a freedom underneath its hem. To be handed over to the truck driver, to watch Ahmed leave while in the good hands of a stranger. To start out of Nairobi with my fellow passengers: two women, a baby, a toddler, an old Borana man with a red beard. A sign reads, “796km to Moyale.”
Our driver and his miraa on that alien road at night. To hold my skin together in attempts to repel the blackness outside and the loud Oromo beats playing on the cabin’s speakers.
To learn, casually, how our driver reached Nairobi that morning after two days driving nonstop from Moyale. To pray that miraa works, to surrender to darkness and music, to try. To recover curiosity in Nanyuki, to try to pee in a mossy storm drain described as ‘nice’ by the red bearded Borana. To squat, hearing a nightclub 50 feet away, knowing there must be a toilet amongst the speakers and swaying bodies, another at the late-night petrol station 200 meters away. To be unable to pee.
To drive through charcoal grey flora in loud Oromo beats. To be stopped by police for overloading, to witness the bribe, to drive on. To reach Isiolo town and breakfast when the truck slows to a stop at dawn. To near a four-walled toilet. To climb down from the lorry, try my legs on the café’s brown cement floors, and then hear a tire burst twenty feet behind me. To feel blessed, then find the toilet filthier than the moss drain. To bear it.
To set off again, sated, to discover new worries stowed away: food poisoning and the diuretic effect of tea. We are passing sudden hills now, rocks that time is winning over slowly. To bribe more policemen before the tarmac ends at Merille, share a plate of bad pilau with the driver and one woman. To be entrusted with the baby, despite what little language I’ve shared with her mother, what little daylight. To do no harm.
Tremoring cheeks when the lorry tires bounce across ridges of murram like rippled stone. To pass sandy soil, thorny bush, volcanic rock and patches of green in the desert. To tremor in time to Oromo beats, to find a favorite. To come clean with the red bearded Borana after I’ve passed for kin then failed when he tested my grasp of the language.
To reach Marsabit at night, feel fertility rather than see it; the pulse of that urban oasis. To ask for a toilet, to be shown a field in what may be the center of town. To lose shame and fear among the town’s cackling chicken, to squat with acacia trees where a high beam might see but won’t distinguish. To decide not to imagine animals, insects or reptiles in the darkness, to apologize aloud to no one for the tissue and hand wipe abandoned there; to pray the hand wipe can decompose. Our driver’s miraa and my Oromo beat. “It’s a love song,” the baby’s mother reveals. To try singing along.
To wake in the Chalbi desert near midnight to find the lorry has broken down. That wide and flat earth, lonely as our galaxy. To squat beside the lorry to catch the silhouette of a bean stalk or some other magic. Substitute: outline of innumerable rocks dotting the plain, desert mimicking stars. ‘Desolate’ as a word affected by gravity. To be stranded, and know it.
To receive help from a politician’s campaign vehicle without cynicism. To be past many feelings. Engine working again, to watch the campaign vehicle speed off the murram in pursuit of a more interesting path. To see their headlights stop in the distance, caught on some loose earth; to leave them behind, guilt-free. To reach the police check at Turbi, of the 2005 Gabbra-Borana massacre, to remember the name before hearing its story. To wait there quietly until an hour when the road is safe from bandits. Sunlight and motion as a talisman that shields despite the veil of ignorance on my face.
Morning, the third day. To wonder at the miracle of miraa when I wake beyond the desert. To drop off the red bearded Borana, believe we are close.
To see the Northern edge of Kenya with my eyes, and walk through my host neighborhood that first time, past the torched ruins left behind by the politics of another year, which is scheduled to return soon. And my family, nonchalant, their treasure of camels deep in the bush, stories the little girl tells, of hurrying across the border on foot with her grandmother, of playing in the safety of an Ethiopian neighborhood. To miss clues, even after sitting outside on a mat with my host father, his wives and children: the broken bedframe ten feet away; the lone donkey; how the only furniture in the main living room is a plastic carpet, a mattress and mosquito net. To see only what remains. To believe this is how it’s always been.
Our waitress places uni sushi on our table,
one for each of us. The urchin is fresh and raw,
well past vulnerable. You take a roll in your hand,
reverently, hold it up to your mouth, and bite
into it, eyes closed and rolled back. I follow
by faith, take the roll with the urchin’s yellow body,
hold my tongue against him so I may know him.
Soft, creamy, dead; he’s nothing
like my imagining. I nibble, turn him over
to the rice and sea weed, the soy sauce.
Can he harm me still? His remains before me,
the almost liquid center. He’s only tongue now,
spineless, partial nourishment. That this urchin
had done nothing to me, matters little.
Momtaza Mehri is a biomedical scientist, poet and writer who remains unsure which world came first. Her parents are of Eritrean, Somali and Yemini origin. Her work engages with inheritance/ psychosomatics/ ugliness/ biopolitics and digitalised diasporas. She has been active in the zine/journal underworld for some time, featuring and forthcoming in OOMK, Hard Food, Cecile’sWriters, Puerto Del Sol, Elsewhere and other delights, as well as contributing to MediaDiversified. As an editor of the digital space Diaspora Drama, she is fixated by the capacities of cyberspacepoetics. Her work has seen her perform in universities, festivals and the usual dimly-lit haunts. Anthologised in Podium Poets, as part of the London Laureates long-list, her debut collection will be published in 2016. Her heart yawns in three continents, London being its current owner. She loves the tension in that.
<p>Grief in HTML</p>
060 112 062 071 114 105 101 102 032 105 110 032 072 084 077 076 060
<p>The bomb explodes near the Central compound, makes a wheezing child-sound.</p>
<p>It’s a Monday afternoon. A city sleeps on its side. Death is an ellipsis. Gasoline, cobalt, concrete, yarabbyarahmaan, a window shard clarifies itself against the slackness of suit and skin, imprints into the chest of a family friend. He is flesh opening into a socket for wood chips to lodge into. He is dressed in crystals. He is dissolved.</p>
<p>A father on the other side of a glass screen. Facebook. His eyes their own brand of muddy blue longing. Five years since, his friend is a life undeleted, peering from under horn-rimmed glasses. Four walls of a coffin or the four walls of a display picture? Find me the difference. A man shifts in a quasi-dream called afterlife.</p>
<p> My father’s cufflinks, cold and bloated, on a drawer desk a dead man bought him for a wedding gift. </p>
<p>The old poets said home was a woman. Only a woman can bleed this much without dying. Maybe home is a man’s lust ticking under a vest, leaving us to pick up the pieces.</p>
<p> Imagine owning a rage that needs to spread like that? </p>
I believe in the transformative power of cocoa butter and breakfast cereal in the afternoon.
Pick a sky and name it. The scriptures say there are seven.
We have enough time.
A fig, bruised-pink, resting on the dashboard,
tilted as if to say
‘khalaas get it over with’.
This breeze feels too much like an aunt, tugging at our scalps,
hardly saying sorry. I think of how perfectly
timed your buzzcut is. How the border was dotted with goats,
lone whistleblowers against concrete skyscrapers.
Here, in the country of your birth, we cross the Persian Gulf,
leaving a lush behind us, and the stark of my bracelets,
green as Uganda.
A tunnel above us, reflected in a lucent drop
of light on your cheek. This liminal state between island and man.
Between Africa and Asia,
the world’s two thick thighs,
Behind us, they are drinking from time’s cup,
under the same stars a prophet gazed up
at. They call them drones now. I think. Ahead,
I know even less,
except our feet hanging off a hotel bed;
a geologic upheaval.
Your mother sits in the glove compartment, the kohl shedding from her eyes.
I share you with her,
the way we share our unbelonging
and make a castle out of
this bottled sigh
they call living.
I believe in a place where we can be ugly and poor and needy and still wear crowns.
Take me there.
Saradha Soobrayen was born in London and studied Live Art, Visual Art and Writing. Saradha is a passionate advocate for Human Rights and the preservation of archives, libraries, and indigenous heritage. Her poetic inquiry: ‘Sounds Like Root Shock’ is a melange of arts activism, cultural transmission, Kreol dialect, political rhetoric and song lyrics that chronicles the forced removal of the Chagossian Community from the Chagos Archipelago and their ongoing fight for the ‘Right of Return.’
Saradha received an Eric Gregory Award in 2004 and was named in The Guardian as one of the ‘Twelve to Watch’, up and coming new generation of poets. She represented Mauritius at the Southbank Centre’s Parnassus Poetry Festival and won the Pacuare Nature Reserve’s Poet Laureate residency in 2015. Saradha’s poetry, essays and experimental short fiction are widely published in journals and anthologies. Her much awaited debut poetry collection is long overdue.
Guardians Of Culture, Tradition And The Stability Of The Home
Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high, there’s a land that I heard of, once in a lullaby
In her deepest sleep, Madam Lisette Talate returns to Chagos,
leaving the Mauritian slums, where so many continue to follow
her example, standing in protest against the lies and chaos
orchestrated by the officials, who claimed there were no
indigenous people on Diego Garcia, Peros Banhos,
none on the sibling islands of Salomon, Egmont, and so
the islands were ‘swept and sanitised’. An albatross
was spared, and the order given: ‘a few Man Fridays’ must go.
The slave ancestors who fished, loved and prayed across
the centuries, the generations who dried the copra, coco,
extracting oil from the kernel of the nut, even the boss
of the copra plantation struggled to see over the rainbow.
On the main island of Diego Garcia, the US base, Camp Justice
squats. The Chagossians are still chanting, Rann nu Diego
thirty, forty years later, fighting for the right to return. Their loss
is unimaginable, these guardians of the Chagos Archipelago.
Diplomatic Memos Sir Paul Gore-Booth, and Dennis Greenhill, 1966
Sir Paul Gore-Booth, senior official at the Foreign Office,
wrote to a diplomat in 1966: “We must surely be very tough
about this. The object of the exercise is to get some rocks
which will remain ours… There will be no indigenous population
except seagulls…”The diplomat, Dennis Greenhill, replied:
“Unfortunately along with the birds go some few Tarzans
or Man Fridays whose origins are obscure and who are
hopefully being wished on to Mauritius.”
Listening Out For The Musings Of The Hawksbill Turtles
Each thought counts from these critically listed ambassadors
of the oceanic reptile clan. Endangered advocates for equality
with overlapping serrated shells. Their narrow pointed beaks
are hundreds of millions of years old. Still clearing the clutter
from the crevices: sponges narrowing the potential of the reef.
Creating space so that all fish can thrive in the sea grass beds.
These are much more than acts of kindness. This is duty born
from a need to sustain life despite the unavoidable losses.
Sea anemones and jellyfish: a sea turtle’s modest appetite.
In turn these ancient mariners are reduced to flesh, skin, shell.
It is dying out this cultural industry whose children depend
on the turtle eggs. Decades, it takes to reproduce, fathoms of sea
and slow yards of beach as the wise turtles return to the same
moment, to the same birth place where their offspring begin
to answer the same timeless, complex and simple questions:
how to survive, how to endure, and how to be one and all.
Warsan Shire is a Somali poet raised in London. She was the first Young Poet Laureate for London. Her début book, ‘Teaching my Mother How to Give Birth’ (flipped eye), was published in 2011. She has read her work extensively internationally. Her poems have appeared in Poetry Review, Wasafiri, Magma, and the anthology ‘The Salt Book of Younger Poets’ (Salt, 2011). In 2013 she won the inaugural Brunel University African Poetry Prize. In 2014 she was Australia’s Queensland Poet-in- Residence. Her poetry has been translated into Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Estonian and Swedish. She teaches workshops using poetry to explore memory and heal trauma. Warsan lives in Los Angeles, where is she working on her first full collection.
For my brother
The poem can start with him walking backwards into a room.
He takes off his jacket and sits down for the rest of his life,
that’s how we bring Dad back.
I can make the blood run back up my nose, ants rushing into a hole.
We grow into smaller bodies, my breasts disappear,
your cheeks soften, teeth sink back into gums.
I can make us loved, just say the word.
Give them stumps for hands if even once they touched us without
I can write the poem and make it disappear.
Step-Dad spits liquor back into glass,
Mum’s body rolls back up the stairs, the bone pops back into place,
maybe she keeps the baby.
Maybe we’re okay kid?
I’ll rewrite this whole life and this time there’ll be so much love,
you won’t be able to see beyond it.
You won’t be able to see beyond it,
I’ll rewrite this whole life and this time there’ll be so much love.
Maybe we’re okay kid,
maybe she keeps the baby.
Mum’s body rolls back up the stairs, the bone pops back into place,
Step-Dad spits liquor back into glass.
I can write the poem and make it disappear,
give them stumps for hands if even once they touched us without consent,
I can make us loved, just say the word.
Your cheeks soften, teeth sink back into gums
we grow into smaller bodies, my breasts disappear.
I can make the blood run back up my nose, ants rushing into a hole,
that’s how we bring Dad back.
He takes off his jacket and sits down for the rest of his life.
The poem can start with him walking backwards into a room.
Mother says there are locked rooms inside all women.
Kitchen of lust, bedroom of grief, bathroom of apathy.
Sometimes, the men— they come with keys,
and sometimes, the men— they come with hammers.
Nin soo joog laga waayo, soo jiifso aa laga helaa,
I said Stop, I said No and he did not listen.
Perhaps she has a plan, perhaps she takes him back to hers
only for him to wake up hours later in a bathtub full of ice,
with a dry mouth, looking down at his new, neat procedure.
I point to my body and say Oh this old thing? No, I just slipped it on.
Are you going to eat that? I say to my mother, pointing to my father who is lying on the dining room table, his mouth stuffed with a red apple.
The bigger my body is, the more locked rooms there are, the more men come with keys. Anwar didn’t push it all the way in, I still think about what he could have opened up inside of me. Basil came and hesitated at the door for three years. Johnny with the blue eyes came with a bag of tools he had used on other women: one hairpin, a bottle of bleach, a switchblade and a jar of Vaseline. Yusuf called out God’s name through the keyhole and no one answered. Some begged, some climbed the side of my body looking for a window, some said they were on their way and did not come.
Show us on the doll where you were touched, they said.
I said I don’t look like a doll, I look like a house.
They said Show us on the house.
Like this: two fingers in the jam jar
Like this: an elbow in the bathwater
Like this: a hand in the drawer.
I should tell you about my first love who found a trapdoor under my left breast nine years ago, fell in and hasn’t been seen since. Every now and then I feel something crawling up my thigh. He should make himself known. I’d probably let him out. I hope he hasn’t bumped in to the others, the missing boys from small towns, with pleasant mothers, who did bad things and got lost in the maze of my hair. I treat them well enough, a slice of bread, if they’re lucky a piece of fruit. Except for Johnny with the blue eyes, who picked my locks and crawled in. Silly boy chained to the basement of my fears, I play music to drown him out.
At parties I point to my body and say This is where love comes to die. Welcome, come in, make yourself at home. Everyone laughs, they think I’m joking.
Chimwemwe Undi is a poet of southern African descent living and writing on Treaty One territory in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Her family origins are in Zambia and Zimbabwe and she spent some of her childhood living in Namibia. As a spoken word artist, she has been featured at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word and Spur Festival, where she shared the stage with Dr. Cornel West. Her work has been longlisted for the Cosmonaut’s Avenue Poetry Prize and appears or is forthcoming in several publications, including CV2, Room, Prairie Fire and Lemon Hound.
The Shadow Machine
“the internet is a cemetery
where nothing ever dies” and when she does
we crowd her parents’ kitchen counters
with tulips and casseroles
and careful sympathies
we Googled and practiced on the way over,
but fucked up anyway,
distracted by how different her mother looks,
like she’s unfolded from rice paper
and you can still see all the lines.
there are three hundred and eighty six
tagged pictures of her on the internet
and I’ve peered into each of them,
did she know?
when did she decide
and what makes me think i can peel back
the layers of her uploaded life
to see what was so shattered
at the core of it
grief lingers longer this way
it hangs like angels’ share,
we only breathe to get drunk on it,
stumbling through all
the guilt of unfeeling.
she was our age and so un-special.
and it’s worse that she was as ordinary as
the rest of us,
with plans for that Thursday
and that summer
and that life that bloomed bloody
into our First Death.
she’s the only person we all know
cast out into Everything
and she’s left us
this virtual body to cling to,
this new version of ghostliness
that glows like immortality.
after high school, we scattered like light
got drunk and pregnant and tattoos,
left our old selves in a shadow
she named home for a while,
and none of us know this from asking her,
we thought too late of it
but you can tell somehow
or hope you can tell
reading her updates like lifeless palms
her aunt leaves a message on her wall
says “hope ur having fun in heaven”
like the afterlife is the spring break vacation she
spent the winter saving for,
someone posts a photo from junior high
we all know she would’ve had taken down,
an ex-boyfriend shares details
that feel like peeking into a bedroom window
like taking notes from someone’s diary
and i learn from this that I would do both.
on her birthday, I get a push notification
on my phone
and have to leave the line at the bank
to find a bathroom to cry in.
there’s no ritual in this mourning,
no wick lit in a chapel with soft flame to engulf
everything we are so tired of carrying,
this sorrow is abbreviated
and live-updated and world wide
i was not part of this life but here it is,
curated and hanging in the monitor window
for whoever might want to see
my favourite pictures of her are of other people,
she is chewing or yawning
caught off guard and up in someone else’s moment.
she will never know about most of these.
she is not herself in any of her pictures.
she smiles with her eyes muffled,
still in a way that reminds me
too much of whoever they stifled in that casket
I was too afraid to peer into
To the Only Other Black Girl, Laughing
glow like streetlights on a long walk home
melanin popping like summertime bubble gum
short skirt saviour
miracle in box braids / dark lipstick
a mitzvah in a room of white bodies that both move to black heartbeats and disregard their beating / that wear our grace like borrowed clothes
to shed when the night and the song ends
and the sharks are out
when the chorus has a nigga in it and it hangs from the front teeth of too many mouths /
when the drunk white girl in the bathroom reaches into my halo like her birth-right /
when my body is considered a sample size made metaphor for every other shadow /
our knowing glances cross
and gnaw at our bodily distance
mirror touch, or magic, or passing carriages in past lives, or quantum entanglement, or history, or knowing, or watching our bodies clench like thumb and pinky of the same fist
and we do not need to explain
the way we are always explaining
the space between us is a myth and that myth an entrance / and I am glad to be entranced
to find you breathing and unnamed / glowing under a sheen of well-earned sweat / your smiling salvation shimmer / your life mattering so vivid and so concrete
carefree black a joyous contradiction
dark and hard like coal like the centre of the earth and not and never