After a day of hunting deer,

chestnut mare and ebony stallion

leaping hedges, following streams,

galloping across cornfields,

the men join their women for a feast:

Anadama bread, blueberry muffins,

corn, peas, sweet potatoes, duck, venison,

home-cured Virginia ham, bear, milk,

flagons of beer and the best French wines.


Men discuss politics, philosophy,

whether to plant tobacco or grain,

Ladies in elegant gowns play piano

and sing, discuss what their children

have learned, strut across the lawn.

Then Mr. Jefferson takes out his fiddle,

plays minuets and the Virginia reel.


My feet can hardly resist dancing,

but I, who worked all day butchering,

plucking feathers from ducks, cleaning

vegetables, sweating at caldrons hung

over the hot fireplace must now wash dishes,

clean the dining room and stay out of reach

of that fine gentleman whose hand found my breast.


Monument: Lincoln, Kansas

The monument on the courthouse lawn

lists ten who died.

Blood oozing on the prairie,

Grandmother said.


Her brother was among those

who lost their lives,

his innocent play interrupted,

by the false Pawnee.


Her telling was graphic, intense,

full of sorrow.

It seemed but yesteryear

tomahawks split heads,

broke settler lives.


Years later,

I saw it all in print,

found it happened

before Grandmother’s birth.

Her vivid recollections

were family tales

she’d heard from crib.


Later, too, I pondered

other dead,

protecting home, family,

forests once full of game,

fields where they had wandered free,

tracked the sacred buffalo.


More lives were shattered

than Grandmother knew or told;

more died than had their names carved

for all to see. I claim each one

as brother, sister. I cannot grieve

the named without the unnamed.


Wilda Morris, Workshop Chair of Poets and Patrons of Chicago and past President of the Illinois State Poetry Society, has published numerous poems in anthologies, webzines, and print publications. She has published two books of poetry, Szechwan Shrimp and Fortune Cookies: Poems from a Chinese Restaurant (RWG Press) and Pequod Poems: Gamming with Moby-Dick (Kelsay Books). Current projects include haiku, rengay, and other poems. Wilda’s grandchildren say she lives in a library. Her poetry blog features a monthly poetry contest and can be found at wildamorris.blogspot.com .

He licked it, not like a lollipop, but with intent,

the burden of royal tasters, back in bad old days:

tongue artists whose job was to absorb poison

and ensure it was palatable for noble appetites—

Wolf’s music his way of explaining: I asked you

for water and all you’re giving me is gasoline.


He would lick that mouth organ as if eating

the blues, taking a bite out of this hard life,

as a Black man living always under suspicion

of the same things he sang about: killing floors

& moaning at midnight, white eyes expecting

you to play the fool—or prove your innocence.


He licked the harmonica only because he had to

spend the rest of his time swallowing the gristle

of separate but equal, and all the things awful

about the South—and North; no safe haven then

(& now); either sitting on top of the world or else

you’re going down slow, one spoonful at a time.


Sean Murphy has appeared on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and has been quoted in USA Today, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and AdAge. A long-time columnist for PopMatters, his work has appeared in Salon, The Village Voice, Washington City Paper, The Good Men Project, Memoir Magazine, and others. His chapbook, The Blackened Blues, was published by Finishing Line Press in July, 2021. This Kind of Man, his first collection of short fiction, is forthcoming from Unsolicited Press. He has been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize, twice for Best of Net, and his book Please Talk about Me When I’m Gone was the winner of Memoir Magazine’s 2022 Memoir Prize. He served as writer-in-residence of the Noepe Center at Martha’s Vineyard, and is Founding Director of 1455, a non-profit literary organization (www.1455litarts.org). To learn more, and read his published short fiction, poetry, and criticism, please visit seanmurphy.net/ and https://twitter.com/bullmurph

The train grumbled out of Baton Rouge

as I tapped my heels against the wooden

floor of the platform and waited for my escorts

to ferry me to the sanctuary of their church.


Rubbing my finger against the barrel of the gun

you swore you’d never use, even after Tyler’s

bullet grazed your forehead, “No gun for me.

If I am to be killed, then maybe it is my destiny,”

I was greeted by a host of nervous congregants

who ushered me to the back of the waiting room,

where if you stood long enough you could still hear

rebel yells filtering through windows that trembled

at each burst of the horn, offering to pay my return ticket.


“Sister, for your own protection, you best

get back on the train,” my driver advised

and a wave of chills wracked my body even more

than the story he whispered about a sister

who had been lynched the night before—

how her tongue wagged to the side of her mouth,

her breasts heaved, and then a stream of yellow

trickled down the back of her dress on to the green

below. I am not a “little Joan of Arc,” as George

McGuire likes to tease. I mounted the pulpit

like those venerable pastors from my boarding

school and preached a gospel of freedom:

“Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people.”


And when the voices from the Amen

Corner rose in a crescendo that spiraled up

the rafters into the belfry and over leaves of gumbo

limbos dozing in the moonlight beside the murky

waters of the bayou, and the sisters wailed,

“Tell it, sister, tell it,” I knew I wouldn’t have to use

my gun that night. For all they can do is kill me.

Better to live with that knowledge than in the fear

of what is to come, which I know will never

be worse than the battles we have survived.


To My Spanish-Irish Heiress, 1914

Perhaps in another life, we could have

married under a white canopy facing

the ocean, where sharks trailed slavers

laden with misery. There we’d build

a red brick mansion in Andalusia

where we would raise a brood of children

under a sky where the rain blesses

the just and the unjust. But in this life,

we could never be together. The war

between our ancestors could curse our bond.


We would have bred monsters.


Born under flags that would compete

like squabbling school children,

they would, like many “black-white”

elites choose poorly. In this life,

those who are destined to have their names

trampled by the unjust are ruled by leaders

who have never broken a shackle, or blinded

the eyes of those who kill with a stare.


No, my love, better to end what never

should have begun, so now we can look

back after many summers of being apart

at the disaster we avoided.


Photo Credit: Vanessa Diaz @vvvzzzzvvvzzzz

Geoffrey Philp is the author of two novels, Garvey’s Ghost and Benjamin, My Son, three children’s books, including Marcus and the Amazons, and two collections of short stories. He has also published five books of poetry. His forthcoming books include a graphic novel for children, titled My Name is Marcus, and a collection of poems, titled Archipelagos. His forthcoming poetry collection borrows from Kamau Brathwaite’s “Middle Passage” lecture, Aime Cesaire’s Discourse on Colonialism, Sylvia Wynter’s “1492,” and Amitav Ghosh’s thesis in The Nutmeg’s Curse to explore the relationship between Christianity, colonialism, and genocide. He is currently working on a collection of poems, titled “Letter from Marcus Garvey.” He can be found on twitter at https://twitter.com/GeoffreyPhilp and on instagram at https://www.instagram.com/geoffreyphilp/

I have watched Alejandro spiderman over the wall. I am

climbing up too. and I over. my ribs hurt. footprints left. I stumble in

them. and ran towards wide      expanse. but this earth is booby-trapped. the

knives of  decorative barb snaps. at

saphenous veins.

Alejandro is faster than I.

am

caught.         hung upon

                                               trip wire.

                          a thrashing prey.

                                                                                                  SEARCHLIGHTS.

ripping hoodie. grabbing back onto soapy non-grip freedom.  another wire rips out

bigger chunk of my calf. paroxysm has to be swallowed. Like the sand.

Mary. mother of jesus.

I kiss talisman. swallowing

lumps in my throat. undigested shrapnel  cutting wider roads to my stomach.

families back home. their prayers. for me limping to jump                 across the moats. I cry. a

stupid boy. I stop crying. I see Alejandro. I break the damn cotton thread.

I throw things off my back.   everything. gotta catch up with Alejandro.

                                                                                            SEARCHLIGHTS.

                                                                                                 dodging.

I drop.

v

e

r

t

i

c

a

l

plop.

like vaca shit.

crawling like soldiers on YouTube.              across.

spitting out dust.  swallowing some. taste like cactus. like manure.

but mud hut-boy gotta keep moving                across

                                                                                                SEARCHLIGHTS

                                                                                                    hiding again.

Lady Liberty.  a GIANT lady. I bet she’s

like Mother Teresa.

Upper new York bay. uncle describes. he drives cab. knows all 50 states. he

says they are really 50 different  countries. but one hate for dirt people.

he’s supposed to pick me up. at drop spot.

                                                                                                                  SEARCHLIGHT.

                                                                                                            I lay still. I am opossum.

the moonless black night is back. quarterbacking

into cactus. out of cactus. under underbrush. out

of underbrush.

uncle says a man can make a living over                   here.

my heart thumps against the hot sand. Ignore pain. I. mud-boy. It is what it is.

damn, noisy knapsack. village food for uncle and some other shit that he likes.

I have to be quiet……shit.

                                                                                                                   SEARCHLIGHTS.

                                                                                                                    keep still. dirt boy.

you are underbrush. underbrush becomes you.

quiet. like you. pretty much. dead. quiet.

                                                                                                                    SEARCHLIGHTS.

                                                                                                          it swings over to the east.

I run. west. left leg is still bleeding. Alejandro is gone.

I am now    ( in )

I am now home health aide.

wiping nose.  wiping butts. sponging backs. washing feet of

border guard memory-loss old folks. and I cut lawns. their

dog shit splashing my goggles. splashing  in my mouth.

my family is eating more regular now. my little daughter. Juana

now going to school. I cry.

I am happy. but

I  can’t be happy.

I miss them.

I miss my home.

I am not apocalyptic

demographic change.

Eaton Jackson is a Jamaican, naturalized US citizen. He has been writing all of his adult life. Inspired by an undying desire to produce publishable works, he considers himself still on the learning curve. His writings have appeared in Scarlet Leaf Review, River Poet, The New Verse, and other publications. Eaton’s dream is to be read as a credible writer.

Tami Sawyer—

A Tennessee legend—

Met her biggest adversary in a park,

Sized him up good with tearful eyes:


Slave trader,

Confederate Army General,

The first Klansman

Nathan Bedford Forrest.


Some things had to give.


Tami Sawyer

Made loud, sufficient noise

In her hometown of Memphis

In marshalling together youth & elders

In removing the toxicity of ages,


Graven blight,

Cleared the pedestals

Once and forever

Of racist trash.


THE SOUTH SHALL RISE AGAIN!

Rednecks curse.

THE SOUTH HAS LOST AGAIN!

Anti-racists curse back.


Tami Sawyer

Knew, as her allies did, that

Rule by fear must end, starting when

Certain venerated idols cease to stand.


A single push

Toppled over one,

Then the rest

Fall like bronze and stone-carved

Dominoes.


Dee Allen is an African-Italian performance poet based in Oakland, California. Active in creative writing and spoken word since the early 1990’s, he is the author of seven books–Boneyard, Unwritten Law, Stormwater, Skeletal Black (all from POOR Press), Elohi Unitsi (Conviction 2 Change Publishing), including his two most recent, Rusty Gallows: Passages Against Hate (Vagabond Books) and Plans (Nomadic Press). He has fifty-three anthology appearances to date.

I

When we come to the round table of literary discourse and are asked questions about our identity as writers of African extraction, what do we say in response to the query that questions our identify as African writers?

Who is an African writer?

Many contemporary writers from Africa, particularly those in the Diaspora have debated over this.

So that we do not peel off the cicatrix and bring back injuries from edgy debates of the past on this subject matter, you would expect that I tread with caution. You would expect that I do not dig deep or say more than should be said.

As a writer whose focus consists primarily in telling stories of the human condition, I will be writing not only through the prism from which I observe as an insider, but also from that of fellow writers of African extraction.

Writers from Africa presently in the Diaspora form the chief part of this discourse.

Going back to the cicatrix metaphor, to say that this topic isn’t ideal for contemporary discourse, or that it has become stale, would mean missing the mark.

Questions of identity are always with us. The problem has always been that we sometimes fail or refuse to acknowledge them, especially when new discourses take centre stage. They are always here but they keep changing from one form to another.

Aaron Bady, in African Writers in a new World: An Introduction, offered insight. He sought for an answer to the question posed above by conducting a series of interviews with African writers on Post45, “a collective of scholars working on American literature and culture,” (as written on the Post45 website, http://www.post45.com). 

According to Bady, some of the writers interviewed on Post45 dislike the categorisation, “African writer…some were indifferent to it, and some accept it without particular enthusiasm.” In his article, he made reference to Binyavanaga Wainanina’s satirical piece, How to Write About Africa, which brings a sense of urgency to the misplaced understanding of the African continent common amongst westerners. The article also refers to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TedX talk, Danger of a Single Story, where Adichie pointed out the danger of telling a particular set of stories until it becomes a stereotype. In her popular talk, she says, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.”

A good example of this stereotypical craving in our stories is the set of stories in the early 2000’s in Africa that portrayed Africa as a poor continent, the practice of which unfortunately hasn’t phased off completely in the present. In fact, the term “poverty porn” was formulated to categorise such kind of stories that tend to disregard other aspects of the African continent. Binyavanga’s satirical piece, in its rib-cracking flow, illustrates this very well:“Remember, any work you submit in which people look filthy and miserable will be referred to as the ‘realAfrica’, and you want that on your dust jacket. Do not feel queasy about this: you are trying to help them to get aid from the West.”

Many African writers have lambasted this overindulgence mentality, this unnecessary dwelling on poverty-related issues in our literatures even to the point of smearing the totality of a work with it in such ways that you find it hard to know whether the perpetrators of this are approbating, excoriating, or analysing.

It is important we put things in proper context. So, I go back to the business of questioning. Who is an African writer? Is there an “African writer”? Is he or she the one who lives in Africa and writes about Africa?

Is he or she the one who lives either in Africa or the Diaspora and writes mainly about Africa and African-related themes in total exclusion of other such themes in places other than Africa? Indeed, there are numerous questions. And while the questions look simple, this assumption may be quite misleading. Let me make recourse again to Bady’s article.

Bady referred to the 1962 Conference of African Writers of English Expression which had in attendance the likes of Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Grace Ogot, Christopher Okigbo, Lewis Nkosi, Kofi Awoonor and several other reputable writers of the time.

The Conference examined the questions: “What constitutes African literature? Is it literature written by Africans, literature that depicts the African experience? Does African literature have to be written in African languages?”

This Conference was held in the 1960’s. Considering the varied phases of events in present times, we realise that the issue still lingers – the issue about who the African writer is. Should the Black writer born in Texas whose Nigerian parents migrated to the US and who has never been to Nigeria not see himself as an African writer?

I think it is one thing owning up to being an African writer; it is another choosing the dynamics of your thematic engagements over time.

Theme plays a very important role and can be an influencing factor in arriving at the issue of perceived identity. Predicated on theme is the environment where the writer finds himself.

British-Nigerian writer, Ben Okri, presently residing in the UK, explores themes relevant to Nigeria and his British environment where he has lived for more than three decades. In his 1991 Booker-Prize-winning novel, The Famished Road, he utilizes a plot that is influenced undoubtedly by African stories on spirits. Over the course of his writing career, Okri has written works informed either by his Nigerian heritage, or his British nationality.

I will proceed with few more examples, but not of a detailed nature, since this is a brief essay that seeks only to scratch the surface concerning who the African writer is. The example of Adichie, whose works have explored Nigerian and American settings as well as other places, is a well known one— a testament to the mutable nature of cosmopolitanism in a rapidly changing world.

American-based Nigerian novelist, Chigozie Obioma, explores a Nigerian and a Cyprian setting in his second novel, An Orchestra of Minorities. Beyond just exploration, these settings also serve as stimulus for writing that dives deep for true, cultural penetration of the setting referents.

The ambiguity surrounding the definition of who an African writer is still lingers. And while it does, the world keeps evolving, the language of culture and commerce amongst nations is bridging, and common grounds and divisions are taking place simultaneously.

II

The areas of focus on discussions of identity keep shifting from generation to generation.

Looking back at early-twentieth-century West Africa, we observe the efforts of Senghor, Cesaire, and a few other intellectuals of the time who created and popularised the Negritude movement in Africa and the Diaspora. While it was an intellectual movement that sought to popularise African values, features, and similar considerations, at their core these juxtapositions aimed at the concept of identity.

During this period, especially after the Second World War, there was a big wave of nationalism blowing across the African continent. Although, African nationalism, being more a political ideology, sought to liberate African nations from imperialist subjugation, it also served as a conduit for defining identity, whether at national or continental levels.

From the early twentieth century, when nationalist fervour began to gather momentum, to the middle of said century, when the wind of independence swept through much of Africa, writers pushed the identity debate constantly.

If we look kaleidoscopically at the concept of identity, perhaps we may be forced to consider overarching political interpretations of it. In this wise, history offers the millennials of today, me included, surprises and counter-surprises knowing that some of our Nigerian intellectuals in the 70’s and 80’s canvassed vehemently for a socialist state. Beyond that, they wore the socialist toga as part of their identity and revealed it consistently in much of their works during that period. Samuel Ikoku and Tunji Braithwaithe are two prominent intellectuals who come to mind in this regard.

The affinity shared between our findings from history on the one hand, and what Nigerian writers think about identity in contemporary times shows the protean nature of identity. There is also another set of writers who are not comfortable with the African writer descriptor because on the face of it, it appears limiting—as it connotes that they are restricted to writing about certain themes only. We keep seeing changes in the views of writers from both divides.

III

Many popular Nigerian authors writing today have at one time or the other been to Western nations like the USA or the UK, or were born and bred there, or born in their respective African nation but later relocated to these Western nations. The effect is that Western ideals rub off on them over time. Because some writers passed through the educational systems or publishing industries of these nations, it becomes difficult for them to separate themselves completely from such influences.

These writers embed in their work plot narratives or themes that include both their adopted Western nation and the African nation of their cultural heritage. This juxtaposition of plot or setting, involving both the Western and African nations, explains why the immigrant narrative has become a well pursued theme. This is a personal preference which I think every writer has the liberty of acting upon. I do not think it is an indulgence. It is a response to an ongoing synthesis of different worlds in the writer’s mind, or a response to the association or dissociation of various aspects of different worlds within the writer’s experience.

We see a quintessence in Abdulrazak Gurnah, the 2021 recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, whose work consistently portray themes of displacement, exile and colonialism in settings that are predominantly along the coasts of East Africa.

For the sake of clarity, I have not in any way tilted my opinion to any side of the divide– whether it is wrong for these writers to refuse to be tagged as “African writers” or for them to readily accept it. I should add another category, the set that are “indifferent.”

Some of these writers who refuse to accept the tag “African writer” may do so because they see it as a limiting description, something that boxes them into a fixed spot with little or no alternatives. To push this argument further, I assume that they look at the whole issue from this angle: If I am called an African writer, it probably means most of my readers will think I write only about Africa and nothing else. The radical effect of such thinking portends that these writers have nothing to say about literature from other parts of the world.

It is imperative for the 21st century writer to write about events happening in the world today, not just politics, but socio-economic matters as well, not just culture, but religious matters, too. To expect the Nigerian writer to write solely about African-related themes would be a sheer display of myopic tendencies in a global setting where boundaries are perpetually making way for commonalities and hybrid thinking.

For example, if there were another September 11 (not that we wish for another),Nigerian writers irrespective of their “Africanness,” should not dodge such issues. They must air their views. I believe what comes first is who we are as humans. Humanity is the basic unifying factor amongst us all. Another example to pursue the ongoing argument is the current COVID-19 pandemic in which virtually all nations of the world have been affected, African nations not excluded.

IV

While we know that the global economy is spreading technology across continents at an astronomical rate, we know too that this sort of diffusion is also happening in politics, culture, and other vital indices within nations. The news in California announcing the release of a new Apple iphone arrives in all parts of the world at the same time.

We have witnessed the undeniable power of social media activism. The sheer power for social engagement through a simple hashtag underscores the capacity of social media in aggregating mass views. In 2014 when over 276 girls were abducted in Chibok, the #bringbackourgirls hashtag surfaced on Twitter. Although it was started in Nigeria, more Americans shared it online than did Nigerians.

Universities in the West are now including the study of literature written by African writers, whether resident on the Mother Continent or in the Diaspora. In addition to educational institutions, there are literary institutions that allow for collaboration amongst writers from different parts of the world. This allows for a gradual whittling down of polarities across national lines and racial focal points.

V

Linguistics, just like culture, has no rigid rules for the interpretation of the meaning of certain words or phrases. A word or phrase might have shades of meaning in several world languages. The same can be said of the phrase, “African writer.” That a writer is called an African writer doesn’t mean he or she writes only about the African Continent or issues pertinent to it; neither does it mean he or she is thoroughly or partially precluded from cosmopolitan literary discourse. One of the interpretations that can be drawn in an attempt to “deconstruct” that phrase could be this— that the writer was born in Africa or the writer has parents who were born in Africa or are Africans, or that the writer was not born in Africa but contributes significantly to African discourse through his writings. Another possibility is that the writer at some time in his or her life lived in an African nation and wrote about Africa. The possibilities listed here do not cover the field sufficiently.

This brief piece is meant to stoke the base of this often-ignored topic. What I will not agree with is the argument that there is no such thing as an African writer or African writing based simply on the pretext that Europeans do not use the term European writer. Neither do I think it is right to argue we have no need for the descriptive tag because we live in a globalised world where the dynamics of a person’s place of origin is gradually paling.

Living in a global world does not do away with our past or our histories. Western nations, home to some of our most popular and influential African writers, all place a premium on their cultural legacies, whether in art or literature. We, too, have a past from which we have walked into the present. To deny our identity will be too grave an act despite the fading of boundaries and the flourishing of hybridized thinking.

It is left to the writers who are the subject of this piece to speak for themselves at the round table and state whether they are comfortable being called an African writer or not.



Onis Sampson is an award-winning Nigerian writer, lawyer, and singer currently recovering from a singing hiatus. He was recently longlisted for the 2021 African Human Rights Playwriting Prize. He was a finalist in the 2019 Inspire Us Short Story Contest for his short story, An Unassuming Woman. His poems, short fiction, and nonfiction have been published in Ake Review, Lunaris Review, Vinyl Poetry, Erbacce, Praxis Mag, World Reader, Tuck Magazine, Authorpedia, African Eyeball Anthology, African Writer, Kalahari Review, and elsewhere. You can find him on twitter with the handle https://twitter.com/OnisSampson

 

Tell me I will be alright, my wrecking mind

needs to be fed with some soup of validation now.

 

The bloodbath like raindrops, please persuade me into believing will

cease soon. Tell me protest fields will halt to morph into abattoirs every time

 

we demand for a sunny life, for the right to inhale and exhale, every night we want

to resurrect strangled justice from its grave. Assure me please, that my brother will

 

return unscathed from where he went to air his deprived voice, please and please

sweet-talk me into a new realm where I can perceive the fragrance of freedom

 

even from a thousand miles, paint my questioning mind with the hue of affirmation

that my unmatched mother’s soul will not be catapulted to the shore of afterlife for

 

frowning at inequity. Men and women of this anguish-strewing land, justice-mourning

settlement, unveil to my yearning eyes: the time, day, week, month and year,

 

when we will have bliss as neighbors, when we will wine and dine

without dread knocking on the doors of our hearts, when our minds

 

will truly certify this land, home. Tell me now,

now, now or forever be a graveyard.

 

Death of Another Night


The sunshine cocks have crown again, signalling the death of another night

that will never grace the streets of the sky again in this era, the radios have


risen with a shriek to their daily ritual of feeding your ears with worms, loading

the cart of our frail minds with tons of grief, narrating tales too sore for a boy


my age– stories of dirty uncles brewing nectars out of their unripe nieces’ thighs

when eyes were shut like doors, of blood claiming a northern street, of statesmen


turned python swallowing a nation’s vault of golds in a stretch. The radios in

the neighborhood have christened me– coward and so– their owners.


I tremble at the perch of radios’ baritone at dawn on the twig of my ears

like a bird staring at its death two feet away. Elegies and bloodstained news


are no oceanic views to awake to, neither are they sunshine to grace your dawn.


I Want to Live Where II:


religion doesn’t breed walls

and enormity amidst inhabitants.


skin pigmentation is not a

yardstick of being, of value,


of bliss, of essence, of wit,

of impact, of sanity and sanctity.


compassion— a river of goodwill

flows with rage across the city,


for compassion no matter how little is pivotal

in keeping this moribund world breathing.


natives wake up every morning 

with winsome smile on their faces,


highly inebriated on the wine of motivation

to dream beyond the clouds, not with sigh,


not with hiss, nor a face laden with

remorse, you know every night here,


we pray to God to make dawn

to our souls an unattainable feat.


Abdulmueed Balogun is a Nigerian poet & and undergrad at the University of Ibadan. He is a 2021 HUES Foundation Scholar and a poetry editor at The Global Youth Review. He was longlisted for the 2021 Ebarcce Prize, a finalist for the 2021 Wingless Dreamer Book of Black Poetry Contest, and won the 2021 Annual Kreative Diadem Poetry Contest. His works are forthcoming in Avalon Literary Review, The Night Heron Barks Review, ROOM, Watershed Review, Bowery Gothic, Subnivean Magazine, Jmww Journal, Active Muse and elsewhere. His writiting is anthologized in: Fevers of Mind (Poets of 2020), Words for the Earth, 2021 Cathalbui Poetry Competition Selected Entries and elsewhere. He tweets from https://twitter.com/AbdmueedA and can be found on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/balogun_abdmueed/

I

I never asked you for her name.

II

She tapped red heels under the red hem of a white habesha

kemis[i] while you shrugged cap and gown over T-shirt and

jeans and my mother said on the phone if we’d made it

to America it would have been the same, have you seen

what your brother wears even if I’m dressed to the nines.

Not ten minutes after we sat down to full plates

your mother approached with the dishes from the table,

dealing fresh servings, expression unswerving mirroring

my grandmother at every meal; I asked the friend beside me

for the Amharic phrase I’ve had enough food and he told me

there wasn’t one as your mother leaned in. Your eyes

in her face, amber spiced with kohl, the spoon heaped

with kitfo, added to everything already on my plate,

and I spoke the one word I’d rehearsed well enough to say,

amasegenalehu[ii]

and watched her light up. I cleaned my plate

in the absolute absence of language to tell her

I enjoyed the food; the friend beside me whispered

you passed with flying colors.

III

The gown I chose for graduation wrapped me from knuckles to toes, gold trim

on black polyester expensive enough to mimic silk, upsetting my mother

who still believed me too little to wear black.

Crossing the stage, diploma in hand, sole flapping loose from the plastic heels

my mother shipped to me for thirty dollars more than what they cost,

lipstickless mouth unmasked for the livestream

my parents were watching nine thousand miles away,

I met the eyes of your kinswomen in the crowd,

learning for the first time how to speak my name.

IV

When we left that night you bid each relative goodbye;

I waved to them from across the room.

But your mother took me by the arms and I wanted to believe

she saw then what my mother would have seen,

her eyes warm like the Ceylon cinnamon

my mother sent for you across the oceans

as I said amasegenalehu, desperately, amasegenalehu

because it was all I had to give, because I had no words to say

the man you raised saved my life, but he will never meet my mother.

You passed me a Target bag as your uncle drove us home,

saying inflectionless my mother gave me this to give to you.

Inside, a netela[iii], white patterned with red,

lighter than battlefield gauze, fleeting like Ras Dashen mist,

scented like sunlight and spice markets.

I packed it into my carry-on wrapped in the hoodie

you once gave me with even less explanation.

My mother says if we’d been there

I would have brought gifts for your friends too.

V

The night your mother drove into town

we were sitting on the football field six feet away

from a trampled carton of nachos. The crowd rushed the stage

and you were hyperalert and drowsing by turns and didn’t ask me

to stay or leave, so I stayed; I watched your profile

for as long as I dared

every time you shut your eyes.

Then your mother insisted she was stopping by

and I walked you home for the first and last time,

gritting my teeth to keep from grasping your elbow

as you stumbled into potholes. 

You said you know I live four minutes from you

and I said don’t make me tell a woman whose name I don’t know

you were run over while crossing the road

because I let you walk home alone.

I left you in the fluorescent glow

of your porch and walked home through the park I haunted

when it hadn’t been long enough between visits to call you;

the traffic lights were red at the corner

but I crossed over anyway.


[i] Traditional Ethiopian formal garment.

[ii] Thank you.

[iii] Traditional Ethiopian shawl.


Lalini Shanela Ranaraja is a multi-genre creative from Kandy, Sri Lanka. She holds a BA in Anthropology and Creative Writing from Augustana College in Illinois, USA. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Entropy, Off Assignment, Random Sample, Sky Island Journal, Transition, Uncanny Magazine, and elsewhere. Discover more of her work at https://www.shanelaranaraja.com/

Jaiminho, the son of Dr. Carlos Tati, wished to have a talk with his father but was unsuccessful.

            Dr. Carlos Tati was an anthropologist, educated in Kinshasa, at least according to his calling card. The card was a bit problematic because the name that appeared right in the center was “Doctor Carlos Tati,” which, at first glance, might mean that his name was Doctor. But that was a naïve reading that those who had known him for some time seldom made since they would never call him by the supposed name, but just Carlos or Tati.

            Besides the name, Dr. Carlos Tati’s card also mentioned his profession– anthropologist–and included a supreme innovation, a color photo in which he appeared wearing a striped brown coat, yellow tie, and a green handkerchief with black polka dots. If color photography had never been invented, I don’t know what would become of Dr. Tati.

            Dr. Carlos Tati was so effusive and imperious that his son couldn’t look him in the eye, much less speak to him. His father’s phrases, always delivered in a tone of absolutism and superiority, fell on his head like huge stones that devastated him in such a way that he always felt crushed, squashed, flattened to ground level. A worm. Worse, a useless insect, because worms at least possess some potential for menace, which obliges and legitimizes their destruction. Jaiminho, on the contrary, felt like a nullity, a zero to the left, a nothing.

            Actually, he was a sensitive youth full of doubts. It can be said that, in theory, all young people are like that, but in the time period when this story took place it was inadvisable to be so. It was a complex era, one in which young people had to be tough, self-confident, and decisive since the examples they received from earlier generations were not exactly edifying. Therefore, the young people of his time killed, stole, and fornicated from a young age. (I read somewhere I don’t recall that these constitute the three vital functions of human beings in times of crisis). Thus, Jaiminho felt like a true stranger in the nest.

            He would have liked to talk with his father about it. But the mere thought paralyzed him with fear.

            Before we explain Jaiminho’s terror — if the diffuse fear he experienced is even explainable — it is worthwhile for us to know, briefly and succinctly, some of the theories defended by Dr. Carlos Tati regarding the future of Angola as a nation.

            The anthropologist was an obdurate defender of the Bantu underpinnings of Angola. He even argued that they were the only ones that must be considered. He used the verb “must” with complete naturalness, a dangerous symptom, as anthropological realities are not formulated by decree. But I say this protected by my position as narrator. Jaiminho experienced a slight but particularly incisive shock when his father made such statements.

            “We are a Bantu nation and that’s all there is to it! The rest is nonsense…”

            Dr. Carlos Tati was also a champion of the ancestral Angolan nations. One day he had a major confrontation during a television debate with a journalist who liked to call himself an intellectual. This man reminded Dr. Tati that those ancestral nations — which, he said, were not yet “Angola” — no longer existed. The journalist quoted an Italian statesman who, it seems, said at the beginning of the twentieth century: “We have created Italy; now we must create Italians.” To the journalist, that is what must be done in Angola.

            That day, Dr. Carlos Tati arrived home especially upset. Jaiminho heard him say, as he paced about the house: “We need an Idi Amin… We need an Idi Amin…”

            His son opted not to comment with him on the television debate. He chose, rather, to retreat to his room and read a strange book.

             Another theory of Dr. Carlos Tati’s was that there is an intrinsic relationship between individuals’ names and their identity. He railed against the fact that many parents gave their children Portuguese and, above all, Brazilian names like Ana Cristina, Vera Lúcia or Rita de Cássia. In the same way, he detested supposedly revolutionary names, like Marx, Fidel, Nkrumah, or Mandela, not to mention Eastern European names, revolutionary or not, like Natasha or Svetlana.

            “People with those names cannot be Angolan… Shit! Why don’t those parents give their children authentic Bantu names?!…”

            Yes, I have noted that Doctor Tati’s first name is Carlos. And that his son is named Jaiminho. What’s the problem? As I have said over and over, human beings are complex and inherently contradictory. Besides which, if literature is not for explaining something, it is much less for understanding anything.

            Jaiminho’s father spoke fastidiously correct Portuguese in the style of Coimbra — which was in fact his native tongue — and Lingala, a creole language he had learned in  former Zaire. He barely spoke Kikongo, the country’s mother tongue. However, he accused Portuguese of being the “language of the colonizer” and defended the urgent prioritizing of the African “national languages” spoken in Angola. This was another of the theories that he considered essential for the future of the nation.

            When the President, in a speech that became famous, classified those languages as “regional” given their limited range, Dr. Carlos Tati almost had a stroke. Days later, he wrote an article asking if the president was crazy or merely misinformed. Nothing happened to him, which proves that the absence of democracy in Angola is, as said by supporters of the government, “a maneuver of imperialism.”

            All these assertions were expounded by Dr. Carlos Tati with such vehemence that his son Jaiminho knew it was practically suicidal to disagree with him. His father’s personality was omnipresent and omnipotent, to the point that it not only smothered, but annihilated him.

            Jaiminho was incapable of having with him the special conversation that he sheltered in his fragile and seamless heart. Every day, his doubts grew.

            He was Dr. Carlos Tati’s youngest son, the only one who lived with him. His father was on his third marriage, to the secretary of his department at the university. She was a young woman from Huíla, a descendant of the Cuanhamas, slender and well-spoken, and Jaiminho’s mother. Dr. Carlos Tati had three other children from two previous relationships, all of whom lived with their mothers. In addition to Portuguese, Jaiminho’s mother spoke fluent Cuanhama, her native tongue, and Nyaneka-Humbi, the language of the Huíla region. All that diversity irritated her husband, who one day expressly forbade speaking other languages in the house.

            “Portuguese is the only truly Angolan language — because all of us at least understand it!” he said, quickly adding, “How am I supposed to understand what you say in those bizarre languages?”

            The truth, however, is that Jaiminho had an almost inborn difficulty in dealing with hypocrisy. His father’s position mortified him.

            He was a sensitive youth with no known friends who spent most of his time at home reading strange books he showed no one and listening silently to what was called “foreign music” by Dr. Carlos Tati. Tati’s musical knowledge was limited to the songs of Urbano de Castro, a popular Angolan singer of the 1970s who plagiarized from old Latin American merengues. Ray Charles, Jacques Brel, Patxi Andión and other musical preferences of his son were for him more cryptic than the languages his wife insisted on speaking at home, especially when she received family members from what he called “the backwoods.” Jaiminho had become acquainted with that music through the writer Freddy da Cunha, and he listened to it mystically in his room at night. He had an inexplicable admiration for da Cunha, who he had approached at one of the frequent activities of the Union of Angolan Writers.

            Before independence, the writer had studied abroad. And it was overseas, alongside influential authors, that he learned to know and love this kind of music. . When Jaiminho, who was twenty years younger then he, approached him and spoke of his literary trials, Freddy da Cunha lent him books by Mayakovski, Eluard, Neruda, Lorca, and Guillén, saying:

            “You have to read, young man, read a lot… To be a writer it’s necessary to read a lot…”

            Later, upon returning from a trip to participate in an international literary symposium, he brought back for Jaiminho a package of blues, jazz, and protest music. In his view, Jaiminho needed to increase his general culture, without which he could never be a writer.

            “Have you ever thought of spending some time outside the country, for example, to study?” he asked.

            Jaiminho made the writer his master, albeit secretly, as not even Freddy da Cunha had any notion of it. There was one aspect of the writer’s personality that Jaiminho had trouble accepting: Freddy da Cunha was a womanizer. Without his knowing why, that saddened him.

            Dr. Carlos Tati never met the writer. He didn’t know whether he was Black, White, or mulatto. He was unlike those Angolan legislators, who years back had made the strategic decision to include “race” on ID cards. That was why, when Jaiminho arrived home with the jazz records given him by Freddy da Cunha, his father didn’t hesitate to let escape that surprisingly original and creative phrase:

            “Jazz is mulatto music!”

            Jaiminho paid no attention.

            The truth is that by then Jaiminho had completely given up the idea of talking with his father.

            His dilemma was now a different one: did he want to be a writer or a musician?

            His attempts to transform into literature his doubts, anguish, desires, and plans had turned out to be a total failure. Freddy da Cunha’s hints seemed more and more useless to him. Besides that, he couldn’t help remembering that the writer was an inveterate womanizer.

            Maybe his path was music. He didn’t want to dedicate himself to jazz, despite his continuing to listen to it every night. When he was more depressed than usual, he wanted to make protest music. The problem was: protest against what? And how?

            He felt he harbored a repressed scream in the depths of his soul. But finding out the nature of that scream anguished him profoundly.

            In addition, how could he communicate it at that unique and special moment so that everyone might hear and come to respect him the way he would like to be respected, with his desires and choices? His father, Dr. Carlos Tati, would die from displeasure.

            Jaiminho found out what to do the day the anthropologist brought home a newspaper whose front page dealt with homosexuality in Luanda. His father was painfully peremptory:

            “Jaime, take a look at this shit… Queers in Angola? Where are we heading? This is contrary to our culture! Homosexuality isn’t part of Bantu civilizations! It has to be the influence of those gringos in the United Nations, those NGOs, those consultants who run around corrupting Angolan youth!… Or else TV Globo… The petty bourgeoisie in Angola spend all their time watching Globo soap operas… Angola is truly lost! Homosexuality is the direct manifestation of the roots of evil. If I had a son who took it in the butt, I’d beat him to death!…”

            The next day, Jaiminho left home, leaving just a note asking his father not to come looking for him and above all not to worry about him anymore.


(Translated by Cliff E. Landers)


JOÃO MELO, born in 1955 in Luanda, Angola, is an author, journalist, and communication consultant. Founder of the Angolan Writer´s Association, and of the Angolan Academy of Literature and Social Science, he currently, splits his time between Luanda, Lisbon and Houston, Texas. His works include poetry, short stories, articles and essays that have been published in Angola, Portugal, Brazil, Italy, and Cuba. A number of his writings have been translated into English, French, German, Arabic, and Chinese. He was awarded the 2009 Angola Arts and Culture National Prize in literature category.

1.

the General Muir

pulls into harbor

New York looks gray

2.

we don’t speak English

the taxi driver takes us

to the wrong town

3.

the teacher

gives me a new name

which I hate

4. 

the big girl upstairs

makes me go to a factory

and walk a plank

5.

my sister sleeps

with my grandmother

who snores

6.

I sleep shifts

with mom

and dad

7.

the electric wires

catch fire

my dad can’t put them out.

8.

a train goes past

we go really close

to feel the breeze

9.

we eat concord grapes

slippery but free

fruit-pickers pension

10.

I can’t go to Frankenstein

at the drive in

too many people faint

11.

My dad says he’s bought

a television

but it’s only a big radio

12.

we see fish in the ditch

but not the kind

you can eat

13.

at the A&P they stare

because we talk so loud

14.

my mother sews nights

at the Jolly Kid clothes factory

15.

I start to translate

the world

into English.


Citizenship Ceremony

We take the ferry to Put-in-Bay,

I’ve worn slacks despite the official form

instructing women to wear skirts.

The babies try to hang on the edges of the boat.

The mothers pull them back at the last moment.

We all watch the spray.


I sit in a row to hear the sound of patriotism,

although the military planes are late taking off,

so we have to imagine them

encouraging us with their potential of bombs.

I will swear now to have nothing more to do with “foreign potentates,”

as will the women from Nigeria,

the couple from Mexico,

the Pakistani man.


Afterwards a woman from Germany runs up

to talk in that language

and I try to tell her I’m not really German.

But she still follows me up the lighthouse steps

to see the lake stretched out before us.


Later we dip our feet in the water,

buy some ice cream,

and I swear to myself

that I am not what they tell me.

And what, really, is a potentate?



Mississippi

I don’t know how

they ended up picking cotton

in Mississippi,

but they did.


My immigrant grandparents,

post WWII refugees,

lived for two years among scorpions

on a failed plantation.


It must have felt like serfdom again.

Their homestead abandoned,

only a cow left behind

and a stepmother.


Stepping into these shoes,

this land of promise,

must have been a shock.


Democracy’s promise

on hold,

my grandfather already seventy,

leaving behind his telephone,

the very first in the neighborhood.


Leaving his language,

never to pass beyond “Hello,”

not even memorizing “I don’t understand,”

he smiled into his tobacco pipe.


And he made us all close our eyes

when he chopped the heads

from the chickens.


Skaidrite Stelzer is a citizen of the world whose poetry has appeared in Glass, Struggle, The Baltimore Review, Storm Cellar, and other journals. Her chapbook, Digging a Moose from the Snow, is recently published by Finishing Line Press. She enjoys watching cloud shapes.

Decolonial Passage is honored to announce the nominations for next year’s Best Small Fictions Anthology.  This list includes writing published from January to November 2021.  Congratulations to the nominees!

Flash Fiction

“The Road” by Ekow Manuar

Prose Poetry

“The Aging Colossus” by T. Francis Curran

“Ode to Newark” by Keishla Rivera-Lopez

Where I am from, we count nights and not days

by day, we become one with the forest to evade bullets

and by night we search for the biggest holes to conceal our bodies.

I have perfected my sense of hearing;

I can detect an enemy by the sound of his heartbeat

It is my sense of smell that has become skewed

Everything now smells rotten to me

Even a clear cup of tea smells like a pig’s urine.


Where I am from, cocks don’t crow at dawn.

Hyenas and Vultures have lost appetite for flesh

Even the fishes in our rivers now know the taste of blood.

Here, the purpose of food is to allow us to see another night.

I have completely forgotten how to mold a smile

The last time I heard somebody laugh was in my dream

Even though I only dream of mad people and dead bodies.

Here, people prefer becoming ghosts to enduring another night


Where I am from, regret is only evident when an enemy evades an attack

Increasing enemy body count means an elevation in rank.

Here, love kills faster than a stray bullet and kindness exposes one’s weaknesses

In camp, we received a new baptism with a new set of commandments

For example, an enemy remains an enemy, even without a reason why,

A true comrade is immune to feelings and reason.

Orders must be obeyed first before thinking.

Only the weak and faint-hearted calculate their actions.


Where I am going, the moon still rises and the sun still shines

Leaves are still green and the skies still blue

Ants still dig and termites still chew

The wind still blows without boundaries.

The treasure I value most are memories of the world before now

When life had meaning and snails crawled faster than Death

My thoughts are where I plant viable seeds of hope

Knowing that the darkest nights expose the brightest stars.


Christian Emecheta is a Nigerian, a 2019 Baobab Literary Awards recipient, a 2015 Nokia Lumia Short Story Contest winner, and a 2015 Mastercard Short Story Contest winner. He has other honorary mentions to his name, even though he is still an emerging writer. With strokes of ink, he tells stories about life experiences. His poems can be read in The Opendoor Magazine May issue 2021, Nigerian Students Poetry Prize Anthology Series 2019 and 2020, and via the British Council International Writing Competition 2014, to name a few. He can be found at https://mbasic.facebook.com/emechetac.

Decolonial Passage is honored to announce the nominations for next year’s Pushcart Prize Anthology.  This list includes writing published from January to November 2021.  Congratulations to the nominees!

Fiction

“In the Land of Queen Elizabeth’s Head” by Foday Mannah

“The Road” by Ekow Manuar

Poetry

“This is the Drum” by Andrew Geoffrey Kwabena Moss

“Billie Holiday’s Deathbed” by Sean Murphy

“Dealing with the unnatural heat” by Osahon Oka

“How Do I Abandon the City” by Kunle Okesipe

In case of fire

this poem is flame-resistant.

Place the cloth it is printed on

over your smoking kitchen pan.

For best results, turn off the burner.

If larger sizes are needed, see

elsewhere in our catalog, items FL-51 to 62.


In case of spills

this poem is absorbent.

Tear one or more squares from the roll,

using additional towels as required

to disinfect countertops, after you have dried them.

If censored texts are needed, see

elsewhere in our catalog, items PC-44 to 93.


In case of capture

this poem is reversible.

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o wrote a novel

on sheets of prison toilet paper.

The blank side of this page

is suitable for ink, or similar markers.

Improvise as needed,

and good luck to you.


K Roberts is a professional non-fiction writer and artist who explores themes of memory and identity in mixed media images. Recent work has been featured in Pensive: A Global Journal of Poetry and the Arts, and in Gyroscope Review.

There,

At the anteroom of heaven,

The land of the Free,

The wealthy kingdom beyond those mountains afar

May the eyes that see you want you

May they smile in adoration –

By how handsome a soul you are.


And when you dine with the royals

In your new home

Forget not your bond,

Your roots

The seasons we looked –

To the stars for bread.


At heaven’s anteroom

The home of the Free

Never forget –

Whose you are

Our little Princess.


The Sojourner

In search of happiness

I leap for the great heavens

A home for the haves and have-nots

Where, the mind rests from all troubles.


In search of hope

I must conquer the frigidness of my own kind

Do battle with the desert demons

Though my feet buckle

And my vision wobbles

Though a great length to endure

Onwards, I pursue.


In search of liberty

Wild as the earth’s expanse

To walk the glowing streets

Where opportunities appease like a freewill offering

Forsake all my present evil, I must

For ten thousand miles I cannot tell.


In search of my treasures therefore

Let me conquer these borders, I pray

Though fenced by sturdy tongues

Nothing must impair the call

“Yes! Sweet Paradise”

Onwards I go, the place of rest.


Akinmayowa Adedoyin Shobo is a graduate in the field of life sciences. He is inspired by various genres of literature, music, history and science. He divides his time between being a public health researcher and volunteering for community development projects. He writes on several platforms, including book
projects, blogs, and magazines. He lives in Lagos, Nigeria. He can be found at https://www.facebook.com/shobo.mayowa, https://www.linkedin.com/in/mayowa-shobo-42601aa7/, and https://www.instagram.com/frankly_dedoyin/