Poetry

song for mashombela

but I want to drink/ from mphahlele’s/well of knowledge/tiptoe/behind the immortal lamps/of biko & sankara

How to Love Your Hair

When my dad delivered me/The first thing he saw/Was a thicket of black hair/Sticking out straight and wet/Like fur on a freshly licked kitten/It took a few months to curl into itself.

At Monticello

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

Howlin’ Wolf’s Harp

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);

Southern Report From Amy Jacques Garvey

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.

Climbing Walls

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.

Domino Effect

Tami Sawyer/Made loud, sufficient noise/In her hometown of Memphis/In marshalling together youth & elders/In removing the toxicity of ages.

Certify This Land

Tell me protest fields will halt to morph into abattoirs every time/we demand for a sunny life, for a right to inhale and exhale, every night we want to resurrect strangled justice from its grave.

Netela

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

Coming to America

we don’t speak English/the taxi driver takes us/to the wrong town/the teacher/gives me a new name/which I hate

Where I Am From

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.

In Case of Fire

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.

At Heaven’s Anteroom

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.

Seeing Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez

103 degrees became a ticket for transfer/to Westlaco Border Patrol Station/a concrete block bench for a bed/thin mylar sheet for a blanket

Where did you come?

U come from/That flesh? Of which?/The one that mirrors your hue/Or, the one whose darkness seeps through?/Those wires that make up your being/are gradient sand particles aligned to the composure of one.

I Cry with the Sea

Every now and then I see her looking down at the waves/Their dance invoking memories/Warm days under African sun/when life was free.

The Aging Colossus

Cast your lantern in the darkened corners where injustice lives and where blindness-feigning Justice lies. Where children are stopped, searched, cuffed, assaulted, detained.

Pretty

Pretty comes in all shades of black.

Black Girl With A Book

You’re smitten, with her sage-like words and intellectual prose/Yet you pretend, to be unimpressed, and upend, her, turning up your nose/But you cannot offend her, you’re threatened by her, and…she…knows

Between the Bars

Malcolm X said:/America means prison/For me too, O/My brother/America means prison

Yellow Comedy: a Parallel Poem

People call me yellow jack/Some hailed me as a yellow dog/When I yelped on my yellow legs/To flee from the yellow flu

This is the Drum

This is the drum that recovered myriad times/made of Cordia africana, stretched/over space, time and land, repaired/in Amerindian antelope and/deer skin, to begin again, uniting/the Akan, Virginian, Taino, and Carib.

How Do I Abandon the City?

How do I abandon the skeletons buried in my hipbone?/Pick my cells of wilful chromosomes/or chase the rascally child of my wandering to/the den of a famished road?

Styx

The cross is del otro lado, on the northern/side of the forbidden river/Gracias a Dios – it could be saying – /thank you, sweet Virgin, Virgencita/de Guadalupe, here we set our feet/on firm land again.

The mythical bridge

We are the first ones/Who went to Kemet/From the Kingdom of Kush/Without offending our ancestors

I Didn’t Know

I didn’t know/I’d be used to create a fractured dynasty/with no connection/to the land I left

Diaspora

Whenever they’d rise up from there/Jim Crow would beat them down again./Lesson learned; the law is not your friend.

She Presented the Governor of the Colored Department a Watermelon

It may be imagined that Harriet stayed close/to her roots – remaining in the state of Georgia/after gaining freedom. Yet her quilting patterns/illustrate past family in Benin, West Africa.

Indo-Caribbean

Like many/I do not know where in South Asia my ancestors were taken from generations ago/While much was lost in the pages of history/a steady thread that connects me remains

Returning to my mother’s eyes

I would return almost three decades later/to a corner supermarket – my mother’s room/A Telkom telephone booth/hangs outside the walls that contained her childhood.

Ode to Newark

Never would I imagine Newark to be a tourist destination or a dwelling for New Yorkers to squat at for cheaper rents.

What You Left Behind

It cut across your vein that ‘Black Life/Matters’ you didn’t say it because you know/The future, that you are African/That you are the future.

Stolen from Africa

We run to and fro in frenzy/like violent waters in a broad river/We bump into each other/like sand particles in a whirlwind.

Jamaican Holiday, 2006

Dance my sister/Dance my spirit round your bones/Break the illiterate silence and contorted sterility of/My 21st century over-Americanized ethnicity, Sister.

Walking the Rain

Doors are rotten mouths/they shout in wooden frames, “Get out/you don’t fit here, what’s a sunny/old girl like you doing in these parts?”

Aborted Dreams

When cries/Sprinkled on the feet of tyrants/They were swept away/When bones sailed the Atlantic/Dreams drowned/Into the womb of the sea

Colonial Noose

what is a necktie if not a symbol/of white male domination/and decades of cultural oppression?/amid diminishing colonial powers/the archaic rules remain/codified in the house of parliament

Nubian Queen

Standing in front of the gold feline pendant/I recalled one of my previous incarnations./The jewelry had belonged to me/and now it was on display in the Museum of Fine Arts/where I and others stared at it.

Dealing with the unnatural heat

The sun/boiled the oranges into rust & the birds grew gills to swim/the heat. How many twirling fans died that year when we/gathered swollen leaves from sun baked drains? Even the/air conditioning breathed like a bloated river.

Speedy Gonzales

I remember in high school, explaining to friends/the racism of the cartoon, Speedy Gonzales. His/”arriba, arriba” grito just a Chicano shuck and jive./His campesino hat too big for even the sombrero dance.

Four Flights

They held such strength/I felt that I could fly/so I leapt/knowing the ripcord safety net belay were in place/Until they weren’t

Mofongo, A Sensory Memory

No matter the efforts of the/Spanish to erase the Boricuas/to whiten them via colonialism/mofongo, pasteles, and the/countless dishes are additions/to our culture and proof otherwise.

Billie Holiday’s Deathbed

Who are these men that know nothing/about the blues? Inspiring jinxed history/with officious ink–corrections bled red/outside the margins, ignored or overcome–/their shared voice, warning: Be more like me.

The Veil

Doña Maria is/the despenadora, the one who/takes care of the suffering./La que quita penas.


A Song for Grandmother: Daughters of Hoodoo

Can you see them/Those wide women/Wide like the earth/Dressed always in white/Ready soldiers of love

Once Was Black

Black shuns not in the respect of one another/It forgot the struggles of the previous generations./It isn’t unity anymore, everyone for yourself./Safe to say, once we were Black.

Bikowist Manifesto

Black man you are on your own/In your own unmarked unknown grave/In your own land you do not own/With your own hands you own but lend to owners

How John Coltrane Learned to Play Jazz

Most people don’t know that when John Coltrane wrote “A Love Supreme,”/All he had to do was stargaze.

The Sympathy Orchestra

Conduct yourself with vigilance;/play your own instrument;

commonwealth primer for the children of empire

commonwealth/common wealth/common weal/commonstealth/common steal

Control, prosecute, sanction

Xenophobia is naturalized,/rational,/no need for Le Pen,/Macron is in charge,/Darmanin is on the clock.