I didn’t know

when I saw the pale-skinned stranger

it was the end

of Everything


I didn’t know

I had already seen my mother’s belly

jelly with laughter

for the last time


I didn’t know

I’d never again feel the comforting thrum

of my father’s musical bass

as I lay next to his heart


I didn’t know

my friends and I would no longer chase and

play at the hunters

we thought we would become (We wouldn’t)


I didn’t know

I’d never again walk tall, strong and free

Instead, I shuffled, iron-yoked

on the long trek to the door of no return


I didn’t know

the terrible vastness of the endless sea

dwarfing the mighty river

where once I’d played


I didn’t know

a boat could be so huge and yet so narrow

a deadly prison

for my quivering form


I didn’t know

how much smaller I could squeeze my body

while failing to avoid the waste

of all those wasted lives


I didn’t know

I was now less – and more – than cattle

to be prodded, sold and branded

in the strangest of markets


I didn’t know

I’d lose the name I got from kings

to become someone

I barely recognized


I didn’t know

the legends that soothed my youth

would become whispered myths

reminding of what was lost


I didn’t know

I’d be used to create a fractured dynasty

with no connection

to the land I left


I didn’t know

I’d never see my home again

nor would my children

my children’s children

my children’s grandchildren’s grandchildren


If I had known

I would have stayed unseen

and fled that pale-skinned stranger

But I didn’t know


Sharon Hurley Hall (she/her) is an anti-racism activist, writer and educator. She is a British/Barbadian national committed to doing her part to eliminate racism one article at a time, and is the creator and publisher of an anti-racism newsletter. She is the author of Exploring Shadeism, an analysis of the colorism phenomenon in Barbados and the wider Caribbean, and co-produces and co-hosts The Introvert Sisters podcast. She won three Bronze awards for poetry in the 2019 NIFCA Literary Arts competition. She can be found at https://www.antiracismnewsletter.com/, https://sharonhh.com/, https://www.linkedin.com/in/sharonhh/, https://twitter.com/shurleyhall, and https://www.instagram.com/shurleyhall/.

We are the first ones

Who went to Kemet

From the Kingdom of Kush

Without offending our ancestors

For we were not alone

We met the Baka people

The first ones

Dark-skinned as we are

The Baka call us Kaka

For we have the same

Ancestors


Then we got in trouble

We fought wars

And called the Creator

Who said words

And became alligator

My bridge is my savior

For I will make

My genealogy after

I am safe


Then the white man

Came

They took me

And put me

In prison

My name

They threw away

My tongue

They forbade

But, for God’s sake

Mbock will bring me

Back home

For our journey

Will not stop here

We shall go back

To where we started


Kol ɛ loŋ

Mina bɛ ɛ bot ɛ mɛkɛn

Ná tɔ pɛ Kɛmɛt

Dus pɛ mɛkoozi ɛ Kus

Aa kal bɛtat

Aa tɔ mina met

Mina bela Ibayaka

Bot ɛ mɛkɛn

Bɛ na bhibhil bot

Daa mina bɛl


Baka djoo mina ɛ Kaka

Itɛɛ náá

Mina bɛ ɛ nɛ ikaka

Ngɔt


Wɔ bee mina bela mitɛp

Djoo Zɛɛb-Mɛkaake

Wɔ gwa nyɛ zɛ ke

Nyɛ zɛ liiza kol

Dhaar yam yɛ ɛ salaam

Mɛ ni ka baal

Dhaar bhis cikam


Wɔ bee mitaga

Zɛ ghɛɛ mɛ

Wa mɛ i mbok

Nɔɔ din ɛ lam

Mɔs

Nɔɔ ɛyɔŋ ɛ lam

Pɛɛ

Di náá

I gu ka náá, Mbock

Waa zyɛ zɛ bulal mɛ

Pɛ daa lam

Itɛɛ náá

Cyer yina

Aani sik wak

Mina aabula

Pɛ mɛkɛn


Peresch Aubham Edouhou was born in Makokou (Gabon) in 1993. He is a Bekwel, Kota and French speaker, who graduated in Letters (Portuguese-English) from Pelotas Federal University (UFPel) in 2019. He is currently enrolled in Rio Grande Federal University’s Master of Letters Program (Language Studies) in Brazil where he has been studying African languages and literatures.  He has been writing poems and traditional short stories in the vernacular — African languages. Among his poems in Bekwel language are “Dhaar” (“Genealogy”) and “Din yɛ ɛ Dis” (“Name is Eye”) in Jornal RelevO, and a short anthology of seven poems in Revista Njinga. He can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009123511450.

   From Susan Harbage Page’s  photograph “Laredo Riverbank With Cross.”

A cross in the act of falling apart,

one broken twig stuck upright in the dirt,

another across, its bark peeling off

like wounds on open arms,

one scrap of paper still attached,

words once written there

now bleached away.


A lonely riverbank,

and nothing but those two sticks

tied with a scavenged strip of plastic,

its soiled blue echoing

a glimpse of river water.

Other than that, the colors are muted

duns, yellows, no other sign of human life

except perhaps vanishing footsteps.


Perhaps other scraps were carried off

by wind, then water,

who knows how many they were,

what shreds of a family, what lone child

passed here and left this brief

devotional candle.


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.


But so often people plant a cross

by a road where someone was shot,

by a railroad where someone has fallen,

by a river where someone has drowned.


Enriqueta Carrington is a Mexican poet, literary translator, and mathematician. She received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts as a translator. Her translations into English include five poetry collections by authors from Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Israel. Her own poems in English and Spanish, as well as her translations, have appeared in Rattapallax, Blue Unicorn, 14 by 14, The New Formalist, The Society of Classical Poets Journal, Descant (Canada) and several other journals and anthologies. She is a member of the editorial committee of the poetry journal US1 Worksheets.

I

How do I leave the city of my umbilical cord,

at the sound of morning prayers, when the muezzin says the salat,

before the sun revisits my eyes under the eastern hangar of life?

An ending coming; I can feel its throb,

but my aorta does not tell me when the last trumpet will sound,

nor the path before me where the sinkhole lays its ambush.

How do I shut the last door and open a trade link with alien

            bays?

Or cross the year in the dinghies of future months

and step across the frontiers like seasonal egrets?

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?

How do I leave the city to its graffiti of slime,

flee its bugle of infant cry

and disappear in the fading line of distant guitar riff?

Freebies of beauties are waiting by the distant station

like a necklace of motley colours,

their heels like minted hoofs, their lipstick like the nude

            testimonies

of orange flowers that fall like leisurely hailstones.

How do I rein in the lust in my eyes?

How do I, like a miserly coffer, close my eyelids to let evil pass,

but miss the angel of love that is dreamed of?

How do I leave the housewife that has hennaed a rosebud on her lap,

the very one who awaits the daylight of my lover’s look-in,

although her voice chafes the field of my peace?

How do I pack my old feelings in a hencoop

and follow the wind to the mountain head?

II

There are so many people the city has hurt,

many leaving the darkness of the city on horseback for a foreign night,

in the absence of known skies, forging a galaxy with

            constellations of fireflies,

and trafficking a homeland in rucksacks and amnesiac songs.

A multitude camp under the brown awning of a season that

            never changes,

inventing a shift of weather with theatrics of wonders and

narratives of mimic clouds,

their aspiring vines wounded in the skirmishes of trellis.

There are many more emigrating into themselves,

like rains of anguish falling backwards to the sky,

or trees growing inwards, their leaves forgotten in the

alcove of their cells.

Many are disappearing from sight like roads that lose their way,

so many leaving their houses and entering the bitter metaphor

of a stranger’s poem,

to martyr a story already weak with tragic dénouement.

Why should I descend with them the stairs of exile without

            the luggage of my soul?

Why should I abandon the beauty under the winter of wrinkled years,

and leave a linear sadness for a joyous crossroads?


Kunle Okesipe currently teaches postcolonial literature at Igbinedion University, Nigeria. His adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s The Interpreters won an Association of Nigerian Authors Adaptation contest. He also won an ANA prize for his adaptation of Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God. His poetry has appeared in adda (Journal of Commonwealth Writers), Mediterranean Poetry, The Tiger Moth Review, Moonchild Magazine, The Lake, The Rush and others. He can be found at https://twitter.com/ogunnian, https://www.instagram.com/ogunnian/, and https://www.facebook.com/kunle.okesipe.

Women have an advantage when it comes to marriage migration. Do you agree?

This essay will take an intersectional approach, and examine the layers of difference present when terms such as women and advantage are used. The lived experience of migration confers different female bodies with different advantages, and advantage should be broadened to not simply mean ‘winning’, as marriage migration in the East Asian context is largely underpinned by normative traditions that encourage economic hypergamy. Within these processes, although it is important to recognise that the mobility of women is often predetermined by cultural pressure, and whether or not they have agency is unclear, an advantage is all the same present through the fact that men rarely are afforded the chance to marry up.

I will use the movements between Filipina women migrating to Japan for marriage as an example to present how narratives of abroad are constructed, the ways migration infrastructure benefits Filipina women, and the ways that life in Japan affords them the chance to accrue capital and engage in a cosmopolitan life. However, the importance of marriage brokers, and fees, as well as the visa and migration laws dictated by the receiving country contribute to the erosion of a belief in feminine agency or personal self-development for women who out-migrate, and in this strand, I argue against the idea that women have an advantage in this context. I will also look at how this process differs for Chinese women, and how on the grounds of shared cultural heritage, history and even language, they can ‘pass’ in Japan, and the ways in which the power of patriarchal norms and institutionalised forms of male supremacy dictate much of the migratory process, furthermore eroding a sense of advantage through the predefined asymmetry of conjugal power relations.

Firstly, I will discuss the need for an intersectional lens when examining the migratory patterns of women in East Asia. The process of marriage migration in East Asia channels Clark’s (2001) reinterpretation of Massey’s (1993) concept of “power geometry”. This idea supposes the relational aspect of migration processes and offers an analysis that bifurcates into senders, and receivers of migratory processes. Essential to this is the idea that men easily cross transnational borders, while (Chinese) women, are “more on the receiving end of mobility” (61). Considering this, one might quickly come to the assumption that men withhold much of the power that determines migration and mobility, but this approach seems to obfuscate the feminine agency in these processes.

Furthermore, the concepts of advantage, and also that of women in this question are quite expansive, and are highly multidimensional; advantages are ascribed differentially across regions and cultures, and women cannot be applied to East and Southeast Asia in the context of this question because it elides the added depth of classifiers such as class and ethnic identity. Different women experience differential levels of advantage in marriage migration, and Clark (2001) attests that the regional is of equal importance as the global when discussing marriage migration.

For Chinese women, marriage remains an unequivocal emblem of adulthood, and the pressure to marry is enshrined in the normative traditions of Chinese familism, which enforces a double standard of age where marriage concerned, as women become ‘unmarriageable’ much faster than men. Geographic proximity and a shared cultural heritage with Japan facilitate a certain kind of advantage which is absent in the case of Filipina women: Recognition of Kanji, intimate historicity, and fair skin all bestow upon Chinese women an innate capacity to ‘pass’ in Japanese society.

Filipina women on the other hand are conspicuous by their skin, and perhaps more likely to feel alienated. Yamaura (2015) tellingly notes of her interlocutors that they considered marriage to “Blacks” (kokujin), Puerto Ricans, Filipinas, or Vietnamese women simply unimaginable (1039), and Appadurai (1996) also notes the political power of ethnicity as a global force to navigate certain borders (306). Therefore, considering this question with an intersectional approach can unearth added layers of depth to these migration patterns. In the context of East Asia, many women who cross transnational borders for marriage are confronted with various intersections that either impede or enhance their mobility, in some cases, this affords them advantages not possible for certain bodies.

Nonetheless, it can still be considered advantageous because marriage hypergamy for men from low socioeconomic backgrounds is very rare. This of course is not to say that the vertices of institutional power that regulate the reproduction of such marriage patterns are not wholly patriarchal, but there is space to suggest that women have substantial agency to navigate the male-dominated terrain.

I will now draw attention to the interplay between Appadurai’s (1996) hypothesis on the deterritorialization of boundaries, which contributes to the construction of dynamic narratives of ‘abroad’ and ‘imagined worlds’, and how the entertainment visas (generally reserved for females) that Filipina women use to enter Japan can create safe, legal channels to marriage migration and settlement.

In her work on Filipina migrants in rural Japan, Faier (2008) discusses how the concept of love was applied and how women originally on entertainment visas in Japan sublimated the love required of them for their profession into allegedly genuine love. It’s difficult to say whether most of the women in her ethnography had previously planned to marry in Japan and this seems omitted from her work. Nevertheless, Piper (2008) also discusses the interconnectedness between marriage migration and economic migration, suggesting that “many women are originally economic migrants and partly because of the temporary contract nature of their visa and work permits, they seek marriage to a local man as a strategy to enable them to remain in the destination country in a legally secure manner” (1293). This seems to be somewhat in conflict with Faier’s (2008) work, which suggests that despite the possibility of special marriage visas, the Filipinas were truly in love and wanted to remain for that reason. In this context, Filipina women have a certain advantage because of the existing infrastructure that facilitates regular flows of entertainers between Japan and the Philippines, who are ordinarily female. Related to this, is the ways in which Filipinas construct an idealistic narrative about an imagined life in Japan based on our understanding of Appadurai’s (1996) mediascapes and ideoscapes.

Life in Japan is assumed to be a gateway to modernity, and many of Faier’s (2008) interlocutors also discuss the ways in which they perceived life in Japan would somehow make them seem more beautiful. Even though they begin as labour migrants, the work they engage in encourages them to regularly perform affective labour, which eventually seems to induce genuine feelings and emotional attachment to their clients, and in some special cases, this furnishes a path to marriage and settlement, which appears unavailable to the aforementioned Chinese marriage migrants. Therefore, the intersectionality of ethnicity confers differential advantages on marriage migrants.

Moreover, in this context, there are certain social stigmas and racial prejudices involved though, and Faier (2008) discusses the stigma associated with so-called ‘Japayuki’, which is a disparaging term for Filipina hostess workers, and mislabels them as sex workers. Considering ‘advantage’ once more, if we specifically examine the case of Filipinas and Japanese men, Faier (2008) suggests that through the act of professing love, Filipinas were able to “claim both globally translatable senses of modern personhood and a sense of humanity” (157), and moreover, this implies that this profession of love is perhaps a natural human response to the social stigma directed at these women.

In light of this, we can argue that in this case, marriage migration afforded these women certain socioeconomic advantages unknown to them beforehand. For example, the accumulation of social and cultural capital abroad, learning to navigate a new and challenging social atmosphere of a highly homogenous country, and furthermore, to construct a modern identity amidst this setting. Faier (2008) seems to corroborate this by suggesting that their work as hostesses allowed room to articulate identities as successful, desirable, and cosmopolitan women (154).

Here, I will discuss Suzuki Nobue’s (2005) ethnography on marriage migration between Japan and the Philippines, insofar as it displays the ways in which women possess a gendered advantage through hypergamy that is seldom experienced by men. It is clear that the remittance income women send home after marrying abroad can improve the socioeconomic conditions of one’s family. This is not only positive for the family unit as a whole, but also has the impact of reshuffling normative gender roles. Suzuki (2005) researched one such family, and found that after a Filipina girl had married a wealthy Japanese man, the girl latterly became the head of the family, as it was money remitted thanks to her husband that had transformed her family’s life. This is an unequivocal indication of the economic benefit that migration can bring to developing regions, but not only that, it can also prompt people to challenge social norms and institutionalised forms of patriarchy. Despite this, women’s advantages seem to be hemmed in by power inequalities, and sometimes women even ironically reproduce these inequalities themselves by becoming a dependent again.

Suzuki (2005) glosses over the implied breakdown of gender norms through this process, and instead focuses on the stark differentials of wealth between the Philippines and Japan. This once more seems to echo Piper’s (2008) suggestion that marriage migration and economic migration are inextricably linked, and perhaps even share a causal relationship. Women at times can find greater accessibility to economic status and resources through ‘up-marrying’, which can afford them much greater respect in sending communities. Despite this, Suzuki (2005) reveals that although the interviewee’s family life was much changed in the Philippines, her life in Japan was far from luxurious, and her personal income depended on her husband and what she earned as a cleaner. This echoes Sherry Ortner’s argument, that people exist within multiple social structures (local, regional, global etc.), and may have agency in one, but not in another. She did not feel that the exotic life her family envisaged her leading was a true representation of the reality of what she experienced in Japan. Although there are clear advantages and positives to draw on from this experience, this character constitutes a minority of women who marry someone willing to remit regularly.

This seems to allude to the definitive power of patriarchal institutions over women, in spite of their agency. This woman was able to make significant changes and improvements in her sending community, yet her own life seemed to plateau and ultimately depended on her husband. Piper (2008) synthesises this succinctly, arguing that migration is rarely a first choice for women, but rather a reflection of dynamic labour markets that continue to change across regions. Furthermore, such marriage migration processes are difficult to divorce from the idea that women migrants’ opportunities for personal socioeconomic empowerment are few and far between (1300).

There is also much to be said for the asymmetrical nature of power in the conjugal relations of those who participate in marriage migration. This idea that the male party approaches the arrangement from a position of privilege tends to skew the balance of power in their favour, and this suggests that men in fact are much more in control of this process. This is emblematic of the commoditisation of feminine bodies, and marriage its final price. The at times convoluted mechanisms that govern marriage migration seem to relegate feminine agency to sexualised markets, reducing women’s capacity to be independent and construct modern identities to masculinist body politics that equate women with economic transactions. Chia-Wen Lu (2005) points out that “commercially arranged marriages turn women and marriages into commodities, placing women in vulnerable and exploitative situations” (276). Her argument underlines this patriarchal nature of marriage migration, and asserts the deflation of feminine agency in the process of migration in Taiwan.

Furthermore, Wilson (1982) also discusses the marketisation of feminine bodies, especially Filipina bodies, that are essentially sold to American men as exotic, oriental beauties. In Wilson’s (1982) argument, the asymmetrical nature of power is again evoked, in the sense that Asians must communicate their identity and personality with Americans in fractured English, and play on obsolete stereotyped roles and notions of womanhood to ultimately be chosen by Americans abroad. Clark (2001) also seems to agree with this, suggesting that in marriage introduction processes, “women are positioned passively, as it is men overseas who initiate courtship through their positionality of privilege and movement” (121).

Yamaura (2015) additionally points out the preferential treatment of males in marriage migration brokering between Japan and Liaoning Province in China, mentioning that Chinese women were not allowed to freely choose the men they wished to meet, or access the men’s profiles (1034). In this context however, the idea of ‘passing’ served to placate Japanese men’s fears about brides who were not Japanese enough. She argues that “Japaneseness was a norm to which the brides were expected to aspire, enabled by the precondition of visual passability” (1043). In this sense, this is perhaps an advantage that Chinese women have over other Asian women, owing to their shared history and culture with Japan, and similar phenotypes. Such advantages could not easily be applied to other Asian women considering brokering a marriage with a Japanese man and this invokes the aforementioned idea of Clark’s (2001) that regional is equally significant to global.

Despite this, it is difficult to say what advantage this truly constitutes on a macro scale, as it seems to hark back to body politics and the sexualisation of markets. It is interesting to also consider the concept of ‘passing’ as it also relates to transgender bodies who attempt to ‘pass’ in daily life too. Considering this, there is also a sense that Chinese women in Japan trying to ‘pass’ experienced a similar need to conceal a former identity in order to fully realise the new one, except in this scenario, the concept of ‘passing’ was imposed upon them by Japanese men. This evokes the inescapable power of patriarchal desires over feminine needs, in spite of this, Clark (2001) maintains that for Chinese women, foreign marriage remains a secure means of social and economic mobility worth having to reinvent oneself for (121).

In conclusion, it appears clear that this question implies a need for far-reaching and extensive research to fully be understood, as the multitude of angles from which it can be tackled unveil layer upon layer of difference. Underlying marriage migration is this idea of the geographics of power, and the differentials in mobility and agency between sending and receiving communities. In many of these processes, women fall beneath the male vertex of institutional power and remain on the receiving end of migratory decisions. I have proposed that channelling Kimberlé Crenshaw’s notion of intersectionality is beneficial to unearthing and grasping the layers of depth implicit in this question, and that primarily ethnicity should be considered important when evaluating the differentials of advantage conveyed upon various women. Chinese women and Filipina women both experience a different version of marriage migration when crossing the border into Japan, and both are impelled there by distinct factors.

In the case of Chinese women, I have shown that a shared cultural heritage with Japan, as well as their similar phenotype, they are more able to pass in Japan, yet the fact remains that the catalysts pushing them to Japan are entwined in patriarchal Chinese culture. For Filipina women, their darker skin and unfamiliarity with Kanji are factors that make them more conspicuous in Japanese society, making Japanese men hesitant about marrying them. However, existing infrastructure provides channels for them to successfully up-marry and resettle in Japan, and furthermore, provides fertile soil for the acquisition of various forms of capital through navigating foreign territories, learning to deal with social stigma, and attempting to construct cosmopolitan identities.

Others, though perhaps minorities, also have shown that some women can inspire huge socioeconomic improvements in their home communities, and even find themselves situated at the head of the family through the economic power marriage hypergamy affords them. Despite all of this, the patriarchal presence encountered in much of these migratory patterns is difficult to ignore, and at times it seems that men are ultimately in control of much of women’s agency and decision-making.

Bibliography

Piper, Nicola (2008), “Feminisation of Migration and the Social Dimensions of Development: the Asian case.”, Third World Quarterly29, No. 7: 1287-1303

Wilson, Ara (1982), ‘American catalogues of Asian brides.” In Anthropology for the Nineties: Introductory Readings. Johnnetta B. Cole, ed. The Free Press

Chia-Wen Lu, Melody (2005), “Commercially Arranged Marriage Migration: Case Studies of Cross-border Marriages in Taiwan”, Indian Journal of Gender Studies, 12: 275

Clark, Constance D. (2001), “‘‘Tradition,’’ and the Politics of Border Crossings”, China Urban: Ethnographies of Contemporary Culture: 104-122

Yamaura, Chigusa (2015), “Marrying Transnational, Desiring Local: Making” Marriageable Others” in Japanese–Chinese Cross-border Matchmaking”, Anthropological Quarterly: 1029-1058

Suzuki, Nobue (2005), “Tripartite Desires: Filipina-Japanese Marriages and Fantasies of Transnational Traversal”, In Cross-Border Marriages: 124-144

Faier, Libra (2008), “Filipina migrants in rural Japan and their professions of love”, American Ethnologist, Vol. 34. No. 1: 148-162


Tommy Gough is a recent Oxford graduate with an MSc in Contemporary Chinese Studies. In the past, he has worked in editorial and publishing roles both in China and the UK. Since graduating, his gaze has shifted towards the completion of his debut novel — a fantasy epic replete with spells, monsters, and eccentric wizards that also explores the complexities of a mixed-race identity and growing up queer in a religious family. In addition to this, Tommy writes regularly on Medium for a variety of publications, with a focus on racial and LGBTQ+ topics and develops his plant-based Instagram food account.

In sixth grade, I wrote a poem for a school assignment mourning the violence of the Iraq War, simply entitled “War.” My teacher gave me a low score, one of the few grades I remember from elementary school. He said, “it doesn’t speak to your life.” From his perspective, what could a child in America have understood about war?

To many, war exists only in striking images — explosions, dismembered children in hospitals, bombed-out towns. And in numbers — a running count of the thousands killed and displaced flicking across the bottom of the television screen or bolded in the headlines of the morning paper. There’s a raw physicality and gore that is captivating and instantaneous, but it remains contained and far away.

What you may not know is that war is also a state of mind. It’s not as gruesome or as bloody as the physical reality. It’s an omnipresent feeling that you can sense like a mood in a room. It’s an overwhelming subtleness. It’s an emotional repertoire. It’s the tinted lens through which some of us view the world. War still lives in my dad, whose country of Eritrea, in the Horn of Africa, was locked in a thirty-year struggle for independence from its older sibling nation of Ethiopia. Five of my aunts and uncles fought in that war.  Another fled. One of my uncles was swallowed by it years before I was born. While I’ll never understand the firsthand experience of war, I am a first-generation child of war; and I know something about what I call the war mindset.

Growing up, my dad liked to ask a question to tell a humorless joke. “What is the difference between us and a homeless person? One paycheck.” From him, I learned a single interruption could decimate our middle-class American dreams, the bootstraps that we pulled ourselves up by, the ones we hang onto for our lives. Everything in life is precarious is the first lesson of the war mindset. A thin membrane separates the quotidian from calamity, and even as a child, I had a lurking awareness this could be ruptured. I feared the car accident on a parent’s commute, the riptide sweeping my sister away, and the ordinary tragedy of a friend moving away. The loss was always of others — it’s less painful to be the one lost than to lose. That’s the second lesson of the war mindset.

My dad was born of two farmers, who later became metal workers, in Eritrea’s charmed colonial capital, Asmara. With its modernist architecture, sputtering VW bugs, and proclaimed cosmopolitanism, Asmara has long been a symbol of the Eritrean nation. A guardian angel offered my dad a one-year graduate scholarship to study in Chicago in the 1970s. While he was abroad, the fissure between Eritrea and Ethiopia began to widen — the start of the rupture that led to Eritrea’s bloody breakaway. What was supposed to be a yearlong trip had left him stranded across an ocean. He couldn’t return to his country of birth then, and in a real way he never has. War makes him an outsider to the mottled remains of a country no longer recognizable as home. The road you choose to walk down may have no way back. That’s the third lesson of the war mindset.

The force of the violence that fractured the Horn of Africa, propelled my dad to a PhD in the US and to a professorship. Decades later, he travelled to Washington DC, commonly claimed by the Eritrean diaspora as their capital city. In one-room restaurants tucked away off the main streets, at the entrances of parking garages, and behind the wheels of taxis—you can find all the keepers of the Eritrean nation. One day, my dad reencountered an old classmate from his old Ethiopian university as his taxi driver. They didn’t acknowledge their lost connection — the Taxi Driver and the Professor. I imagine how they must have locked eyes for a second in the rearview mirror, a silent mourning for their divergent paths. War creates randomness, sometimes opportunity. There is no equality of fates. That’s another tenet of the war mindset.

A second university acquaintance of my dad’s fared much worse. During the 70’s, there were socialist student movements and protests across universities in Ethiopia. One semester, all the students dropped out and went on strike. My dad, then in his 20’s, followed suit. His friend, a devoted scholar, stayed enrolled. A slender, spectacled, young man, is how I imagine the scholar, with an awkward, bookish nature. Well, a sufficient number of students dropped out, forcing classes to be eventually suspended. By that time, this bookish friend had become a pariah—regarded by the other students as a traitor to the cause. The next time there was a strike, my dad’s friend was the first to drop out. The protest didn’t gather momentum, and classes continued as usual. Out of school and unemployed in wartime, he was called to the front. He died there.

“How can I believe life is fair,” my dad has lamented, “when all of the brightest people I grew up with ended up below ground?”

The view that life is indifferent to how hard you work, to your potential,  and to your desires is the lynchpin of the war mindset. There is no logic. The whole world could be turned upside down and make as much sense and be as fair, if not more fair, than it is right now.

The collective tragedy Eritrea wears as a badge of honor touched my family, too. My dad’s older brother was imprisoned. His younger brother was killed in battle. His youngest brother joined the front as a child, at age 16. He was shot in the head, and he survived. The bullet remains lodged in his skull. Employed in the government now, with a wife and six children, he defiantly crowned our crumbling family property, Villa Asmara, in the run-down capital. Doctors have examined his injury many times and concluded that as risky as it is now, it could be fatal to extract. Sometimes it’s better to let the pain and wound of the bullet buried in your flesh stay there, that’s another lesson I learned from the war mindset.

I don’t want to make it sound like the war mindset is a depressing one. It’s not all fatalism. Since life is random and uncontrollable, all achievements feel like gifts. Success is blissfully unearned. War children, like me, never received allowances—we were not taught the values of predictability and planning. Instead, my dad released a flutter of bills from over our second-floor balcony, a parody of the Eritrean dictator’s famed stunts.

The things in life I feel proud of — my prestigious education, published articles, professional promotions — are like the evening primroses in my neighbor’s garden, blooming privately in the darkness. I am grateful for the good. That feels rare in the land of meritocracy I’ve grown up in, where our life outcomes are thought of as a reflection of our efforts. When some of my friends and colleagues confront failure, their voices belie deprivation of something earned more than a loss of something almost gained. The war mindset is the antithesis of entitlement. It’s hard to feel ownership of all the offerings my privileged life has given me. I see the mirror image of myself in my family, trapped today in the repressive regime in Eritrea. By what standards do we measure achievement when I have everything, and they have only aspirations facing a closed border and a closed world?

These are things I’ve learned, intuited, and inherited. War is both intense and bounded at the same time. It creeps into the places you would never expect it, into decades, into children, and into the homes of middle-class people in wealthy countries. Unlike physical damage, the war mindset is passed on, its trauma written into our genetic code. The war mindset leaves wounds that never fully heal. They fester, with conflict that oozes from one next generation to the next. 

Thinking back to my elementary school teacher, I can understand how a poem about war with lines like “bombs and devastation slaying pure hearts” may not have conformed to his idea of writing produced by a child. That’s why I silently accepted his remark. What I know now is that war is part of who I am.


Waverly Woldemichael (she/her) is an aspiring writer of Eritrean-American heritage based in California. She is a student of Migration and Diasporas, and she often writes on migration and cross-cultural topics based on her lived experiences and that of her family members. She’s currently working on a longer fiction project related to migrant crossings in the Mediterranean.

“Governments aren’t supposed to do this.” That’s what my granny said. She’s long gone now. Caked and cemented into the earth, rotting, and disintegrating like our economy and the other people who died poor trying to survive it. I’m thinking of leaving too. Not dying, but going somewhere that isn’t here and never coming back. I’d miss my mother, but she understands. Rather she knows. She doesn’t want life to stress me the way it stresses her. She knows, and I know she wishes she didn’t have to stay, but she must because my father is afraid of airplanes and change and US capitalism and she loves him. All her sisters are gone. She’s the only one still walking around this place with her dead mother’s face hoping it won’t kill her like it did my grandmother at fifty. She’s almost that age now. 

The minimum wage in this godforsaken country is seven thousand dollars a week. Sure, that seems like a lot but things like this call for perspective and an understanding of exchange rates. Seven thousand dollars here is equivalent to forty-six bucks in the U.S. or eighty-seven US cents an hour for every mother or sister or daughter who isn’t qualified enough to earn more than minimum wage.

Governments aren’t supposed to do this but this isn’t a problem that concerns the people in Parliament who make the rules and pay their housekeepers and gardeners in little white envelopes at the end of the week after the workers have washed all their laundry and cooked all their meals and cleaned the floors the members of Parliament then tread dirt on with their classy name-brand shoes because to them, once you’re poor and uneducated in this country, you might as well be grateful for anything. So you work and when you get your $7000, you best not take your children to the beach; yes, this is an island but not even the beaches are free. Just do what you have to, never what you want to. Pay your bills, feed your children, figure out how you’ll afford to get to work on time or at all when that money is done so they don’t cut your pay for being late or absent. 

***

“Governments aren’t supposed to do this,” my granny had said. Still, she was a die-hard party supporter. Blowing vuvuzelas and laughing it up with politicians who promised to help her out when election time came around. My mother used to be the same. Wearing green all the time. Pledging allegiance to corrupt politicians. Inking her fingers for the cause. Telling eight-year-old me, “This? This blue finger? This is freedom.” Watching our 10-year-old chunky-backed colour TV fizzle in and out as we awaited election results. Watching as the map turned green. Watching as my mother clinked pot covers together and screamed. Watching my mother anticipate change. Watching her watch and wait and wait and suffer and watching her catch her suffering in her hands when the bills came. Still, there was no politician in sight. No one to be held accountable. Just the phantom ink resting heavily on my mother’s finger and the sound of celebratory pot covers taunting her, telling her she should have known better than to expect change. The last time an election came, my mother stayed in. She said it didn’t feel right. That was my first time voting and even as I stood in line, hoodie over my head, hat pulled far below my eyes to shield me from anyone questioning my political preferences with their own, I could tell, this was not a vuvuzela-blowing, handshaking, revelry-keeping moment. I felt no pride in being able to exercise this long-awaited democratic right. Just sadness and shame because I knew nothing would change. Wipe the ink from your fingers. Don’t let anyone know you voted for any of these two evils. 

***

“Governments aren’t supposed to do this,” my mother said one night as we watched the news. They aren’t supposed to exploit their lands and peoples the way this government does. They call it the ultimate tropical paradise in those ads you see but ain’t nothing sweet about it when all you do is work and still after all that work, there is nothing to show. No house to call your own, no savings for a rainy day, no health insurance. Only work; in sickness and in death, for worse and for poorer and poorer and death. We know governments aren’t supposed to do this. They sell us for money we don’t even know we are worth. They sell us, sand, sun and sundry to whichever white man wants to develop a twenty-story paradise for lovers to escape to on eroding beaches so they can watch our one-of-a-kind sunset and take pictures to show the folks back home what a good time this country is. You should go there sometime. They sell us and when they do, it almost always makes the news and every time the headline reads, White Man Creates Boundless Opportunities for Unemployed Citizens or White Man Says 10,000 Jobs Will Come with New Hotel Development. We see this and suck our teeth good and dry because we know the government just sold us, but because we are hungry, our mothers and sisters and daughters will clamour in their good skirts and button-downs with resumes and high school diplomas gripped in sweaty palms and manila envelopes hoping they will be hired to do something, anything because time too hard not to at least try.

And soon, when the hotel opens and everyone is stuffed into freshly starched uniforms, they, too, will hear that, “The people in the hotel don’t always tip and whatever you earn in a fortnight couldn’t even pay for a night in that hotel and if you break it or don’t do it right, they take it right from your pay. Still, you have to ensure the rooms are spotless, the food is done well, the guests are happy and your No problem mon, we gatchu is authentic but understandable to the guest’s ear.” This is what my cousin told me. 

***

I feel like our government knows that they aren’t supposed to do this. That the people are hungry and tired and the cost of living is too high and food is too expensive and then there is rent and water and electricity and bills, bills, bills. Still, nothing ever changes. There’s something everyone here learns at a young age.  Our country’s economy is fuelled mainly by two things: tourism and money our relatives send from foreign. You learn that Western Union lines are always long, and white people are always looking to get away. Get away from what, we don’t know, because why would you want to get away from money when so many of us wish we could leave here and go towards it. Towards good hourly wages and the all-fulfilling gains that make you love capitalism: Towards cheap clothes, and food and other nice affordable things.

I feel like our government knows that we don’t want to stay here, that we realize there are no opportunities for us to become much of anything. That the opportunities that exist are already signed, sealed, and delivered to family names that feel like Listerine retribution being swished around on your tongue. They complain a lot about brain drain, about us not using our skills to develop the country but what should we do with our brains if there are no opportunities here to use them or if the jobs here require ten years of experience and a Master’s degree that we do not have and cannot afford to get. I don’t think this government knows nor do they care that I have been unemployed for over a year. That I gave them all the money I had for 3 ½ years for a piece of paper that is doing me no good. That this is not only happening to me. That my friends also struggled and still struggle to find jobs. That if it weren’t for my mother, I’d be homeless and hungry. That it isn’t a coincidence that over 80% of its tertiary-educated people, leave because there is nothing here for us to do. 

***

One of my aunts called from the U.S. the other day. She’s a citizen there now. Right there in the land of the free and low-cost living. She left in 2015. From what I hear in whispered conversations with my mother, it hasn’t been easy; easy being an understatement. She complains about the cold and how it makes her knees ache and her skin cracked. She doesn’t like the food either. There’s no fresh ackee where she is and she’s tired of fast food and imitation jerked chicken. My mother asked her if she’d move back here to sit with her in this place that killed their mother, if the food and warmth were enough to make her come back. She said no. She said she’d rather suffer there than in this country with this government and her mother’s spirit uneasy and in pain for her. Another aunt sends us postcards and pictures of her two-story cottage. She shows us the remodelling and tells us how much it costs, and I think about how in this country some people don’t make that in a year. How my father has been saving everything to build the ground floor of our home for twenty years. Another aunt complains all the time about the things she had to go through when she first got there. Even then, she lets us know, she is never coming back to work in another hotel.

Governments aren’t supposed to do this, but I suppose the damage is already done and my grandmother is already dead. And no, this isn’t a white flag or a complete loss of hope in what this government may eventually do for its people; I love this place, but I cannot wait until first, my mother, then I, am tired from pot-cover licking and vuvuzela whizzing and eighty-seven cents an hour. And I cannot wait until we are caked into the deep, dark brown earth, dead and disintegrating wishing we had done more. I will miss my mother, but she understands that this is what I will have to do to survive.


Devonae J. Manderson (she/her) is an aspiring Jamaican writer whose work explores themes at, and within, the intersections of black womanhood, queer sexuality, spirituality, religion, and Jamaican culture and society. She uses fiction and poetry writing as tools to share the stories of and to meet herself as the many different women she is, has been, and hopes to become. Her work is forthcoming in Lucky Jefferson and (ang)st magazine, among others, and you can find her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/soulandmelanin and on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/soulandmelanin/

Ness was too pretty to be a field nigger. That’s what Tom Allan said to her the day he’d taken her back to his plantation. He’d bought her on good faith from a friend of his in Jackson, Mississippi, who said she was one of the best field hands he’d ever seen.”

“’No such a thing as a free nigger.’ He walked slowly up to H, held the sharpened knife against his neck so that H could feel the cold, ridged edge of it, begging to break skin…[a] thin line of blood appeared, neat and straight as if to undermine the pit boss’s words, ‘He may be big but he’ll bleed like the rest of them.’”

It was on the occasion of the University of South Africa’s annual Decoloniality Summer School, a few years ago, when I listened to Professor Pumla Dineo Gqola presenting a lecture about the meaning of decoloniality and decolonisation as it relates to resisting against patriarchal systems, norms and institutions. She paused mid-lecture and began loosely paraphrasing Jacques Derrida; “He (Derrida) teaches us that reason and logic are absolute…in this discussion, I seek to interest you to the same type of thinking, but as regards freedom/liberation.” The essence of this particular aspect of Prof Gqola’s lecture was the absoluteness of freedom – that is to assert that there is no such a thing as half freedom or half liberation.

The meaning of freedom/liberation as absolute is a theme that I think a lot about as I read through Yaa Gyasi’s, Homegoing. In this offering, Gyasi tells a story about the 400/500-year episode of African people’s negotiation with settler-colonialism, slavery, migration, racism and the dehumanization of black people at the grandest scale possible.

Of course, freedom has meanings beyond absoluteness, as Joel Modiri (from his PhD thesis) explains: “I take this to mean that when freedom is achieved through or defined by the law, as when the Master declares to the Slave, “From now on you are free”, this cannot lead to genuine liberation since it signifies the abolition of neither the Master-Slave relation nor the slavish consciousness of Blacks that accompanies it. To be true to its name, freedom must have inscribed into its memory the cost of freedom, of struggle and – these are Fanon’s words – blood.”

In this brief exposition, I focus on linking Yaa Gyasi’s articulation of freedom as absolute with Pumla Gqola’s reading of Jacques Derrida.

In this historical fiction, Gyasi tells a story about two half-sisters, Effia and Essi. These two lead separate lifestyles, and are separated by life’s events.   Effia, marries James Collins, the British governor who is at the helm of Cape Coast Castle, where Black people were enslaved, and shipped off to lands beyond the Atlantic.  Her half-sister Esi is held captive in the dungeons below the Castle and resides with enslaved Black people, trapped underneath the castle, ready to be shipped off at any time. Subsequent chapters tell a story about Effia’s and Essi’s children, as well as the generations that come after them.

Gyasi’s storytelling is gripping, and laden with a strong critique of present-day society, particularly, its verbose racialized ordering, and the forgotten business of re-membering dismembered Black people. As you read about the sufferings of the Black enslaved in Homegoing, you cannot help but take a moment to reflect on the present sufferings of all Black people around the world – the women and children in Africa, who are subjected to varied forms of violence and incisions on their bodies, the Black men in the Caribbean, France, Belgium and elsewhere, who continue to be racially abused and othered by the societies they live in. The absoluteness of freedom, as teased out by Gyasi, is indeed in the same tune as the Frantz Fanon and Steve Biko dictums which says that regardless of where a Black man (person) goes, they remain Black. By this, Gyasi, Fanon, and Biko reveal to us that blackness is a marker that binds all Black people in the world and steeps them into the same pit of oppression.

The setting in Homegoing is instructive for a discussion about the absoluteness of freedom – the scene begins in the Gold Coast, Black people living peacefully (not without struggles though) in Ghanaian villages.  The scene then shifts to the people’s first interaction with colonial contact, then to settler slavery, then to British influences (abolishment of slavery), and finally, to migration into cotton fields in the United States of America.   In these scenes, that span over a period of 300 to 400 years, there are shades of differences that exist among Black people – the nuances in the spaces that they inhabit, the social status that they carry, their class position, and even their proximity to whiteness. All these differences among them seek to suggest that some are more free than others, but in the final analysis, and upon closer inspection, the truth is that all of them continue to be oppressed, regardless of these subtle shades of difference.

In the process of colonisation, slavery, and its related racist machinations, Yaa Gyasi presents three differences that created a cleavage amongst Black people, (1) At the instance of first colonial contact, she demonstrates a difference between the Asante and the Fante people of the Gold Coast. The difference was in respect to their respective collaboration/resistance to settler colonialism, (2) At the setting out to the cotton fields, she demonstrates differences between the field Negro and the house Negro, and (3) Towards the official abolishment of slavery in the United States of America, she demonstrates the differences between the “free man”, the slave, and the runaway slave.

The Fante people enjoyed rapport with white settlers because they collaborated with the colonial slave trade, whereas the Asante people were brutalized and incessantly killed by settlers because of their unrelenting resistance. As a result, the Asantes were kept in dark, inhumane and filthy dungeons in the Gold Coast Castle, whilst the Fantes worked as servants and servicemen – you’d imagine that this shade of difference makes the latter more free than the former, until you learn that even in their position of relative freedom, Fante women were still subjected to habitual rape and sexual objectifying by settlers – the men suffering similar atrocities as well.

The differences between the field Negro and the house Negro have been sufficiently theorised about. Perhaps less carefully discerned, are the purported differences between the enslaved, runaways, and the so-called “free man”. The latter are enslaved who attained “freedom” from slavery either through buying such freedom from their slave master, or migrating to those states where slavery had been abolished by legislation. With respect to the latter, Gyasi demonstrates that the “free man” is only free until he realizes that his escape from the plantation does not help him escape systemic racism.

Decoloniality helps us to understand that freedom is not freedom unless it is absolute. Specifically, decolonial theory calls for the re-membering of dismembered peoples, this means an action to re-humanize dehumanized peoples of the world, because decolonial theory appreciates that all forms of oppression thrive precisely because grand-dehumanization is their operative agent. Insisting on decolonisation is to radically seek for the return to humanity/botho/Ubuntu.

Decolonial theory provides a helpful lens for us to break and discern artificial/facile differences between Black people. Prevailing coloniality uses the same neo-colonial differences/markers among the colonised (such as the proverbial “emerging Black middle class”), thus sowing divisions and blurring the battle lines. To marry Gqola’s reading of Jacques Derrida with Yaa Gyasi’s sterling social critique allows us to appreciate decoloniality as a call to revolution and a call for the attainment of absolute freedom, in their truest sense. Such a freedom is a freedom for ALL oppressed people of the world – women, children, Black people, queers, the working class, and other forgotten and marginalised peoples.


Ntando Sindane, Assistant Nonfiction Editor at Decolonial Passage, teaches private law at the University of the Free State, South Africa. He is an activist for social justice, as well as economic and epistemic freedom. He writes for various popular South African media outlets and is Editor at Red Pen. His research interests include decolonisation, particularly in relation to the pedagogical framework of the intellectual property law curriculum in South African universities. His research critically analyses various decolonial and socialist methodologies when juxtaposed with human rights, the Constitution of South Africa as well as normative teaching methods. He holds the LLB and LLM degrees from the University of South Africa and is currently making preparations towards a PhD degree in Intellectual Property Law.  His LLM dissertation is titled,“The Call to Decolonise Higher Education: Copyright Law Through an African Lens.” He can be found on twitter at https://twitter.com/uNtandoSindane

The night is dark, as dark can be.

Our huts are filled with noises of snoring,

spiders knitting, rats hunting for scraps of food,

and ants building mansions underground.

Suddenly, flames of fire appear on one hut;

loud wails are heard, “The house is on fire!”

“What is happening?” we ask each other. No one answers.

Another hut is ablaze, and another, the whole village is!

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.

There are hunters running round with guns

catching young women and men specifically.

One, two, thirty… we are shackled together;

hundreds of us are paraded on a long journey

to the coast of Zanzibar.

I do not think we will set eyes on our village again.


Post Master

When the sun bids goodbye to the moon and stars

death sets out on an errand to pluck a life; here, and there

and hauls it off from the world of the breathing.

His frozen hands snap breath

He plucks off the old and the young, rich and poor

known and unknown – like a leaf from a tree branch

and carries their souls away

to retire them to the world of the silent.

A cry of agony goes up to fill the air

when the horrible deed is fully realized

and when the lament is uplifted, people gather together in homes

like wintertime wafts, and sigh sad anthems

as we post our beloved to that other world

we know not much about.


One winter night

The wind was angrier than ever.

She wrapped the earth in an icy blanket

and froze the night with her breath.

Like a vessel sailing the seas

she marched up and down

usurping the whole Kulamula village.

The rough winds entered our bones and we trembled.

With her mighty breath, like dashing waves that spread their current,

She forced us to go under-cover.

We coiled; millipedes in not-so-warm blankets.

No soul went out of the hut to gaze at the moonlight that night.

Our bodies quaked under the covers. Like lawn-mowers we trembled

and night birds’ music echoed our hissing sounds

as angry moans the fierce wind incessantly made;

while stretching her hands wide, stroking our ears

and sinking her teeth into our flesh.

We vibrated to the freezing edges of the her teeth,

Tears coursed down our cheeks,

rushing to wet our frozen-dead lips.


Martin Chrispine Juwa is a history teacher and poet from Malawi. He has one poetry anthology to his name, titled Drifting Smoke. His poems are published, or are forthcoming, in about 43 print and online magazines, journals and anthologies, including Project Muse, JAYL (Issue 2), 3 BNAP Anthologies, LOCKDOWN 2020, Pangolin Review, HELD Magazine, Strange Births, Childhood Anthology, Pensive Journal, Afreecan Read, Scibble Magazine, and The Poet Magazine. Two of his poems are translated into Spanish and appear in the Libero America Journal.

Sister, bring me one of those pink shells
Washed up on a far away beach
Here’s 40 dollars, fix my hair into 1000 braids
Show me some of that black magic that’s been
Melanined out of my immediate family
Dance, my sister
Dance my spirit round your bones
Break the illiterate silence and contorted sterility of
My 21st century over-Americanized ethnicity, Sister.


Allison Whittenberg is a Philly native who has a global perspective. If she wasn’t an author she’d be a private detective or a jazz singer.  Her novels include Sweet Thang, Hollywood and Maine, Life is Fine, Tutored, The Carnival of Reality and The Sane Asylum.   Her plays have been performed at Interact Theatre, The Spruce Hill Theatre, The Festival of Wrights, and The Playwright’s Center.

It is a grand street, but I don’t live here.

Not one doorstep stands to shield

me from the harsh rain,

its drab grey tone is a solemn tune.

This is no song worth remembering.

 

Well-kept bikes clatter and topple

under ornate eaves and lush drenched boughs,

stacks of shiny metal frames; jewels

to the children who live in my borough.

I came here to walk and dream.

 

These streets, paved with peppered-stone,

glisten in a loose wild strip of light.

Old street lamps from a bygone time,

stand the tests of gusts and sky spills.

While walking the bare street before me,

never have I felt more alone than now.

 

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?”

 

I look at my sixty-year-old reflection,

windows darken by the ill-shaped

shadows of deformed tree limbs

that heave fists with hard stone knuckles.

Leaves snap and plummet,

leaving some to droop on green threads.

 

This summer’s rain spell is bitter,

time slows. But I will not run or rush

my step, even if there’s no sun that bears

no mind to furnish a glow above my head.  
              

 

Joining the Army

I want to be a stormtrooper, combat ready,

filled with purpose: reason, unfolding.

Pride of place my photo will stand at my parents’ home

where the smell of cornbread and okra drifts.

 

Filled with purpose: reason, unfolding.

I’m apt to fit into the realm of things

where the smell of cornbread and okra drifts.

Into the fray, I will go with my brothers behind me.

 

I’m apt to fit into the realm of things.

At the front, fear will beg me to retreat and hide.

Into the fray, I will go with my brothers behind me.

It wasn’t always so; white troops didn’t crave a black man with a gun.

 

At the front, fear will beg me to retreat and hide,

the honour of duty and service will nudge me through.

It wasn’t always so; white troops didn’t crave a black man with a gun.

With an upright gait, I’ll march and sing “Onward Christian Soldiers”.

 

The honour of duty and service will nudge me through,

commands must spur my stride, no time to tire.

With an upright gait, I’ll march and sing “Onward Christian Soldiers”.

No cosh, no baton, no bullet will touch my temple.

 

Commands must spur my stride, no time to tire.

Pride of place my photo will stand at my parents’ home.

No cosh, no baton, no bullet will touch my temple.

I want to be a stormtrooper, combat ready.

 

*This poem is written in the form of a pantoum. The stormtrooper term refers to the fictional soldier; a super soldier, not the Stormtroopers who were specialist soldiers of the German Army in World War I.

“Onward, Christian Soldiers” is a 19th-century English hymn. The words were written by Sabine Baring-Gould in 1865. The song has been associated with protest against the established order, particularly in the case of the Civil Rights Movement.

 

Breaking Free

A roof sinks while floors rise.

The trencherman’s power is

the confines of narrowness.

“Others” stand threadbare,

 slinging ophidians,

elbows nudge slipstreams of air.

 

They kneel on a jagged platform’s edge

where toes have freedom of movement.

A splenetic tone ignites to warn,

a reply of deep breaths

reshapes the realm spent of longing.

 

Arms move towards solemn hearts,

drenched by solemnity,

and then outwards, curved to embrace.

Harsh light blinds and binds,

no darkness for dreams,

time has etched it from the sphere,

but in the distance evergreens grow.

 

White clothed torsos hide shame,

guilt and a greedy

emptiness impossible to sate.

Asthenia bodies stir with wide-awake eyes,

renewed, they heave and fold lissome metal.

 

A callous-cold ceiling cracks; flakes like plaster.

Bruised skins smash the prison-cube.

Fate is no longer sealed within walls.

Existence lives in shared senses.

 

A new day begins on a rope-clad precipice.

Raw-red suffering is denied a lonesome death.

Doors burst open to a penetralia

to greet those who have struggled free.

 

Maroula Blades (photo by Graham Hains) is an Afro-British multifaceted artist living in Berlin. She was nominated for the Amadeu Antonio Prize 2019 for her educational multimedia project “Fringe”. The Swiss Jan Michalski Foundation for Literature supported the project. She was the first runner-up in the 2018 Tony Quagliano International Poetry Award. Works were published in The Caribbean Writer, Thrice Fiction, The Freshwater Review, Midnight & Indigo, Abridged, The London Reader, So It Goes, Newfound Journal, Harpy Hybrid Review among others. Chapeltown Books (UK) released her story collection The World in an Eye, 2020. The book is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. She can be found at https://www.facebook.com/Poetrykitchen/, https://twitter.com/m_blades, and http://www.poetrykitchen.com/.

He stood there, looking up at the friend who came to visit him. The forced smile on his lips was crooked, like his yellowing teeth. Standing beside his caller, he looked like a small boy standing beside a gigantic father. These visits had become frequent since word of his ailment went around. Kimani enjoyed the amount of attention he had been receiving since he was diagnosed with the dreaded cancer. It was more attention than he had gotten in his fifty-five years. Rumour had it that his disease was deadlier than AIDs, and either out of pity or curiosity, people wanted to see its effects firsthand.

This particular caller was a former classmate. A man he had shared youthful dreams with, and religiously teased for his squinted eye on their four-kilometer barefooted walk to school. Now the man drove the newest Range Rover and had a pretty lady on his arm. The lady wore four-inch heels and occasionally lost her balance as she walked the muddy path toward Kimani’s small house. Kimani stood at the door observing them. Noticing how his friend tightened the grip on the lady’s arm each time she stumbled. He waved them closer, all the while maintaining a wide smile that now made the edge of his mouth ache. The lady looked young, maybe too young.

His classmate finally standing beside him, Kimani felt every ounce of energy leave his body. He felt small. He literally was small. The loss of appetite from his medications and the constant body aches had left him with little desire for food, and when he was really hungry and tried to eat, his gums hurt. But the smallness he felt had nothing to do with body size but rather his position in society. Kimani was not what people considered rich or even middle class. He had no money or any other kind of significant wealth to his name. Now, he could not even boast of good health when he found himself defensive about his financial status. He had no property other than the small iron sheet house with a thatched roof he had built in his young adult years, and even that had no toilet. He had to borrow toilet from the neighbors. His small piece of land was only enough to grow about thirty head of kale and maize, enough to feed him only. But even that looked unhealthy from the lack of fertilizer and manure. Men his age had large pieces of land, and those who had small pieces at least had fertile pieces. Men his age had stable sources of income from employment or entrepreneurship. Most importantly, men his age had children, a wife, and maybe a girlfriend. His unmarried status was the great thorn to his side on a day too many now. This, above everything else, made him feel even smaller.

But his lack of a wife to order around and children to claim did not always make Kimani feel small. He had for a long time grown into his singleness. He enjoyed his senior bachelor’s existence and the freedoms he saw married people only dream of. But on days like this, when he met his childhood friends and men his age, especially those with a sharp tongue and a boastful ego to accompany ignorant questions, he felt his marital status was magnified.

That night as he lay on his squeaky bed, Kimani pondered over his choice not to marry. It was a decision he made in his late twenties. But if he was being honest with himself, he had made a subconscious decision not to marry in his teen years. His decision was not influenced by any of the reasons people often whispered about, like his purported lack of libido or the popular claims of impotence, and certainly not a preference for men as some people would have it. The subject of a man sexually entertaining another man was taboo in his culture. It was something that was rarely talked about, and when it was, mostly among the younger generations, it was discussed in hushed tones. Kimani was baffled by the naivety of these people who considered themselves to be modern and educated. A week before, he had read an article about how the United States government had passed a Bill that protected the LGBTQ community from discrimination. The thought of the amount of upheaval such a bill would cause in his country made him grin, an evil grin that craved the discomfort the legal tolerance for the LGBTQ would arouse in his community. But Kimani’s decision to remain unmarried had nothing to do with any of the said externalities. It was a personal decision that he could not explain in any satisfactory way to nagging relatives or the ever eager rumor mongers. He was simply among the very small percentage of men who, for no tangible reason, had no interest in ever marrying.

Kimani was not alone in the senior bachelor boat. His friend Mark, albeit five years younger, received similar scrutiny and speculation over his bachelorhood. Mark was a commendable hustler who worked too hard but drank too much muratina and cheap liquor, the kind that could, on a bad day make you lose your eyesight. He took great pride in caring for his aged mother, a role he embraced as his life’s sole purpose. The house he was bound to inherit after his mother passed on was fancier than Kimani’s, with stone walls and tiled floors. His land was also bigger, and he enjoyed fresh milk from his mother’s Zebu cow. The ten chickens roaming the compound, only stopping to bury their beaks in the grass in search of worms, were more than most people could wish for. Still, Mark was unmarried. Kimani remembered something Mark had once mentioned to him in passing, something about how parents can mess up their children. This was after the village witnessed the chief beat up his wife, resulting in a broken leg, and no one dared report him at the police station. After all, matters between people who covered themselves with the same blanket were none of their business. They would work out their issues behind closed doors. Moreover, the chief signed their children’s bursary papers. A chief with a wounded ego meant no signature on the bursary papers, which meant the children would be sent home for school fees, so no one dared anger the chief.

On that particular day, women famed for their closeness to the chief’s wife stood the furthest from the watching crowd. They murmured amongst themselves, their kangas tied hastily around fat waists, only stopping their chatter when their friend screamed from a fresh kick to the ribs or the stomach.  One woman was overheard asking rather ignorantly, “Why does she stay when he beats her like a dog?”

In all the ensuing commotion, the heart-wrenching sight was the chief’s children frantically hovering around their mother. The older siblings trying to pull their father away, to no avail, while the younger ones watched in bewilderment at the man they were expected to respect.

“See, now this stupid man has really messed up the children,” Mark had said in anger, his fists clutched. “Violence is imprinted in their young minds, and the grisly picture of their father beating their mother will never leave them. They are messed up.”

Mark was now staring straight into Kimani’s eyes, his blank face revealing no emotion, the anger that previously overcame him now long gone.

“Kim,” Mark started to say something but suddenly stopped, like someone cautiously picking out his next words, “This is why I will never marry,” he finally stated.

A part of Kimani understood Mark, but he wanted to be sure.

“So you will never marry because the chief beat up his wife?” he asked avoiding Mark’s eyes.

Mark was silent. Maybe, he had not heard the question. His eyes were fixed on the youngest of the chief’s children. A young girl now seated at the front door to the house she called home, unbothered. Her calmness exuded a sense of normalcy, like everything that just happened did not actually happen. Her eyes darted between the people helping lift her mother from the ground and the dispersing crowd. She caught a glimpse of her father disappearing behind the house and her eyes began to water.

  “Mark, did you hear me?”

“I heard you the first time, Kim,” his voice was hoarse, “Men beat up their wives, and children watch. Everyone watches. And no one does anything about it. That is why I will never marry,” Mark was now walking away from the scene.

“But you are not this man, Mark.”

Kimani wanted to keep this conversation going. He, like everyone else, wanted to understand the psychology of unmarried men. Maybe he could better understand himself.

“But I am my father’s son,” Mark retorted impatiently, “And you know what they say about the apple and the tree.”

“What has your father got to do with anything? He was a good man. God rest his soul.”

“Sure, God rest his soul, somewhere deep in hell, with his fellow ‘good’ men.”

The air quotes at the mention of “good” were accompanied by a wobbling head, ogling eyes, and a tongue sticking out. The way children did it when teasing an adult while hiding behind their mothers’ skirts.

“You see that limp on my mother’s left leg? She got that while running away from my father. The man was chasing her with an axe, mama fell and sprained her ankle, and it never healed.” Mark was now walking faster. Like someone hoping that his brisk pace would somehow leave this memory of violence behind.

“Kim, all these people with their perfect marriages are hypocrites. You should witness the monstrosities that happen behind closed doors. Do not let the smiles of these women and their chubby babies fool you. Marriage is a den of lions, and by God, I am not jumping into that trap with my eyes open.”

“But Mark, you can choose to be different.”

“Or I can be exactly the same, maybe worse. I am not about to find out.” Mark suddenly stopped, “What about you? What’s your excuse?” he was staring at Kimani with those piercing eyes.

“My reason will never be as convincing as yours. I simply do not want a wife, children, or anything to do with the institution of marriage for that matter.”

Kimani was now walking away, taking long steps in the direction of his house. Mark did not ask any further. The men walked home, trying to comprehend the reasoning of their unmarried fellow man.

It was half-past ten. Kimani had stayed up too late. He needed to be well-rested when he took his cancer medicine in the morning. Sometimes he forgot how he was required to take the pills. Those pills confused him. Which pills did he take before meals, and which ones were after meals? Which tablets made him nauseous that he had to lick sugar after, and which pill made him feel drowsy? The drowsy pill was particularly important because he could only take it after lunch and at night, but never in the morning. At that point in his life, maybe a wife and children would be good. They would help with the pills.

That woman in four-inch heels he had seen earlier crossed his mind. She had bothered him, and suddenly he knew why. She was the unmarried woman from a nearby town who the village women had begun to talk about.  The lady was almost in her thirties with nothing noteworthy to show for her advancing age other than her two university degrees. Not even a child, leave alone a husband of her own. Kimani knew the women would devour gossip over her visit for a long time to come. Had she no shame parading with a married man like that? But Kimani wondered who was at fault. Was it the married man who took an oath or the woman suffocating under society’s expectations? No, marriage was not for him. Kimani slowly closed his eyes and wished for a sunny day come morning. Today had been cold.


Linda Thotho is an aspiring writer living in Nairobi, Kenya. She writes fiction borrowed from true stories of her life. Linda enjoys reading African stories by African authors. She holds a degree in Natural Resources Management from Egerton University, Kenya. She can be found on twitter at https://twitter.com/thotho_linda and on instagram at https://www.instagram.com/linda_tho_tho/

I

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

II

Ears are thirsting;

There are neither proverbs

Nor wisdom to sip from

Eyes now mother the ocean

Souls temples

Species of depression

Hope hung between two teeth;

Life and death

III

May our aborted dreams

Decay into dust

So fingers of tomorrow

Sculpt them into art.

Arise


Arise o spirits of the Niger rivers

Set free your waves

Let our scarce flee away

Arise o palate of the gods

Dye your tears into inks

And rewrite our story

Arise

It is time to water your seeds for a new sprout.


Mohammed Salihu is a young Nigerian writer. He holds a Certificate in Creative Writing from Wesleyan University and is presently pursuing his bachelor’s degree at the University of the West of Scotland.  One of Mohammed’s poem was selected by UNICEF to mark World Children’s Day 2020. His writing has appeared in: Fahmidan Journal, Poetic Duel, Praxis Magazine, and elsewhere. He can be found on twitter at https://twitter.com/Ameer_salihu and on instagram at https://www.instagram.com/mohammed_salihu_/

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
 
in the land of the young and the free
where the day of invasion
is still a celebrated national holiday
 
when the indigenous leader stands
to speak he is silenced
but refuses to submit to their yoke
 
the issue is bigger than dress codes
it’s about conformity
a whitewashing of past and present
 
what is business attire for one man
is the noose of another
 
‘take the noose
from around my neck
so that I can sing
my song’ – MP Rawiri Waititi
 
 
 

J. Archer Avary (he/him) is a chameleon, a product of his environment, a restless wanderer. In past lives he was a TV weatherman, punk rock drummer, champion lionfish hunter, ocean conservationist. At age 44, he still doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up. Maybe a poet? He is the editor of Sledgehammer Lit. His recent work can be found in Journal of Erato, The Daily Drunk, Skyway Journal, and HASH Journal. He lives on a tiny island in the English Channel. He can be found on twitter at https://twitter.com/j_archer_avary

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.

I remembered the prescient feeling I had

as a Nubian queen and the accompanying vision

of seeing my pendant in a glass box

and noticing strange-looking humans

wearing funny clothes, eyeing my jewelry with admiration.

I recalled even seeing myself as I currently am

with my tortoise shell glasses, pink-dyed hair,

nose-stud, and black leather jacket,

though of course I didn’t know it would be me.

I cried out and when my royal sister heard

what I was worried about,

she reassured me it was just a hallucination.

She said that my pendant would be buried with me,

along with other cherished possessions.

Suddenly, my present self sighed for my lost kingdom,

the smooth ebony skin I was once had,

and the pendant I now wouldn’t be able to touch

without the alarm piercing the silence.

I clicked a picture to carry with me for this lifetime,

but one of my stray hairs swam in front of the lens.

I fished it out and as I clicked a second time,

I remembered unfastening the cat pendant for the last time,

not knowing it wouldn’t accessorize my clothes again.



Cherishing Their Freedom


Her ancestors come to her in dreams,

in the ships that forced the waves apart to these shores,

in the chains that bound them before they their spirits were broken.

They speak in their African languages,

but strangely she understands them.

They cherish the same thing as she does,

something they slowly stopped taking for granted

and longed for their descendants and themselves to have.

She hears their prayers whispered and chanted through the centuries,

in their quarters, in the fields, in the forests and mountains,

where they escaped with packs of dogs on their bleeding heels.

Her nose smells the drops of sweat from toil

that soaked their clothes or dripped from their backs.

She sees their dances of matrimony,

the brooms they jumped over,

and their children born free

until the young ones learned they really weren’t.

Her ancestors visit her again without the clanking chains

and the scars that mapped their miseries.

Their bodies glisten with perfection,

the downward droop of their necks and spines

replaced with a posture that speaks of blissful afterlife living.

They gaze at her house, the books lining the shelves,

the silk that swishes against her calves,

the ruby against her dark throat, the beads on her braids,

the chilled glass clinking with ice

and they tell her to sometimes sing their songs of slavery

and celebrate their deeds and then they laugh with her,

happy they’re all free now, the dead and the living,

though she knows liberation doesn’t yet mean equal justice.



Tara Menon is an Indian-American writer based in Lexington, Massachusetts.  Her most recent poems have appeared in: Emrys Journal Online, Indolent Books, Wards Literary Magazine, Art in the Time of Covid-19 (ebook published by San Fedele Press), Rigorous, Infection House, The Inquisitive Eater, and The Tiger Moth Review. Menon’s latest fiction has been published in Evening Street Review, The Bookends Review, and Rio Grande Review.  She is also a book reviewer and essayist whose pieces have appeared in many journals, including Adanna Literary Journal, The Courtship of Winds, The Petigru Review, Boston Globe, Green Mountains Review, and The Kenyon Review.