Laughter from a Nigerian Mother to a Child Who Is Not Hungry

I have labored all day at this hot stove
And you will eat this dinner that I birthed
I have spent the last of this month’s check
On the good olive oil
That your new Ivy League tongue prefers
You may be vegan this and gluten-free that
But you will eat
This Maggi sweetened the tongue of the man who fathered you
Your grandmother carried this dried fish from Onitsha to customs
You will eat it
I have sliced each onion with my two hands
Blinded myself with tears for you
And you say, you're not hungry?
I laugh, because when this world mangles your name in its mouth
You will come to this table
You once feasted on my placenta
Dried both these breasts
Again, you will eat
I stink of sweat and age and oil and love of you
I did not bring you to America
To watch you fast from this food

Relationship Status with Religion

after Aziza Barnes

i went to church yesterday    smoke-scented hair    at least it wasn’t cigarettes    at least i was better than someone who smelled like cigarettes in church        peace snuck up on me        the way i used to wish white jesus would sneak into my bedroom        back when i used to talk to white jesus    now i talk to black female jesus    but each time i have to imagine her    jesus-    black female jesus-        blackness, femaleness, as honorific    an honor    not because of her oppression    not blessed are those persecuted for heaven is distantly promised    but because she is my god        peace washed over me & it felt pink        spread through me like ambience blooming from a candle     peaceful    heart full    i left early    left behind my palms        walked toward holy week    unmoved    no gcal event    no facebook invite to easter    i didn’t feel like celebrating    i went to church to take.        god-        black female god-    always with the gifts        i can count the black women in these pews    me, and julia        there would be no black woman to wash my feet on holy thursday    & if a white woman washed them would i have to see god in her    the new priest        something different about him    squint        i have never seen a black priest before.    thick sponge hair    decidedly untrendy    like all truly faithful    in the world but not of    gentle boom voice    concert speaker in my gut    can i feel him in my heart?    can i see god in him?    can he be god?    heard a poem on an ordinary friday        in a shabby room    full of folding chairs    that felt like church    an ageless goddess    unreligious but lacking nothing    her pink & orange gospel     all     black love    incense    self-knowledge    the open mic presided over by men    but her calm joy    her own    i wanted her pages    at mass i read the missal    but lost the plot    why am i here?        I recite my intentions    to keep my mother happy, i pray to the lord    i think of the missionaries    who untaught my grandmother our language    who said    your names are not in the bible        but ifeanyi    is suffixed by “god”    so if i have god in me        and my body is a temple    am i not all the church i need        what could be more pure    in the world but    a universe myself    my prayers are    between me & god    -her    -black woman    me.    what is belief if not imagination    i can wash my own feet    but next sunday    i will walk to the chapel        the ghost shackles at my ankles        faintly jangling

Letter to MLK Regarding My Black Anger

On days when my body can be honest with itself
My voice scrapes my throat raw
As my hands carry my anger in the form of words & wood
What is it with the wrongfully oppressed and processions?
Jesus marching to Golgotha
Hashtag movements marching in Ferguson, New York, New Haven
You, Dr. King, marching on landmarks for years
Tell me, do they hope if we walk long enough
We’ll scrape the fight off our soles?
I read that Christian pacifists, white men
Advised you to answer the call to nonviolence
I feel some type of way about white Christians pacifying you with a religion
That “civilized” your ancestors
Did they argue that this would make you more palatable to the majority?
Measure your patience with the spoon they would feed their peers?
Tell you, Less black pepper
Keep the heat low
Somehow your nonviolence still filled them with terror
So when do we stop trying to find our fight mirrored in white faces?
Sometimes, my anger is so big it shuts all of them out
I went to a talk by Christian scholars on social justice
And all of them advised me to forgive
Where do I go when I have no forgiveness left?
This Catholic girl worries that Bible verses preaching forgiveness are opium
Begging black anger to be silent
When is it okay to say, No, fuck your breath
I am not angry all of the time
But this body carries corpses
Rice, Pinckney, Garner, Bland, McDonald are nowhere in my family tree
But they are my dead
I cradle them in the forefront of my mind
Their broken, young bodies a constant, personal weight
My anger is sane & calm & total
Used wisely, it can move institutions
Or just flood this body with relief
But not even black anger is free
My pent-up rage lives in a penthouse
It is expensive
It wears the finest watered-down words and white smiles
It is petted like a zoo animal at my place of business
It is edged off of sidewalks, out of train cars, seminars where white people take up all available space
My anger is afraid to write about our dead because some may find it too political
When exactly can my anger take off its mask?
When I see another police department and jury
Hold hands, look down on another wasted black life, and say, You ain’t shit
I feel my anger wane
The nerves that perceive wrong
Hang somewhere outside of me
My body lies numb
This is how they pacify us
Sometimes I think white people teach you, MLK
Because you allowed them to lock you up so many times
I know you did it for our sake
Some of the most revolutionary acts emerged from behind those bars
Like technicolor from an oil spill
But sometimes I wish our most celebrated civil rights heroes
Hadn’t always been so civil
Anger doesn’t have to be violent
We don’t have to be like them
But when can we claim the right
To let our fury fuel our freedom?

sister-shared rest

to respond to all this
i am full of you
stuffed to the eyes with your gold dust
the way you kicked your heels on the road to necessary screaming rage
the calligraphy of your speech is a language they can’t understand
taught to you only to be ignored
when the mouth that forgets your name
glistens open in a watering black apology
strike it
it will ring hollow
call it what it is
you cannot expect the vision impaired to see you clearly
read your own black books
your gospel in chalk
march the road of your friends’ hearts
live on the icewater of their tears
before strength like this, it is easy to write us off as goddesses
don’t wait for her to hurt again before you paint the door black & yale blue
she, redheaded kenyan
& she, caricatured american, one of the first
& she, “just black" girl
forever struggling against the concept of ceilings
with a relationship with mirrors a white girl would never understand
their beauty is now their prefix
beautiful black beautiful black girl beautiful black woman beautiful black women
i wrung my hands asking, “is this necessary? is this sexist? is this marble counter-deep?”
but oh it is necessary
for every time she was called a ghetto black bitch
for every time desirability was wrapped up in acceptance and flattened to limp hair & locks in shades of candlewax
necessary, so necessary to crown beautiful black women with words
rewriting the queendom with their every step
chasing the crown for each other
for 10,000 years from tomorrow
for sister-shared rest

The Day You Fall Asleep to a Revolutionary’s Autobiography

The day you fall asleep to a revolutionary’s autobiography
Is the day you know you have gotten old
No Botox for this botched youth
So you pack up your New Haven apartment and go
Not to cold, hard New York, which already aged you in your college years
With rooftop wine bars and business brunches al fresco and Brooklyn
Fucking Brooklyn
But home
You go home
Call it a holiday
Your underwear and unread novels stay unpacked in your suitcase
You tell your mother she is not allowed to resume raising you
You start to haunt your old altars
The downtown Fayetteville library
The passenger seat of your Trinidadian best friend’s SUV
You consider part-time jobs in chain restaurants, the local Cinemark theater
Anything to give you time to think, sleep, play
You go out every night
Southern rap and soul food at that questionable club in College Park
House music and ecstasy downtown
You come home sweating, reeking of exertion and a cologne you wouldn’t wish on anyone
You get no younger
You wait for Peter Pan with soap under your heels, start praying to him and the latest dance gods
Your childhood church is full of conservatives
You don’t remember it this way
You walk on eggshells, take thorns to the side
Preserve their meticulously structured Sunday in its glass box, as heavy and fragile as bird bone
Slowly, you remember how it feels to be angry
But everything has been considered before
The African-American guy you’ve been giving a chance already knows he still bears a slave name
A spoken word poet has already written an ode to polar bears falling in love as the ice melts
Everyone knows marijuana laws are not about morals, they’re just about racism
You think all this meditation will lead you to revelations
Pray lying in the grass in your backyard
But your mom’s dogwood is not a bodhi tree
You can’t climb to nirvana so you keep your mouth full of silence
You don’t even start a blog
And you hate yourself for it
You think about moving forward
Watch the dogwood grow a beard of snow, then age in reverse
Become green and hung with fruit
You want to age in reverse
You don’t want kids any time soon, but you want more than anything to bear fruit
It is a shame to be twenty-two and think about retirement this often
To wake up tired this often
You start sleeping with the sun
Try to tune your circadian rhythms to something more primal than your iPhone alarm
Unanswered emails in your inbox seduce you with visions of work-friends-weekend
But routine is what put you in this rehab in the first place
So you wake up
In the middle of the night
Listen to the chemicals reach orgasm in your brain
Your veins run warm with the exquisite stories you could tell
In words or technicolor or 3D printed dance routine
You start the day doing drugs
Tall, foaming cappuccino
Caffeine to slip you out of that yesterday skin
Leaves you laughing in this lonely communion with your own thoughts
It reminds you of the gurgle of a baby
Delighting in the virgin electricity of her own mind
Its synapses closing around impressions of this new womb
Stitching itself together before her like the strokes of an Impressionist painting
You remember the first time you had a favorite color
The first time you confused the notions of color and love
The last time you confused the notions of first sight and love
That was the last time you got angry
It is 2:34AM, and you are awake for your pleasure alone
The night sky is bloodred purple
Your favorite color
You’re still re-learning how to pray
But you make your best offers to the universe
You promise that your art will serve purposes greater than yourself
That your dreams will take root and grow into dogwood trees
And your most vivid ambitions will stay nestled in your third eye