For T. (Without Her Permission)

I see you
Pretty girl
One of those
Curated, not birthed
You didn’t tumble down the canal like the rest of us
Face dimming
Till it settled into average
No, you kept the glow
Of that other place
Heaven or womb or
Watery deep consciousness
Articulate baby soul
You are
Knobby kneed
Delicate bones sticking through your clothes
In the most attractive way
The luster to your skin like airbrush
Hair effortless
Perfect in real life
You don’t sweat
All clothes fit
Your eyes are runway
They go straight ahead
Hear nothing
I used to think you were always
Angry at everyone for staring
A gulf duck
Smeared with their black oil lust
But as you bloomed
As baby stomach flattened into cheese grater
Cheeks eroded to lovely planes
Face mimicking heart
As I got a taste
Eye contact with peripheral men
A stranger with a broom
I know you written falsely in his smile
Propositioned at a conference
Hollers from the side of the road
But also
The boy caught in my highlighter
The man who loved my Nigerian behind
The lover on the couch who chanted
You’re beautiful
Like I needed persuasion
Because for all this self love
Men are sometimes
The mirror my mother could never be
My eyes opened and now I think
You’re just trying to balance all this pretty
Just trying to move all this body through this space
That’s why your eyes are portcullis
Clothes so calculated
Stride so going into battle
I opened my eyes and saw myself
Leggings and a button-down most days
Moonsized pores
Bowling pin calves
The most African curl pattern
With the Serena arms
And a smile to die for
I am
Some kind of prettygirl
Close to that species
Her sister

Prayer for My Body Moving through Space

The black body is not a miracle
It belongs
Like perfume stain
Sunflower seed
Rain smell
The white body is not a sign
Telling your body to keep out
A white man is not a gun that has learned to walk upright
A white woman is not a subtraction of your whole
A white-passing woman is not your failure
Brush their shoulders
Keep your body forward
Make your inward gaze a home
Apologize to no one
Don’t say excuse me
Don’t embrace the margins of the sidewalk
Don’t take their bruises into yourself
Address the unsunned skin beneath the breasts
That charged space between the hands
You will get home safe
The village will carry you
However harassed
There is understanding waiting for you
On the other side of that intersection
Do not resent bodies moving through space
Wish all bodies well
Love the black body
That patron saint of culture
When it wears a dress that doesn’t apologize
When it is not sexy
When it is male and not also strong
Love the crazy body
Love the body at war with itself
Love it without requiring it to love you back




Receiving a man’s aggression into your body
And having nowhere to go with it




Wanting to be the authority on your blackness
And not wanting to be the authority on blackness




Trying to read Mambety’s filmmaking
Because you can’t stop thinking about how someone tried to own your body




Your openness
Vulnerable to white guilt
The blurred line between friendliness and violence




How to tell a well-meaning white woman that she is erasing you




Swearing never to call the cops on a black man
Knowing few black men will protect you




So ready to be militant
Nothing to be militant about




A girlfriend
For something a man did
To both of us

Student Loans

I’ve become one of those
Luxurious children of European bankers
Soft and unworked
Fat on free time
London my playground
Hunting leisure on weekends
Going out not just to eat
But to be waited on
Sitting outside an exhibition
He tells me
Working class doesn’t mean miserable
I vehemently agree
So why do I whisper Hoxton
When asked where I live
Why this guilt
When all I’ve done is
Collect cactuses
Fatten friends on black chocolate
Bathe my face in lavender
Drink saffron in Brick Lane?
It was entirely too easy to ask my country for a living
Once I left
My government so willing
To loan me debt
Uni so eager to collect a check
American affirmative action
Sitting in the gallery
He asks why I’m stressed
It’s basically free money, isn’t it?
Then tries to sell me art
Another thing that the rich seem to own
Instead I
Buy a leather jacket
Just like everyone else
Dance at Pxssy Palace and
House Jamaican youth
Eat Nigerian tapas
Meet my parents’ civil war
Paint French tips gold and
Philosophize at Chimamanda’s feet
Consume black theatre
Defend our humanity
Give nothing to the homeless
And sometimes

What’s harder than being cool?


Walk in
Skin as bright as peacock feather
Veins humming with drink,
Love loose on my tongue
Fingers race hearts when they tap and queue
Squad cranks the party all the way up
-until white girl says
That’s nice but
You’re taking up too much space
I didn’t know dancing could be anything but a conversation
Until a white man told me I shouldn’t leave the house party
Because my body was doing amazing things
His gaze and mouth all
Full of awe
Before an Afrobeat fan
Followed my wine all the way to the floor
I can do that, too
Before a white gay slipped me his number
Should I ever want to go out sometime
I give them so much life
If impersonation is the sincerest form of flattery
Then what’s a bad imitation
You don’t even desire me
You dismember me
You want my hips for yourself
What would you do with my feet
Bring them out for company?
Hump them in your cold sheets
In the middle of the night?
This dark corner is not a stage
Believe it or not
I came to grind by myself
I don’t ask for much
Just this tract of dancefloor
Where I come to stop rubbing elbows
Cramming myself into margins
Folding and folding myself into your leftover space
Here is where my body can be big
Speak free
But you find me here, too
House party capitalist
You want me to be Rihanna
Stop watching like an audience
When you haven’t even paid
All this flattery
Makes me silkworm
Soft and withdrawn
Dreaming of a strong country
Where all around me would have been mirrors
Walk out exhausted
Shoulders hunched
No I’m not crying
These are such sweet problems
They would taste delicious under a hot sun
Hustling for food and water
But they are mine
I came to party
Turns out I’m the entertainment