• Vol. 07
  • Chapter 09
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TURRA’NDORR

(for Khadija Saye)

They haunt me! Your eyes
that expose much more than flesh.
Aren’t you scared, namesake?


Dress, lips, ears, eyes — closed
under sacred words sewn up.
Yet you see, everything.


You have seen, but do not want to see.
Gis nga waye goumbo


You wear tééré like
a scholar hides precious words
in miniature books.


Body, nose, cheeks — Black.
You see colour we can’t see.
You are still, namesake.


Speak the unspoken; show the unseen.
Wahh lou kendoul wahh, won'neh lou ken gissoul


Read more >
1

Dragon

You breathe the fire of a dragon with your art. Measured and far reaching.

You can feel the heat of it on your own neck, drawing in deep breaths to gather the smouldering fire in your heart, bring it forth into the world, to be viewed by others. You wonder often if they know that this fire, right here, is yours. It simmers when you’re sleeping, stirring you awake with a new idea. You jot down a note, or two or ten, never quite returning to slumber. Instead you gather the things around you, the artefacts that others might call props. The things of your heritage, they beckon you as you try to connect with them, make a sense of them that translates, somehow. And sometimes lost in your own thoughts, you forget about the heat in the flat, from outside or in, that London summer swelt that wraps you up and leaves you soaking, droplets over your eyes, intermittently blurring your view of your own creation. Most times you ignore it, let the fire inside your own belly be the thing that you focus on.

This picture would be one of many, a series, developed over time, so that you as the image, is no longer just you. It’s Gambia. And Britain. And the silence that lives between the two. You wanted closed eyes and a serenity that didn’t distract from anything else. The ancient look of the photograph, the photograph itself. And when all was done, you let the work speak, shout, scream from a tower. It was and wasn’t you, standing atop, mouth open, fire making billowing exits from your throat, your mind, your heart.

You wondered if everyone could breathe fire like this. Even sleeping, dreaming, waking to hot, hot heat and smelling smoke that wasn’t yours. You thought creative, mustered a vision of luminous scales, webbed feet and wings that could fly you and everyone around you, out of the tower.

Read more >
2

Above

All day I’ve been working, with the antimusic of the city at my ears, and now I’m tired and doubtful. Looking for a landing place, hoping when I get there it’ll be warm and soft. At least there’s home, and this is the end of the day so I raise myself and say my till-tomorrows and transit.

              The city channels your body as it wants; it streams you up and down and around, all the time promising space to be yourself, space to be yourself. Then I’m narrowing and closing and there’s the door with my last name in biro by the bell.

              I throw my bag down in the place I throw it. Heat water and fill a cup without putting the light on. I sit in the me-dent of previous sittings, take a cushion and hold it against myself. I sit with my doubt. The vertigo of not-knowing keeps my eyes open.

              Your eyes are closed, going inward, into the glow of the glory that drives you. The hyphenated layers of yourself. Though the city tells you every day that you’re not at home, your camera says no, here I am, here we are; this is my light.

              I sit all night tonight, for some reason, staring in the rickety mirror of what I see through the glass. All the lit-up window squares, the stories beckoning. Come on over. But it’s an invitation to risk. All you have to do is pack yourself in and come down, honey. Come down and see what’s up. Promising a landing place, warm and soft if your money’s good.

              But you are already at home, and you owe the city nothing. All the lit-up window squares, not enough to blunt the stars.

4

late

the late it came, too late
to catch the moment
already broken – the flecked wing
it shimmered blue
struck out silver-bent
along poetic lines the
songbird's lonely call
we saw the mountain fall
against the light, so blinded
by the sun we wept, placed lips
beside our fist shaped hearts
poured hope into chalices
and drank to quench our thirst
so we can breathe
to breathe
and breathe

5

Insight

The twists and turns in your headdress
reflect the challenges you so beautifully embraced
like a Queen conquering cultures;

Even Time stopped to admire you overcoming your obstacles:
as you thrived and jumped above the prejudice of this World,
your amulet bounced to your tune
from your neck onto your eyes,
covering them, so your Soul
could savour your journey
from Gambia to Grenfell
in a snapshot!

But in a moment, you bid goodbye,
forever closing your eyes,
leaving behind a legacy
for the World to see;

You always told your Story through moments sculpted by Light:
in a World where judgement
is clouded by Sight
You reminded us to close our eyes
and observe with Insight.

6

I CAN SEE IN SILENCE

I can see in silence.
In silence the memories
are rolling over me,
and we are running
all around and in between
the shadows of forest
and its dark stillness.
A stillness never tells,
but always listens
to our heartbeats.
Lost in the noise
we are divided.
Spinning chaos into order,
death into birth.
Looking for an exit—trying
to recall a memory of ourselves
in the great affliction of emptiness.

7

Unite

Protests screamed out loud
or howled in silence
words from Black truth delve
into multicoloured hearts—

find us whites all wanting
damned by arrogance presumed at birth
dear goddess set each one free

our Black kin are nearer to our souls
than owners who claim control
of everything. We must bend knees
honour but not extol suffering
we must not glorify abuse or war.

8

History

I’ve walked this beaten path
Before.

Hate rounding
Like a nipping dog
With sharp white teeth
Chasing me.

A deep dark fear
Barking like the night.

Relentless.

Ruthless.

After me
With my eyes shut
And my eyes awake.

Batting at my peace
From bloody sunup
To haunting and endless
Sundown.

9

Durability of color

Wearing washed white gloves, my black
hands open a metal box. Inside, I find pictures
of the “wholesome celebration.” Black ghost
feet emulsified, freeze-dried, alongside
brimmed hats and white grins, kept, soiled words
and pictures of Southern days of "yore." A black face winces, and dies slowly under your knee.
I see all y'all now. I cry alone at the new hanging tree.
Holding steady the opened box with my black hands.
This time, I see and know everything. My eyes
are wide in a sun, tendering red-hot heat.
A scream escapes my mouth. A neoteric
world outcry shapes around the boxed sacred pieces
of ancestral flesh and bone, mere souvenirs,
caught in the intermittent silence of your history
held captive between a habitual alarm
and a world mirror. Here, I pick up a rock.

10

The Blind Preacher

Alma was a blind preacher in a red brick church in a small southern town. Everyone said how powerful and poignant her sermons were. The congregation believed she was divinely inspired and had a resonating voice that could rouse any soul out of deep spiritual sleep.

“I can see the truth better than most people with eyes,” she said.

Her mission was to bring people together of all creeds and colors. “I have a vision,” she shouted into the microphone with sweat pouring down her cheeks. “I’m not the blind one! Because I can find my way out of the dark!”

She banged the podium. “Those who don’t have faith are the blind ones!”

Her congregation all stood up and cheered.

11

Invisible

I am a child.
Will you play?
If I shut my eyes, you go away…
I too have vanished;
shuttered lids
will hide each little trusting kid.

I am a girl.
What do you see?
Not the bones that scaffold me.
We both will rattle into age,
hearts slowing in their
frosted cage.

I am a woman.
Can you see?
With veins that branch a crimson tree.
Not an empty bloodless ghost,
a midday shadow,
a mandatory dose.

I am a person
but I must hide
with all my colours trapped inside.
Every breath not white enough,
my skin too thin,
their hands too rough.

We are all human.
Open your eyes:
Read more >

12

For us remembering is like breathing

She is now beloved
and he gone to the
mountain to be with the stones

He is not your preacher
nor you his silent
congregation in prayer

We are not your people
nor you our chosen
representative in this

They are not your mourners
nor you their high grief;
this is your celebration

I am not your darling
nor you the ash dust
that I rub across my face

This is not your image
nor you reflected
in the windows as the sun

That is not your justice
nor is that your judge;
your only measure is you.

13

I leave in a deeper silence

Death among a void,
             existence into the throat
of the flowers; but what is it about
the death of verse and prose
into the saurian rocks
             and night of memory
not myself? Quiet as baby’s breath.
             The fall of man
is a rarity from fear and falsity
             but as poetically a delusion
to capture in the snow like a child;
I reach to open my eyes
             to the tenor and tomb of
a sleep like Lazarus of the dead;
the cold exult, the connectivity
of mind is not reached, for language
             does not trace to the old trees
a forward of understanding.
The dark light
             stumbles in the topology
to the axis of beauty, oh, but it is not dead,
             in the arms of water
perched over lost prayers
in dark churches;
I am not blinded but wounded
             like a child of snow
who lies by the mouth of poets
             who leave their shadows
to the song.
Read more >

14

Shades of Sepia

We are all equal (here) in the eyes of our keeper.
In captivity we are all the same.
Sepia is the colour of our rainbow in the morning light,
Everyday is the past of a day that perhaps will never come.

We wait in the shadows of our silence (fences).
What makes us equal is not our surrender or our imprisonment,
But our wish to conquer freedom;
To be free and survive,
Until our day comes.

Sepia is the colour of the twilight,
Where the sun sleeps in the arms of the night,
Surrounded by shadows and the hidden light.

15

Raise Me Up

My eyes are closed
I don’t breathe anymore
See anymore
Live anymore
Yet I will have my say
Unspoken words
Drift from my lips
My silence building noise
A scream in the void
Of too many forgotten
Do not kneel for me
But stand up
Raise me up
Carry me with you
For the rest of your days
My eyes may be closed
Yours, at last, are open

16

The deep-rooted urge to find solace in a higher power*

'Oh my God'.

That's what I said out loud. A bloated hackneyed obvious cliche. I wonder for how long we've said those words? In how many languages? I say it when Arsenal concede a goal and reflexively when I have nothing else to offer.

The photograph made me say it. I recognised her from the Tower. I recognised her style.

They killed Khadija Saye and the others in Grenfell. They killed her and what has happened?

Nothing.

*Khadija Saye

17

Closed Eyelids

You closed those eyelids,
To keep the tears locked in,
When you wished me well.

When you wished me well,
You could not raise your hand,
You could not lift your head.

You could not lift your head,
And open your eyes wide,
To watch me leave.

To watch me leave,
Would have hurt your heart,
Instead you closed those eyelids.

18

Ferrotype

She tilts her face toward the light,
stretches her neck and lifts her chin
well above the curved bow
of the neckline of her dress.
The soft swirls of the musorr
that covers her head
frames
a high forehead,
exults the arch of her brow.

Does she rest?
Is that why her eyes are veiled?
To keep out lights too fierce, too bright?
Or is she remembering
those shadows who walked before her?

She rises reborn from a bath
of silver nitrate—
tints of sepia and gray,
the smooth sheen of lead,
dusty ash, and smokey charcoal—
exposed light on black lacquered metal.

Her lips softly close.
She will not release the song.
Inside on her tongue,
she tastes its notes,
droplets of honey
destined to soothe and bless.
Read more >

19

Eyelids, of Visionary sight

they see, black and white
framed stylistic, ashen themed
round cheeks, gated eyes
and barren surroundings
to bleak, prophetic artistry

I see, transcendent skin
glistening, overcoming pixel limitations
heritage – reached for, displayed proud
broad shoulders undeterred
visionary beacon, of self-loving bravery

breath of truth, as a life mantra
wisdom of love, for eyes searching – beyond
aesthetic differences, a conduit of empathy
to vessels of scarlet consanguinity
a phoenix, igniting others with arrowed impassion

Khadija, by name
and like her namesake, a figurehead
for believers, for dreamers
of an end to nightmares like Grenfell
expectant – patience, for the dawning of equality’s might

20

1,096 Days

Doing breathing exercises, trying to reach sleep
But they feel like yet another thing to do
To worry about forgetting to do
To not do well enough.

Shapes flicker and coagulate behind closed lids.
Swirling, lilac and lime and teal and orange
Like oil on water.

Giving up and opening my eyes
I can feel my blood fizzing through my fingers
Pulse loud in my throat.

Sometimes I picture myself crawling up the sides of our block
Peeling it away from itself
The night air fresh on my cheeks.

I would move quietly.

I don’t want to frighten anyone
Any more than they are already frightened.

I would move quickly.

Between the little squares of light.
The tableaux.
Little acts of living
Framed in HPL.

In these spaces we breathe
And we remember those whose breath stopped
In the spaces where they should have been safest of all.

Read more >
21

Kerchief Nostalgia

Inhaling fresh hope, exhaling dysfunction
justice on edge enjoys an extended hiatus as
concealed compassion sighs then gasps,
bleeds through sepia photograph frames (respire)—
breathe truths unshakable, unique, enduring
like unalterable antique daguerreotype
images—distorted only by demigods in the
guise of deliverance, panting false prophets
offering quixotic sermons. Caverns of choice,
elliptical dreams, progressive barriers of oblivion.

Saltine crackers linked with kite string form
a makeshift sleep mask, attempt to shield
honest eyes cringing at impending disasters,
like unfulfilled promises of safety and accountability,
convincingly uttered in the Grenfell Tower Fire aftermath,
where equity’s been obscured by political discourse,
envy and covetousness defined civilized parameters,
perpetually privileging a select few. Keep breathing;
let lasting change rise from the ashes,
may the glue binding all to a revolution resist factions.

22

Charm

They close your lids
not knowing what you hide,
A wide curious sky,
A yellow beam untied.

They cage you in charms –
Charms not letting you stray,
A world of song and colour
awaits you, far away.

No! The evil will touch you!
is what they say,
You are sacred, you are fragile,
We will show your way.

You carry weight, you cut grain,
You make pots, or you perform…
The charms won’t let you ‘sin’.
They can ward off a storm.

Who are they trying to hide?
Your colour, your glow, your hope?
Evil lies in the eyes that pry,
using tradition as a trope.

Behind hidden doors and dark curtains,
they all will ravage you,
slyly siding the divine charms,
meant to protect you.

Read more >
23

Breathing Space

My eyes are closed now
waiting for the pennies.
Are yours open yet?
You said you were colour blind
but I said that your eyes were closed.
Are they open yet?

In the end
all I needed was breathing space.
Perhaps it’s all we ever need.
I hope you will speak my name
and the names of the other breathless
people.
My ears are open.

Open your eyes.

24

Soar Above

How sad, it's strange,
this binding of the eyes;
do we blame a culture gap
or does a mirror intervene?
What is this handed on a plate,
with cracks and poor exposure laid,
as if unwilling to explore
the negative portrayal made?
An image still and frozen held,
instilled, our mind’s museum piece,
but still displayed, as if to excuse.
How limited our sight has been,
how primitive horizons scanned,
and slaves to what we always thought.

This strange conjunction in one life,
as if congruency mismatched,
unsettled questions of report.
Gambian peers through cladding,
masked by cheap and cheerful,
that will do, a Babel tower,
don’t understand, diversity,
we’ll pile up there.
Palazzo, far pavilions,
diaspora in Venice met,
Biennale, art celebrate,
high rise above expected lore.
Near fifty I last Kettle’s Yard,
her work at home, re-opened doors;
Read more >

25

The Reproduction

You handed me the photo—sepia,
tattered—of the young woman.
I asked, Is this of your grandmother
or great-grandmother? You said, No,
it’s me. About ten years ago. But it
recalls an image I saw in an old family
album. I never understood that picture.
What were they doing to that woman?
Why were her eyes closed and what
were the patches at the far corners of each
eye and across the bridge of her nose?
I was riveted by her—was she the subject
of a treatment or an experiment? Was
she, like me, an artist? You said the original
had burned in the fire in Richmond. No one
had known who she was—even your mother
and your grandmother, who had preserved
the album, didn’t know. You needed her
back, so you put yourself in her shoes.
You wanted to feel what it would be like
to be posed, unseeing, then to see
yourself in her place. Your picture,
you said, was a choice. You wondered
whether hers had been and, if not,
whose. It dismayed you, that mystery.
Not to know. But you felt across the ages
her imagined presence, the possibilities
and directives, the bidding and decision,
that brought her (then you) before the camera.

26

Silent Sob

Her overheated heart ignites,
indignance holds her breath,
unable to respire,
afraid it might expire
in a roaring dragon’s flame.

Eyes closed, repeating their names
over again, she sees them
as crimson flames
dancing on charred walls,
burning the inside of her lids.

The fierceness of the fire
has beaten tattoos into her skin,
melted her flesh with grief;
she can only press her lips
against gritted teeth
that strain to bite and rip,
an oral cage of maternal rage.

Her mouth stays shut,
traps her loud lament,
so that words like cinders form
a silent sob like a poem.

27

Her Spectre

She is the space between
fragile and forever, between
fierce and the softest kiss.

There was once a memory
in her name, a wind's whisper.
I heard it once, it tugged at

my sleep, and then scattered
off my fingertips when I woke.
If we forget, who will forgive us?

I passed a shop window today.
The world's closed, windows
soaped white. I thought I saw

forever in the glass, but it was
knots, snares, and much to do
about it already being July.

28

No justice

There is injustice in the world
no need to look to far-flung places
peep beneath the bundle of rags
in a corner of the spice market
there is injustice everywhere

developers develop
their own portfolios
their bank balances
and let the people slip between
the shifting banknotes.

Fire burns the slip-shod building
the young and talented
the old and infirm
the frightened children who slip
from the grasp of rescuers

though never the men
who turn away folding bills
and contracts putting on their shades
and slipping away discreetly
until the dust settles.

Close your eyes and dream
of the world that might have been
its birdwing colours sun on waves
and distant hilltops while we weep
and sweep up the ash of injustice.

29

From a small girl in South Africa circa 1983

Is your chin proud
My Lady?
Do your unseeing eyes
See things I cannot?
I know they do

Your warm hand took mine
So long ago
And I cried
For you, for me, for us all

I marvelled as a young child
At your adornments
Crying silent tears
For the injustices
That white skin brought to black
That money could only promise to salve

As a small child
I was carried on your back
And breathed your deep scent
Just as the brittleness
Of those and mine
Excluded me

Forgive them, ma tante,
For they are old
And they tried
But know

Read more >
30

Let them

It's not a given, wealth, health, food, water, even happiness
                —but to breathe.
The moment you are born and take that first blessed breath your life has begun,
                 —ademen.
No matter the family you are raised in or the one you may eventually make,
One thing should be a given, to breathe,
                —respirare.
How many times shall a travesty occur?
How many lives are to be lost, because they were not able to breathe.
                —elpot.
We cannot allow these moments to become just memories that we look back on and scold those who did wrong.
This would make us just as guilty.
                —nefes almak.
Let these horrific moments be a spark to ignite the change that has been so long overdue,
                —asam te haal.
Of all the varied challenges each one of us will inevitably face in our lifetime,
The right to breathe should not be one of them,
                —neefsan.

On this beautiful, wild and unpredictable place we call earth, our home, there are over six thousand and five hundred languages to be spoken.
Breathe, it can be said in any language, so when will we start to listen and understand.

Atmen, nafas, kupumua, manawa, bernafas, ukuphefumula.
                Let them Breathe.

31

This Moment

you lay scapulars on temples that pulse
breathe a safe space
like the heartbeat of a mother’s womb
protection from layers

layers, that ooze from podiums
drip by pernicious drip
into homes-schools-offices-factories…

chase you down streets
with emblems of law and order
entomb you in dioxins
and burn you in Promethean flames.

You breathe strength and resistance
to matter in this unrhythmic place
a place that forever hammers
on top of your sarcophagus.

32

ALCHYMIA

You desire to taste of me
As if on a dare
I am threatening, taboo
An irresistible danger

What is it that you fear,
that you poke at, taunt,
to test your mettle?
What might I do to you?

Will I show you the prison
woven of my viscera
stitched of my sinew
in which you confine yourself?

You are fettered
by your need to control
You put blinders on me
hoping you will not see

But I have always seen
And I have the grace
to abide that from which
you have always fled

I am the magnum opus
The perfection of body and soul
I am the crucible
and I will birth new worlds

33

Daughter of the Night – for Shukri Abidi

I see you still

 

eyes closed

 

I hear your silence
louder than my screams
before the wave’s final claim

 

Where I come from, when elders sang songs to us at night, they told us we were daughters of the night, it was always deep, dark moonless night our bodies deep dark moonless our faces deep dark moonless

 

From night’s womb I came
brief day
you threw me back in its jaw
deep dark sunless the waters deep dark sunless the waves

 

 

before the passing

 

so deep

Read more >
34

A white woman asks herself if she is the one

who decides your worth
who chooses the distance of your journey
who puts up a fence saying, "you cannot leave"
who imprisons you
who says you are not prepared yet, or ever
who declares the value of your day spent
who gives permission
who dictates the power
who is brave enough for vulnerability
who is willing to see you
who keeps you in a box
who labels you unworthy
who refuses to feel what is truth
who pushes away the body of pain
who wishes to believe that the cycle is over
who forges ahead limping with determined discipline
who doesn't want to go back, and will not
who fights the next step forward after choosing the path
who accepts what doesn't want to be accepted
who will face fear
who will lead
who will trust in following the leaders
who will be compassionately bold for all that is and isn't
who will accept responsibility for what you have lived
who will risk believing that it could be different
who will lay down herself as a carpet for the future
who will take a chance and let love in
who will try, try again

35

Reverse ghazal daguerreotype

But then – and you speak again,
through sepia’s silent asperity aspect.

But then – and you hear again,
click of the shutter, shatter, laughter.

But then – and you look again,
a ghost framed by a guard of honour.

But then – and you’re here again,
time doesn’t flow, it’s heat thinking.

But then – and you leave again,
oh potential energy forever ready.

But then – and you start again,
behind closed doors, worlds open.

But then – and you are again,
missing you, an everyday task.

36

Ancestry

I was born one hundred years ago
But my breath lives on
Whispering down your spine
Tickling your bones.

It takes me two seconds
Less
To prick my finger on a briar
Watch the blood swell
To match the color of the flowers
And revel in life.

My passions live on
In the corners of your eyes
Where your dreams sleep
Dancing with old dreams of mine.

The dust may be vibrant
On gilded frames of my smile
But I still feel the days
When you meet my gaze and I
Move you to wear my clogs.

Paint them with rainbows
Dipped in the desires
Of your azure heart.

I was born one hundred years ago
But my breath lives on
Because you were born today
Read more >

37

Choking

Infected
fighting for breath
against an enemy
blind, invisible,
indifferent
that pushes me to exhaustion
with each contested
inhalation
I think of all
lost in the battle
against an enemy
neither blind nor invisible
but there for every camera
and every witness to record
enforcing hate
with the weight of every knee
on the throat
of one more black life
unable to escape
repeating
I can’t breathe
I can’t breathe
I can’t breathe

38

Not Asleep

Child, I am not asleep
I have only closed my eyes...
To see you more clearly
To listen to you more acutely
To know you more fully

And know this –
Having closed my eyes...
I will never be unsighted
I will never be side-lined
And never blindsided

By closing my eyes – as no statue ever could –
I will always distinguish the quiet from the loud...
Your meanings from your words
Your deeds from your claims
Your confessions from your protestations

I am not asleep, Child...
I have only closed my eyes
And with my eyes closed
I will always see you
And see you better.

39

Colourblind

To close your eyes
Isn't as if to die
Perish the thought
That I'm gone
My prayers are long winded
Worry beads
That trickle down my eyes
Like victory laps
Across the brazen face
That has been even tempered
In heat wave and permafrost
But opens up now
As if it has thawed
Like a dormant, deep slash
Mile long in the mind
Inching deep into the heart
That maneuvers itself across life
In an abrasive counterpoise
Like a trusted knife
To remove the settled dust of time
From cobwebbed images
Hanging on the messy display
Of my exhibit A.
Just pray
So that light stays
Within the four corners of
The visual condensation
That blocks my view
Of the outer night
Read more >

40

Space to Breath

You respire, in, out,
Hidden depths fill with suspiration,
An apex fuelled by aspiration,
Conspiring with like-minded souls
Shedding perspiration on the way,
Talent transpired, and revealed,
Called to Venice, you took up a
Dwelling in this space we breathe
Named Diaspora,
Collectively, together, from distant shores,
Displaying spiritual depths and knowing,
You used your passions quietly,
Each image burning with an inner flame
Showing mysteries others fail to name,
At peace in the practice of your art
A deeper meaning you impart,
Live life in love and laughter
Sitting at the very heart,
Too soon, your life
Spun, measured, cut
Too short, too short
Yet, you leave a legacy behind,
Inspiring, calling to others
Follow, follow down this path.

41

Suffocation

With decades – no, centuries – of prejudice, they couldn't breathe
With offensive speeches from Powell to Johnson, they couldn't breathe
With oppressive Conservative hostile environment, they couldn't breathe
With combustible Grenfell cladding, tragically they couldn't breathe
With human civil rights and basic equality denied, they couldn't breathe
With 'low status' jobs and genetic ethnicity, in Covid intensive care units,
They couldn't breathe...
Inequality kills, I can't breathe.

42

Contact

Unfathomable, agile quiescence,
a color not yet enmeshed in the mental lexicon.
In this moment, it exists without
knowledge. Eyes have briskly
evolved to examine a focal point:
a grain of salt in freshly coffined ocean.
Artist’s creation is not the image;
it is beyond the audible bubble wraps:
deep into florescent lips,            and everything.
All that which radiates from one human
to another.

43

To all those who have something to say about me

I have had enough –
Of the scornful glint
In your eyes
Off my black skin
of the thousands of shallow faces
you make
every time my eyes meet yours.

I have had enough –
Of your
“It’s such a pity she’s black,
She has such wonderful raven locks.”

I have had enough of you.

I no longer want to see the world
Where you flagrantly
Refer to women like me
As mere species, a cast, a cult
that require documentation,
ethnographic analysis.
I refuse to be a part
Of your bourgeois study,
I refuse to be defined by your narrative,
I refuse to be labelled.

I shall rather breathe
the winds of mother nature
with my head held high and strong
Read more >

44

PRUDENCE

By nature or nurture, be cautious or reckless.
By system or chance, accept or refute.
By method or madness, press on or hold back.
By all means, do what works best for you.

We all have the option whether or not to:

Read instructions and follow directions.

  • Fall into eyes as languid as pools.
  • Sink sublimely subject to suggestion.
  • Look before leaping into a toolbox.
  • Lacerate once after measuring twice.
  • Make your list as long as you need to. But,
    as an example, that’s enough for you to see.

    As an apprentice masters a process,
    advancing, processing, in orderly fashion,
    be careful, keep watching where you are going
    when closing your eyes, proceeding inside.

    45

Survivor

I close my eyes gently, lashes interlaced,
so my gaze doesn’t singe you,
and my lips are sealed because if they opened,
the words that spilled forth would condemn you to damnation.
I cover my beautiful kinky hair with a head wrap
for it would blind you – my radiant halo,
the corona to my inner sunlit self.
Under that fabric lies the pain of my people
seared into the sulci and gyri of my brain for all eternity.
You made me “the other”, a mere commodity
stole my people, sold them, enslaved them,
shipped them off to foreign lands, crammed into holds,
expendable cargo, manacled, shackled, and fettered,
and yet they survived, endured, held tight to life and love and faith.
You have not realized yet that I am your earliest ancestor,
your ur-mother, who carried you out of the Great Rift Valley
nestled against my nursing bosom, and sent you forth to people the earth.
You deride my appearance, even as you take from me
with infinite avarice, all that is mine, and then some more.
You only see the dark velvet of my skin, my gorgeous melanin,
and mock the amulets I wear as a shield from your greed.
You have closed your heart to beauty, sold your soul to Mammon.
Hate is wasted on you. I pity you who are unworthy of my contempt.

46

A Safe Place to Breathe

Courage lives in my fingers.
I hold on my lips
the whispers of my ancestors.
These things matter.
A safe place to live
and breathe,
safe walls,
safe floors,
safe ceilings—
these necessities
belong to everyone.

We house ourselves
with faith,
believing in those
who build dwellings in the sky.
With closed eyelids, I see smoke
devour that safety.
There are eyes that see what needs to be fixed,
and there are eyes that ignore the bricks out of place.
When every floor of every tower building
has unwavering strength,
our vulnerable feet will have peace.

47

Feelings and Forms

Light is always looking for something to burn. Give light silver and it might turn into gold. The light will close your eyes. You would close them anyway, eventually.

Standing in the light, you convince yourself that you are the subject. The whole world is looking at you. Close your eyes and you are looking at you, too. Pen your eyes and the light steals the show again. It wants to convince you that it can show you everything, but all it can show you is everything else. The darkness is really what's worth looking at. The shadows are where the truth is revealed. Shadows are forms. Light is the void.

What's there to see anyway? I mean, what's really worth seeing? If everyone is not free, then no one is free. If everyone cannot see, then no one can see. So what can everyone do? What can everyone be?

Not everyone can hear the sounds of crickets in the evening. Not everyone can smell the sweet aroma of chrysanthemums in bloom. But everyone can feel gravity's gentle tug; the planet spinning, hurtling through the forms and the voids. We can all feel the water, on our flesh first, then in our mouths, and eventually in our lungs. We all drown in our feelings, eventually.

Maybe don't look with your eyes, then, but look with your feelings. That's how to see what everyone can see. To feel what everyone feels. To be what everyone can be. In the darkness, that pregnant realm of forms and feelings, that's the place to go to escape the silver and the gold, to escape the light, to escape whatever might seek to burn you, close your eyes for you, snuff out the part of you that's bigger than all of this, the part that's always known the world is bigger than knowledge, misery, and delight.

48

Woman

I see the sun illuminate my body, my heart is soft and hard
I feel the rain cool my brain, embers hot and cold
I hear the wind whisper in my ears, needs verses wants
I have thunder thick skin, water and soil

My hands caress babes and pound a harvest
Nails brittle and dark from food production
My legs have seen a million worms, trodden a million thorns
My back has tasted fire, my spine has a thousand shapes

My hair, my hair I forgot I had

My lips have sung soothing melodies, wailed for sorrow
My teeth have chewed for others, ease their swallow
My tongue spit for blessings, cursed bitter words
My neck has a cobra arch, length for longing

My ears hear before the voice, action before demands
My body wears rags for clothes, cover for shame
My nose smells for health and for poison
My throat chocks on smoke air and of laughter

I am woman, earth, fire, water, air, space.

49

The Answer

A dry land seeking liberty
to wet itself wonders
about the quiet after this storm.

The roads are familiar to it.
The smell of the air isn't.

The trees no longer liaise.
Their commitments are done.

Does the new rephrasing require us?

An empty bowl falls on the floor—

The sound seems familiar.
It was there in the quiet
before the storm.

50

to spell

unseen but
present—just listen—
feel currents
wind flowing
chords that cast ancient songs as
if from everywhere

the parting
of curtains the still
suddenness
of the light—
flowers falling like rain—leaves
rustling into birds

what signs are
given, what words call
both to grief
and healing?
where do the fallen find breath,
feathers—conjure wings?

51

Song to Reach the End of the World

The sea runs rare, oracles
lap in the milky foam their
ohms and proclamations
are formed from, somewhere
rocky there is life, a father
listening for a mother. The dead
wash upon your beach, let’s be clear,
I’ve always imagined some apocalypse,
long fingers wrap around my childhood’s
neck and I speak in tongues as the clouds
gather the average of the world’s tears.

52

KHADIJA

You are silent, resilient 

Closed eyed, shut wide

In black and white you present

Your blackness is strong, present

 

Defined by wisdom that is timeless

But the pain because now you're lifeless

Exuding a quiet strength of pride

An injustice to now be denied 

The growth of your limitless talent

But I bask in the glory of your statement

 

This moment in time captured, now 

Feels as though I know you somehow 

Timeless

Ageless

Your artistry

Now herstory 

Yours, mine, ours

Read more >
53

I Envy You, Calm Woman

I too, want to close my eyes, as calm as you,
and bow to the sublime, in the blossoming
colours that one reckons with behind the eyelids,
though blooms of agonies strike my ventral, I too,
want to be as cool as you, be one with the breeze
of light and darkness, unknown to jostles of scared
hearts and worried souls, I too, want the touch of
silent comfort, unshaken, without humps for days
unnumbered.

I envy you, though I know not what
stirs beneath the serenity that you wear so smoothly.

54

For A Moment

Close your eyes for a moment
And let the rays of sun sink in
The dark alleys vast vast.
How we fear to tread in there!
Let us keep aside our fears,
Let us loose ourselves from all shackles,
Let us let us, let us just stand there still,
Eyes closed, breaths slow.
See, it is not all dark now,
The sun rays have formed passages.
Do you wish to discover them?
The red carpets await your steps.
Walk walk, walk forth.
The light at the end of the tunnel
Comes from a beautiful world.

55

i feel

i feel their weight
i feel their history
i feel their pain

their weight, a world of injustice and inequity in which i still live

their history, every day another year's worth of struggle, another lifetime's worth of contented contempt

their pain, not only what they have had to feel, but the pain of a mother seeing her child suffer

i feel them
i know them
i am them

They are me

56

Shade

the dead girl rolls her eyes
suggests you name her
woman, at the very least; artist, she
is a seance with herself
planchette fingernails dragging
the blackened board
K - H - A - buckling in the heat
D - I - J - sigils for flame, for waste
do not break contact
lean in to hear her voice
smouldering, saying

i am so soot i turn canals to ink
in me all towers burn
i had already found my place
among the queens of my line
what have you done since
in my name?

57

Close My Eyes In The Light.

You want to force my eyes closed like those before me.
Force my eyes closed to those that come after.
But I have a knowing, a knowing from within.
I have a knowing this day would begin.
And I sit here in the dawning and choose to close mine.
To allow the light to shine,
The light warm on my skin in it’s beauty.
I wrap my hair and wear it proud.
Wrap it in cloths of colour and allow it catch in the light.
I close my eyes with knowing.
I close my eyes with peace.
You cannot force my eyes unseeing
For I see from beneath.
I close my eyes and allow the light to catch the colour.
Allow the light to find my skin
The light to shine for those on the pathway.
The light catch’s colours of beauty.
The light it shines from within.

58

You Think That Because My Eyes Are Closed

You think that because my eyes are closed,
I cannot see.
Do not be so sure:
I see.
I see the rules of the game are
                           grossly one-sided,
And fair is fair,
Except when you're black.

You think that because my eyes are closed,
I cannot see.
Do not be so sure:
I see.
I see the rules of the game are
                           finally changing,
And fair will be fair,
Even when you're black.

59

Obscure

I was told my species was too oblivious to see. I had touched my eyes a million times and felt the lashes and fluttered twice. On the pages of history, they had written my name in jumbled letters and narratives insane. In a worn-out book turned upside down, with a broken pen, they had documented our wretched tale. They had tied our clan to dusty bookshelves and broken window panes. They had said the light was too bright for our shade of dark. Words were too precious to be born out of our plump lips. They had then measured the size of our skulls and tied our wrists with uncomfortable chairs in dark waiting rooms. It was said we were not allowed to stand. With blinders on their eyes and ears, my ancestors had sat and sat. It was then declared one fine day that the train to the world had come and left. Their books had barbed guidelines for us. I was told I cannot earn the fare. I am only meant to wait for the fairs of their world. They said they owned the race of power but I don’t owe them my gait. My age-old tale lay buried with rusty fetters and archaic fences.

My color is no man’s race or relay; my being is no man’s land. I am neither too oblivious to see, nor am I too obscure to be. I am neither too trivial to live, nor am I too insignificant to become.

60

Haunting

You are right to haunt us.
Your journey, captured
with collodion fragility,
ended too suddenly.

Ritual and repetition,
in tinplate, your eyes
spirited a diaspora
to challenge our stories -

stories we repeat:
about history and power
and man and woman
and dark and light.

Cover your eyes.
You don’t want to see
how we responded
to your beautiful skin.

61

Mixed Emotions

A love I never experienced came like a wind sweeping off my feet

Felt so surreal as it felt like a trap as it seemed like a fairy-tale

As it pushed my barriers and unfolded my heart and soften it

As it unlocked my mind bringing in a glow and a whole new light

Letting out my emotions instead of bottling them up in a jar

Learning to bare it all whole out naked and not veiling my soul

The love I feel for him takes me aback sometimes as it's unconditional

As my whole body, mind and soul is devoted to him willingly

It scares me, terrifies me while it makes me joyful with happiness

My soul feels restless without his presence as I crave for his daily scent

My heart can’t live without his existence as life seems to be utterly meaningless

Fearing heartbreak being in different places not wanting an end to our love story

Mixed emotions and concerns rise up but not out of spite but fear of the unknown

Mind can’t seem to comprehend the goodness and the pureness of this love

My thoughts though wander if my inside thoughts be reciprocated once I unfold them

If I unveil would I be able to go back in time and salvage my moment or it be in ruins

Read more >
62

“got you, stand right there”

...but you had covered your eyes, with pieces of textile – or this is what it looked like – so I said: “you can’t see me” and you told me that you are more than eyes…to feel.

I said: “eyes can talk, hear, touch, smell, what else do you need?” and you replied: “they can’t breathe,” “eyes can’t breathe. ”So I assumed this was the reason you kept your nose uncovered.

I was coming closer and closer, I was asking things about your mouth, color and starting feeling like the little red hood, when you mysteriously said: “oh don’t be afraid,” “I am not the wolf,” “I even wear a cotton hood,” I asked “then who?” and you only replied:

“you are too close.”

“I need some space to feel the room.”

So, I took, few steps back and then I saw, people around you, yelling at me to stop talking – for these were the rules – and I thought: how I couldn’t hear them all this time, when you suddenly screamed “It’s Chris, all right?”

You said: “I’m free,” then starting to laugh, covered my eyes, telling me: “your turn to become the blind man’s buff.”

63

only memory

A long time ago before we knew power was a horse that reared and never missed. Before we understood that pain was a thing that burnt cold. Long before we felt the hunger of tunnels or the denseness of too many words crowding at the mouth.

Till we found that life could drip anger. Or that sadness was a canvas with too many hues, and we were tinted by all of them. A long time before this when we learned you could drown in tears.

Do you remember what our tomorrows looked like before the reality of walls? Before we were an impossible lostness trapped in the wings of things that neither moved nor stayed.

A long time ago in would-be-phantoms to live for. Before sadness was a skin you couldn’t unthread from the body.

Yassin Moyo|Khamis Juma|Calvince Omondi|David Kiiru|Peter Gacheru|Christine Aoko|Eric Ngethe|Idris Mukolwe|Ramadhan Juma|John Muli|Ibrahim Onyango|Vaite

How long are our names ours if only memory holds them?

64

Do not close your eyes

Like Oedipus,
They would have us blinded by our own hands,
Turn our vision myopic with our own relics.
They sit comfortable in the binaries they have created,
We thought we had broken and buried the constructs of US and Them….
Yet
They would have us benumbed to our own pain
And turn a blind eye to the insidious undercurrents of the movements which made us placid to the reality.

Today again the raised fists in protests
Beseech us to open our eyes
To see
To recognize
We are still standing on the shores of Philadelphia,
Shackled, chained, manacled.
The healed wounds were just skin deep,
Let them bleed anew!
Scrape off the scars!
Do not close your eyes till the world sings the unanimous song of harmony.

65

CAN YOU SEE MY PAIN?

I have closed my eyes so that I can breath
When my eyes are open, I cannot.
Can you feel my pain?

My pain is underneath me still
In my roots once pulled broken
From my native land.
Planted broken in your foreign soil
So long ago, so long ago

Yet the sun still now, is so often kept from me
Still now – so often kept from me.

When I see your fear, I cannot breath
When I close my eyes, I cannot walk
When I cannot walk, I fall.
Can you see my pain?

66

Amara sits still…

Amara sits still, lost in trance. A pale spectre forms behind her. It’s face an ashen white, except for the two black stars over each eye. I count the rays. Eight. I search my mind for references, metaphors, similes, anything that could give meaning to the symbolism. The lips are feminine, as is the demeanour.

I am frozen in terror. I watch Amara with a mixture of awe and horror. This is not my world. What am I doing here? Amara’s calm is the only thing keeping me from running. I watch as her lips move silently. I watch as the entity moves back and forth as if whispering in Amara’s ear.

I take out the flask of spiced rum from my pocket… unscrew the top and drink deeply… I look up to see Amara and the spirit looking directly at me… I stop drinking and slowly return the flask to my pocket… they both resume their conversation… okay… no alcohol… I must remember… no alcohol… even the spirits do not approve of alcohol… that sounds like an oxymoron… no matter… I drink too much anyway… maybe it’s time to stop… hmmm… never said that before…

My self-indulgent thoughts are broken by the broken glass and the racist words of the ignorant. I look to Amara. Her expression tells me this isn’t the first time. I look to the spirit… I see only her rage and I feel… justice… a swirl of movement and the entity is with those responsible… but then I feel… remorse… guilt… are their deaths on my conscience..?

I need to be better than this…

67

A Cracked deliverance

Deepest mahogany hue
Beachwood honed by blue waters
We are rooted from the same tree
Our culture stolen by darkness of snow
While assimilation is required
for docile invisibility
Unhidden intelligence endangers facade
No assembly desired
Lest a unity is woven
Into fabric of discovery
Knowledge is power
Best continue splitting manipulation
Mental consequence
for stepping out of line
Without permission
Or wanting to define
Your place
In the human race
With no benefit of recompense
from their harvest
No coincidence
the evidence
we are lulled to sleep
by the reality show...ing us
as pre...scribed
Read more >

68

White Glue

White glue closes my eyes, mouth and ears
The unwise monkey said nothing for years
I strut about, in make believe valour
Convince myself I see no colour
Believe myself worthy, support the cause
Take the knee, join the applause
Shake a fist, adopt a pose
But silently, so no-one knows
Violence, mistrust and unfair blame
Thousands perish, I bear no shame
And now I find I CAN’T BREATHE
The weight of this guilt is killing me

69

Show me your monster

She sees the future and despairs. Who will grasp the burning brand and chase away the monsters? Behind serrated squares of sateen soaked in scarce spiced syrup, her eyes turn inward to spirit. She sees the future semaphoring to the present, don’t go there, turn around. Who will listen to the sybil? Her calm belies the tumultuous message she transmits to all who will hear. /p>

They crowd her, they honour her words but understand nothing. They like to know she is there. They love the interest in their town she brings. They adore the money pilgrims pour in their coffers. Their ears and hearts are locked in a vault of their own making. How long can she continue to withstand the buffeting of their ignorance? A long apprenticeship to the crone who had chosen her as successor culminated in a conscious spectacle performed before elders to prove her worth. Her pronouncements were recorded for truth seekers to affirm. As they did and still do./p>

I remember her as a child. I recall her young limbs flailing as she fell out of the tree. Who knew she would become the centre of the universe to us, those who gather to listen, to learn, to carry the precious drops of wisdom to the world? Not I./p>

And still the monsters come. And still we refuse to change. And still she sits in her trance, hoping one day we will hear. I re-soak the sateen squares linked together with the string of sustained belief she blessed before the session. /p>

Perhaps I will sell these squares later to those credulous beings for more money than they are worth. They devour everything of hers. They would devour her if they could. I protect her from the monsters. That has to be worth something. No? My eyes are turned outward to the masses. /p> Read more >

70

Paper Birds

A bluebird’s carcass lays on
the side of the road and I
watch the slow progression
of another summer gone by.

Gusts of wind whip through
the barren branches of trees,
without making a sound. I
stumble over my own feet.

What if we could freeze-frame
the memories of this little bird?
Could we collectively share
them into a final embrace?

Cruelly I surrender to the task
of burial. Cruelly because it’s
so final, the tragedy of death,
of grief.

What if George Floyd’s memories
hadn’t faded? What if kindness
shut out the clouds? What if
sunshine fell upon the lid of

the coffin? What if the blindfold
was removed from our eyes?
What if love turned into rain?
Electric currents of spiritual energy,

Read more >
71

Where whispers descend

Magdalenean cherry-blossom,
primrose ghost dream-catcher
            haunts beneath your feet
blistered by railway-tracks &
            heavy flashlights’
            bandages of bondage.
Your scarlet bodegas
wrap around phosphoric years,
            stars & nightingales
            at your waist.
“Sorry” doesn’t suffice for scars,
            doesn’t justify celestial-oak tears
            mourning your memory.
Heaven’s mighty altar won’t cease
            whispering thistles.
Your very bridge, an inkblot path.

72

Togetherness

Her serenity
oozes
through the air
seeps
into my core
strokes
my soul with fingers
regal
yet kind.

Her peace
pours
into my body
sand in a timer
saturating
my stomach
torso
chest
slowing
my breathing.

I become
solid
sturdy
weighty.

Read more >
73

A Warm Opening

Through the barricade, I sense an opening.
I feel an ancestral warmth that comforts me.
For not a moment before, I was wrapped in a memory that wouldn't let me free.
It wasn't me who first saw the sun, but those before me whose whispered lore hums in my ear.
The ones whose light is near to witness the sun's warmth touch me for the first time, my view unobstructed.
The darkness falls behind me, and I'm not bitter.
I've been patiently waiting for the sun, and it melts on my smooth skin like peace melts on a cloud.
I'm still not free.
That which blocked me from the sun is still ahead of me, but in its broken state, can no longer subdue me.
And I choose to see.

74

you are my sister

We are not blind to your suffering
       Or your beauty

Your silence haunts us
Your strength astounds us

The beat of Mother Africa is
       in your heart
       in your walk
       in the rhythm of your voice

No amount of years or trials
Can erase that you are my sister
Wherever we meet
Whenever we meet
My heart feels yours
And yours feels mine

75