Adaku Nwokiwu

Tupac of Mamourah, 1999

By ANNA ZACHARIAS

Tupac Shakur was in Ras Al Khaimah, said Sami.

But Tupac is dead,said Connor.

Astaghfirullah,said Mayed.

Tupacs not dead,said Sami. Hes at the sheikhs palace.Sami had heard from his friend Nadia, whose uncle arranged security for the sheikh, that Tupac Shakur, the king of hip-hop, Mr. Thug Life himself, was on Jebel Jais.

Tupac of Mamourah, 1999
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Rite

BY KWEKU ABIMBOLA

 

For the three months before I left home, 
my father allowed me to cut his hair— 

a strange way to apologize 
for all those years of being
unclose. But for those three months,
he wanted me to make him presentable.

So I did, every other Saturday afternoon,
standing behind him, as he sat shirtless
on a beige foldaway chair in the master bathroom,
above the sandy whorls of our linoleum floor,
wearing his favorite home khakis.

His usual was the Even Steven:
slick dark Caesar, with a shadow 
taper close to his temples, 
and above his neck.

I studied how his hair sprouted 
in different grains. Especially tufts
that spooled from the birthmark 
near his dome. 

He chose Saturday afternoons
so we’d have enough time for shearing,
before he rose to Sunday’s pulpit and power. 

But all this closeness was just
a parting present, before I left
and grew my hair iridescent; prodigal.

Now even when I’m home, 
my father trims his own
hair, and fears mine.

Avoiding the touch of the one who cut
his hair before seven sermons. Including Mama Akua’s
memorial where he preached the whole message
in Akan about our funerary rites, 
before giving the altar call in English:

For our people all it takes to enter
Asamando is a cupful of water
for the journey, and tended hair: 
a freshly shaved head for men, and new 
plaits for women. But saints, I tell you,
to enter heaven you’ll need more, you’ll need— 

Dad, if you die before me, I swear
to still give you water. 

But Dad, if I die before you, please
just reach into whatever earth’s below my body, 
and feed that moisture to me. 

Please empty your hands
of all razors, clippers, and blades 
before you cup my head.

Bring instead to my pre-burial 
some argan and almond oil.

Douse my skull. Take your 
hands and comb my hair— 
then, plait it. Surprise me, weave my hair 
into something terrible. Into the flourish 
you fear. Because if you don’t, I’ll know. 

If I open my eyes and have nothing
to shelter my scapula and clavicles
from Asamando’s wind, I’ll know.

I know we’ll find ourselves in different
heavens. I’ve chosen the one that requires 
only my groundwater, and my mess of hair.

Though we’ll find ourselves in different
heavens, I’ll be haunted by that other eternity
I lived, draped in linoleum and afternoon beige 
for three months of summer Saturdays. 

 

Kweku Abimbola is a postgraduate Zell Fellow at the University of Michigan’s Helen Zell Writers’ Program. He is of Gambian, Ghanaian, and Sierra Leonean descent. He is a finalist for the 2021 Brunel International African Poetry Prize and the second-place winner of Furious Flower’s 2020 poetry contest, and has work published and forthcoming in Shade Literary Arts, 20.35 Africa, The Common, Obsidian, SUNU Journal, and elsewhere. Kweku is presently working on his first full-length poetry manuscript, entitled Saltwater Demands a Psalm. His chapbook, Birth Elegies, is forthcoming in May 2022 with Finishing Line Press. You can find him on Twitter: @kwxkuu.

[Purchase Issue 22 here.]

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Screensaver

BY ROBERT CORDING 

 

Sure, every photograph is an elegy 
to what was, but this photograph—
which I’ve turned into my screensaver—
of my son, dead nearly three years,
has him suspended in mid-air
He has just jumped from a rocky outcropping 
thirty feet above the shimmering water 
of Lake George that flashes silver and gold.
The day itself is glittering with light
that has the feeling of being
excessive and there are (I’ve counted)
seven different shades of green
in the hemlocks and cedars and white pines
growing from the rocky soil of the island.
My son is alive in the thrill of his airborne body,
though it is quiet in the photograph,
no cheers and whoops from his friends
who are waiting at the top to jump,
no sounds of the boats idling below, or the waves 
sloshing against their bobbing hulls.
I will not see him cleave the surface of the lake
and vanish with hardly a splash 
and then break back into the light,
silvery water cascading from his hair and shoulders.
And I will not see him climb back up the rocks,
eager and intent on his next single-second flight.
But almost daily I give thanks
for this moment in which the past is gone
but never dead, this glimpse
of the terrible sorrow to come, but also
of something like an afterlife
in which his body, relaxed, calm, hovers
as if it’s forgotten its heaviness,
the air holding him fast, halfway between
two places at once, the good light of sky
and the ease of bright water that waits.

Robert Cording has published nine books of poems, the latest of which is Without My Asking. He has recently published a book on metaphor, poetry, and the Bible called Finding the World’s Fullness. A book of poems and prose titled In the Unwalled City, which includes the poem in this issue, is forthcoming.

[Purchase Issue 22 here.]

Screensaver
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Mapping Exile: A Writer’s Story of Growing Up Stateless in Post-Gulf War Kuwait

BY MONA KAREEM 

Sitting on a green couch in what is now a bedbug-infested Brooklyn apartment, I suddenly realized that my flight to meet my family for the first time in five years was actually tonight, not tomorrow; 12:30 a.m., not 12:30 p.m. I had planned to wake up early in the morning, make two cups of coffee, and pack a small bag with the few gifts I managed to buy last minute for my siblings. I thought I had more hours to sit with my heavy feeling, which I assumed to be a mix of excitement and longing, but which was rather a combination of wariness and fear, of things going wrong, of encounters no one can prepare for. 

In front of the couch, there was a round coffee table, which I circled around in panic, not sure if I could make it to JFK on time, to Kiev on time, to Tbilisi on time. For months, my sister and I had saved and borrowed so we could have this one-week reunion trip in a country we knew nothing about. A few months after my arrival in the United States, the Kuwaitis had denied my application for passport renewal, subsequently making me an asylee. My family’s attempts to get U.S. visas were repeatedly denied, so we began to make different plans. We called embassies every morning, in the United States and in Kuwait. I asked, “Do you accept a U.S. refugee travel document? How long to issue a visa?” while they asked, “Do you accept a stateless travel document? How long to issue a visa?” The mutually closest country was Georgia, a place Arabs have come to discover in the past few years, this time not as conquerors, but as refugees in transit, hoping to infiltrate Europe from her eastern side. 

Mapping Exile: A Writer’s Story of Growing Up Stateless in Post-Gulf War Kuwait
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Khobar Spleen

BY NATASHA BURGE

 

We were born here so we know how to do. This is the way you walk when you walk. An engine of engines. A glitter of glitter. At the corniche we gather by the sex to watch the constellation of earth. Force and proclivity, tingle and strip, all the whole day is before me. Also, it is not yours. 

The departure of myth is something we count—a tickbox for each missing hour. Any memory not capitulated is likely to reform. It is forsaken, this tally. The formation of expatriates requires a mobile constitution, a tendency to ruminate, and general indemnity from causes. A coalition of glass bottles rolling up a hill. 

Khobar Spleen
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Sitting with Ugliness and Complicated Beauties: An Interview with Kyle Carrero Lopez

SASHA BURSHTEYN interviews KYLE CARRERO LOPEZ

 

Headshot of Kyle Carrero Lopez

 

Recently published in The BreakBeat Poets Volume IV: LatiNEXT, Cuban-American writer Kyle Carrero Lopez holds an MFA in Poetry from NYU and is the co-founder of LEGACY, a production collective by and for Black queer artists.

Carrero Lopez is unapologetic about his poetic concerns.  In this powerful interview, he explains how sonnets give him the ultimate space to practice his multitudes in a pressurized space, and the way anti-Blackness is provoked by capitalism, dangerous clothing, and cultural brutalization.

 

Sasha Burshteyn (SB): You have such a feeling for form in your collection MUSCLE MEMORY— “After Abolition” and “Inheritance” are both sonnets, and “(SLANG)UAGE” is in the Oulipian beautiful outlaw form. What draws you to these forms? What do you feel they offer your work?

Kyle Carrero Lopez (KCL): In the case of the sonnets, something about the compression really works for me. I appreciate that a sonnet demands a turn via the volta. It’s a pressurized space for those two poems. They’re intense poems as far as the subject matter, but I wanted to work with brevity in both, and so the sonnet felt like the right pot to put the poem in. Terrance Hayes has said that a sonnet is a room that you can scream into.

Sitting with Ugliness and Complicated Beauties: An Interview with Kyle Carrero Lopez
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