Tupac of Mamourah, 1999


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


Winner of the 2021 DISQUIET Prize for Poetry


The pidgin form of ‘to be’1 

A young child, I was privy to hearing this word
in my household, around my uncle and his friends 
reminiscent of his schoolboy youth.
A part of a pidgin I could never participate in
for fear that the broken English might
have too much of an essence, might
tarnish my own English.
They would not let me code switch
thinking the pidgin would overtake me





Early one morning, when the sky was still dark, Annie locked herself in her room. She turned the key three times, then went to her bed and opened a book.


At half past seven, her mother knocked on her door and told her to get up. When Annie didn’t appear, her mother tried the handle and found the room locked. Half an hour later, she put her ear to the door and heard nothing, not even the loud whisper of the ceiling fan. A strange feeling got hold of her; she knocked and spoke more sharply. “Open!” She slapped the wood with the palm of her hand and began to shout for her husband. “Come quickly! Annie’s not coming out—something has happened to her!”


Who Writes the Arabian Gulf?



I have dreamt of this Arabian Gulf Portfolio ever since I was a teenager, writing about snow and squirrels and picket fences—despite living in Dubai where I had more experience with temperatures of 40+ degrees, karak chai, compounds… Because English was my first language, the fiction that was available and accessible to me at the time was perpetually happening elsewhere. My high school education focused on the British and American canons, meaning that we had no exposure to global Anglophone literature, let alone any works set in the United Arab Emirates. The bookshops sold mainly self-help and cookbooks in the 2000s. The public libraries were few, poorly stocked, and dominated by Arabic literature that was also generally quite dated. Consequently, for most of my teenage years, my imagination was furnished by foreign clutter and peopled by strangers I had no knowledge of first-hand. There was the book-world and there was the real-world, and I didn’t even appreciate how separate they were in my mind until I began to write about rivers and forests and realized there were none around me. The mimetic dimension of literature had been severed entirely.

Who Writes the Arabian Gulf?

Oman Is Mars: An Alien All Along


“We want to simulate Mars on Earth and so we need a place that looks as much like Mars as possible. And we found it here in Oman.”
—Alexander Soucek, lead flight director of the AMADEE-18 mission, in Phys Org, October 30, 2017

The first time my husband visited me in Oman years ago, he peered down from the plane window and received his first glimpse of the landscape: an undulating palette of browns, beige, mauve, and grays. This is Mars, he thought to himself. Mars on Earth. 

Oman Is Mars: An Alien All Along




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.]


In Search of Hassan Matar


As the car passed the Flag and sped toward Za’abeel, Avi’s crisp V’s became softer and less pronounced—“wees,” even. By the time he crossed Sana Signal, coffee shops and villas having given way to the old city’s chai stalls and low-rise apartments, the languid, questioning “ahs” at the ends of his sentences had been abandoned, the tongue clicks dropped. “Paps, what time do we have to make a move to the souq?” he said to his dad on the phone, sounding like just another Bur Dubai kid. “Okay, I’ll be downstairs in an hour.” He gestured to the driver to pull up outside his building and hopped out, throwing the Capri-Sonne straw he had been chewing all the way from school onto the pavement. His gait had changed, too: on the Jumeirah side of the Flag, he adopted the exaggerated chest-swivel of the Khaleeji, ass jutting out, body taking up far more real estate than someone of his frame reasonably should. Here, however, he stepped within himself. 

There were rules, though. If even one lochal or premium expat were spotted, accents would be drawn. Intonations would warp midway, vowels replaced with dressier ones like guest bedsheets. 


In Search of Hassan Matar




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.]