All posts tagged: Issue 22 Poetry

Dey

Winner of the 2021 DISQUIET Prize for Poetry

By STEPHANIE DINSAE

 

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

Dey
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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.]

Rite
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Dispellations: Manomaya Kosha

By ANNA MARIA HONG

 

You can’t defeat nature, you can only
work with it. Just as speculating
                           on a perpetrator’s motives                                 —sex as
                           power, power as hard exercise
                           of a phantom sense 
                           of impotence,
                           blah, blah, blah—is trackless, so too is
asking what does it want,                  it wants
far less than you or I could 
ever envision
                            in our least released 
                            lives. It means no harm. 
                            It needs a warm
                            host. We invoke genre to accommodate 
                            events terrible and intimate,
          to give fleshly narrative to cataclysms
          of globular dimension—                            private/public,                        macro/micro
          —samskara, samskara, these fictions sizzling through 
                                                                            the World Wide Gap,
                                                                            racist, replicant, and species-specific.

Dispellations: Manomaya Kosha
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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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The Sea Dreams of Us

By ROMEO ORIOGUN

Before the sea became my journey, it was love,
folktales, it was our origin staring at us,
it was our shadows, then the ships of migration
came, reminding us, that years back, people left
in canoes loaded with hope, with spices, seafarers
who navigated water, holding stars in their bosoms
until the sky became road. We never saw them,
only heard the rumors, only heard they grew wings

The Sea Dreams of Us
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Snake, Not Serpent; Hopelessness, Not Despair

By ANGIE MACRI

 

We shouldn’t use Latinate words,
too many syllables, abstractions, flowers.
Instead, use words with Germanic roots,
shorter, to the point. As if half our tongue
was wrong. As if flowers, too,
didn’t belong. Oh, you know what I mean.
Yes, I do: erase those empires and the gods. Say fall,
not autumn; ghost, not phantom;
drought, not famine; fire, not flame.
We have aches, not pains, graves, not tombs.
As if no one from such places
could speak of concrete things,
as if no one came here from such places at all.
Like immigrant. Say one who comes.

 

Angie Macri is the author of Underwater Panther, winner of the Cowles Poetry Book Prize. Her recent work appears in The Cincinnati Review, The Fourth River, and Quarterly West. An Arkansas Arts Council fellow, she lives in Hot Springs and teaches at Hendrix College.

[Purchase Issue 22 here.]

Snake, Not Serpent; Hopelessness, Not Despair
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Fixation

By HALA ALYAN

 

It’s like knowing there’s
a house on fire and only
you  have  the  key,  but
there’s  no  address,  the
streets   keep   changing
numbers,   and   if   you
don’t  make  it  in  time,
everybody   inside   dies.
Even   the   houseplants.
You  never  make  it  in
time.    I still   like   my
brain.    This    feels   as
impossible   as    crown
shyness, but it’s true—I
feel  its  lure flash like a
camera bulb sometimes,
the magic  and the grief
like two  rivers  necking
where they meet.

 

Fixation
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