I beg Botswana back
into the belly,
into the womb
where we can recognize each other.
i had your eyes.
i cannot love
from outside my skin.
I only know to love what stays with me.
pushed you away
it’s better to sever the neck on my own terms
Brenda Fassie wakes the deadI soak in Brenda punching Black President through her lips like she wants this song to carry
rocks in its hands just in case. I stand as my older brother sits beside me so i can feel tall. & the
last of a dead rain breaks against faint starts of a sun that should have closed its eyes by now.
Weekend special, Brenda switches. I am too young, but this is the song the day needs. She kissed
a girl, in print, in 1993 in South Africa. Because love lived is its own sweet verse, like a lullaby.
& maybe she thought that a lullaby sung into the hell of apartheid could switch off that fire. I
slept and woke up in sweat from a nightmare; my brother's hand was there to answer by reaching
out to hold mine. A girl’s hand in another girl’s hand sounds like an answer too. Brenda’s hands
sang like black coal like too late too late - the only way left is to fight. I crossed the ocean to
another man’s country and left Brenda alone to fight. What I would give to hear: Noma kanjani…
Whe, dali wam (No matter what… O, my darling) I wait Ungowam (you are mine). This is
the music right before I leave, before I become a sore in my lover’s bed and forget all I promised.
What will I do with a love covered in lesions in a foreign man’s country? I sit the song aside
behind my ears to forget. Between the insects and the names of the authors on the books, there is
something dead in every corner of my room. No, no, no, she sings – play my song, ag shame
lovely, you cannot begin by breaking.
i write for those for whom this will not need to be translated
i am three languages short of knowing myself / i only know one language well enough to miss you in it / in elementary school , we are punished for language other than English in halls / in English, mother tongue smalls to tourist fodder / placed on third world shelf / not for good dishes/English meant correct / mother tongue meant need for correction/in English, I type / name my languages / am red lined into error / in English, names transpose / from kings and queens / Kgosi Ohemaa / to Marys Pauls / servants
in English, I know not to search for my name in your mouth / in Nyanja, I come up short / in Nyanja, I get lost / in Nyanja, my voice loses itself down my throat like quicksand / in Nyanja, i ask what does this mean in English? / in English, i think i know what it means / can pretend
my parents met in English/in language learned alongside mother tongues / this, to say / I was born in a second language / born because of English
in English, i have voice but no culture/in Nyanja, my roots say to my feet / how come this body does not recognize its own tongue?
American ImmigrantIn a country on its sidei sit next to my body.
I sit between my body and its shadow in a country with fire on its feet.
I am a smoking babyrocking beneath her mother’s lit cigarette.
I am a non-citizenin a countrywith the moon’s foot on its throatand mine.
I train my mouth to swallow floors. I train my mouth to make the rooms give me room in
a country with no space for me.
I have taken myself out of my bodyand my body out of my own countryand still
call all this home.