by Kirsten Hemmy
Veni, vidi, vici. – Julius Caesar
My skin in the Sahel, here, browner
than it’s ever been, informed by sand,
the assaulting mirror of the Atlantic
& an unreasonable sub-Saharan sun.
But it’s still an artifice, some wound I
—& the rest of humanity—lunge
fingers & fists into again & again.
My white is so deep children sing songs
of myself, white person, toubab, bonjour—
& dreadlocked men try to hustle me
into the sex tourism game. My blood
is rich with empire: dreams white-boned,
blue-blooded. My DNA, diadem of pink &
sunburnt that these days, overshadow
all those earthtones. Bouquet of push/pull.
I have done so much & too little. I get caught
on all the damage, afraid of mistakably
unleashing that privilege hurricane always
swelling inside, filling me. I am, after all,
its eye. It is I. Quietude, another sign
that gets misread. I lurk in the dark,
luminescing like the moon, feeling it,
that sway. I wait until they turn away,
a loosening, grab what I see as mine, & run.
And I won’t even mention the howl of orphans
that reaches up to the throne of God and
a circle with no end and no God.
—Yehuda Amichai, “The Diameter of the Bomb”
Your brother is missing.
We can also say, dead.
Water is what did it,
that wore down the bones
of those ancestors, thousands
carried into the sway
of the unfathomable, those boats &
Bones that by now must be sand
washing onto shore, stepped on
by tourists or swallowed by fish
we greedily catch, kill & eat.
Your brother is part of this
of gluttony & need. Water,
sand & blood. An enslavement
that remains on both shores.
How desperate his faith
in the Atlantic & what exists beyond,
dialect of wealth & glimmer,
Paradise, that dream.
I once met a man who tried
to cross the Sahara by foot,
turned back only when both companions
had died & he recognized
he was next. Buried them
in a valley of sand
away from dunes & vultures,
without water or kafan.
Bloated with the silence of birthright,
I saw in his gaunt face
a burden of thirst,
the will to try again. & again.
Insh’Allah. Your brother,
chained to his dream,
took a boat that never arrived.
Will never reach its destination.
I pray for him & the many others
during the blue hours of night,
trying to will the words
that want to be said.
Yellow: Milwaukee, July 2012
My Oceania mother’s brain is leaving
her, this life, & with it, half of who I am,
most of what I know. Across this non-ocean,
the yellow smog never lifts. It encapsulates
like a chest cavity, that body that covers
the fist heart. My hand over my fist. Prayer.
My younger self is never satisfied
with the view, especially in reflection. My older self
not as impatient: we can always be living more.
I dream of the young girl, dreaming plumeria
voices, hibiscus breath. I discard her
every morning, waking to land lock, nature
crammed into concrete oceans, my urban haole life.
I am blessed, I remind myself, praying to
the colonizer God, God of the father. Mine.
When I miss the heaviness of island air, breeze
of my ancestors, I come to this Great Lake,
facing horizon, imagining curvature of the earth.
I pray to my mother’s people, wondering if
they would hear my voice. Recognize me anymore.
Surely they are far from here. I am far too. I dream
of new stories, old stories, the same story.
I fist fight sleep, sirens & city noises my ocean
of sound. Pele crouches in the darkness
with my future self, her movements setting fire
to this place, watching it crumble into the sea.