Three Poems

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
beyond, making
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,
same atrocity

that wore down the bones
of those ancestors, thousands

carried into the sway
of the unfathomable, those boats &

their destinations.
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

ancestry, cosmology
of gluttony & need. Water,

sand & blood. An enslavement
that remains on both shores.

How desperate his faith
in the Atlantic & what exists beyond,

idea of

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.

Photo credit

About Kirsten Hemmy

Kirsten Hemmy was a Fulbright Fellow for the 2012-2013 academic year, studying border and migration narratives in West Africa. She is currently teaching at the Centre d’Etudes Avancees et de Researche En Management de Projet, Programme, et Portefeuille, Dakar.  When she is not in Senegal, Hemmy is an Associate Professor of Literature at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina. She is the author of The Atrocity of Water, published by Press 53 in 2010.

Kirsten Hemmy

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