Sunday May 26

NkosiNkululeko Nkosi Nkululeko is a Callaloo, The Watering Hole, and 2017 Poets House Fellow. A speaker for TEDxNewYork and a finalist for the 2016 Winter Tangerine Awards for Poetry, Nkosi has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize as well as a nominee and finalist for Best of the Net anthology. He is the author of the chapbook “American/Unknown,” (Penmanship Books 2016), and his work is currently published in [PANK] Magazine, Apogee, VINYL, No Token, and other publications. Nkosi lives in Harlem, New York.

Why I Write: Nkosi Nkululeko

I hope I never discover the reasons I write, or rather, I hope the reasons become ever-changing. I guess this could then become a reason, the obsession with expansion, with the continuum of process. We are not finished dying, but yet, in a constant death, making us all servants to the artistry of motion, of the movement of understanding what it means to live, if there’s a meaning there at all. Writing, I believe (at this moment), is merely an intriguing way of expression, allowing me to talk to the world and myself simultaneously. I look back at the writers that have come before, and I witness the ones that lie ahead. I think we all aspire to become a bridge for both sides of the spectrum to walk upon. If this is a reason, I’d hope to be a bridge that is rebuilt as the river beneath it widens.

Sleeping Beside My Mother

And I am telling you, as any child would, of the ways they imagine
living inside the softest part of their mothers
until the outside world graze their skin as light as a scalpel,
severing the cord that stretches from body to body

like the rope my own mother taught me to jump through,
my legs tapping the ground,
the weight of a million feathers brushing the earth until it wounded,
and let me go on, if I may,

of how we’d rest in each other’s arms at night
as if nothing had been severed between, sleeping with my back
faced to her, her nose submerged in my hair she tended for hours
as I cried when she made me beautiful, her palms as soft

as a stone made gentle by water, but let me begin again
by introducing the backhand, factories of iron and steel
settling at the bridge of a knuckle she’d never use upon me,
and how strange it is for someone to possess

a violence they’d never use, the parts of her flesh made brutal
like the armor of an armadillo, sleeping with its child inside her
until the child itself begins to leave, the sharp world grazing
its skin as it wonders how could its mother survive for so long,

protecting a child from the damaged world
that it lived so beautifully without.

Riot, Please

On the part of land that the grass beware,
the wings of bees skid across
a thin veil of wind, and o the rich buzz they bloom.

I see the glint of their abdomens,
reflecting the sunlight that riots through
the cloud’s murky window, as if fire danced
into a new wild behind it.

I think of the machine that zaps winged bugs
as my hand waves against the face
of bees. Yet, I almost wish to be stung
while walking in their fields, but, I once read
that they’d die too, after that moment of survival.

How long can one celebrate
another’s death before a new death greets them?
It’s not Summer, but the beasts ready for it,
for the clouds to gather, and then, slip away
like ash blown from a palm.

Who said we belonged to this kingdom?
There is an invention of a caged blue light
that insects swarm to as if they knew
it was a mother, shining.

But this is only a season.
Next time, they’ll know their home is not a mother
that eats their child. Soon, they’ll know a mother is
not a cage that men make.

The Emperor of Kings
            for Paul Roberson in the movie “Emperor Jones”

I want to be a King as bad as a King wishes to be the son of a King,
an endless line of inheritance and heritage, cyclical wealth
recurring to me like a wheel. I used to be a Nigga, now I’m a Negro.
I used to be a Negro, now I’m not. I used to kneel in front of white
men, my back growing open like canals, strips of marigold and rose
colors lining my spine like a garden. I used to know. I used to know
Kings born under the misty sky of the east, velvet capes
warming skin as white as the snow that fell slow on the soft earth.
I used to want that, gold-plated mirrors, my face shining through
the glass like a stream of light hailing through the clouds at noon.
Never have I ever conquered a thing, unusual power for the darker
brother. But here, I progress. Here, I’m used to power. Let me
Napoleon, let me Caesar, let me Hannibal or let me Turner.
Sometimes I wonder if my wants exceed me, my little desires
swelling inside my chest like air. But who am I not to want?
I give in to my nature to have. I used to be a Nigga, but now I’m a King,
no, I’d rather be named Emperor, ruler of a nameless country. Beware
men who willingly rule, beware the men who serves willingly.
I wish I could will more. I look in the mirror and see a country revived
from their shambles. That’s power, the glint the eye reveals in the shade
of midnight. I cradle a crown like a child, dark and small as an emblem
of worship, my mind frizzled with the idea that Kings are made
from the fools who serve them. So long. My mind has left and another
has come. I’ve come to believe that a King is not a King until his people
has suffered. Like any system, my people are pained by it, shriveled
in the brittle ground with nothing but debt to follow their children.
I almost had a son until I decided wealth is better left with the dead.
Even foolish people know Kings and Emperors betray for power,
yet they follow as if addicted to powerlessness. Beware the powerless,
beware the tribe of cowards. Even the weak will one day abandon
their Emperor in the dark spaces of their own kingdom, the Emperor
possessed by shame. Doesn’t it sadden you to know the ones you worship
belong to the ones you don’t? Doesn’t it sadden you that Kings
can abandon too? So long. I’m at war with my own. I want to be a King
as bad as a King wants to be a King when alone, driven mad by the sound
a drum makes in the forest when a war draws near. I used to be a Nigga,
then a Negro. I used to be a Negro, now I am not. I used to be an Emperor
of a country without a name, and now, an Emperor, I am not.

Sleeping Beside My Father

On the radio, a man would tell the ways death spilled
into men, easing into their mouths
like sunlight as they wandered the deep forests.

I began to sweat as they formed beside me,
each of their dark faces kissing the wet grass, their eyes
peering at the sky as seasons passed,
watching the clouds burn into coal.

My room was quiet, like the marshlands after war.
I’d imagine the men brooding below my bed,
whistling anthems as mist rose off, churning into old
memories of scorched fields and democracies.

I’m inside my father’s house, and I’ve rarely seen blood outside
of the body. I remember how I’d walk to my father’s door
until sirens whirled by, drowning the moan hinges made
as I entered. A mistletoe of dread hovered

my head until I laid beside him.
I remember it as if it were now:
considering that perhaps, the fears of war begets manhood.

I could hear it now, my father and I on a bed breathing as soft
as the dead soldiers on autumn leaves and other carnage.
Tenderness or brutality. Which door do we walk into
when we leave our fathers?

When the radio blurred into a soft hum of static,
I’d wonder what children learn before voyaging
through a dark, new wild.