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THE WORLD IN THEIR WORDS

Inspired by this year’s 400th anniversary Shakespeare celebrations, #wordswelivein explores the words we encounter every day and the stories they tell about our lives and communities. The initiative comes to life through live events, social media and text-and-image works by writers from around the world.

Find out how to participate in #wordswelivein.

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welcome to santos white community garden

if by garden we mean feedlot then that cow is probably
eating corn.
my nephew once described a just-picked ear
as high yella poppin
a green collar
on stolen land.
don’t all africans love corn
eat the hot grain with a thin membrane
of milk?
the first time he cooked for a girl, his want
was sweet as porridge.
to watch cancer make a mean meal
of him. to watch his eyes
the blackest prisoners, break free
of their sockets.
grief, caught between two flags
cannot tell the country
of the living from the country
of ghosts if by country
we mean the womb’s black & ever-
dying flotilla of sons
nephew, breath AWOL in the house
of legba in the house of ptah in the house
you hoped to be: a self-
contained trinity not nigga
sifted from grits not skin of maize
or boy-husk
but Najee

Mudflats at Batam

Pre-speech
and post-speech too, surround squelch,
dirty skirt, yucky fence,
no of the island that is yes, unimpressive
snowman

Opposite of bird, dance, distant height:
an alluvium

What? what about it?
You want a communication,
toting your iPhone camera
and white ass

Here: unseen mangroves
lift their world-building roots: once
upon a time and in a while: to breathe

More Miles of Steep Grades

I soaked the notebook in the rain. I lost six months of saying. I left the words on highway sides, except the three I kept. I collected smoke signals and postcards of regret. I regretted writing back so soon, as then my thoughts had flown. I tried to swallow fleeting songs; I tried to use my quiet voice. I felt better and then felt worse, and blamed it on my wasteful ways. Each penny was a well-wrought wish; each slipped between my finger seams. I funneled money to the birds, but could not parse their coos and clicks. I painted lips upon my lids so while I slept they’d chat like friends; I noted what the bare walls said. And when the words still pranced away, like frightened pygmy goats, and when the pages printed blank, and when they told me I was sunk, that I should check my brakes, my cool, I managed only don’t be fooled, the bottom’s still ahead.

Afterword

With eyes and heart dragging heavy tears poorly hidden behind oversized sunglasses, after a turbulent flight wrestling thunder and lightning from Santiago, after a funeral she wasn’t properly dressed for although she planned it months in advance, my mother, widowed after 46 years of embracing Papi’s surname and daily drinking habit, after gambling money, rum and cigars with God and all the suits in his court in exchange for a few more months of hearing him sing jibaro boleros off key, after his heart surrendered to a rock-paper-scissors game with a failing liver, she returned to the city where they met as first generation immigrants dreaming of union jobs with benefits. Slowly, she stepped out of the car and gazed at the golden street sign down the block. The word END stood boldly. Defiant letters in all caps, beside pink roses kissed by the last few bees that called The Bronx home. The reflective shine overpowering evergreen shrubs watered by neighborhood kids, who called time out to pee between games of hide and seek. The sign, shadowing hydrangeas thick in bloom, sheltered mating house sparrows who built nests in nearby warped rooftops. A sharp-edged contrast to weeping willows fighting for sunlight with a family of vines tangled over the brick wall choking the train tracks of the 2 line.

END. She read it over and over pulling breath from agony that hunched her shoulders. I watched Mami calling the end and beginning all at once.

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After Mayflower in the rose garden

Many-petalled ship whose sea was never braided with thorns:

     who discovers? Did it take a long knife
or a detonation? Love the lake

          rimmed with shooters who fall away

with the three-ball. In the courthouse,

     what words bear justice? Ask who was left open
to the sun. A light turns on

          in the barefoot hour. In winter, a cormorant

extended its wings like a bat,

     like a mayor. Some people serve as arrows. Some require
no explanation. In jellyfish,

          we trust. Somewhere gentrification

buys its own bitters. Strength in numbers: this could all go

     another way—a falling arc—a little wind—

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REFUGE

Lands End. World-weary and diseased, we come fleeing the world’s horrors. Our feeds bloated from the latest mass killing. A poet’s tribute, the memory of boys dancing in her native Bahamas: swaying bodies, purple shimmering wings.

There’s horror and there’s our politicians’ responses to horror, horror’s horror: the crude, blundering xenophobia of the Bombastic Buffoon; the presidential calls for “ramping up” bombings and increased surveillance by Madame. On a runaway train we witness the twilight of Empire, its unraveling. But still there are bills to be paid, dirty clothes to be washed, toddlers with low-grade fevers demanding oatmeal with the small spoon, now.

Once the Yelamu Ohlone lived here. Here the edge where land meets water; jagged, monumental cliffs, a nagging feeling of vertigo. Here rolling sand dunes deposited by wind and waves over thousands of years, patches of wildflowers: mustard-yellow, purple, cherry-red. Here cypress groves and the blueness of the Pacific, ruins of old bathhouses. A line of birds. Because beauty so disarming, so sweeping is difficult to apprehend, we are forced to parcel the landscape, or hide behind the camera lens.

Windswept, the cold jolts us out of our obsessions, cleanses the political toxins cursing our veins. Here looking down at the waves crashing against the rock, listening to foghorns in the distance, our minds wander to earthquakes, tsunamis. We become cognizant of endings, not in the mind, in the belly, viscerally. There’s duende here, a marriage of dark and light, a sense of our cosmos, of transience.

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CONEY ISLAND TESTIMONY

Coney
ain’t phony
no one’s crony
will ever pony
up the sanctimony
to sell these streets as tony
while a zombified and bony
hedge-fund corpse gurgles a Negroni
swimming with the high-rise abalone
drowned by drumbeats and prayers que ya yo ni
recuerdo
from an Orisha ceremony
globally hashtagged over wireless telephony
until cleansing waters wash away the acrimony
and a people’s shared refrain becomes a windswept canzone
because today’s struggle is tomorrow’s only patrimony