Chez Moi via Atlantic Sea

Let’s pretend this post isn’t three days later than it’s supposed to be, shall we? Please enjoy this notebook poem I wrote for my Cuban Literature class. We read “Notebook of a Return to the Native Land” by Aimé Césaire, and the assignment was to write our own notebook poem addressing “the coloniality of home.” I would also like to point out that words I’ve started using in grad school like “coloniality” are underlined in red every single time I type them. How can Word try to challenge the academy like this? Unacceptable, really…One last thing. Try not to roll your eyes too hard at my use of the word “labyrinthine.” It’s my favorite word at the moment, and I’ll keep using it until I no longer have to check the spelling each time 🙂


1. They have all left ellipses and hyphens and white space, room for me to rest my head. Bare stretches of sand to bury tired feet. A dotted line to fill in my address and sign my name: Césaire? Morrison? Aidoo? Who are you? Insert-black-subversive-diasporic-writer-here.

2. I was so self-centered that I believed that rupture and disjointed fragments of thought were symptoms of post-colonial subjectivity and only that. Today’s reading is about surrealism. I didn’t finish it. Next week, postmodernism. Still not interested. Who says I must be immersed in hegemonic cultural production and intellectual movements to understand writing from my own bookshelf? William isn’t holding Toni’s hand holding a pen, helping her to trace the words. France is not pulling Mariama’s tongue till she gives up and sings their songs. Ama does not need Virginia to show her how to write women with labyrinthine internal geography and unapologetic desires to build their own rooms. I must be immersed in hegemonic cultural production and intellectual movements to understand writing from my own bookshelf. Your alphabet came with certain contractual stipulations I cannot break.

3. I have written home into being over and over and it is always:

red sand staining itchy church socks beyond redemption

tiny pebbles that bite your feet when they get caught between the straps of your sandals the suffocating blend of the scent of flowers grandma planted before her hands bent sideways

–you will adjust after 10 minutes of sitting on the veranda–

nameless dateless days stretching into the pleasant laziness of late afternoon

listening to the lilt and sway of a language I didn’t know I could forget

–I should’ve written it down–

4. You should start tallying how many times you have used the words “access” and “gap” in the past year, in the past week even. Searching for a place where the dents in the mattress match the contours of your body has become less about writing back through childhood memories and more about using words to reach across tears in documents you can never possibly stitch back together. You are trying to match archival data from a trunk with rusty locks in a small house in Savanna-la-Mar, to a census entry about a woman named CoinCoin (Kokui is that you??) in Natchitoches; and then holding them up against explorer accounts about “Religious practices of the Ewe people along the Volta River.” You will hesitate to admit that you selected those places not necessarily for historical significance but mainly because the sound of their names swirl around the inside of your mouth, falling off the tip of your tongue sliding down your chin. You are trying to gain access to something that you fear is nothing more than an empty filing cabinet with only the corners of yellowed pages left behind, holes in arguments about “barbaric ritual practices”, nothing more than a gap.

5. Exist comfortably, if only for a few hours, in arms that belong to a person who keeps in the muscles of their thighs, a nostalgia almost identical to yours. Try to inhale any last trace of whatever home smells like from their scalp: wood smoke and kebab pepper, sanitized new mall air, freshly polished leather shoes, the dust inside your mother’s albums of faded photos, frangipani. Frangipani? I never realized it was a frangipani tree I used to climb and get stuck in more times than I would like to share. I read frangipani in a poem once and decided it sounded very “there” and just kept using it. We used to call it Forget-me-not. Rub your fingertips along the length of their chest until you are satisfied that you have stripped off enough of that feeling of your old Ago blanket and can now use it to cover yourself. After this, leaving home will always feel like the motion of air plunging in your chest when they decide to abandon the task of housing your chaos in their calm. Be careful.

6. I must admit I was skeptical when you announced you would be writing about this topic. These days I have little interest in what people like you have to say about where you come from. I have struggled through poem after novel after TED talk about visa applications and phone area codes, accents that can make anyone feel at ease from Marrakech to Des Moines. I thought I was going to have to scold you for glorifying the privilege you enjoy to be able to shuffle between time zones without fear of being fenced in with others seeking refuge, sifting mud between their toes while they wait, praying the children can eat leaves for dinner one more time before shaking and seizing and ceasing to be. Everyone here is fed up of humoring all your –politan ways. For the last time, if it is obsessing you to the point of tedium in this way, pack your things and arrange for a ticket heading in the right direction.

7. Writing home has a high cost. I have to pay for postage for my thoughts to pass through places I have seen only in words and not in flesh. What is the destination?

 (Image: These are probably the best group photos in my family’s history since the times my aunts were forced to wear matching dresses, one always in red, the other in blue.)

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