Issue 13 / Spring 2018
So, I’ll just go straight into it. First question: What, to you, does it mean to be African?
Well, to borrow from Ryan Coogler, I’ll say it is a thread—weft or warp—running through & across the Earth, this fabric we know by no other name but Mother. I mean, I mean that we wear it on our skin, proud & loud. It is the music that moves me & at the same time keeps me rooted in spite of everything that’s tried to displace my voice.
It is nothing I can escape, for my face, this metal alloy, like that of those sculpted & unearthed, long before she was, from the soil where my mother was once a girl—the land they say Oduduwa turned cradle for my people after his older brother, drunk off palm wine, could not fulfill the order of Olodumare—or my tongue, still heavy of home & traceable, will always give me away like my fathers & brothers once did theirs & their mothers & sisters too in exchange for nothing of worth.
That’s heavy. A crown of thorn of sorts—bleeding scalps and all. For what it’s worth, it’s quite painful to come to terms with that aspect of our history as West Africans and for those of us who weren’t enslaved, our complicity.
Yes indeed. On the movie’s release day, I, face-down on his table, as his fingers relieved me of pain, asked my massage therapist Kris, who is American in the way that I am not & African, but not in the way that I am, if he had seen the movie. He said yes & I hadn’t yet & we couldn’t say much about it since he wasn’t one to spoil, but still we talked of displacement & how beautiful it is to belong somewhere & know that you do, even if you haven’t been there before. He said he thinks he might be from West Africa.
And I said, very well you might since most enslaved Africans were/are. And he said he would, one day, love to return home & then told me how lucky I am to know the tribe that claims me as son. And I said yes, & please go, Mother is waiting with open arms to once again wrap around her sons & daughters who were once ripped from her bosom.
Next question: So, my friend Ryan (not Coogler) says you’re real-life M’Baku. Another friend, Konji, says you remind her of T’Challa. What do you say to that?
I say, what are friends if not mirrors! They reflect you back to you. Ok. Ok. I say, I see myself because they would not turn a blind eye to the truth of all I am or let me turn away from the stare down (always) between who I am & think myself to be. And I am eternally obsessed with mirrors. Hence, I’m always speaking in self-portraits. I stand with shoulders slouched before them & I am reminded to stand up straight & pick joy up like the weapon I’ve known it to be even when I do not want to be reminded of this & would rather wallow in my sad.
But I am reminded how much of a warrior I am. I too am always trying to return the future to a past I don’t seem to know how to let go of. I too feel the strain on both shoulders, how heavy they are, most days, with the weight of my entire tribe & the stories that bleed out of me that no one else would tell if I do not. Oh how the truth I speak has been a burden too, for there have been ears who, when they are made to listen, shrink like the mimosa pudica I touched as a child & which my kin from a tribe not mine call kpakochuku & which the hands of Nwaoga touched & he couldn’t but see its potential to generate electricity that could, possibly, light up an entire household or country & oh how I praise his tenacity, how he is not intimidated by this gorilla-sized dream. Yes, I too have been told of my potential to generate that which would make another feel intimidated, though I do not wish this to be true & even though my frame is nothing like M’Baku’s.
Yes! So much yes! Would you say. . . Sorry, uh, I didn’t mean to cut you off. . .
It’s ok. Are you done?
Yeah, sorry. Please continue.
Ok. I mean. . . I mean, seriously it’s fine. Are you done?
Yeah. Please go on.
Ok. One more word I’ll leave you with: I am my father’s son, surely, & I have stared at a mirror long enough to be tempted to mistake his mistakes as a dictionary. But I say no, don’t scare me like that, colonizer. I define myself. I name each new day I wake up to Challenge Day. And the truth is I do not want to be king, just a man, a good one. And most days, my father is a good man even though there is a lot he did not prepare me for, but I will not name this a failure. *WOOF* No & this will not be a feast I feed my children. Thank you.
The first question is in reference to Ryan Coogler.
The first answer with italics quotes the following: Anderson, Tre’vell and Ryan Coogler. “Why Black Panther is Ryan Coogler’s most personal film to date.” Los Angeles Times. 15 Feb. 2018. Accessed 20 Feb. 2018.
“Are you done?” & “don’t scare me like that, colonizer” are from Black Panther.
Ayokunle Falomo is: a Nigerian, a poet who uses his pen as a shovel to unearth those things that make us human, a TEDx speaker, & an American. He and his work have been featured in print (Local Houston magazine, Glass Mountain) and online (The New York Times, Houston Chronicle, Hive Society, Squawk Back, Pressure Gauge Press.) His work has also taken him to venues and stages around and outside of Texas. Find out more about him here: www.kindreadbook.com.