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My ancestors are made with water— blue on the sides, and green down the spine;
when we travel, we lose brothers at sea and do not stop to grieve.
Our mothers burn with a fire that does not let them be;
they whisper our names nomenclatures of invisibility honey-dewed faces, eyes sewn shut, how to tell them the sorrow that splits us in half the longing for a land not our own the constant moving and shifting of things, within, without—
which words describe the clenching in our stomachs the fear lodged deeply into our bones churning us from within,
and the loss that follows us everywhere: behind mountains, past oceans, into the heads of trees, how to swallow a tongue that speaks with too many accents—
when white faces sprout we are told to set ourselves ablaze and this smell of smoke we know— water or fire, or both,
because we have drowned many at a time and left our bodies burning, or swollen, or bleeding and purple—this kind of language we know, naming new things into our invisibility and this, we too, call home.
"This poem attempts to capture in brief moments the depth of our invisibilities as we move and shift from one place to another. Our sense of place is not only lost, but constantly questioned, probed—and this kind of incessant interrogation lets us to believe there is no sense of dignity in our places of origin, in our names. And even though what the world is doing to us is not new, it breaks us every time." —Mahtem Shiferraw
Mahtem Shiferraw is the author of Fuchsia (University of Nebraska Press, 2016). She lives in Los Angeles.
"Self-Portrait as Vincent Van Gogh in the Asylum at Arles" by Roger Reeves
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