Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 5,000 African literature enthusiasts!
Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our "Guide to African Novels."

Photo credit: Andrew Bartram via Flickr.


Study 1: Cheek

Dune. Collapse of silt into moonlessness.
Caravan of silt and silt-covered men
you turn your face. Retrieve your forearm
from the darkened lamp string. Bedroom-dark
plants his stick into your torso, you turn to me.
Adjust. Face the ceiling. Your face sloping
into blue desert, pocked with the footsteps of water-starved men.
I won’t travel. The pillow is the bluff. A look-out point
and out there grains of camel-dragging men
slow, under an unnatural eclipse.
Don’t return to me. Let me unhitch my horses,
send them careening. Crashing with the stocking
over your hair risen above them like a full moon. Return to me.
Give me back the expanse of your breath.
The gusts sat in the manes of rogue horses.
Tonight, only your turned shoulders matter.
And the ripped mosquito net. The termites nestled in the bedlegs, and you.
I am at you. Gales, death and space.
The sky halved, the blank night pressed upon the whirring sand
and nothing for continents.


Study 2: Clavicle

The kikoy is a stage. Your clavicle
wooden circus performers as I hold audience
with butchered beef slid off your butcher’s knife.
Are you tame? Or is Darajani set upon?
Do the uncooked chickens beat their feathers
out to air in defense of decency? Or are their voices
dripping into buckets. Did thighs recross and newspapers puff
back open after we climbed into the daladala?

Be not cloaked. Let your shoulders plume
an infrastructure of sinew, pipes of bone and flesh.
Strut. Let Dodoma grape carts overturn at your bend,
slavers’ doors slam at your mainlander swish.
Or draw back. Let the halogen bulbs strike you harshly.
And the pit latrines, let the prostitutes
spilling over their beers praise-poem you, serenade,
let and let and let. Let the robbers
slip into dark and the koffaya be brought down to chest.
Unveil, with slippers defying bacteria puddles
and the curl of the mosque. Expose your piping.
Rickshaws harassing enviously, angrily, your peeled
dark, your clavicle the colour of fishermen
and their boats. There are borderlands
drifting over your nerve-endings. Your curve
is its bui-bui. Your backpocketed hands
draw out the money-changers.

Keep this island at bay, beyond the white billowing
tents of cloth covering your kitchen window.
They are a small hail only, an inclement breeze.
They bring no power-out. Tighten your kitenge till
Stone Town suffocates into storm. We won’t be chased.
We’ll walk out, ringmasters, into the purple haze of our stoning.
Pack up the traveling exhibition of your shoulder
onto dhows, onto ferries. On to Mombasa’s unravelling.


Study 3: Lack


It should never be so quiet. Muted turbine
and glass. Iron people hurried, jumping up elevators.
A quarantine tent is cast over your country. Planes lift off
and are flicked back, like plankton vacuumed
into USAID

You may not alight, with your tumbling along jetbridges,
Swahili baskets for my Mom and kitenges packed into your carry-ons.
Hand-me-down Boeings are paused,
buffering over landscapes.


This town is frozen over into chairs designed
to discourage sleep. Your city rubs its girth
against our border. It is ushered out.
Falling back to rain from nightclub doors holding you like a hat.
But you have not argued

over fees at a counter nor smiled out
of a bribe under slow fans in slow rooms.
Your knee is crossed over the other as you scroll
through YouTube in bed. And I
wait at Arrivals. With the porcelain,
the gate numbers and the white motorized
cart streaking away from me. Couldn’t
you have come? You’re built of daring escapes.
Of biceps not lassoed by rabid men, of bird-
dives down Pare mountains into coffles and backs snapping under ivory.
Is a high desk and uniformed white so imposing?

The milky Starbucks is in its garbage.
The hour has come for me to return my rental car.
Heaven has decayed into tile and glass.



About the Writer:

Yannick Marshall has published poems in several literary magazines including Wasafiri, Black Renaissance/Renaissance noire and small axe salon. He is also the author and co-author of the poetry collections Empress (2007) and Old Friend, We Made This For You (2009) published by Kellom Books respectively. He is a visiting assistant professor of Africana Studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Over the last three years he has taught courses at US liberal arts colleges on East Africa, race, policing and literature. He splits his time between the US and Tanzania. Follow @furtherblack

Tags: ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Welcome to Brittle Paper, your go-to site for African writing and literary culture. We bring you all the latest news and juicy updates on publications, authors, events, prizes, and lifestyle. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@brittlepaper) and sign up for our "I love African Literature" newsletter.

Monthly Newsletter!

Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our
"Guide to African Novels."


The Guardian UK Criticized for Headline Calling Bernardine Evaristo’s Booker Prize-winning Novel Obscure

bernardine evaristo - girl, woman, other - somethingbookish

Right after Bernardine Evaristo and Margaret Atwood were announced joint winners of the 2019 Booker Prize for Fiction, the UK’s […]

Bernardine Evaristo’s Joint Win of the Booker Prize, with Margaret Atwood, Makes Her the First Black Woman & Second Nigerian to Receive the Honour

bernardine evaristo by jennie scott - graph

The Nigerian-British novelist Bernardine Evaristo has been awarded the 2019 Booker Prize for Fiction, for her novel Girl, Woman, Other, […]

The Queen of Dahomey: Episode Three | The Witches of Auchi Series | Anthony Azekwoh


There was an old woman with a ragged scar on her cheek who lived alone on the outskirts of Dahomey. […]

Befeqadu Hailu, Ethiopian Writer-Activist & Co-founder of Zone 9 Blog, Named 2019 International Writer of Courage

Befeqadu Hailu with Lemn Sissay at PEN Pinter Prize ceremony Photo credit to George Torode

Befeqadu Hailu, the Ethiopian writer, activist, and co-founder of the Amharic-language human rights platform Zone 9 Blogging Collective, has been […]

Kalaf Epalanga, Angolan Author & Musician, Named Curator of the 2020 African Book Festival in Berlin

Kalaf Epalanga by Matthew Pandolfe_2MB

The Angolan musician and author Kalaf Epalanga, who looks like the actor Mahershala Ali, has been announced as the curator […]

Addis Ababa Noir, Edited by Maaza Mengiste & Featuring Mahtem Shiferraw, Sulaiman Addonia, Linda Yohannes, Meron Hadero, Hannah Giorgis, Forthcoming in April 2020

addis ababa noir - graph

Each anthology in Akashic Books’ noir series is “set in a distinct neighborhood or location within the respective city” and […]

Thanks for signing up!

Never miss out on new posts. Subscribe to a digest, too:

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.