Sleepwalking

short poetry, identity, race, sex, gay, homosexual, African, colonial, diaspora

 

I have always liked,
Defiant Africans,

Nelson, Patrice, Kenyatta,
Martin Luther King,

Groovy black men,
Niggers with attitude,

But they intimidate me,
Black men.

Freedom fighters,
Bar room brawlers,

And I rise from sleep,
Sheened in sweat,

Running away,
Scribbling my number,
On scraps of paper,

On foreheads and trousers,
On outstretched palms,

And I’m breathing heavily,
Feeling stained,

Because,
That one there,

The white man in Navy uniform,
With hair on his balls,

I know him,

-conquistador-

He smells of garlic and grease,
And my black friends call me,
Nigger, whore, bitch.

Will he take the lion tooth offered,
Will he make the tribal dance?

-I can teach him to love the earth,
Teach him to plant his feet in, deep-

I masturbate from sleep, supported
By thick, colonial, muscle.

I am forging steel,
Industrial iron,

I am engineering a white lover
Beneath the sheets, whilst

Apologising to freedom fighters,
Who call me nigger, whore, bitch.

 

♦photo – personal

evocative short poetry – words move

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47 thoughts on “Sleepwalking

  1. avadapalabra says:

    I am amazed at how respectful (?) (!) readers are that they won’t spell out “the N word”. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a country where (back in my childhood) you hardly ever saw a black person (though we have our own share of prejudice amongst and against our own). Words are there to be used, especially to spell out feelings and ideas.
    Long live the poet!

    • kolembo says:

      Ah yes! To the poet! Sometimes I’m so this one…and then other times I can’t face the heat. I have been told that I am ‘using’ the words to sell something. Then I look at it and – you know – it’s not designed to make anyone uncomfortable. If I was NOT the writer, how would I feel about the person who wrote this? Then I keep it up.

  2. fgassette says:

    Do I sense a lot of anger here????????

    • kolembo says:

      No…no anger…but a kind of questioning…sometimes internally, we don’t see who we are – so caught up in ‘civil rights’ and being black. Reminding them that ‘black’ also has gay, and that ‘white’ could be the boyfriend…! Thanks for the comment!

  3. […] see – nigger, whore, bitch! Rate this:Share this:Short Poetry – words […]

  4. darahaskins says:

    i feel you
    i feel like an Defiant African

    • kolembo says:

      …we need a few more!
      Sometimes I wish I was born in the future – it’s so clear that Africa is going to rock, you can see it happening everywhere.
      onward!

  5. Mary says:

    I read your poem, read a few (not all) responses. I just want to say that I admire a poet who takes risks, who uses the words he/she needs to use to convey a message. Don’t change.

  6. ManicDdaily says:

    Intense poem that manages to share both feelings of isolation and intimacy. k.

  7. I understand why you have used the N word in your poem as I think it makes the poem more powerful but I have to admit I hate people using and won’t ever say it or even type it. Not because I fear it but because in that one word it it saying black people are worthless as anything other than scum and that has never been and never will be the case.

  8. K, I can see why this generated so much controversy. It’s a tricky thing, “the N word,” and yet their are female poets who use the “C” word all the time… Thinking back on Richard Pryor’s decision not to use the word anymore in his act… It’s a hard choice, but when it’s that poisonous trinity of “Nigger, Whore, Bitch,” I think it’s justified. Now, I, the WASP, am not using it, but I will defend to the DEATH your right to write it in context.

    When my brother-in-law says it, “All in fun,” he says, I call him on his shit and tell him unless he wants to be called the redneck son of a bitch he really is, he should cut it out. Ditto on references to immigrants, women, etc. But as I say, in this context, it’s YOUR work. YOUR experience. And this was a powerful piece. Peace, Amy

  9. B F Moloney says:

    Firstly, thank you for your encouraging words. I’m only just getting used to non friends commenting on what I write. I sense ambivalent feelings in this poem. For me the issues of race, and of identity, will always be socially unresolvable. It is left to a powerful poem such as this to cause a halt, and to allow me to catch my breath and think about these issues.

  10. Monica says:

    I love poetry that socks it to the solar plexus! The labels we use to understand, control, and diminish each other. Could we learn to live without them?

  11. Kavita says:

    That’s honest, powerful, emotional, and oh so direct! K, you have said what many dare to even think!! Bravo, my friend!!

    Cheers!!!

  12. Shashi says:

    A strong and raw verse… the pain of doing what your conscious is rebelling against, comes out so powerfully in this verse… I liked your vivid imagery bordering on sensuality and then taking the reader back to the real life of despair…
    Thanks for sharing.

    ॐ शांति ॐ
    Om Shanti Om
    May peace be… praying for People of Japan
    http://shadowdancingwithmind.blogspot.com/2011/03/whispers-love-and-insignificance.html
    Connect me at Twitter @VerseEveryDay

  13. dustus says:

    I think the true measure of this poem’s “greatness” is the dialogue it has initiated. That to me exemplifies the notion of artistic merit—be it your most recent poetic offering, or the discomfort many still feel over Twain’s authentic, explicit use of documented American language, albeit over 125 years ago. As for your lines, Kolembo, something I don’t think was already mentioned is the added subtly in some of the references (e.g., Sheen, NWA, colonialism, ethnicity in the military). Relevant, revealing, provocative & evocative poetry.

  14. hpicasso says:

    morning K…well worth a second (ok, fourth) read from me…you’re doing fine mt friend…just fine

    Peace, hp

  15. brian says:

    strong write…with a strong voice…it speaks with hard true feeling…i dont think you should ever apologize for your poetry and if it unsettles some it has done its job…

  16. Luke Prater says:

    Put it the fuck back in Huckleberry Finn! Fer Chrissakes. It’s a time, a place, a mood, an atmosphere. An epoch. The Narrative loses some of it’s grit and character without. It doesn’t mean I can start using it in reference to African-Americans. PC gone mad…

    • kolembo says:

      I acknowledge this one. I read a certain amount of duplicity and sarcasm in the comment and reply from the one above you who reckons we’re all gonna be bandying the term about willy nilly…duplicitous remark that, but benefit of the doubt for the time being. Thanks for the comment Luke both this one and the compliment.

  17. Lynne Hayes says:

    Good poetry causes movement. This piece moved me in ways no other other has on this subject.
    You merely broke a fucking rock in half and let my eyes see..
    I have no more words other than thank you my brother, thank you!!

  18. Tilly Bud says:

    I don’t advocate erasing it from history or literature: how can we know what we are if we don’t know what we were?

    I suppose if a name given in contempt is claimed by those once despised, and freely used, it will eventually lose its negative connotations, which can only be a good thing.

    Maybe the day will come when we all use it! I can’t see it myself, though.

    Thanks for your thoughtful answer, and a thought-provoking poem.

    • kolembo says:

      this one’s generated more thought for me than I imagined. I am keenly aware of myself and of others. I thank all of those who have commented and assure you that, I actually, enjoyed it a lot too! Wah. I am acutely aware that people read me, and I am battling so much to ‘be good for you’…whatever that means! Believe it or not, I’m a new writer per se and I’m having to face the whole – who am I writing for, why and what has that got to do with stats – thing.

      We love our audience in the end, I think. It’s impossible not to – they are receiving what you give in their own way. Ever given without being even a little hopeful that what you are offering will be accepted?

      I really should be writing this on my postaday blog, but this poem generated many comments for me, and I just wanted to acknowledge you all. Deary me, I feel like I’m caught in a gloop of honey.

  19. hpicasso says:

    when I read words I want movement, up down sideways backwards, I don’t care, make me move…your words are moving

    if you care to see the beauty and power of your words

    http://www.facebook.com/notes/david-parham/a-good-read/109776902434962?ref=notif&notif_t=note_comment#!/?sk=messages&tid=1673778413156

    Peace, hp

  20. lolamouse says:

    First, thank you so much for your kind words on my blog about my poem. Now, your poetry moves me in so many ways! This latest one is so raw, so brutal, so real, and so honest. It is difficult to read and I can see how it could make some people squirmy and uncomfortable, but isn’t that what art is supposed to do? Your work always evokes an emotional response, and if the response isn’t always pleasant, well too bad. You allow me to understand a little more about the world that I probably wouldn’t encounter otherwise. Thank you.

  21. Am I the only one who found this mildly amusing? You have expressed yourself marvelously, as always, but I almost sensed you were having a bit of fun here. Am I wrong about that?

  22. penpusherpen says:

    That three word title, is echoing round my head, like the lyrics of a rap song, beating away and not stopping.
    A powerful read, kolembo, and one which leaves me feeling wrong somehow. AS if I’ve contributed to the World we inhabit by acceptance. xPenx

  23. K. I like how you brought the issue of race, sexuality, shame and how one deals with it. However I am hesitant when it came to this one: “I am engineering a white lover
    Beneath the sheets, whilst”

    engineering as in building or as in taking one on and turning him into what you wish…changing another…and if that is the case, it takes away from the rest of the work…where I gathered the message of pride, acceptance despite all odds and monikers thrown at you.

    I love the voice as usual, powerful, unique, strong, proud and accepting 🙂

    • kolembo says:

      Hi there! Ya, this one was great doing actually! The image you refer to at the end is far more adults only than that….but I think it’s a very male…err…thing!

      Thanks for the comment though, and I’m glad you glean SOME sort pride in the voice!

  24. lightdance says:

    It’s all so complicated, and you have courage that I could never muster.

    It’s more comfortable, if dishonest, to exist in a world where certain things are not talked about, except in art where truth can be distilled, allowing the viewer/reader to come to terms with it in his own time and from his own experience.

    I’m in awe of your ability to distill with your poetry.

    • kolembo says:

      I don’t usually reply on my own posts, but your blog has brought me so much joy , I thought I would. Yes, complicated this one yet how to love and hide at once? I struggle still, caught between my where I’m from, and who will have me.

  25. Tilly Bud says:

    I couldn’t get past the N-word. I just don’t get why it’s okay for black people to use it, but no one else. Surely a bad word is a bad word is a bad word?

    • kolembo says:

      Interesting notion. I wonder if that ‘n’ word disappeared, how much of myself would go with it? How about erasing it from Huccleberry Finn? Just throwing that out; I think we have brutalised ourselves so much with our history that, so frightened now, we are in danger of anesthesising ourselves. If a white person is not aware of the word nigger, I suggest that they cannot be aware of the person black. I think the problem is not the word, but its use.

      No one says that it ‘ok for black people to use it, and not for whites’. In fact, in a sense, that’s the point of the poem.

      However, a word is bad because we use it badly – and that’s not to say that it’s use in anthropology is acceptable (the nigger is a curious creature, feral yet perfectly capable of thought…) but if it is not acknowledged by the language in which it exists, how to acknowledge the experience of those it defines?

      I am perfectly comfortable, neigh, acknowledged, by white people brave enough to talk to me about this word (not refer to me by it), to heterosexual people who call me homosexual, by women who call me a man.

      I think the fight against the term ‘nigger’ was a fight for the human within that term, not a request for it to be erased.

      I am not African American, but there are those I watch reclaim that word for themselves, and I am tickled by the consternation this causes.

      When I was in London, I was – at first amused, and then bewildered – by having the professor call out the tall man in the third row, for the long distance telephone call. Invariably ALL the tall foreigner stood…and there were many.

      What’s wrong with ‘that black man there?’, I was the only one. OK, fair enough, I am grateful for the decorum, but how did we get here?

      In Kenya, the issue of ‘colonisation’ was not of colour but of power and subjugation. We still call ourselves, ‘that Indian, there’, that ‘white man in the corner,’ the ‘black guy washing the car.’ But we call ourselves Kenyan.

      No-one abroad wanted to see my colour, just my soul, and I was fine with that for a while, I was an African, innocent, all around me, the implication was apparrent and suddenly I was feeling that there was something wrong with black. Except black is what I look at, everytime I brush my teeth.

      Suddenly, for the lack of it, I was a dirty word.

      Thanks for bringing this up, and giving voice to what many are mulling over.

      Here, not just the word nigger for black, but whore for prostitute, bitch for free woman.

      Here not just the notion of attack from outside, but the assault from one’s own.

      Here, not just nigger, but me.

      I do accept the N-word is strong. It wasn’t an easy post.

      Thanks again for the opportunity to answer, and please, anyone else; it’s race, sexuality, pride and shame.

      All open.

      • Bravo! Your poem is exceptional. The use of the word ‘nigger’ should not stop anyone from reading it… in fact, if anything, it should draw them in even deeper. I am a South African and I hate the word ‘nigger’as much as I hate our South African equivalents of derogatory names for blacks, but I read the poem three or four times and I can read it another dozen. All I can say, yet again, is Bravo!!

  26. Very informative to you struggle with empowerment and being overpowered by those around you. Not just racially or sexually, but mentally. Excellent and truthful emotions.

  27. this is wonderful, so many emotions, quite shocking to the boring mind.

    i love your work

  28. Evelyn says:

    You are so bold in your choices.
    Amazing and fearless!!
    I look forward to checking in each day…

  29. danroberson says:

    You are one of the exiles exploring forbidden territory, reaching deep where people whisper but don’t talk aloud. Raw emotions are laid bare with the sweat and love, freedom fighters and uniform,, details of reality that bring people back for another tantalizing look into the back room.

  30. dhaami says:

    Powerful! You seem to be in a very strong mood lately 🙂

  31. Luke Prater says:

    This, my friend, is absolutely fuckin’ great. And I don’t blow smoke. I daily trawl through a lot of amateur poetry and run a busy board for constructive critique/honest feedback 9how else do we learn?). I struggle to finish some poetry, but I had to read this three times over. HAD to. Compelling. The statement you make. The racial issues you bring up. The sexual politics. The geopolitical material. Uncompromising, brutally honest, and not a word wasted, not a cliche in sight (the banes of novice/bad amateur poetry). Nigger, whore, bitch. I had to know why you where called that. And why black men daunt you. You conjure it all in the mind so damn vividly I will probably be thinking about this tomorrow. That doesn’t happen often, maybe once in a month I hit a poem that has that kind of effect on me.

    Bravo, this is the read of the month so far and I can’t see it being usurped easily. If you’re interested in somewhere to get in-depth feedback on your poetry, you’d be welcome to come along and check out the Group/Discussion Bpard I administrate, the link is on my blogroll (Facial Expression Poetry Circle).

    Damn! More people need to read this.

    Luke @ WordSalad

  32. www.kelleyskinkytoyz.com says:

    I am in tears, but I can’t really identify why. Thank you for pouring yourself out this way. We(artists) are the new Old Greats.

  33. This, aside from the brouhaha that its bound to stir up, is a really good poem. Love the passion.

  34. Gordon says:

    Very strong emotions. Very interesting. Good job.

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