BY HOWARD M-BUH
He is from Comfort. From highlife music and Amens.
He is from black.
From the horizon.
From harmattans that cracked lips and left them wounded.
He is from five.
From strident harangues and needles.
The antepenultimate child, stuck in the middle.
He is from leaves; squeezed and cut and ground.
He is from animals and fruits.
He is from soil, dark as his skin.
From stale palm wine and happy old men basking in familiar insobriety.
He is from taxi honks and diurnal streets.
From refuse bins that housed dead rats and rotting everything.
He is from the headiness of hibiscuses. From the humming of the fridge and the flowing of the stream.
He is from old Hip-hop CDs cracking at the edges. From songs his grandmother sang; songs whose meanings he would never know.
He is from old books. From little lettered-tiles of Scrabble.
From gossipy women lounging in kiosks, twisting braids, and tough boys in dirty dungarees.
He is from laughs, so loud they make the throat sore. He is from melancholy.
He is from hues.
He is from ‘you fools’ and ‘I love yous’.
BY CORNELIA ROHDE
Apple, Moon, Fire
Apple and moon are his new words today.
Both round, both as delicious as he is.
One he can hold. One he tries to reach,
lifting his dimpled arm to the night sky.
His eyes land on the headline photo
of a man cycling close to an inferno of flames,
a smokescreen of burning rubber
to defy bomber pilots.
What dat? What doing? he asks.
Fire, I say, to teach him another word.
He doesn’t repeat it. He only insists,
What dat? What doing? over and over again.
I carry him into the California sunshine.
His laughter lights the morning as I push him
on the tire swing his father hung
from a branch of the gnarled pepper tree.
Sirens scream as a small boy
is lifted from Aleppo’s rubble.
What dat? What doing?
Sibongile brings La Foliage’s tony menu,
takes our order for organic beetroot
with hibiscus jelly, smoked cheesecake with garnishes
of sea lettuce and nettle pesto, cauliflower on a bed
of parmesan velouté with crushed chestnut,
Springbok carpaccio with fennel chutney,
naartjie buttermilk dressing, and puffed crackling.
For dessert, fresh strawberries sprinkled with roasted hay,
pistachio, violas, and a scoop of ginger sake ice cream.
He shakes our hands with a smile as we leave.
Off work, he will eat a sheep head roasted golden brown
over hot coals, its lips shrunken into a grin.
He imagines the delicate taste of its eyes,
its chewy ears, the suck and crunch of its bones.
Inhloko isiqokweni: head-on-a-plate. Real food.
BY RAHUL D’SILVA
Notes from India
After school each day I eat mangoes
from the street vendor’s cart.
Salted unripe pieces – the tart taste
makes my lips smack and thirst
for something cold and fizzy.
We aren’t supposed to eat such snacks –
Germs! They say.
You’ll fall sick!
When we get home, we eat the sweet ripe slices.
The juice dribbles down our chins.
On Sundays, my grandfather prepares
his special biryani.
The smell of cloves lights up the house
until we can’t focus
on our games of cards.
He makes it his way,
thick and spicy,
till the day he has a stroke.
In the hospital the blood seeps into his brain
like cardamom wafting into the ceiling.
My penis a sleeping seahorse
curled against your thigh,
your breasts two mangoes
nestled against my chest.
For the Nuba people, North Sudan
The heat here melts the fat in your neck into liquid necklaces. It’s a furnace of Elo – the forgotten god of this land.
Here, children write their dreams in sweat: the indelible ink of their brow. It’s the only way a father’s bullet scar can mean something.
Here, a book is a full plate to a starving mind. And eyes are spoons. Every sentence is a road leading home. And all brackets look like a parent’s open hug.
Here, hills speak in silent tones, as trees eavesdrop in defiance. Trees – sejera and ardhef – are stubborn children; accustomed to the indifferent beatings of the sun.
Here, if you were to study an old tree, you would imagine its branches when it was young, green and naive to the civilized ways of shemis (the sun).
You would imagine this tree as a virgin; before bees deflowered her and sold her innocence to the birds and the dry gush of wind.
You would imagine its naked branches resignedly spread, like the arms of a one-legged Indian dancer.
You would imagine the life it breastfeeds to the starved beaks of the rocks sprouting across these Nuba hills. Hills that bear bullet scars.
And then, beneath its shadow, there’s a quick-sand footpath that leads to small tombs of children strutting to school in missing arms.