We Drink at the Attenuation Well

Motivated forgetting is a psychological defense mechanism whereby people cope with threatening and unwanted memories by suppressing them from consciousness.
            —Amy N. Dalton and Li Huang

              in Badagry there is a hung-
              ry well of water and memory

 

                                                         loss. in Badagry there was a well 
                                                         of people lost across a haven 

 

of water. in Badagry there was
a port overwhelmed in un-return. 

 

                                    to omit within the mind is to ebb
                                    heavenward. memory is a wealth 

 

                                                      choking the brain in un-respons-
                                                      ibility. violence in the mind and 

 

                                    the mind forgets in order to remember
                                    the self before the violence begot. 

 

in Badagry trauma washes ungod-
ly memory heavenward. in Bad-

 

                                       agry there is an attenuation well 
                                       meant to wish away a passage, 

 

                                                                      meant to unhaven a people.
                                                                      violence is underwhelming

 

                                         in return. what the body eats, 
                                         the mind waters. responsible 

 

is the memory for un-remittal. 
royal is the body for return. god is

 

                                     the mind for wafting. forgetting 
                                     is a port homeward. in Bad- 

 

                                                   agry hungry memory grows angry.
                                                   in Badagry the memories un- 

 

                 choke. trauma un-eats the royal. 
                 in Badagry there is a heaven 

 

                                               of people responsible for the birth- 
                                               right of remembering, for the well 

 

                                      of us across a haven of water
                                      overwhelmed in un-return.

More by Porsha Olayiwola

The Electric Slide is Not a Dance, Man!

I wanna privy you to a little secret. Come close now. Good. So, what you need to know is the electric slide is not a dance. It's a transmission code. What I'm trying to tell you is every time I need to leave here, every time I need to get to a place that feels like my mama’s cooking or my brother’s cackle booming from soot, I sound the gathering. I bring out the trumpets and horns whenever I need to shake this crypt dust settling my bones. I turn my stereo up. Just the other day, so-and-so tells me he wants me to teach ‘im the moves. I can’t teach style, can't learn blood to pound to a drum pulse so slick, it glide. So free, it ain’t. Can't teach ‘im, or nobody else who not from where we from what's innate. I mean, man, shit, there is a place I need to get to, a grin I need to spread, a quaking of my foundation ungrounded from laughter. The codes an impenetrable thing; how the slide is sauve, how the count off for the take off is the dip low, the count out. The down swing recollects our plot of land on this earth. Picking a leg high, a knee raised, a turn to the left is the way we know to leave our massacre behind, man. The dance floor is a square padlock you can't crack. Each space we take there is meant for us to occupy. Each brethren is attached to our side, our fronts, our backs. This pattern is a shield against depression or hunger hanging out of someone's blue eyes. Our bodies arrange a constellation in memory of the boy who was slain with no indictment, for the guillotined girl who went forgotten, for the housing stacked like the gut of the ship, the dogs and the waters. The blast off happens insync and our spirits rupture ceilings. We ritual. Sacred. Secret. Originators of a beat cascading. The electric slide is how we leave here, how we ascend. This kinship is how we get to a place named joy, and go home. That's blood, history, man. Ain’t no teaching that.

Notorious

After I read, the boy with the long, blonde, shaggy ponytail says, “your set was great, like, don’t be offended when I say this but, you remind me of Biggie Smalls.”

if i shouldn’t be offended | why do you say something you believe | has a chance of offending me | offend | meaning to hit | strike | against | when you say offend | do you mean the blackness is the strike | or the fatness is against me

|

he says this and | i become who he believes i am | my hands thicken | my fingers plump | my long twists shrivel into a short afro | my chin oceans a shadow | my cheeks tumor typhoons | my lips are fat pink | each | word | drags | itself | out | my | mouth | like a guarded hearse | each line | break | squeezes a song | a rap | a dance | beat for this boy tonight

|

biggie smalls | and i are both geminis | we are both twins | of each other | we both tar | dark | thick | it’s a wonder | how we heave | and heave | and weave | and stand | behind a mic a tall | we all | black and ugly as ever | however we spell well | B | I | G | all rhyme and good time | we both love it when you drive by | and call us | big | poppa | ain’t you ever been popped off | been shot at | been blown up like the world trade | don’t you like your meat center medium | brown skin rift | red nectar running off the curb of the plate

|

the difference between a fat black nigga rapping and a fat black dyke poeming is in the cadence of the eulogy spit | or | the difference between a fat black nigga rapping and a fat black dyke poeming is in the faith of the women who love to love us back

|

it is september 2016 | i am on a stage in texas reading poems outdoors | perspiration jogs from my tight curls and finds shelter along my lips | my underarms are a swamp | and still | i do a rap i wrote | and they laugh | despite the heat they sing along | arms reach up | in surrender | i am a secular god | a holy holy | words jetting out like jamboree |and i worry | i look too much like |a concert | like black joy leaping | like a hip hop song in the 80’s | a house party walled in saturation | like summer time | like somebody | everybody | wanna be a part of | like a sweet jam sweatin | blasting | juicy

Twerk Villanelle

For Valentine

my girl positioned for a twerk session-
             knees bent, hands below the thigh, tongue out, head
turned to look at her body’s precession. 

she in tune. breath in. breasts hang. hips freshen. 
            she slow-wine. pulse waistline to a beat bled
for her, un-guilt the knees for the session.

fair saint of vertebrae- backbone blessing,
            her pop- in innate. her pop- out self- bred,
head locked into her holied procession. 

dance is proof she loves herself, no questions-
            no music required, no crowd needed. 
she arched into a gateway, protecting-

this dance is proof she loves me, no guessing. 
            a bronx bedroom, we hip-to-hip threaded. 
she turn to me, tranced by her possessin’. 

she coils herself to, calls forth a legend-
round bodied booty, bounce a praise ballad.
she break hold, turn whole in a twerk session. 
body charmed, spell-bent, toward progressing.

Related Poems

du bois in ghana

at 93, you determined to pick up and go—
and stay gone. the job nkrumah called you to,
to create, at last, your encyclopedia africana
             (encompassing a continent chipped

like wood beneath an axe, a large enough
diaspora to girdle the globe, and a mere four
thousand years) was either well-deserved
              sinecure or well-earned trust

that your health was as indestructible as
your will. my mind wrestles with possible pictures:
the victorian sensibility, the charcoal wool
              formality of your coats and vests, the trim

of your beard as sharp as the crease of your
collar—how would these du boisian essentials
hold up to sub-saharan heat? would
              your critical faculties wilt in accra’s

urban tropics as i’ve read that westerners’
are wont to do? dr. du bois, i presume
you took the climate in stride, took to it,
              looked out your library’s louvered windows

onto a land you needed
neither to condemn nor conquer,
and let the sun tell you what you already knew:
              this was not a port to pass on.

your 95th birthday photo found you bathed
in white cloth, cane still in hand, sharing a smile
with a head of state who knew your worth—joy
              that this nation’s birth occurred in time

for you to step out of a cold, cold storm
into outstretched arms. would your pan-
african dream have survived a dictatorial
              nkrumah, an nkrumah in exile? you took

the prerogative of age and died without telling,
without knowing. a half-century later, here
in the country where you were born, i look
             into a screen and watch as, near and far, a pan-

demic of violence and abuse staggers the planet.
we seed the world with blood, grow
bleeding, harvest death and the promise
              of more. when i turn bitter, seeing no potential

for escape, i think of the outrages you saw—wars,
lynchings, genocide, mccarthy, communism’s
failure to rise above corrupting power
             any better than capitalism had, the civil rights

movement’s endless struggle—and how
you kept writing and walking, looking
for what you knew was out there. your memory,
             your tireless radiant energy, calls me

to my work, to my feet, insisting
that somewhere on the earth, freedom is
learning to walk, trying not to fall,
              and, somewhere, laboring to be born.

Ferrum [excerpt]

s no s                        laves s                          in nest/s with
                in come sir                                  my lie
                                                ge lord it i
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                me b                        e me rains fa
                            ll no wa                            ter in t me and p
lay your p
                                          art the sun ros                                  he t
                ub                                                                under sk
                            in sin for                          ty days fo
     rty nigh                          ts forty ce                             dis for forty
                sins j'aim                            faim j'ai
                                faim god of                            spire spes and p
          raise turn and                          turn the bo                               nes sing
                               a son                                  g of wa
                                         ter a wat                                er so
                     ng sin                         g song sin                          g song de
                               fend the d                           ead & sin n
         o sin sin                           g the bo                               nes h/o
                        me what w                         ill my b                               ones say h
                                         ow do the                        y forty we
               eks come to t                        erm shh au                                  di can you
                                       not he                           ar from the de
                                                  ep the voi
                        ces not sir                                                ens we are a
      t sea the d                                            art of my sto
                                         ry stings i me
                      ant no harm                                         no hurt res







                                          cue us rag                                        and bone men in
               dict the a                                           ge pears in g
                              in in                    wine win                                ter wine and y
                                      ou Ruth                              this story ne
                   sts in the ne               t the we                                    b of ti
                                       me tam                p it down do
                                                  use the flam                 e of this ta
               le what pro                                      fit me if mon               coeur non est
                                 we wind o                                       ur way sub
                                                                    water o
                                       nly the bone                                       s of the sh
                     ip their e                          yes dart this
                                   way and th                                                              at soft so
                                                                                   ft they ro
                         am the ship                                                            their cri
                                                            es grate on me
                                          y ears drag                                the dee
                                                            p for the b                            ones of my so
                              ul their sou                                  ls cast the n
                                                    et wide to the d                             eep men to the
                     p and a                                             tot of ru
                                           m...

A Far Cry from Africa

A wind is ruffling the tawny pelt
Of Africa. Kikuyu, quick as flies,
Batten upon the bloodstreams of the veldt.
Corpses are scattered through a paradise.
Only the worm, colonel of carrion, cries:
"Waste no compassion on these separate dead!"
Statistics justify and scholars seize
The salients of colonial policy.
What is that to the white child hacked in bed?
To savages, expendable as Jews?

Threshed out by beaters, the long rushes break
In a white dust of ibises whose cries
Have wheeled since civilization's dawn
From the parched river or beast-teeming plain.
The violence of beast on beast is read
As natural law, but upright man
Seeks his divinity by inflicting pain.
Delirious as these worried beasts, his wars
Dance to the tightened carcass of a drum,
While he calls courage still that native dread
Of the white peace contracted by the dead.

Again brutish necessity wipes its hands
Upon the napkin of a dirty cause, again
A waste of our compassion, as with Spain,
The gorilla wrestles with the superman.
I who am poisoned with the blood of both,
Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?
I who have cursed
The drunken officer of British rule, how choose
Between this Africa and the English tongue I love?
Betray them both, or give back what they give?
How can I face such slaughter and be cool?
How can I turn from Africa and live?