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Assétou Xango

Assétou Xango was born and raised in Colorado. A poet and community activist, they have been performing poetry since 2009 and was featured on HBO's Brave New Voices in 2010. In 2017, they were featured in Westword's top 100 Creatives. Xango coaches workshops, is a two-time TEDxMileHigh Speaker and is the poet laureate of Aurora, Colorado.

Read about Assétou Xango’s 2020 Poets Laureate Fellowship project.

By This Poet

3

Eve

Assétou Xango performs “Eve” for TEDx.


They call me Eve 
I was never given a last name
This was only the first case of identity theft

I know what you’ve heard about me,
That I was carved out of the ribcage of a man
only as an afterthought.
And they told you I’d look differently

Make no mistake,
they have burned down my libraries and tried their best to scorch my memory
but I remember well.
The sweetness of God’s breath on my neck when She whispered me into existence
She told me I’d be the first of this
new species she was experimenting with

There was no talk of dominion,
but She did teach me a certain harmony with Lady Gaia and told me to embody her beauty
so I walked tall

Wide hips and extra weight to nourish the children I would carry.
And as they grew, I taught them.

Taught the young, small, weak
taught them plenty.
They came to my crown
and asked me how to run their nations Aristotle, Plato, Socrates
sucked from the supple breast of my knowledge.

Little did I know when I turned my back they’d whip slave ships into it
and create this Bible
 that blames me for the expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

There was a snake that tempted me to leave the promise land
I’m pretty sure those was your chains, guns and aggression.
So was it fruit,
or the middle passage that closed Eden’s gates.

This Bible
that tells me childbirth is a curse
and that I am the cause.
Well I am sorry,
Sorry that I broke my back to carry your children
but if you ever dared to ask me,
I’d call you the curse
I’ve been called temptress,
but it was you who stripped me naked.
Called me slut and made me hit my knees until I knew what forbidden fruit really tasted like.

The abuse didn’t stop after Lincoln
it was just heavily disguised
as the media,
tossing me a pair of booty shorts and tell me to sway my hips to the rhythm of lynched ancestors because it reminds racists of a better time.

They never look me in the eyes
because they want me to forget I have them.

I know why they do it.
They see Her image in me and fear my power.
They sold me as commodity
so I would forget what I was worth,

But you should have smashed my mirrors first.
Did you think I couldn’t see?
I am the beauty of gold embodied.

Black skin as beautiful as the galaxies they stole from my libraries but NOT from my eyes.
You can keep your idealistic paintings of me
But you will never bleach my skin or straighten my hair.

Forbid the drums of my native tongue
But you will never quiet the lavish language of my dance
I will never lose my kinks,
my fight,
my fire.
Save your cat calls for those deserving
Because I do not play with rats.
You will call me Goddess
or will not address me
at all

Black Womxn Version II

Black womxn,
You night sky,
You starless galaxy
You
stars for eyes.

You
are so full of empty
of womb
of creation

You
balance of holy fire
You misunderstanding
You
misunderstood
You
so beautiful
so lawless
so… dark

They branded you that, you know?
“dark”, ”black”, “demon”

You
all reclamation
all “yin”, “rebirth”,

You
beaten spine still straight
you clawed teeth
you rip them apart with rhetoric
and discourse.

You
all community,
all let’s talk this through
all “What is ailing you, my love?”

Them
tired of hearing about how black you are,
How straight your hair is not
Wishing
you'd just blend in
Wishing you'd stop being all bold colored font

You
all redefining black as beautiful
nappy as galaxy

You all proud
them all scared
You not running
them all shaking.

You
You
You
stand tall against the wind
You recognize your skin as baobab tree

You all deeply rooted

You
wondering about your roots
on a land that feels like sand

You clinging onto the depths of empty
You know empty
You've claimed it
made it friend

You know what happens here,
in a starless night,
in a planet-less galaxy
in the largest womb ever known.

Here
is where you have always
created best

Give Your Daughters Difficult Names

Assétou Xango performs at Cafe Cultura in Denver.


“Give your daughters difficult names.
Names that command the full use of the tongue.
My name makes you want to tell me the truth.
My name does not allow me to trust anyone
who cannot pronounce it right.”
      —Warsan Shire

Many of my contemporaries,
role models,
But especially,
Ancestors

Have a name that brings the tongue to worship.
Names that feel like ritual in your mouth.

I don’t want a name said without pause,
muttered without intention.

I am through with names that leave me unmoved.
Names that leave the speaker’s mouth unscathed.

I want a name like fire,
like rebellion,
like my hand gripping massa’s whip—

I want a name from before the ships
A name Donald Trump might choke on.

I want a name that catches you in the throat
if you say it wrong
and if you’re afraid to say it wrong,
then I guess you should be.

I want a name only the brave can say
a name that only fits right in the mouth of those who love me right,
because only the brave
can love me right

Assétou Xango is the name you take when you are tired
of burying your jewels under thick layers of
soot
and self-doubt.

Assétou the light
Xango the pickaxe
so that people must mine your soul
just to get your attention.

If you have to ask why I changed my name,
it is already too far beyond your comprehension.
Call me callous,
but with a name like Xango
I cannot afford to tread lightly.
You go hard
or you go home
and I am centuries
and ships away
from any semblance
of a homeland.

I am a thief’s poor bookkeeping skills way from any source of ancestry.
I am blindly collecting the shattered pieces of a continent
much larger than my comprehension.

I hate explaining my name to people:
their eyes peering over my journal
looking for a history they can rewrite

Ask me what my name means...
What the fuck does your name mean Linda?

Not every word needs an English equivalent in order to have significance.

I am done folding myself up to fit your stereotype.
Your black friend.
Your headline.
Your African Queen Meme.
Your hurt feelings.
Your desire to learn the rhetoric of solidarity
without the practice.

I do not have time to carry your allyship.

I am trying to build a continent,
A country,
A home.

My name is the only thing I have that is unassimilated
and I’m not even sure I can call it mine.

The body is a safeless place if you do not know its name.

Assétou is what it sounds like when you are trying to bend a syllable
into a home.
With shaky shudders
And wind whistling through your empty,

I feel empty.

There is no safety in a name.
No home in a body.

A name is honestly just a name
A name is honestly just a ritual

And it still sounds like reverence.