Fall/Winter 2020Poetry

Poems by Ashia Ajani


Detroit, lauded as a truly American art form,
birthed from the underbelly of resistance
and Black joy, broke its back somewhere along the way,
or was tripped, stood up,

bamboozled, deleted its history, crawled back out the den
and faced a new audience.
The Spectacle, no longer spectator, no longer musician,
no longer owner or steward.

Mama goes back to Detroit and starts reminiscing,
conjuring old ghosts.
The dead here do not engage in games of trickery
and shadow, they demand to be heard

Hammering their heads against the concrete-
the concrete speaks in crumble, all the potholes
dark chasms, filled by an everlasting want to claim a home.
Uncle Gaylord built this city, Cousin Lazerick worked

these factories, all the ancestors bones
are scattered across this landscape, from Dearborn Heights
to Anchor Bay, our blood greases every wheel turning the damn car,
we are the damn car, bitten by the smoke, rust and risk of removal

Look right here, this street
That’s where Aunt Selma and Aunt Lump used to live
That lot used to be a park
There might still be chestnut trees


i still won’t get my hair wet

Growing up in Colorado
I never was a water-connected person.
my bloodline lacks proclivity towards moisture,
though these lungs know nothing but flood.

The cold water will swallow you whole
And where will you be without this landlocked abandon
Gramma chides when I venture a new baptism
she naps on my swim cap tight enough to
Knock these perm-bruised edges loose.

The chlorine clean makes it pure enough for plunge
Recalls Mississippi murky water for what it really hides
As we buy back our health- a purloined possession,
this kind of thirst summons an ancient lust.

We been parched for centuries. In secret, I seek to swim,
cloaked by what carried and buried my bloodline.
I am still hot with no eagerness to splash and cool off.
Unduly capable of float.

Years ago in the wild edges of Missouri
My paternal grandfather throws my adolescent father
into Smithville Lake
Shouts swim
If they come for you, you gotta know how to float
If they come for you, you better hold your goddamn breath


Ashia Ajani (they/she) is an environmental educator and storyteller hailing from Denver, CO, Queen City of the Plains and the unceded territory of the Arapahoe, Cheyenne and Ute peoples. Their work explores Black ecologies and the layered relationships between the African diaspora and the natural environment. She has been published in Sierra, Them.us, World Literature Today and Frontier Poetry, among others. Follow their work on their website: ashiaajani.com.

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