Browse Category: Poetry

Define Culture

So… despite my tumultuous relationship with poetry, I recently committed to participating in ‪#‎NaPoWriMo‬ (National Poetry Writing Month), during which the challenge is to write a poem a day. I wrote something earlier this week that I’d like to share.

I’ve been a recluse about my writing lately so posting this publicly is part of my attempt to get back into the practice of sharing (rather than spend so much time lamenting all my writing’s imperfections). I hope to return to the practice the self-love I preach so often, and more regularly celebrate even the smallest of victories, like the fact that this piece of work didn’t need to be perfect to be done.

Note: I’d like to say a special thank you to one of my favorite poets, Idalia, for gently yet firmly nudging me to finish it and to the amazing friends I have who sent me the affirmation I needed to amass the courage to share it. 

Define “Culture.”

Attempt #1:
a simple roll of the tongue;
salt in the wound of history’s affair
with Spanish conquerors
that didn’t burn fast enough in the sun
to save nations from genocide,
or mothers from marrying
their daughters to the wrong ones;
if we define culture to be
a simple roll of the tongue
then I guess the murder of
a millenia of bloodlines
is justified as language preservation.

Attempt #2:
Culture is a cautionary tale;
If superstition were a weapon
then Africa would be considered
a nuclear bomb;
we would never have welcomed strangers
with cocoa beans and open arms
the way our government still does
to D-List celebrities and modern day missionaries, while
rich white housewives on the verge of a nervous breakdown
search for salvation in the smiles of orphans on sale.
If we defined culture as a cautionary tale
told by pale narrators who lack introspection,
perhaps we would have paid attention
when our grandmas told us
they could feel their left eyelids twitching
at the expectation of visitors upon our shores;
perhaps we never would have wished the mermen
who called us moors, “safe passage”
in our native tongues
as they staked their claim
and carved their names
into our homes.

To define culture…

Attempt #3:
A synonym for “Home”
Neither a place or person,
these days, home is a political position
– the privilege of passing through
unrecognized as
an intruder on lands built on the backs of your forefathers.
But to the generation whose parents
cast us across the Atlantic,
raised captive in colonizer lands as cultural orphans
who never learned
to speak their native languages,
– home offers compromise
and forgiveness
to those with even less familiar roots.
A synonym for home…
only ever understood
in absence or disenfranchisement,
in dearth or gentrification,
in silence,
in loss,
in ostracization,
like a place that could never exist
for two queer brown women
and their extended family members
to settle down,
raise a kid,
or join a yacht club.

Attempt #4:
To claim culture
– to testify survival
of a massacre,
a genocide,
a raping of nations.
to dispute discontent,
or belonging
to feign knowing despite
the frenzy of stabilizing
a leaking boat
Culture is a usurper,
a lost turn
adrift from harbor
as fleeting as seagulls
in ocean light
and as slippery
as oysters
in search of
an anchor.

Do you know where you’ve come from?
Or how far you’ve sailed from harbor?
What glass containers of sea water keep your memories of belonging afloat?


Confessions of a Serial Roach Killer: On Irrational Phobias, Racism, and Black Genocide

I didn’t know what else to call this post, so forgive the title.

A Bit of Background: My Fear of Nigerian Roaches

I have a really terrible phobia of Nigerian roaches. Yes, Nigerian roaches. Have you seen them? They’re HUGE — from a meter away you can see their entire, segmented bodies, rotating heads, menacing antennae, including what they’re doing — sniffing the bare floor, eating decaying particles of food, ugh… *shudder*

I’m okay with other kinds of roaches. I’m even okay with other kinds of insects. When I lived in the U.S., on the east coast, I remember thinking that the insects there were such a joke; small, few in number, and always fleeing, they didn’t stand their ground like the ones I knew from home. But then again the coldness of winter kills most insects, so I rarely had to contend with the range (and size) of species that thrive in warmer climates. Still, I don’t think one can claim to have seen a real cockroach until they’ve come face to face with the African-sized sort that perch themselves on your fridge handle in the middle of the night, and dare you to try to get by…. but I digress.

We all know that phobias are irrational.

As a smart person who perhaps over-intellectualises almost all of my emotions so that I may better take control of them, and be proactive (vs. reactive) in my responses, whenever I encounter a big Nigerian cockroach, all that critical thinking and control goes out the window. I almost always scream, jump up and down, become really religious (“Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!), and descend into a dry-heaving panic, crashing into nearly everything around me. To compose myself, I almost always go through this exact train of thought:

Sad Harmless Nigerian CockroachCalm down.
It’s just a cockroach. An insect.
It’s harmless.
I’m nearly 1000 times its size!
This is just a phobia – it is irrational.
Phobias are irrational.
(Ahhh, it’s so scary!)
Okay, stop. Just stop.
It won’t do anything. Really! Look at it!
It’s just chillin’ over there.
You can kill it.
Just kill it.
It’s just a useless cockroach.

I’m going to tell you something very embarrassing, but true.

A few weeks ago, I woke up in the middle of the night to go use the bathroom. Yawning and rubbing my eyes, I walked dazedly through the door, then caught the sight of a dark brown figure on the mirror. Squinting to bring the figure into focus, I stopped dead in my tracks; staring back at me was a big brown cockroach – the size of a USB modem, with extra-long, thin antennae flailing wildly about. I freaked out.

Screaming madly as I recoiled at the sight, I stepped back and lost my balance, falling hard unto the ceramic floor and scrambling away to safety. The commotion caused the cockroach to begin crawling frantically against the mirror glass, further freaking me out. Still unhinged and shrieking, I reached for the doorknob and pulled the door shut; I couldn’t risk the creature flying into my bedroom, you see — ’cause, yeah, Nigerian cockroaches fly. In 92 degree weather, I slept with my head buried under the covers.

The next morning, it took me about 30 minutes to muster up the courage to re-open that bathroom door. When I did finally, I discovered there was no cockroach; it had clearly slid back into its hiding place, away from the daytime light. I got ready in the bathroom mostly with my eyes shut (don’t ask how), then hurriedly fled the apartment. However, when I returned home later on that evening, and absent-mindedly walked into the bathroom, I saw the cockroach again! Startled, I ran back out, shut the door, and sat trembling on the bed. I spent the entire night dreading that the cockroach would grow tired of the bathroom and sneak into my bedroom from underneath the door. But the really sad, pathetic part was this:

I let my fear of this one cockroach chase me out of my apartment for a whole week. 

I normally wouldn’t share this much, but I need you to realise how deeply rooted my phobia is: my paranoia at running into the nightcrawler persisted — and got worse — over the course of the week. It got so bad that I resorted to using the bathroom only when I was out for the day, just so I wouldn’t need to when I got home in the evenings (when nightcrawler would be out on the prowl).

Nigerian Cockroach Takes Over HouseThe straw that broke the camel’s back was the day I forgot to pee before I got home. I’d been out at a restaurant with friends and it had slipped my mind. I’d ordered a soup for dinner, so around 10 pm, I really needed to go. But it was dark outside, the night belonged to the cockroach, not me. So rather than brave the inevitable face off in the bathroom, I held my pee… for 8 hours.

Yup. I stayed up rocking back and forth in the fetal position in my bed trying to hold it until dawn, when the ferocious bug would have retired. I got NO sleep that night and, as a result of the exhaustion and anxiety, I developed a severe headache and wheezing (from my asthma). By the time I had to get ready for work, I had no choice but to call in sick. I was so ashamed of myself. It was totally pathetic, right? But now you know how frightened I was, and how deeply-rooted my phobia is.

Despite hours of reading about how non-threatening this insect was, I couldn’t shake the fear. He had to go. It was either him — the cockroach – or me; two of us couldn’t occupy the same space. I wanted him out, period. So, the next day, I purchased some insecticide (the cruelest way to kill bugs), sprayed the bathroom, and left the apartment for the damn thing to die

Where am I going with this, you might wonder?

Honestly, I’m not sure how to articulate the feelings I experienced after coming home to open the bathroom door and realising what I had done: I’d given into my phobia and the cockroach had lost. The revelation of this – that I’d carried out the torture and murder of a Nigerian cockroach – might seem a bit dramatic; maybe it is, but I haven’t been able to shake or clearly articulate what I’ve been feeling over the outcome of the whole fiasco.

So, naturally, I wrote a poemthing: a somewhat apology or eulogy for the Nigerian cockroach. Silly (and comical) as it is, maybe after reading it, you’ll understand better understand why this insignificant moment about an insect holds some significance to me as an activist. If not, hey, you at least got to laugh at me shrieking and tripping over myself as I tried to flee a bug. As we say here, nuttin’ spoil.

In Memory of the Indigenous Cockroach, Nightwalker:

This morning, before I left, I sprayed the shit out of my bathroom so I could murder the African-sized cockroach that had been my torment for weeks.

I fled the scene, coughing as I escaped a fate I could not wait for the foul thing to meet. But over the course of the day, my conscience got the best of me.

A butterfly flew by, landed neatly on a jasmine leaf and I thought, “How pretty,”
right before I began to question what it means
to pick and choose what shade of life offends.

We play God with cans full of poison, then cry foul when they insist the wrong version of history is truth.

Whose home is this? Whose ceramic floor?
Who decided white tiles and bath towels meant foreclosure?
What is home if not the audacity to feel
safe — to roam freely in black and brown without fear
of finding yourself in the wrong neighbourhood?

Dear Nightwalker (can I call you that?),
you’re dead and gone
there’s no coming back
no resurrection from violence this absolute,
just a self-indulgent eulogy to make your dead corpse political
lest we forget that it wasn’t fear that killed you,
but my unwillingness to place your survival above it;
that this IS your house,
that this IS a murder,
that it is I who have been the intruder,
and life is unjust.

My phobia-turned-hate got the best of me,
so I sprayed my humanity away,
justified insecticide just so I could feel a little safer
from that cruel brown creature of the night whose corpse I cannot face
for fear of seeing myself.

But this is not a poem.

This is an apology, for killing you AND your wife.
I had no idea she’d be at home when I cast the first stone.
I thought you were a rogue in the night,
not a nighttime hustler
head of your own household
seeking bread crumbs for a family you’d kept out of sight.

You must know that when I returned home and saw not one,
but two overturned corpses laying side by side
I knew the war had just begun…

They say the sins of the father follow the son.
I do not wish to kill any more, so I hope to god they’re wrong.
(I know they’re not.
My time will come.)

RIP Cockroach (and Cockroach Wifey – my bad)

Cockroach Family

[VIDEO] Teaser Trailer for “Confessions of a Queer African Boi” Poetry and Erotica Chapbook

I’ve been working on a collection of erotica, poetry, and other free-form expressions for a year now and recently printed them into booklet form for editing.

Flipping through the pages for the first time felt like the cold sensation of fingers slowly running down a soft layer of brown skin. These were words I hadn’t yet shared with fans of my writing; they held within them a different side of me many have not been privy to see. And so, with this new chapbook (hopefully being released by December or January of next year), I’ll be taking a very big leap…

I’m known publicly for my personal essays that offer a unique political perspective — one heavily inspired by my mantra, “Love is My Revolution”. But I have actually always been a fiction writer.

My parents will tell you that I’ve been writing and directing plays since I was 7 years old, using my disgruntled younger siblings as props, my mother’s plush pillows as elaborate sets, and my father’s Miles Davis tapes as background music. I wrote my first poem, “Ruler of the Sea”, after watching Steven Spielberg’s jaws. I wrote my first novel when I was thirteen, based on the “Mean Girls” of my secondary school (and the boys they constantly fought over).

At MIT, I added writing as a major in my junior year — studied under Pulitzer Prize winner, Junot Diaz for two semesters — and wrote over a dozen short stories about love, relationships, women, and self-image. I even went on to win two awards; one, for a story I wrote about my struggle with eating disorders, and another that used magic surrealism to explore the spiritual connection between the mothers and daughters in my family.

When I first began dating women, I stopped writing, perhaps because my words have always been my anchor to the world, and I wasn’t yet ready to validate my sexuality (and some traumatic experiences), as part of my reality. When I was finally able to write creatively, I remembered that my words haven’t always just been grounding, but healing, and so I’m excited to share this part of my “recovery” with all of you.

Incidentally, the other night, as I was editing my chapbook, I decided to take a self-care break and do something fun for encouragement: make a video teaser trailer for my chapbook. So here is the result of my late night photo shoot with queer African boi erotica and poetry. I hope you enjoy.

Well, what do you think? Would you read it? Buy it? Please leave your comments/feedback below. But remember, be gentle. To borrow from Erykah Badu, “I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my sh*t.”

A Love Poem to Say Goodbye: Things I Didn’t Know I Loved

A Parting Love Poem from My Beautiful Partner

She read the poem below at my goodbye party last weekend, and wanted me to share it with all of you. I am so blessed to have found someone whose Love is big enough, strong enough, brave enough, to Love me even from the farthest parts of the world, and to push me to share it with others, always. I wish for the same for all of you.

As she has dedicated this to me, I dedicate this to everyone who loves an activist, who gives them sustenance when they are running on empty, the push they need to keep going, even when they think they can’t, and of course, so much unconditional love. The world is so much better because of you. Thank You.

Things I Didn’t Know I Loved

Banana peels left on book shelves
An open jar of jam
Repeated bursts of flash
as she waits for the shot that will
show me exactly what she sees
when she looks at me.

I didn’t know I loved singing.
Especially at the top of my lungs.
Most especially under a bridge.

I didn’t know I could memorize
every variation of a smile
And daydream of ways
to coax each one to light

I knew I would love her storytelling
….and our dancing
all that was unspoken
yet understood
in our movement

But, looking back at the tentative safety
of bluelight raindrops,
I could never have known
our water-deficient souls
would feel so safe
in this ocean,
this deluge of emotions
and dreams overflowing

I will miss you
Miss “I love you’s” whispered nightly in reverence
– a rosary of promises
placed in the dip of your collarbone
for safekeeping.

I will miss your hands,
your bigger than life laugh,
stolen glances across a crowded room

Corazon, I will miss your spirit
your open, loving, too-big-for-one-city spirit
filling our home.

Amor, I stand here and celebrate you.
I celebrate your courage,
the way you’ve learned to follow your heart
wherever it may lead

Know that I am always with you,
that the rays of your sun
will warm you in the farthest corners of the globe

Mi Reina…

Always know that I love you.


a poem by Idalia (Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter)

Copyright Spectra Speaks 2012. All Rights Reserved.
Neither the whole or part of this work should be duplicated and/or republished without permission.

Happy Mother’s Day from a Queer African Daughter to Her Mama

I recently found a poemthing in my journal from about 2 or 3 years ago; I’d written just before mother’s day.

I hadn’t officially come out to my mother, then, but suspected that she’d known for a while that I was dating women; she’d been acting all weird and funny, speeding through our conversations with trivialities, idle gossip, and placing a suspicious emphasis on work/career updates (whereas she’d previously spent 80% of the call alluding to the lack of a boyfriend, and thus, the likelihood of her future grandchildren).

But as I was now spending so much time “saving the world” (too dangerously close to LGBT advocacy), she’d stopped asking about that, too. At one point we were literally only talking about the weather, what her and my father were eating for dinner, and Oprah. Our conversations had become filled with so much pain, so much we weren’t saying; I literally felt like I was choking each time I called home.

However, since deciding to be honest with my family about my life — my beautiful queer partnership, and my pursuit of a career around the arts and philanthropy (vs. the traditional route — doctor, lawyer, banker) — the relationship between my mother and I has slowly been improving.

She’s now at the point of constantly asking about my partner’s well-being, intentionally including her in conversations — even asking her to join in on Skype! My father has had his hiccups, but he too seems to be more at ease; he was going on and on the other day about how pretty my partner looked (since I’d sent them pictures from our France vacation). Okay, Dad. I get the point. We can now share a joke about both having good taste.

After coming out to my parents, I never would have imagined a good relationship with them would be possible. There’s always still so far to go — as I’m sure many of you know — but staying with hope has made the journey, so far, a rewarding one.

I’m sharing this poemthing I wrote, not because we haven’t moved beyond the place from which it was written (we have), but because I feel for everyone who’s ever had to feel estranged from their parents because of who they are, especially on a day like this. So much love going around about Mothers, while I know many Mothers and Daughters are sad they’re not more connected, closer to each other to enjoy the day.

If you are one of those people, know that you are not alone, love. I am thinking of you today. And praying for stregth and courage for the BOTH of you to reconnect soon… someday very soon. Happy Mothers (Who’ll Eventually Get It Together) Day :)

Oh, that’s right.. the poem thing. Here it is:

Happy Mother’s Day from a Queer African Daughter to Her Mama

On this day
when children, grown
call their homes
to  remind the women who raised them
they still remember:

the birthday parties,
school recitals,
and warm bosoms that welcomed the aftermath of puppy love,
mean English teachers,
playground fights,
hot baths after ballet,
proud smiles at As, Bs, and sometimes Cs,
words of wisdom by burning stoves,
the weight of the words “I love you”

on this day,
I am afraid
to be reminded of
the pain,
the regret,
the shame,
in your voice
that’s prevalent these days
— the hello that reminds me,
“I have failed you.”

On this day,
when children, grown
are calling their homes
with good intentions,
I’m making preparations for my defense:
the silent backlash of my “choices”
and your alleged “mistakes.”

Exhibit A)
I was gay before I went away,
America isn’t to blame for my choosing,
every single day,
to love the woman I now call home

Exhibit B)
I still believe in God,
the voice that stayed my toes
on a night I chose to believe
my life wasn’t worth living,
the voice that whispered gently,
you could still love me.

Exhibit C)
I do want children, eventually
Though I may not carry the three I promised you
I’d never shun motherhood,
or the chance to love unconditionally,
and outshine you.

Exhibit D)
I never dreamed you would question this love
Mother, after all that you’ve done,
the rings and pretty chainlinks you’ve sold,
the pride you’ve put aside to claim me,
in the face of ridiculue,
I, your daughter,
“the rogue lesbian”
never believed I would be the reason you bowed your head to mongrels

Exhibit E)…?

On this day,
as I prepare my defense,
against the silent conversation
we have over our phony mother-daughter role play,
I’m desperately hoping,
that in the event
either of us is caught off guard
by the white elephant,
I won’t have to use it.

On this day,
as I tell myself
over and over again
“I don’t care”
I’m desperately longing to hear
“I love you”
yet anxiously fearing the bareness
of “It’s you…”
followed by the nothingness I’ve grown used to
ever since you learned the meaning of “queer”

On this day,
I remember your lessons:
to stand strong,
always say the truth,
and remember,
even those who love you,
will do you wrong.

And when they do:

Remember love.
Remember love.
Remember love.

I love you. Happy Mother’s Day.


Spectra is an award-winning Nigerian writer, women’s rights activist, and the voice behind the African feminist media blog, Spectra Speaks, which publishes global news and opinions about all things gender, media, diversity, and the Diaspora.

She is also the founding director of Queer Women of Color Media Wire (, a publishing and media advocacy organization that amplifies the voices of lesbian, bisexual, queer, and/or transgender women of color, diaspora, and ethnic and racial minorities across the globe.

Follow her tweets on diversity, movement-building, and love as a revolution on Twitter @spectraspeaks.

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