a comprehensive examination

1. why do you think he is single? to what extent are structural forces to blame or
is it rather a matter of choices? what is he afraid of?
refer to at least three specific
failures in your
response and use ten to fifteen pages for each prompt.

2. provide an interpretation
of the dark period (2014-2015).

how likely do you think it
is to recur?

out of the many myths he told himself
about it all coming back to the car in bethania,
the choice not to lurch lastly at roanoke
not to even say “michigan”:
were any of them any more than lies?
or do you believe he has learned
something?

3. if he had not gone to lansing, what
do you think would have happened to him?

what if he had spent his shallow dream
in williamsburg or charlottesville,
like he thought he would do?

moreover, if he liked the place more
would he live differently?

4. i think this thing is all a real mistake, am i right?

cite his poems after the following format,
simply, by first lines: (why

do you think he is single?
2018).

the song of moses, roanoke

i

i will not go into that church, i told myself,
i cannot be there, it is forbidden.

ii

what can i say of this place? i was downtown
between six and seven, dusk, the spring sun condescending

in glory to kiss the rotting hulk of the heironimus building
good night, thinking how

here in these streets, church and luck and jefferson, some
dragon ravens; serpents behind old retaining walls

in wasena, the deaf adder that stoppeth her ears,
charm he never so

wisely.

iii

it is like picking up a clod of soil by the river
and recognizing your own blood in between the little

clamshells, thinking with a thrilling kind of horror,
“but i have not been dead here”; so i thought.

iv

i will not go into that church,

i told myself; i must wait until the morning; i must go
to another neighborhood and leave it be,

i told myself; it will be better to go back to the motel
in salem and nurse the pain of the last two weeks

of this waking hell; i must not go.

v

i told myself i will only walk there; i will not enter;
i will lose my nerve and flee at the first sign

of danger; i was about to vomit.  the egyptian
dusk soft and warmly cotton

found me in horror and my heart almost leapt
out of me once i found my pew; i wondered

whether i wasn’t satan after all; this business of
panicking in churches.

vi

but i did not leave and my heart began to level at the
exsultet.  and by the end of two hours

i was water on the floor; i was deconstructed and entirely
outside whatever i was, united with the

fiery auspices smeared before mill mountain, asleep in the
flesh of surrender like one who

fainted in the heat of the flight
and awoke in warm sinai

forgetful of the charioteers in perdition;
forgetful of being a charioteer,

forgetful of everything but what made me:
just a child on his first day of school.

vii

there is nothing to be afraid of, in the end;
all our nighttimes, after all, were borne

at once
a long time ago

and on this very night.

floyd, easter

in paradise, in floyd
county off thompson road
on a hilltop with crows and robins singing
about how from the house of winter they
saw bloody footprints run north into
trackless places, here

where i search my mind and
find nothing but
the afternoon,

i will say this:

i will say again that there are djinns here;
there are spirits that knew me before i
knew them and they call me by name.

and they assure me that they have my
best interests at heart and

they talk about the music of my self
and they tell me that they understand
what happened in moneta and what
happened on i-581 near the hershberger road
exit in the back seat. they know, they say,

because they saw them all, they say,
and want me to come home.

they are telling the truth. and
i fear what will become of me if i
forsake them and they
forsake me in return,

but what if they are lying, and what if i
am lying too? a little certainty, you know, is
such a dangerous thing,

the thinking, “i am on the right way”—
when thither there’s so much to suffer from.

so i will say this:
i fear i’m now in love again, but

do not know
with what.

hightown maple songs

i

i don’t know why you keep coming to see me
i never asked you to; i never knew you.

but you drive so far in whatever weather
just to hope the sun shines down on me

and you can see it. and do what?
what do you do when you go back to your

hard old life? you open your mouth to
people who never understood you anyway

and said you drove three hundred miles to
me up and down monterey mountain to glimpse

me as you always do
late in the afternoon.

i will tell you what it would take to impress
me. come and see me on a january night in

a new moon when the sky is shut up in
fire retardant and the air is like shrapnel.

come and see me without wearing a wire,
come and see me naked in winter.

come and see what it is here when the light
isn’t just so. sit down where a rattlesnake will

bite you on your ass and tell me whether
you would like to stay. don’t tell me the

secrets tourists tell after a few swigs
of the home brew: i want to know what

you can barely say alone. things
you haven’t said yet to yourself.

ii

this is what you said back to me:

you said you could not impress me.
you said you would always be wearing a

wire, you said you could neither leave
nor stay, you said i have transfixed you
in the sense of impalement.

you said you would gladly wait naked with me
until the sun makes no winters anymore

but will not trouble me after the first decades
of your death, once the visits stop and the land

heals and the snow comes and my sugar water
starts to flow with your self. you want to

help me in that quiet way, which is all you can do.

iii

that’s what happens when you stay in one place
for as long as i have. people come up with all

kinds of words but they really can’t do much.
the voice that makes a hundred promises can
find a thousand ways to

slip the net; it’s all the tragedy of what you are. it

is hard for me to believe that the eden of people
is like the eden of trees, see,

because i just want to be weightless
and you want to land somewhere desperately;

it’s sad to say i think we’ll die apart.

in raphine

when was the last time you drowned in the night? 
when was the last time it found you
unguarded?

or does it search for you?
i think it happens to everyone but i know so
little.

i know nothing about you except that the same
ravening stars of the northern hemisphere watch us both at least while
i am still here.

even when i am embedded with streetlights
crouched in the vault of the sky like leopards in
trees they know where we are. and out here beyond staunton they saw
i could hide nowhere.

this is the confession the stars extracted from me:
i am still in pain and it goes without saying that i would leave
tonight behind everything if i knew where
you were and what you would demand.

this is the confession:
i am not better than the last time i saw you in your red plaid
dress; i worry very much that i am doomed.

of course i said it all under
duress but the night has what it
came for.

i think you must
be able to see in the stars that
this is so.

bosman in olivet

flesh is grass and flesh is ash and all of it together
has been touched with the finger of death coming

at its own pace until the night of power this is none
of it news. but someone said it was lent now and i

thought about it for some time because it has been lent
for a while i replied where you have to do so much.

because it has been so hard to create anything beautiful
really to create anything since january. sometimes one

feels like the only thing alive as if it were just me and the
ice but the frogs and the dandelions have been raptured.

flesh is grass i repeat to myself and God is a shout in the
street and as i walked through olivet i thought does

anybody live in these buildings? i saw a man sleeping in a parked
buick and no one else and i thought to myself i have neither

grass nor a street. i am in olivet but i may
as well be at the bottom of the sea or on a far moon.

i am over olivet but not in it olivet and everything else the town
charlotte potterville and delta township strung out on

trenches of frozen blood grey as the night that we had
in january the last time it rained i am just vapor in them. really my whole time

here has been an exercise in vaporous wandering along roads
frozen in rictuses of knowing derision negating

the very cause of a road. i can still remember that
a road has to go somewhere but south of lansing

everything is called highway there is island highway and packard highway
and bellevue highway and kinsell and gresham and butterfield and nye

highways but
most of them are not even paved.

Essays on Academia.edu!

Hello everyone!  // Sanibona nonke!  // Welkom almal!

I feel very bad because I haven’t posted anything here since August.  It’s been a bit hectic lately between drafting grant proposals and studying for my comprehensive exams.  I’ve been writing poetry consistently, but have been too lazy to go the extra mile and post it here, for which I’m very sorry.

This semester, because I’m actually done with coursework, I’m only taking one seminar.  I’ve been posting the reaction papers on my academia.edu page, and if you’re interested in gender in Africa, which is the topic of the seminar, I encourage you to check them out.  It’s much easier to post academic papers as PDFs over there instead of converting them to blog posts here.  I encourage your comments and hectoring.

Here’s a paper on Nwando Achebe’s book The Female King of Colonial Nigeria: Ahebi Ugbabe.

Here’s one on Oyèrónkẹ́ Oyěwùmí’s classic text The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender Discourses.

Here’s a paper on John Colman Wood’s book When Men Are Women: Manhood Among Gabra Nomads of East Africa.

And finally, here’s a paper on Lynn Schler’s recently published monograph Nation On Board: Becoming Nigerian At Sea.

Stay tuned for another paper this week!   And more poetry, I promise.   I really do.

durris road, for h

ja to be honest
i knew it was a bad idea

but i never turn down a bad idea
for no chance of success.

i would rather lie dully awake in the bright
morning with my fantasy

of the future—and this is in forest town,
johannesburg—did you ever imagine someone

so doomed would be thinking of you there?
but you’ll take it in stride.

if i won out of all this
it would be like the dog who caught the car

and so unworthy am i of this thing
i can hardly imagine.

so ja this is like the box of alcoholic jam i bought
at kernersville for the one i told you about,

it was the beginning of the end
and what a beginning it was.

it was with jam
and delusions

thinking we would
marry

key lime pie and thinking with
a puffed up chest

at the gas station in martinsville
that i really had it made;

it all ended in that warm house off
wonju street

the last day i was happy
(i used to say that all the time).

i had to get up for church this morning
and because i could see the jig was up

i wrote you something
self-destructive.

but then you knew that this was who i am—
really though

i think you know
me best.

at the bioscope

she said much and spoke so animatedly
that i felt sure she must have been drunk before
and she took a shine to me and
told stories bluntly how the people here do: how her
parents made money in mpumalanga but her
father died; how she had been to las vegas too
but really wanted to see the mountains out east,
even though they might well be racist, she
still felt fine.

all this with johannesburg sunk in bitter cold
so that even the lights of maboneng did us no good.
she wanted cigarettes and almost got them
but the corner shop had closed, but we
had our beers open the whole time
and drew no attention.

lovely, but she said she had a fiancé,
and that was fine; she talked much
and it was hard to all follow.

but this is africa too: this is it increasingly;
johannesburg is more like africa than i
can ever understand—

full of money, piss and gold and gourmet cheese

maboneng (is where it’s happening)
you know.

in oranjezicht

what makes me lucky is
i know what’s wrong with me.

imagine being in the dark about all that?
but i can lie in a hospital

ten thousand miles from home
and spend the whole time thinking

how nice it would be
if we were in richmond sometime

and our eyes met and we
fell there in love:

all gelatine summertime and skin
and skin—years in the making,

let me tell you—and you knowing
so much.

i really was in the hospital yesterday—
but you see how they misdiagnosed me;

they thought something was wrong with my body
but it’s much worse than that

my body is lame with fantasies;
ravaged by unreality.

it would rather see the sun setting
and even bleeding go to kalk bay,

flee into the hillside full of ghosts
of cattle and angels speaking khoi

with flaming spears. my body is sick
of the refusal to see things as they

really are
after all this harshness

and bargaining with
cruelty.

it would rather wait for the moon until
it understands

what the eland know.

it would rather bury itself deep in the fynbos
and wait for fire.