for findlay, ohio

lying by a picnic table
in the belly of the night

somewhere so nondescript
it was in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan
all at the same time:

a town with a name
like Fayetteville
you know is everywhere

having wandered through rain
through thin corridors
of oaks not yet in leaf

he was trying to think of
somewhere better than
between sodden cotton

and whatever else;
Wild Turkey in a little
plastic bottle

but realized he only
imagined elsewhere in
a certain kind of way:

disembodied like a
waking dream, silent
with distant music

and no voices there,
but time maybe,
time maybe finally.

thinking what if
beauty was actually
not having to think

all the time about picturesque
desolations and stolen moments
or ambient music and the psalm

nisi dominus aedificaverit;
but a loud place, full of
people instead of images.

vanum est vobis ante lucem surgere:
imagine instead
a cacophony of voices

and the pleasure of motion
non confundetur cum loquetur
inimicis suis in porta, do you see?

it need not be so grey.
enamor yourself with
neighbors, he thought.

sleeping on gravel
in a lonely wayside park
somewhere unknown

wishing for horizons on
his back, but seeing only
the faint furrows of low cloud

and the pathlessness of space beyond
the rain.

parham road, henrico

(i called you last night late
because i’m going mad)

the sun comes down but the frogs
can’t rest because they know, the chain link
fence around the yard disappearing into
the mute lascivious grass. thunder as an abstract
concept, thunder as the truth;
lightning as a five year plan or
lightning as your meal.

(it was dark and
had rained; the mountain

was not there, just suburban
gloom. and the storm came)

first the sun goes down but you can still see fine:
you can take your glasses off and see a green sky,
the air shuddering in place with its own guilt,
full of noisome shame; wind but no rustling,
thunder somewhere close but nothing yet.
finally the obesity of drops, the rain left in
the faucet from last time.

(i called you last night
knowing that the worst was

going on. and madness means
knowing that but

it not stopping. i’m sorry
to be how i am)

and the storm rose like an exhumed body from
the harbor bottom, matted and vengeful,
drenching the world in souvenirs of its bondage,
its place where it had been, as if to say i was not
in the water, i was in drowning, and this is not
water, but what drowning is.
you tripped and fell in the sodden
immensity of the hillside

and you did not leave until the next morning;
not until it all stopped.

because you hoped
to leach into the soil, probably,
if you stayed still.

or you hoped for someone
to come get you,
but no one even knew
you were there.

(i called you last night. i’m sorry;
this is very probably the end.

i was curious how long
i could last;

it’s okay,

it’s okay—

in hyattsville

truth be told, i do so little good for this world;
far below my share, mostly think about
getting married.

mostly walk alone familiar roads, mostly seek
the same old spirits out, wish for when i
finally settle down.

mostly dream unfashionable dreams, houses and
children and a thousand things like that: i impress
myself with the smallness of my hope—

three acres in Highland and someone who
can stand me, i think, you would never hear from me

this is how i sleep at night; can you believe that shit?
spend your life trying to figure out the
endless child in you:

finicky and petty thing, a heart.
it would invent miseries
no matter what you have.

and as parent to yourself, you spend a life
feeding what never stays fed, even dreaming modestly you
almost lose your mind

for what? for a golden hill, the laughter of a featureless woman
yet unknown, for what gladness might be—
but what is gladness really

if it always just might be?

On Carnival in Trinidad (and Plans for the Future!)

I’m still getting the hand of this website thing, and I’d like to post more African history-related content, but it’s difficult to convert papers that I write in Pages or Word to a WordPress post.  As such, I think what I’m going to do is upload papers to my profile and post the links here.

Here you can access the somewhat monstrous but perhaps interesting term paper I wrote for Prof. Glenn Chambers‘s excellent Comparative Black History seminar this spring.  It deals with the historiography of Carnival in Trinidad, a topic I don’t mind admitting that I knew nothing about before I embarked on my research.  I’ve long been interested in Carnival (mostly Cape Town’s Tweede Nuwejaar celebration), and after reading Colin Palmer’s 2008 book on Eric Williams for class, I became curious about the state of the historiography on a topic so fundamental to Trinidadian nationalism.  I was blown away by the profusion and quality of the extant work on Trinidad’s Carnival, particularly compared to the dearth of serious scholarship on similar revels at the Cape.

This May and June, before I leave for South Africa, is a time of relative calm, and I’m thinking of posting more of my academic work from the past semester here.  Once I start my research trips, my hope is to use the African history side of this site more like a traditional blog, with descriptions of my activities and hopefully lots of pictures.

I’ve never been to Trinidad, so unfortunately I can’t offer up any exciting pictures or anecdotes.  I will, however, leave you with some videos that gave me a better appreciation for the incredible artistry at work in Carnival.  The first, appropriately enough, is a calypso from The Mighty Sparrow entitled “Education”:

The second is a video from the 2013 Panorama competition illustrating the sheer sonic power of a massive pan orchestra.  Steel pans have become so fundamental to American stereotypes about the Caribbean that it’s easy to forget just how extraordinary they are as instruments, and how wide-ranging their repertoire can be.

Keep checking back this summer for more poetry, papers, updates about my work in South Africa, and who knows what else.  All the best, y’all.

three clippings


i have told myself a thousand lies
about my own face,

my own beard, like a bristlecone pine.

when i was low, i said,
i looked how i felt:
like a monster.

but did you notice how i kept it
when i smiled at you last?

was i a monster then?
this is how i lie
to you and to myself.


the night is kind,
it can reveal the obvious,

and surely you already know
how i love my ugliness and hate

the beauty.

until i confessed myself
and you said—no,
not in that way—

i was naïve, not
because of any surprise, but my face

in the hotel mirror behind you;
because i looked so old
and felt so young,

a mere child hid
in the brambles of a
face—i thought

it would be better not to have a face at all;
let them just imagine me.


i really love it all because i must;
its gnarls threaten fate itself—saying

it will be like this or it will not be,
like so much else;

i hated every hair until the blade,
hated this whole town until i left,

i sang all night until i fell asleep,
dreamed of her until the morning came.

i loved her to my doom until it passed,
died until i was no longer dying,

bearded with a smile on my face,
naked eyed but covering my teeth.

richmond, twenty-fifth and broad

what is the meaning of this new falling in love
at a time of great stress? for richmond is

yet unexhausted in may perfection with its
canal and secret places smelling of mist and soil

like a garden choked with banana trees and
butterflies, hemmed in and yet hemmed in

by nothing. i waited, because i knew the sun
shone, to see your tanned and serene shoulders

by and by behind the delight of eyes and think
of saying “let us run away, smash ourselves into one

and disappear into the thick groves of belle isle,
haunt it for eternity.” but i have spent three years

explaining what a terrible notion it would be
to do it, and this is the real shame: my old illness

scorched the seeds before they were planted
and now that i am well and the ground is prepared,

i fear very much that they can bear nothing
without more sickness and great pain.

today i saw you in richmond and the movement
of your jaw in laughing and i was changed

into something young and heedless of many lessons.
indeed, it would be a disaster; grave

to say this thing, i fall in love.