Illustration by Ansellia Kulikku. Source image: Alphonso Lisk-Carew, "Bundoo Girls – Sierra Leone," ca. 1905-1925. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Visual Resource Archive, Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.


after Robin Coste Lewis


One morning I woke up wet and folded
in the center of a black gyre.

Sometimes, you’d speak from the outside,
or press your hand in the eye

to streak black specks against my cheek.
Other times, you’d release gold leaf

until the air swelled brighter than a singing beehive.
I told you, in SaLone my Aunt Shirley married a witch doctor

who fed her hallucinogenic tinctures by hand,
unsutured his voice

from the barrels of his throat and threw it at her.
Perhaps this is why

I looked you in the eye for too long,
wasn’t watching

the way grains of sand began
to obscure your face

until even it became particulate.
When I said schizophrenic, you laughed, widened

your eye holes when I said ventriloquist.
In the heart of the gyre, I found snakeskins and hands

severed in the ’90s by the Revolutionary
United Front. You told me in every love story

there must be something keeping the couple split.
Bullshit I said and every now and then I’d spin

songs above my head. I’d switch
from “Bloody Mary” to Billie Holiday in an instant

when I thought you weren’t listening. And then,
Why are you so unhappy? you asked me. I could barely see

your silhouette, pitching rum and ganja
through the vortex. I buried them and hid

alligator gall between my breasts. I could leave
whenever I wanted, you said,

but soon I started finding pieces
of your face, revolving

everywhere I looked. A tooth. An iris.
A bottom lip. My name

came reeling towards me from a net
of insects that said it was your mouth.

There were so many, beating
blood through their wings, claiming

love, saying drink this to press
their stingers in my body.

M'Bilia Meekers

M'Bilia Meekers was raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, with roots in Belgium and Sierra Leone. She has received fellowships from Poets & Writers, Cave Canem, and The Watering Hole. Her work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in The New Yorker, Tinderbox, and Poet Lore. She lives in Brooklyn and is an MFA candidate in poetry at New York University.