#BlaPoWriMo: Numbers (poem)

we count one to ten
in Swahili to the
pulse of djembe . . .


Our voices crescendo
like musical scales . . .


return to steady rhythm,
deep; rising, waiting
for final beat . . .


A slap of the palm at drum’s
center. A vibration lingers,
filling our ancestral void



This poem is inspired by a Swahili numbers song I learned in summer camp when I was a kid. It’s hard to describe how the song goes without actually singing it, but think of it as a version of Do, Re, Mi that you can actually shake your hips too. And the drum beat went something like… BOO! ba, da, ba, da, BOO!

All those songs from summer camp are starting to come back . . .

Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem of Self-Discovery

the self-hatred of don l. lee

a one time,
opened sMALL
doors of
(doors called, “the only one” & “our negro”)
after painfully
thru Du Bois
Rogers, Locke
Wright & others,
my blindness
was vanquished
by pitchblack
paragraphs of
“us, we, me, i”

to love
only a
part of
my inner
self which
is all
developed a
hatred of
my light

—Haki Madhubuti (9/22/63)


In 1974, upon his return from a trip to Africa, poet, Donald Luther Lee changed his name to the Swahili, Haki (meaning “justice”) Madhubuti (meaning “precise, accurate, and dependable”). In an interview years later, he explained that adopting an African name would help him arrive at a “final destination of self.” (Source: Poetry Foundation)

Madhubuti’s poem, “the self-hatred of don l. lee,” is interesting because it doesn’t describe the same kind of self-hatred described in Baraka’s “Black Bourgeoisie.” Instead of running from his blackness, the speaker runs to it. In fact, he fears he’s not black enough. While he was never ashamed of his “color” before, he didn’t fully understand its significance, using it instead for “acceptance” into white circles, as the cool, “token” black friend. However, after reading the works of writers, historians, and Pan-Africanists such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Richard Wright and others, he opened his eyes to a new version of himself, became aware of his African roots, and wanted to embrace all of it.

I like this poem because it reminds me of a slight identity crisis I had earlier this year. Back in November, I finally made the leap and bought an AncestryDNA kit (it helped that it was on sale for 20% off too). I’ve always been curious of my background. What part of Africa were my ancestors from? Who in my family is white? Am I part Native American (like every other black person in America claims to be)? After 6 weeks, I received the email that my results were in, and . . .


I’m half Nigerian! I’m also thrilled to see that I have a little Senegalese in me too, since I’ve always believed I was related to Phillis Wheatley somehow ;). My DNA is also a compelling mapping of the Atlantic Slave Trade, as the majority of African slaves came from West African countries.

Now I find myself facing the same dilemma as Don L. Lee. I’m 91% African, but I know nothing about the continent; I know nothing about Nigeria. How can I embrace my roots? Change my name, my clothes, my hair? Would I even fit in if I ever visited, or would they look at my light brown skin and call me white? And these results don’t reveal any additional information about my ethnicity. Am I Yoruba? Am I Igbo? Am I Fulani?

I won’t say my recent self-discovery has lead to a developed hatred for my American self, as it did for the speaker of this poem. Nortina is not going anywhere. America is just as much a part of me as Africa is, and while I would like to know more, I’m happy that I at least have a country to point to now. I am Nigerian.

For today’s BlaPoWriMo prompt, write a poem about self-discovery. What is your history? Your roots? How will you embrace your newly discovered self?

Door of No Return

The cloth tied between her legs fell to the ground, soaked through in red. He barely glanced at it, dragging her down the corridor toward a doorway where only the sunlight shined through.

Just three days ago, she and her sister were hiking the hills outside of their village, trying to ease her heavy unborn son out of her womb. She gave birth to him surrounded by hot, half-naked bodies, the smell of musk, urine, and feces filling her lungs.

She prayed for a reunion with child and family beyond the light. That this nightmare of pale-faced kidnappers would end.

word count: 100


Friday Fictioneers is a weekly challenge where you must write a story in 100 words or less using the provided photo prompt as inspiration. Click the froggy icon to ready other stories and add your own.

© Stephen Baum
© Stephen Baum

Conversation With A Womanist

WOMANIST. From womanish. (Opp. of “girlish,” i.e. frivolous, irresponsible, not serious.) A black feminist or feminist of color. From the black folk expression of mothers to female children, “you acting womanish,” i.e., like a woman. Usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior. Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered “good” for one. Interested in grown up doings. Acting grown up. Being grown up. Interchangeable with another black folk expression: “You trying to be grown.” Responsible. In charge. Serious.

—Alice Walker, from In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983)

She has already forgotten his name before the bell rings. He can feel it and is eager to move to the next table, the next woman, a white woman with straight blonde hair who doesn’t ask a lot of questions. She looks to be in her mid-thirties, possibly divorced, without a man for a year. That is why he came to speed dating. To find a desperate woman, not one who speaks to confuse him.

The bell rings.

“It was nice talking to you,” she says with a smile.

“Yea, you too,” he mumbles. He jumps from his seat, nearly toppling over the chair. He rushes to the next table, pushes the man in front of him from his chair, and snatches the white woman’s hand to kiss it. She grins from ear to ear. Jackpot.

The next man sits down. He is dark skin. His hair is cut short. He has a chiseled face and a slight five o’ clock shadow. “Hello, beautiful,” he says with a smile. “And what’s your name?”

“Africa,” she says.

“Beautiful. I don’t even have to ask where it comes from.”

“I was named after my mother,” she says.

“Your mom’s name is Africa?”

“My mom’s name is Renee. My mother’s name is Africa,” she says plainly.

He frowns. “I’m sorry I don’t—”

“Do you like my hair?” she asks. She fluffs her afro and shakes her head. It spreads the width of the Mona Lisa replica painting on the wall behind her.

“Uh,” he hesitates. “Yes, I do.”

“You like natural hair?”

“I love natural hair . . . as long as it’s neat,” he says.

She pauses from fluffing her hair. “Neat?” she asks.

“Yea, you know . . .” He tries to hint at something unknown to her.

“No I don’t know. What constitutes neat natural hair?”

“Like yours. You know, it’s not all over the place. It looks soft. It’s not nappy.” He coughs to clear his throat.

She takes a sip from the glass of white wine in front of her. She returns the glass to the table and cocks her head to the side. “No natural hair is nappy. We comb our hair.”

“Well, some females with natural—”

Females?” She raises her eyebrows.

“Yes?” He draws out the word, unsure of where the conversation is headed.

“You speak of us as if you’re a scientist observing us in a lab. ‘The female with natural hair.’ Interesting.”

“Well what do you prefer?” He is getting frustrated.

“I am a human being. I am a woman. And my name is Africa.”

“Alright human woman named Africa,” he jokes.

She doesn’t smile. “Do you listen to music?” she asks.

“Yes,” he says, relieved for the subject change.

“What kind?”

“Mostly rap.”

“Hip-hop? So you support their objectification of women?”

“I, uh—”

“The panning of the camera over their large breasts and derriere. Encouraging them to rupture the temple of their bodies so that the rapper can get a ‘quick nut.’ Forcing them to entertain him by stripping completely naked. It alludes back to slave auctions, don’t you think?”

The bell rings. He jumps from his seat, knocking over the chair.

“It was nice talking to you,” she says with a smile.

“Hello, beautiful. And what’s your name?” he asks the white woman at the next table.


Featured photo courtesy of essientv.com