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Give Us a Poem: Nkosi Nkululeko

Studio Museum

Maya Stovall
Untitled A (installation view), 2017
Courtesy the artist
Photo: Adam Reich

In January 2018, the Studio Museum and Dr. Joshua Bennett invited five New York-based poets to write and perform ekphrastic texts responding to the mediums and concepts visually represented in Fictions. The following poems—a new poem will appear weekly throughout the month of April—exemplify how the syntactical fluidity of poetry can add sonic and lyrical dimensions to viewers' exhibition experience.


Mirror, Mirror
Nkosi Nkululeko

I can attest, yes, to nothing civic or fair
to be seen in mirrors. Only Fuhrers and fewer
men a man can trust reflect from ghoul-glass
faces. Days, I did search for mercy inside
my eyes, came harder truths I must’ve bared;

Like in dark rooms at noon I knew I made
havens and heavens despite the boy (a prince
of prints he could’ve been) that played
until he tamed my flesh that would, at best,
mimic his own. My twin! I, your dearest slave.

The boy who’d have touched me in my sleep
can sleep. The child in me that weeps can weep.
Passion sweeps across the floor of my chest
like a river. The blood in me is red, like a river.
We think it blue but it’s the sky, its light that bleeds.

Tell me there’s more beyond the multitudes,
in the house of glass and galore, I only believe
you are here with me, my love, because of
the song you make outside of my head.
Your light shifts shapes and shapeshifts, too.

There’s nothing clear here to see or hear.
We see not ourselves, but what we wished
we saw had we a choice. Mirror after mirror,
we find our religions, the gods that says
there’s nothing besides our vanity, our fears.

Nkosi Nkululeko is a Callaloo, The Watering Hole, and 2017 Poets House Fellow. A speaker for TEDxNewYork and a finalist for the 2016 Winter Tangerine Awards for Poetry, Nkosi has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize as well as a nominee and finalist for Best of the Net anthology. He is the author of the chapbook American/Unknown (Penmanship Books 2016), and his work is currently published in [PANK] magazine, Apogee, VINYL, No Token, and other publications.