Latif Askia Ba

Tonton Abdou

(listen to the poem, read by the author)

It’s difficult to imagine your father
having an older brother,
let alone a father—
sediments scrape off a sandy cut bank
and compact
into smooth mancala seeds.

His long Black fingers dripped pebbles
into the concave beds. A noble piece of wood—
its symmetry echoed
back to those Axumite carvings.

On my command,
he made my stone armies march
over hillocks and pits.
They washed mountains of salt
into lakes of roses.

A man moving rocks, a scar
glistening on his head:
“A stone from your father,” he said.
They played rough—not mancala,
or maybe they did
in some old photograph.

He would always pray
in the same direction:
the hands received the head,
the sun lying down on valleys.
I was not to disturb him, and this rule
(I somehow understood) was gravely accented.
He pitched himself forward—a monk
skipping stones down Kaamu’s
milky rivulets. He lay down stones
and counterbalances,
pillars that held up cement bridges
with graffitied façades.

Our pools overflowed with sediments
and deposited themselves back into our veins—
they leave nothing
but two dried up lakes. The hands trying to grasp
what the brain is dripping.
No matter how many gems
he buried
in his luminescent bay, they shatter
until their edges are the size of ions.

I watched his Black fingers
rearrange our treasure
into the ancient smile
of symmetry.

We play

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About the Author

Latif Askia Ba is a poet with Choreic Cerebral Palsy from Brooklyn and Staten Island, New York. Latif is currently an MFA candidate at Columbia University and an author at Stillhouse Press, which will be publishing Latif’s next collection, The Machine Code of a Bleeding Moon (fall of 2022). Latif was the First Place Winner of the Perceptions Writing and Art Contest, judged by Sheila Black (2021), and the Second Place Winner of the Iris N. Spencer Award (2020). Their debut collection, Wet Monasteries, was published by Alien Buddha Press (2019).