by Kuukua Dzigbordi Yomekpe & Hinemoana Baker
Kuukua it keeps us apart, or maybe
like Epeli says it joins us. We stand on either lip
of a moon-sized crater filled with Pacific, yet
we speak softly to each other and like fish
moving onto land the generations in our ears pick up
and move the message through, the next home is prepared,
and there’s smoking earth-ovens warming our arrival.
You’re there too Kuukua, perhaps you offer me a bowl of fufu
and we talk of Lake Michigan and that butterfly parent The Bay
Area from whom all other estuaries are most
freshly born onto your page. Point the canoe and
bring the island to it, said Mau, the master
navigator from Satawal. I was twenty
and rudderless, no craft, no crew. I longed
to sit at his feet, have him teach me this magic –
not to set sail but rather to set
oneself still amid the motion,
waiting only for the right home
to grow on the horizon.
Kuukua, my singular gift is for extrapolation.
I can’t look at shellfish without thinking fritters.
I talk of how much Atlantic I crossed
to walk beside the Hudson whose name
is Shatemuc, my plane a comic yellow shape
farting dotted lines across a brilliant screen,
the Seafather below an ice of impact. You and I know ice
and how to sing when you’re made of it. We know it takes a year to thaw.
I’m blinded in the right eye by the afternoon sun off the Maton.
A dying ivy attempts the climb outside and Paraparaumu Beach
is salty enough for the breeze to carry it
the few kilometres to our green back yard.
In yours, the Ghost Ship stands offshore, television sets
and one entire roof after another will roll
in the white-tipped green waves. The woman from Japan,
a set of Mickey Mouse ears firm on her head as was the way
of her orchestra, stopped the music. She sat between
the banjo and the grand piano no bigger than a dinner plate
she gave thanks, love to shaken Christchurch, her voice
strong as her violin. A thousand of us breathed late summer air
off the mountain we share. In Titahi Bay I pictured
my great-great grandfather, his beard like Taranaki snow.
Christine and I scooped estuary mud through our fingers, threw
purple and lime-green seasmelling weed into the sparkle,
cars drove onto the hard sand and pulled up for picnics.
Through our fingers, blue sky and Central Park in early blossom.
Huge indeed are the waters that separate Our physical bodies from each other
Yet we find a way across this chasm
That which might have left us islands Ancestors see to it
We make time
Born an Aquarian I live for water
I have to see it often to know: All is well
I cross the sky when I feel antsy
Not seeing enough water
From the San Francisco Bay
to the Lake Michigan that’s in Chicago
to the Ohio River, the first water I migrated for to the Potomac ending in the Chesapeake Bay
I pick up my huge National Geographic Atlas Page on over to where
They say I can find you
Across this expanse of water body
Is she in North Island or South Island?
I think of all the water
That separates us
I want to tell you everything about myself. So you get to know me a little.
I want to shout:
I love water.
I love women.
I love cooking for people.
I love writing.
I love dancing.
I love making art.
But too much water separates us
I think my shouts will arrive muffled Swallowed by the sea
Diverted by the wind
I don’t shout.
Then I read your poem
It’s so beautiful.
I like this Epeli guy
You and I are connected
By this same water that divides us
Recognition when I see Christchurch on the map Still I wonder
North Island or South Island? So I tell you
About Chicago where I lived for six days With writers from around the world Listening to other writers
Spin their words of enthrall and intrigue Tell of publishing secrets and spew advice And I tell you of chasing African food
On Clark in Uptown and Lakeview Eating fufu made by another’s hands
Of listening to Queer Poets of Color sing On Halsted
Of walking and snapping photos
Along Michigan and the Shedd
Of the love I feel surrounded by
Friends who have become family
With each year
So I tell you
About Ohio where I visited for three days
With Mother and Sister and Aunty
Of the turmoil that migration visits on families Leaving them broken and scattered
Of my mother’s cooking that far rivals mine No matter how hard I try
Of college where I learned to speak American Dressing so I fit in
Of practicing the slang
Until I was not immigrant anymore
Of thinking that jumping in the Ohio River Would take me back to Ghana
Of visiting Ohio these days, only
Because Mother and Sister and Aunty are there A complex mix of duty and love
So I tell you
About DC and Maryland where I visited for four days
With cousins and aunts I hadn’t seen in years
Of the wedding of my one cousin-twice-removed
Where the Africans showed up in full regalia
Colorful beyond imagination
Of coming out to my one cousin from high school
And assuring her I was still Kuukua
Of watching her features roll from
Disgust, despair, confusion, love
Into “we will need to continue this conversation later”
Of cuddling with my best friend
Who is in love again
Of the Cherry Blossoms come early
And the allergies they visited on me
The Bay Area transplant who conveniently forgot the Midwest
As I talk to you
The vast waters that separate us recede The distance seems less chasmic
You know me a little
I know you a little
I hope we can share a bowl of fufu
Across the waters someday soon
Kuukua Dzigbordi Yomekpe is a trans-disciplinary artist, choreographing West African dance forms, creating a fusion of Ghanaian dishes, and penning memoirs, essays, and social commentaries.
She is the author of several essays and prose poems, and is featured in such anthologies as Berkshire Mosaic, Writing Fire: An Anthology Celebrating the Power of Women’s Words, Pentimento, Fierce Hunger: Writing From the Intersection of Trauma and Desire, African Women Writing Resistance, Becoming Bi: Bisexual Voices from Around the World, and Inside Your Ear.
Poet and musician Hinemoana Baker was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, and raised in Whakatane and Nelson. Baker’s parents have Māori and Pākehā ancestry, which has influenced her writing and work. Baker earned a BA and an MA from Victoria University, where she was also the Wellington Writer in Residence in 2014. She is the author of such poetry collections as “mātuhi / needle” (2004), “kōiwi / bone” (2010), and “waha / mouth” (2014).
Baker was the 2009 Arts Queensland Poet in Residence and received the 2015–16 Creative New Zealand Berlin Writer’s Residency. She has taught at the International Institute of Modern Letters.