mistakenly, I say that I am afraid of us dying,
but I am not.
I am not afraid of retiring to gardens out in the country or atop city rooftops after fifty years of togetherness
for fifty more years of togetherness,
of good health and rough spots.
I am not afraid of magazines and tattered books on dusty coffee tables, shuffling across hardwood floors with woven rugs, filling mason jars with tea instead of wine because we feel as fleeting as leaves in the wind and the broken bottles of our youth.
I am not afraid of big knuckles or papery skin or grey braids,
of creaky floors and creaky bones or always being a little bit
I am not afraid of old dogs sleeping on my feet, or sitting on the porch in the evening with the family we created against all odds,
crying joy and sadness over what has been, what is, and what will be,
while we watch children beat their bare feet against the earth, running to catch fireflies tenderly in their hands.
I mean to say that I am afraid of us being killed.
I am afraid of how summer fruit running down our arms is mixed with blood and knowing,
every time you leave my steps,
you might not return.
I am afraid of burning books and windowless rooms where they made us paint the sun
smoke rolling out from the crack
underneath the door.
I am afraid of cracked bones on cracked pavement and bending branches,
tips of toes brushing grass,
nothing to give back.
I am afraid of how fragile the world makes our pulses before we have even taken a second breath,
of how our bodies are bound by abstractions and beaten by closed eyes and closed fists, mercilessly.
and so my spirit must subsist,
under the cross of hurt burned along my spine,
must keep dancing in low lit bedrooms
with laughter that sloshes over mason jars and seeps into the walls,
must keep piecing together my skin from the worn fabric of other lives, to stand
against the cracks in the walls and the fire rolling underneath the floods,
must remain intertwined
with your fingers
in my hair
alongside the thread stringing broken ribs together,
so that, even when they kill me
no justice, no peace
I can wrap the praying hands of my mind’s eye around how fiercely we loved and
loudly we spoke truth and freely
we let ourselves imagine that one day we might die,
What does the title, “Emerging poet,” mean to you?
To be an emerging poet is to be a writer growing into an understanding of poetry as a form through which they can explore and develop their subjectivity and the world at large. As that understanding develops, I think poets begin to emerge in other ways, particularly in their comfortability with giving people access to their work. As that comfortability develops, the poet can then emerge into a community where their poetic perspectives and skills can evolve.
Do you consider yourself an “emerging” poet? Why or why not?
I’ve been writing poetry and prose for as long as I can remember, but I definitely consider myself to be an emerging poet. I think that even though identifiers such as “emerging” tend to have a stagnant connotations, the ways in which we embody those identifiers are flux. There is always a space, a community, an understanding, a form to be learned or explored—to emerge into. I think that to be a writer, to be a poet, you have to be in a constant state of emerging.
What do you think it takes to be “recognized” in the poetry community?
Within our commodity culture, one way to become “recognized” in the poetry community is to be constantly producing work that speaks vulnerable and powerful but easily consumable truth. In centering the consumability of poetry, particularly in the context of poetry that is raw or taxing to write, we run the risk of forgetting that poetry is a space of healing and connection. I think we need to shift to a focus on increasing access to poetry as opposed to focusing on obtaining “recognition” from the abstraction that is the poetry community.
How do you think power politics shape the poetry community?
I think that most often, poetry is thought of and perceived through Western frameworks and standards of literary value. Traditionally, this is through the lens and to the liking of white men with money and power. I think this type of elitist hierarchy is the power politic that most significantly shapes the poetry community. It dictates the accessibility of poetry and, in that, disallows for or limits recognition of the full body of poets that exist and flourish outside traditional standards or conceptions of poetry and the poetry community.
What does community mean to you?
Ideally, community is a network of reference and a place to return to. A collective of people with complementary energies that engage, support, and inform one another. Community means survival, preservation, and growth; safely, holistically, and outside of restrictive or oppressive boundaries.
RACHEL ATAKPA (she/her) is an undergraduate student and researcher pursuing a degree in English at the University of Kansas. Her work tends to center explorations of the body politic, eroticism, and the visceral effects and manifestations of experiences that are usually understood to be abstract or non-visceral. Atakpa’s most recent research project is entitled “Reading Liberation in Queer Black Women’s Life Writing.” Her poetry and prose has appeared in Kiosk (2016).