passages

Ntozake Shange (1948–2018)

Ntozake Shange, 1979. Photo: Martha Swope.

her / page

/ was it leaning or pushing / resting or hurrying /
along did / it slic/e / did it su/tu/re / how are /
w/e / blackened by col/onial modern/it/y to wor/k in /
and / with / and against / and a/longs/ide this
motion / this wav/e thi/s hi/sto/ry moving in / us
as / us / move/ing / us

what / she asked / did words / do / when we use/d
them and they / in turn / used us / what did they /
demand as / sacrifice / what did the/y seve/r what /
did t/hey j/oin / and how / did w/e sal/vage
some/thing in the / j/oin/t / som/e/thing w/e might
su/rviv/e

when I first encou/ntered Ntozake Shange’s slashes /
I marveled at them / noting no/t only how they /
pun/ctu/ated / but / al/so how they re/thought the
the werk of punc/tuation / how / one sliced word/s /
the way/s we got / it right / and / wro/ng / th/e
fall of an ac/ce/nt

it / was the stu/mble of learn/ing ne/w wor/ds the
la/yer of p/lace and hi/story and / tra/uma the /
slice of the whip / the blackening of ton/gues / the
tongu/eing of black/ness

it was how / africa / came into europ/ean/ lang/uages /
the line of the ledger / the in/cline tow/ard an
e/lsewhere

it / was mother/tongue inter/ference / a rude kenyan
way of / saying that pl/ace sal/ts our tongue/s and
pin/eapples sli/ce ou/r lang/uag/es and grie/f
stumb/les pronunci/ation and wailin / wailin lasts

it was / the sing/ing / how it push/ed the air /
push/ed ou/r bein/g together/er how it fill/ed
some/thing / and lef/t us ach/ing for healin/g for a
/ circle of hands / a laying on of hands / even for
w/e who had lear/ned to dis/trust touch

the p/age slice/d and push/ed and
gathered / gathere/d us fro/m across / the globe / to hear a
black / girls song / to list/en to Malindy sing/ing
to / gather arou/nd the fain/t wind/borne songs
sin/ging / black girls/ sin/gin/g blac/k girls

sh/e sang / black girls / and taught u/s how to list/en
she san/g / black girls / and taught u/s how to sing
she sang / black girls / and taught u/s how to dance
she sang / black girls / and taught u/s how to / lay hands
she sang / black girls / and taught u/s how to dream

we sing / her / our forever black girl
to all the black girls she sang for
to all the black girls she taught to sing
to all the black girls she brought out of themselves
to all the black girls she helped breathe

we sing / her / our forever black girl

Keguro Macharia is from Nairobi, Kenya.

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