Her ears would put conch shells to shame,
her shoulder blades are shaped like kites and
her spine is the string tying her to safety.
She still thinks her palms are golden
from being born holding fire in each hand;
the last candle at Kwanzaa is the only thing she has ever met
that shares her name:
Imani – we light this candle for faith.
Ask her to draw a map of the world.
She will draw you USA shaped kinda like a whale
and Boliva shaped kinda like nothing you've ever seen before
and she'll draw waves kissing their shoulders goodnight
"I think I'd like to live underwater" she says
"so I could be hugged all over by the sea."
Imani's only four but she already knows more about separation
than it is possible to learn about geography.
Mali, her mother, the one she calls mamá
taught her that the Spanish verb esperar
means to hope, to wish, and to wait all at the same time.
Saundra, her other mother, the one she calls mommy,
taught her that the sound of the ocean
swelling beneath mommy's belly
is her baby brother dreaming
this is what esperar feels like.
And although Mali and Saundra tied knots in each others' lifelines
to hold themselves together in times of stormy weather twelve years ago
the government sees only two women in one house:
one of them a mother,
the other an undocumented worker
from Bolivia.
That's why three months ago
Mali dressed herself in a lie the colour of privilege
and signed some papers that say
she's married to her daughter's grandfather.
She's not.
Ask Imani where Mamá is going dressed like an American flag.
She will tell you "to court,
the place where kings and queens play basketball on teams
to decide what it means to be American."
And Mamá's team lost.
Deportation is a suitcase made of the wrong colour skin,
it's a one-way return ticket to the land that she ran from,
it's phone call lullabies cracking with brown versus white noise.
Kisses blown across five thousand miles arrive without spark
and settle on shoulders busy wishing to be kites.
She wishes she could cut her own string,
rise up into god's hair and stay there awhile,
until the world looks like drawing,
until love is not an arrow but a target
until America grows a heart and learns to sing,
until bringing countries together is as easy as folding the pages of a map,
until a map actually looks like the world.
When her baby brother flames bright into the morning
and screams whole oceans of honesty
Imani will turn his golden palms so that he can see them.
She will scorch her lips kissing them.
She will tell him that each strong finger is a candle
burning the colour of faith.


A/N: This is a Slam poem. As such, it's meant to be performed, not read... so while certain lines and ideas may feel far too redundant when read on paper (or on screen) like this, I hope that it works smoothly as an audiovisual performance. National qualifiers are in a couple of weeks, and this is one of the pieces I plan to spit. Also, linebreaks can be more or less ignored, since when performing everything runs together like the type of watercolour paintings I can't bring myself to make. AND. This is the first draft, though it's been in progress for quite some time.

This is a true story. I have changed the mothers' names for the online version, but Imani's is too central to the piece as a whole to alter it. Imani is a beautiful, sweet little girl (she's five now) and her brother (almost a year old now) is in the running for cutest baby on the planet.