Blackness: A poem and identity in parts | Elizabeth Mudenyo

I used to deny it
Pretend I didn’t see it
And now I devour every bit of blackness
I lick my fingers clean

I had to flip a switch
To notice something wasn’t working
Everything labeled “black”
Was made to be stored in the back
And something was keeping us in darkness

Darkness we would learn to navigate
With the soles of our feet
Beating here and there
Learning a rhythm to the size of the rooms

Training our thighs
To go deep
Our hips to roll
Our hands cupped
Creating thunderous applause

Making music
We had hums fill our bellies
Even agony
Sounded like hymns

And together
We were raising choirs
To shake foundations
We would bypass their bridges
And bathe as we swam

My instincts
Would like my attention

My instincts
Would like me to listen
And hear that grumbling
From the pit of myself

I would gain an appetite for my blackness
I had been fed on crumbs
I had began to thirst but cleared my throat
To end the stifling of my voice

You are not being well fed.
TV never knew how to raise growing girls
And if you look around there are others
Sitting on their hands
Waiting for one like you
To come along
To ask for a hand
Like, “Welcome back my friend.
I thought I saw you once,
Out there in the darkness.”

But you’ll find there are tears to attend to

Some are spilled
By accident

Some are welled up
And too tough to come down

Some are only found
By hands running over cheeks
Feeling etches of dried tears

Reproaches gone stale
Sigh after sigh

Until they become screams

We are canvas
With layered surface
Coming off the page

Even though brought
We are here to stay

My blackness
I can’t describe the taste
There are no measured ingredients
Just estimates
Hidden inside these bones

We cannot let the others close:
I should only wear them like clothes
For coverage and comfort
And at the end of the day
Return them to my closet

I should revel with pride
At the skin
How the blood stays in

We should act as though it is armour

After all
It has something to do with survival

Recovering identity from the masses
Recovering masterpieces from rubble

Retrieve what of the story lives
Make them rise to see it
Make their eyes
Line up
And wonder the secret

They will fear your men
Black men
They will surround him
For facing the wrong direction
They’d rather he fall into dizziness
Then move towards progression

They will push against him
And when their arms tire
They will set up metal bars
To keep pushing
To keep him in holding
Why is he still resisting?

They will doubt your men
And accuse them
Of drooling from the mouth
That he is foul

They will let him in the ring
Or on the track
They will throw cash

Made famous
They will write up his name
He will be exempted from the blacklist

While others
Shield themselves

Caught in cycles of madness

There will be decades of violence
And some will grow
To despise their own flesh

My mother mended it
Then lent it down to me

It fit

With a few stitches

I hung it proudly in my closet
I would wear it everyday
If I weren’t afraid
To stretch it too far

That the light
Would fade the colour

That my threads
Would be too weak
And come out in the wash

It has hung on many lines
I hope to one day
Hand it off

But still ours
Belonging to our daughters

I want it to stay preserved
Suited for museums
Handled with a care
Far better than our beings

I can imagine
All the ancestors
From dusk until dawn
Marching on

But what of the loneliness
Of this skin
In the present?

What of identities shifting?
Of oppressions intersecting?
Of lines that leave us
Boxed in?

What of the future generation?
They are so tied up
They are barely breathing

They will have
The Greats
Standing in their shadows

Old quotes
All written
But not to become

Though the movements fought
Will not be lost
The trail of words
That have left them
With a name
“African American”

The government that tells them
They stand politically corrected

But what of the them?

Their tongues are numb
With the word “race”
What else can we say?
What more can be saved?

With too much haste
Just to leave it on the page
They will beat on eardrums
Reverberate out of the eyes
Make chest palpitations
Out of their frustration
And sweat

They will not be quiet

Some will try
And speak for all of them

Some will hurl their bodies at front lines
As sacrifice

Some will hide from the sun
And shut the lights
Pretending there’s no one home

Some will live
Despite their skin
Without question

And I wonder
The way change will bend

And what blackness
Will come up against


Elizabeth Mudenyo is a 23 year old Black Woman. She wants to be a writer/storyteller/activist/festival coordinator. She is still collecting her tools. She’ll get moving and shaking soon. She tweets @LizMudenyo and is on Tumblr as

Vagabond City Literary Journal

Founded in 2013, we are a literary journal dedicated to publishing outsider literature. We publish art, prose, reviews, and interviews from marginalized creators.