farewell westchester

There are planes above us

chicken thighs on the grill

and black girls swimming through soft blue water

 

the apartments are made with double-paned windows

one to close out the cold

one to cut out the deep whisper of engines

 

we sit on a rust orange couch

talking about movies we’ll never make

quizzing each other about movie stars we’ll never know

 

Westchester is dry heat and jet fumes all over

black girls swimming in the hot tub

apartment jungle stucco maze

 

how did i get here, feel home here

on wide streets and parking structures

full of ghosts

 

we fly and argue and laugh

because it’s so hot in this room

you’re on the way out to grill a steak

 

Westchester is a dream

a gray and silver stallion made of smoke

 

Westchester is fast and affordable

when Los Angeles pulls out and away

families can still eat at Sizzler

 

men with vacant eyes

sports bars with Inglewood OG’s

and women with finger waves hot off the beach

 

live here

because maybe i never wanted to leave

maybe i’ll miss you

 

maybe this place is so far from what i know

what i know to love

but we made home here for months

we made home in the exhaust of airplanes

we made laughter and long walks out of nowhere

 

The abandoned lot to Hollywood

~Nijla (2017)

oil

On the night you come over, I fry fish. Pour too much oil in the pan. When I drop a tilapia filet in, oil splatters on the floor. My fingers full with fish flour and grease, I want to seduce you again. But you tell me, I’m more like family to you. That statement is more painful after you leave. More painful because I once thought I might want a family. With you. 

I keep throwing myself into extinguished fires. 

~nijla mu'min (2015)

what is this thing called breathing

For Karen Elaine Smith, Rashanda Franklin, and Sheila Abdus-Salaam

 

1.

I’m sure you were headed to work

tasting the last bite of bagel on your tongue

freshly ironed slacks and wig right

all you could see were faces

 

Down into a windy city of forgotten

 

down the street, past that taco place

where you maybe first met him

down into the seat, red spilling over

because of a gun

and your sons sitting inside the car

 

What is this thing called breathing

a gift unfolded

the water so cold against your face

 

2.

why did he come here?

to my space

i cannot feel my hands

and the water is colder than i remember

and we’re gone

cut off from the air that fed us

and the hands that held us

and the eyes that saw us

Really saw us

in dandelion golds and evenings on that porch

splinters in our fingers, running through weeds with flip flops on

and icees in our hands because DC is hot,

and Richmond is too, in an abandoned way

jumping on rocks and catching light

jumping into vaselined arms and fresh tats

he cried for me, once

he cried for me

and the tears soaked the cotton

the cotton close to my chest

 

3.

I was breathing

 

I learned to swim from my father

who learned to swim from being pushed into a water hole

and fighting his way back up

I am heavier these days

and i am brown

I am finding it harder to move in the world

someone’s at my back

barrel at my window

The wind on my stomach

 

In this river,

 

what is this thing called breathing?

 

~Nijla Mu’min