Two Poems

Yasmina Nuny Silva

Surviving, one way or another

16/01/20 – 21/02/20

Luanda – GCM

The sun hasn’t yet risen when you open your eyes, though the cocks have been crowing stubbornly for you to wake up
with the rest of your compatriots who are already on their way to work.

Reluctantly you roll out of bed and silence your alarm that isn’t so good at sounding
like an alarm,
because it chirps just like the birds outside.
One of these days you will sleep through it.
You’re so sure of that eventuality,
but you don’t bother to change it
because you will wake, one way or another.

You feel your way through the house and into the kitchen. You remember how often you did this as a child,
how it felt like a game,
how it was always temporary.

The water tank under the sink is not filled to the brim so you reach in and wonder about wells and digging for sources
and extraction
and miles that you do not walk, though
your a/occidental self would have at some point thought otherwise.

You pour some into the kettle.
As it boils you think how much time you would save without this.
But you have also tried it before and still water
fills bones, and your nose is already runny.
The harmattan will soon remedy that. You cannot decide which is worse.
But the VapoRub in your purse remedies both
and now you understand why
your grandmother always smelled of it.

You burn your hand as you pour it into the bucket for your shower.
This happens a lot,
but at least now you have cursed your way fully awake.
A second time when you slide across the wet floor, but this time at the devil.
You shiver as you strip because it’s too cold for this too hot country.

The water in the bucket is warm. And sufficient.
And you wonder about the waste of the occident.
You try to learn to be less wasteful, and one day maybe you will not boil the water first.

Dirt swirls down the drain leaving
behind a newfound lustre in your skin,
but you’ll be fungulido by close of day.
You are so sure of that eventuality,
so you scrub harder to compensate for the layers that will return to you by then.

And they do. As soon as you step into the cold and shiver some more,
inhale and sneeze as exhale.
Your manicured white toes and white shoes almost match your skin tone now.
This is the condition of this place.
So, you submit to the harmattan
because you will end up fungulido,
one way or another.

But still you make sure to lift your feet

than you would have in the
Your senses have strengthened here, and you know how to
avoid                           stray    dogs
            and motorcycles and
and      pigs
and potholes without raising your eyes from your browning toenails.
You remember how you injured your ankle in the occident;
you must not have been lifting your feet high enough over there.

At the road – the tarred road –
you stand on the sidewalk that is not really a sidewalk, only dust.
For fifteen minutes you try to find an empty enough taxi signalling straight on with his hand.
Most of them signal left or right.
You wonder if this is how language is created and this understanding makes you impatient.

Some drivers try to cheat you with the prices, as if you don’t know any better.
You curse and think you should have taken the taxi anyway.
And then shrug because you will not be taken for an idiot here.
For a foreigner here.
For an a/occidental


GCM – Chapa

Thank God for familiar cars of familiar compatriots peeping through
                               the       junction.
They will take you halfway, to the confuson of Chapa because you are late, though it is not quite possible to rush in this city. They ask you
Kuma ku bu mansi?

You smile at how beautiful kriolophony is; how did you dawn, because you are the sun
and your light is essential. N mansi dritu, obrigado.

Your compatriot honks at a lady and you wince at the cacophony, but you understand,
and she understands
and you are sure that this is how language is created.

Your compatriot is familiar with these streets and they know how to           avoid
taxis and                      toca-tocas

and      pecaduris        and motorcycles and
thrill-seeking goats
and cows
who think they own these streets.
Who think themselves equal to cars,
all of us being herded
towards Chapa.

In a way you think it may be so; we are all heading to the same place.
That is to say
One way or another, even if sometimes we break down in smoke for a while,
on the way.
Like the pick-up truck smoking up ahead,
as if the harmattan were not enough.

By Chapa, the police are concentrated trying to manage the confuson,
the same one you are causing by having your compatriot stop. so that you can get out of the car and get to your destiny.

Someone kisses their teeth at you because you almost hit them,
you apologise profusely, but they curse your mother anyway.
They proceed.

You proceed and vow to unlearn the passive aggressiveness of the occident
So that you can curse them back out loud,
loudly so they can hear
over the kriol/cacophony of commuters.

Chapa – Palmera

At Chapa you are a pecadur without metal armour trying to survive across the dual carriageway;
the tricolors do not work,
you wonder if they ever have.
The pedestrian crossing was once a suggestion,
now it is maybe the memory of some.
You wonder what the common language for ‘cross’ is, here.

The cows showed you how it worked and so you wonder what it takes to think yourself owner
of these streets.
To think yourself equal,
superior even so that your presence
demands them
to stop. for you.
You grimace at the entitlement of the occident.

That stuff don’t work round here.
Cars own these streets round here,
and as if to bully you into submission a taxi brushes against your backside, and then honks at you for not understanding this tongue.

You have not unlearned the occident’s passive aggressiveness.

You silently worry that the harmattan-stained car has harmattan-stained your new dress to match your harmattan-stained white shoes and nails. You are the thrill-seeking goat.

You wait to be herded into your destiny.
You wait for other pecaduris who know the tongue better. You learn from them.
You stand like them. Hold your bag like them,
walk like them.
Are them.

Maybe you, the cow now, are like them, the cars.
You think yourself a car, and not an a/occidental and somehow, alive,
you make it to the other side.

At the bottom of the subida di cabalo the streets shrink to allow the swell of commerce.
It smells indecisively of sweat, and
produce, and
drying fish, and
fumes, urine and live animals and harmattan, and perfume.
In that moment you wish your senses would dull and you try not to cough. You try to seem accustomed to all of it.

Someone blows their nose and the mucus falls near you.
You do not want to get used to all of it. They can tell, so they smile at you.
Taunting you. You move away from the blob on the floor and stand by the tabernas and open trucks as people hustle on,
Salt sold in sachets hang by the dozen,
Like oil,
Like garlic.

Beside panos di pinti and fucandjai clothes.
You wonder if you will ever buy your clothes from here.

You watch women wrapped in dark burkas or printed cloth,
with necks that can sustain the world,
and men wrapped in kalás
or not
and children wrapped in their mothers’ arms
and chickens wrapped around one another
to be sold in bunches.

Frango, barrato barrato!
Frango, barrato barrato!

Here the harmattan does not have the same kind of dominion.
Here it is subdued by the bright colours of your compatriots,
the bright colours of their languages
the bright blue and yellow of the taxis and toca-tocas.
You almost forget to flag the next one down. He almost hits you,
but you knew he would do that, and he knew he would do that
and you wonder if your compatriots and you are collectively unafraid of death
or too busy going on to think of it too hard.

You get in, and he tries to cheat you,
but you’re hip to the hustle now,
they’re the fools for assuming your a/occidental accent more than just that,
An accident.

He drives dangerously, and tells you that you are beautiful, that you do not behave as if you belong in the confuson
Your door swings open, and you fear you might fall out, you fear that the car will cause your own meltdown
for all the ways this city has been overwhelming,
all the ways it has made you feel as if you had gotten here

You pull the door back in with a jerk, it does not click into place,
So, you hold the handle, behave as safeguard.

One of these days the driver will suffer for it.
He will break down in smoke for it
he’s so sure of that eventuality
but he drives on anyway,
he doesn’t pay attention to your protests,
or he does and chooses to ignore them,
because he has his money to make, one way or another.

You trust he knows where to take you.
You are half-sure of that eventuality,
so you watch,
and let him drive on
because you have to go on,
one way or another.

beyond ache

i baked some bread for my child today / a love language handed down / i hope my baby learns / love / still shielded in the vacuum of the womb / still safe so long as I am / god I pray i remain so / long enough to survive this / i pray my baby learns beyond survival / i imagined rebirth in joy / though i still ached from the lesions and lashes on my back / i am part convinced that I am gravid with hand-me-down traumas / from how much I’ve learned to grieve from my mother(s) / i cried even as i beat generations of frustration into the batter / salted it with my tears / ached for an absent love / mourned the absence of love in my womb / of love given to the swell of my body / and I laboured in [the] pain / gave birth with howls of agony / bled from wounds that never healed / and ripped new ones in protest / my mother(s) never learned to wipe the blood / from the place they birthed / and built / trauma was on the floors / and the walls of their homes / of their wombs / i cried / their pain compounded to mine / delivered and cried relief /  overwhelmed by peace / that built up inside me / and overflowed as a child / a miracle / i held peace in the crook of my hand / and scrubbed the ground clean with the other / until my nails broke / already weakened by wars / i rebuilt from cauterised wounds / and i loved the child and the world deeply / with all the love i[t] ever lacked.

Yasmina Nuny is a poet from Guinea-Bissau. She began performing in 2016 at open mic events around Birmingham and owes a lot to the second city for her development as an artist. She has since been featured at events like Heaux Noire, the Verve Poetry Festival R.A.P. Party and TEDxYouth Brum. Her debut poetry collection Anos Ku Ta Manda was published in 2019 with Verve Poetry Press.


*Image by Peek Creative Collective

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