Hanif Abdurraqib
Critic and Writer
Columbus, OH
2020 USA Fellow

This award was generously supported by the Pillars Fund.

Hanif Abdurraqib is a writer from the east side of Columbus, OH. Abdurraqib is the author of two books of poems, The Crown Ain’t Worth Much and A Fortune For Your Disaster. He is also the author of Go Ahead In The Rain: Notes To A Tribe Called Quest, and the essay collection They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us.

Portrait photo by Marcus Jackson.


I Was Carried to Ohio in a Swarm

of cataclysms & crises. of catacombs & cats with slick combed-back strands
of what were once thickly coiled afros. in a swarm of floods & flooded wrists
& flocks of old & new homies festooned in some fly shit passed down
from a fading ancestor. hunters & hustlers who hang the trophies
of their hunger or wear them, depending on the season. in a swarm
of loose-lipped prophets & pine trees shaking a fist at people passing by
catching their glance. some might slip the tint off the whip in winter & i’m carried
home by the residue of darkness. from the drive by shooting, a swarm
of dust kicks up & my dog couldn’t dodge the smallest explosion.
i have never wanted someone so dead
that i would roll a window down & let the good air out.
tell them folk to pay me what they owe me in the slang they couldn’t slip
their slow tongues around. the type of sweat that isn’t romantic
unless my people say so & when my people say so
it’s gonna be in a language you can’t hear & wouldn’t understand
if you could. i cannot explain the humidity anymore beyond what i have already said:
i open my mouth and in it, we swim an endless passage.
it isn’t biblical if you still fear drowning, or if you’re not handy with tools.
the story i’ve been told is that, as a boy, i found the dying bird in the brambles
of the backyard & brought it to the kitchen table, trying to pour small drops
of water into its gasping beak. you don’t get to hear the part about who lives
& who dies. where do you think all the feathers in the poems come from.