Kayo Chingonyi: four poems exploring ideas about naturalness

the year waves in when we sang you're sweet like chocolate boy shame everyone had a method for taming even the most rebellious head of pepper grains into slick crazy paved deference to R&B stars who loomed large from hoardings pasted into Diaries and exercise books their lyrics written out on the backs of hands we wanted to be wanted like that so we slept with our mothers head wraps tight around our heads to keep the facade in place some learned the grace of clippers the better to keep their edges in check others would get the barber to shape them up with a razor blade so the skin stung and the stubble stayed hidden but for all we tried to hide our natural hair it came back rising unbidden from our scalps as if each follicle knew that soon we would cover trade lines in sideburns eyebrows anything to set ourselves apart betray our roots you to be subjects somewhere we waited in the shadow of municipal buildings that we might learn a mania for queues each of us with a story and those behind glass the harshest critics who have forgotten what it takes to make the worst days of your life catchy a tune children might sing to be subject somewhere we shortened our names or better still change them wholesale Kiki for Christabel Victor for Wojtek the histories we carried given over like passports of lesser standing until we didn't no memory from myths and no one lived who could say to be subjects somewhere we stood out of place so long we dreamed of going back to where our names were not some bitter herb added to the local cuisine to where people did not watch us with suspicions as if genes could hold a flag once I held friend's phone numbers in my head like songs I'd known all my life it's not the conversation I best remember but the digits on my tongue as I said the spell to myself the different tones when I pressed each key a particular music it was all timing get it wrong and you'd be stuck with someone's rebellious sibling pretending to be them or worse yet a disapproving parent who wasn't quite sure you were the right type of friend then came the days of SMS and voice gave way to text gave way to elevated breath in the wake of telephone conversation clumsy now since we'd fallen out of practice before the age of digital natives a nation of people looking down at screens elders say we were beings of speech the real thing but maybe some part of us craves this solitude for all I miss the rattle of phone books coin slots for all I lament the end of conversation I knew all along it was over as soon as it began given all these ways we invented for talking to someone who isn't there the way I am talking to you now the doppelganger arrived in the small hours with a suitcase of clothes identical to mine down to the last crease and palm oil stain the Institute is meticulous about such things a team of techno detectives have condensed my digital footprint into the perfect wallet litter train tickets a Polaroid taken on the day of my graduation a receipt from the Museo Nacional de anthropology as gift shop every detail fits my natural inclination 'he's still something sticks and here the doppelganger is too divine the finer points of my ontology we begin with the day burial fell into hearing a side street in New Castle headphones itching the skin of my ears he has a lot of questions I cannot answer in any language I speak after several weeks the doppelganger leaves to complete his mission he stands in for me with such fidelity I have at times slipped and started thinking we are one in the same some days it isn't hard to know who imitates who if after all I am NOT the sum of my habits but a mass of tangled possibilities then maybe I am pretending to be him pretending to be me thank you you

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