The Flying African

by Phillip B. Williams

Kum… yali, kum buba tambe
– Virginia Hamilton

The bird minstrels shrill vulgar
mimetics of my folklore’s song.
In whispered incantations, wings scar

clean from my back, shake shadows
like pools of night over slave quarters
mangled with cotton. A mouth

makes me a belonging, curves me
clamoring into a half-circle like a brow
cradling the sun. Anansi could never.

In Georgia, I heel-spun once
and took off toward Igboland, Atlantic
water foaming, a hellhound’s maw

beneath me. Carolinian mansions undressed
to ruin as my black feathers curtained
doric columns and draped over Ole Missus

a death veil. I wedded Cuba
and departed in a hurricane’s revolving hunger,
Amadioha snatching palm leaves

from my swamp-whelmed hair. Unbreakable
tale: I shapeshift, my body many-birded, as a serpent
winds my throat, reminder of the soil that waits

against the wake of a hundred undead ships
carrying me to a living crisis. Need-
by-need it mattered who needed me: the enslaved

unbound by their making me. I contorted
beck and call to resurrect the drowned bloating
in the dark cell of a dream. If the truth is that

the captured chose the ocean over chains,
then I am hope’s raw epistle love-lettering alibis
against the grave. I carry the stolen many in my mouth,

readying for rebellion. Each captured day
I arrive with a new face carved for retribution,
my grin an orphanage of blades.