“Nina” – Roger Bonair-Agard

Image: Mural|Bed Stuy, Brooklyn, posted at Flickr by Timothy Krause under a Creative Commons License.

Our ghosts are maps. Sometimes the most reliable ones.

In Roger Bonair-Agard‘s “Nina”, see the map of what-was Brooklyn unfurl, ravaged by gentrification, by the persistent erasure of empire, by the rising prices of real estate and rent and daily bread. Addressing Nina, the narrator holds a smouldering borough in the palm of his hand, peers into bodegas and brownstones, sushi bars and the silhouettes of the greatest black rappers, laying beats on street corners before their names exploded into catherine wheels of fame.

The resonance of repetition percusses in this poem like a spirit drum circle, teaching you your own footsteps through djembe and tambour. Listen to yourself stalk these streets of what-weres, see yourself through the narrator’s eyes by tithes of evanescence and stubborn refusal to be assimilated. Hipster accoutrements cannot outweigh wizened old men, sitting on stoops and placing their two-dollar bets, cannot efface barber shops or cheap, hot, greasy food, swallowed too-quick in the rooms black men used to be able to afford. This poem will not kiss the hand that gentrifies it; it turns its teeth into the trust-fund wrist, its blades of spite and sorrow into the spine of social eradication.

Will the Nina of “Nina” grow up in Brooklyn? When she tells Tito or Xiomara or LaShaun of the Brooklyns she used to know, from which points in history will her own maps originate? The poem tells us, tells her, “They used to be / sorry for us that we had to live here. It was a look like / pity, like scorn. It looked like this corner and these bricks and this stoop. / Brooklyn was what they left when they ran.” Nina, too, may become an archivist who breathes her Brooklyn, who runs back into it, every time, to save love.

Read “Nina” here.
Roger Bonair-Agard’s fourth book of poems, Where Brooklyn At?, was published in 2016 by Willow Books/Aquarius Press.

Puncheon and VetiverThis is the twenty-first installment of Puncheon and Vetiver, a Caribbean Poetry Codex created to address vacancies of attention, focus and close reading for/of work written by living Caribbean poets, resident in the region and diaspora. During April, which is recognized as ‘National’ Poetry Month, each installment will dialogue with a single Caribbean poem, available to read online. NaPoWriMo encourages the writing of a poem for each day of April. In answering, parallel discourse, Puncheon and Vetiver seeks to honour the verse we Caribbean people make, to herald its visibility, to read our poems, and read them, and say ‘more’.

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