Nkosi Nkululeko

The avant-garde, in my eyes, is a venue for dissonance. My work attempts to re-and-deconstruct narrative, composing a series of images to refer to other images referring to other images that are self-referential. The avant-garde for the black poet or poet of color seems to be in conversation with Dubois’ thoughts of double consciousness. To endlessly aspire for a pseudo-identity one cannot achieve because of the one you were born with makes me believe that maybe the “avant-garde” is all the African, and her descendants, strive for; to push against some of the destructive notions of Darwinism, maintaining the philosophy of “as is-ness”. I denounce this New World through my art. Not only do I believe the avant-garde presents a kind of truth opposing dangerous, illusory ideas in regards to our current state of being, I believe this art playfully mocks it. In listening to Thelonious Monk, one senses a child present, another may sense a theologian, yet, they both provide insight. I hope my poems are seen as the literary equivalent of an A and Bb note simultaneously played; so close they seem to not belong, yet so close it seems the musician is searching for another tone further between.

The Hallways in This Hospital are Narrow

a little like little irises 
scrabbling in keyholes, 

seeing a coterie of doctors 
on the other side, dancing,
wearing coats of crows:

“the maniacal monarchs.” 

They play classical music. 
I didn’t come for Brahms, 
and the small room smells; 
metal, poison curing blood. 

Pollutant. My logic and my 
philosophy can’t touch on my 
plate. Pardon, I eat slow. My 

head’s cottage silvers and rots. 
There’s nothing here to distinguish
the self of something with another thing’s self. 

I’m going linearly crazy and the doctors hold a card for me 
to recreate with language. 
Is it a dark room, beetles scurrying at the fringes? 

No. Men running, with their heads cut off in the capital. 
No. Memories crawling out of the card like the eggs 
of small creatures, seeming to grow 
from a leaf’s face. 

They open my face,
and my face is on their faces (so is a face only a face if it faced faces?) 
if for a moment, 
until multi-realities fracture like a channel’s navigation 
to another channel. Another vision: I killed 

an ant and streaked its body across pages. 
There’s not enough hospitals for them. 
I think they leave their own kind 

for the earth to bury but the epidemic 
for the earth now is that there’s too many walls, 
for the earth is not large enough to keep its dead.

I think most think the walls can’t think, 

but everything holds both the intellect and the savage,
both the grave and the doctor: 
one who buries, one who unburies the buried. 

I found a roach dead on a wall near a door of mine, 
as if followed by some animal or some madman,

but if you could see it, 
you’d see it,
its skeleton, lonely, suspended. 

Wouldn’t it be momentarily fascinating, 
increasingly haunting, to see a human spread across 
the side of a building, their sides splitting, 

blood rolling from the inside of flesh 
to the outside of windows, the old blind folk 
thinking the taps on glass are rain, 

the eyes of the murdered, hanging 
from his skull. No diagnoses for that. 

Where the children play, they look up, 
but it’s me looking down, wondering 
on the methods of burial. 

Maybe we got it all wrong. If this life is too narrow, horizontally, 
why not vertical a death? 

All this time, physics made it so clear 

if a body could stick for that long, 
then maybe the walls 
do have teeth 

The Making of a Sculpture of a Black Greek God

                you can only Reduce:Descend into form. 

out of mountains (MMmm(mountains behind mountains)mM) 

are made cities of marble (mM(re-mirroring-er)Mm) hiding 
in valleys, in the oceans. We’re all mostly made up of rivers 
and fire. death // a union of the core with the out- 
side. That’s why we’re burning, we over-descend. we over- 
reach for the god caged in one of the faces of a stone’s carve-
able carnival. Water weeps on its only brother….. sea-

gulls hang in the grey air like bulbs, dust coated. the ship,
pregnant with men, coursing. To find the African under the exist-
ence of kept-out weather, hold your one good ear, bleed out 
the other like a ghost in a circumference of blue.
i’m asking about dissension, i’m knowing more on the act
of descending. Children in the dark belly of mothers in 
the belly of boats in the belly of water in the belly of he-
avens mistaking us for the belly of a heaven. 
we’re not that but we got math [godhood measured:assess-
ed]. Blade to chest. how far until [it hurts? I think] I got 
a soul in the front of the behind of a soul making ham-
mocks of my organs and their nearby highways.  

the American-African, rephrased in its self in its tenure 
of water. I walk to the shore, the shadow of my body 
flung into the eyes of a lake, Dying making gods of us

Twenty-Seven w/ Script

                for Anton Yelchin

“It’s like an exchanging of eyes,” Anton tells himself before
a window, his reflection seen just so, straining to visibility as the sun-
light severs the burning glass, obscuring his face enough to be mist-
aken for a haunted shadow— fading, but haunted.

(A boy scurries through the dark alleys, his hand bulging with cash as he runs to a diner to see the man he grew to love. The man talked low, as if something dangerous hid in the walls, something that smelled like a mask, masked by masks.)

MAN: You got all that cash. What’cha gonna do now? 

ANTON: Hitch a ride to the next planet off the main roads. 

MAN: And Atlantis?

ANTON: Sometimes you gotta leave it all behind.

(Anton runs back through the alley’s piercing darkness, and like the flicker of a bulb, he disappears through it, his face becoming numerous, a million selves trekking the lonely space. Is this how moons are made, wandering through a road-less country waiting for someone to raise the eye of a camera to a face and shoot?)

On Acting/ On Performance: “Is it like a nightmare,
to know you are acting in another boy’s dream?”
“Is it like, for a moment, your mind is riddled
with prophesies?” “Is life just like a journey
of masks?”

Yes, I do think Process is the machine waiting to turn
the performative self into darkness. The first thing you see
as you put on a new face is darkness. They say you are
your truest self before walking through darkness.
It is obsession that teaches how one could be lost to the mind
of darkness. Yes, acting is as horrifying as half the body
stolen by the mouth of a machine’s darkness.


In this grayscale image, Nkosi Nkululeko stands before a cardioid microphone on a stand. Nkosi looks slightly up and to the left. Nkosi has black hair in braids or cornrows, and a thin black mustache. Nkosi's lips are parted slightly, revealing upper front teeth. Nkosi wears a white brimmed, rounded cap with a dark triangular patterned printed in a band that runs underneath the brim, up and over the top of the cap. Nkosi wears a light colored shortsleeved teeshirt. The blank reverse side of a sheet of paper is visible protruding from the bottom edge of the frame, possibly held by Nkosi. In the background, paintings and photographs of people of color are arrayed, with dates of birth and death; these may be people murdered by police; in the top right corner, the name of Eric Garner is legible under a painting thereof.

Nkosi Nkululeko has received fellowships from Callaloo, The Watering Hole and Poets House. He has performed for TEDxNewYork and the Aspen Ideas Festival. He is a Pushcart Prize nominee and finalist for both the 2016 Winter Tangerine Awards for Poetry and the 2016 Best of the Net anthology. His work is currently published in The Collagist, Third Coast, Pank, Apogee, VINYL, and more. Nkosi lives in Harlem, New York.