Issue 24: NAME

before after/after before

                                       in the after that we long for

do we go


to the before                                            

that was  will




should    we

                        now that CO2 emissions drop

the air clears

what do we choose

as we long to hold


                      laugh with

in the before

of “I can’t breathe”

& refugee camps 

of caged children

& the homeless

of the gig economy

                               missing the safety

of nets 

            the gods laugh

            we curse

even as we worship

at the altars of all that

has brought us here

                                 will we can

should we                                                   


in this together

in this together

                                 are we

where together was


          in this together

of doll house condos

at millionaire prices

                                 rocketing rents

that never return to

in this together


where there are banks for food

and banks of money for those

who have too much

and care too little

in this together where rents

corral the young, the poor, the worker

into small


the smallest of rooms at prices

that have taken flight,

nor was in this together present in gently

gentrifying neighbourhoods

corporate welfare

and bank bailouts


in this together

of boil-water advisories

grassy narrows* and forked-tongue treaties

in this together of fracking the earth

in this together of drill baby drill

in this together of the burning amazon

in this together of the melting arctic

in this together of the death of coral reefs

how are we

                       in this together


of the hold


self found we

in this together of song

that sang of being

in this together

while the blue orb spins


gently glides on its

ellipsis as in this

together we together




                                in this



*Between 1962-1970 the people of Asubpeeschoseewagong (Ojibwe) or Grassy Narrows First Nation were poisoned through their water by a pulp and paper mill located in their community.  They have not yet received adequate compensation and continue to suffer the effects of this environmental disaster.


…in an altered time  my breath catches yours  my question to myself  what poem would I have written  if what has happened   already   hadn’t already happened  what song  would my throat have sung  in between the notes  moving with the breath of breath…what dance have danced me…

when i began this i felt as if COVID-19 stalked us, lurking behind doors, entering through keyholes—


when i began this the first thing i asked myself every morning on awaking was how many had died—


when i began this i once lay in bed and counted the number of lovers i had had and laughed—


when i began this i felt as if our fear petrified us—


when i began this we cowered behind our doors—


when i began this people baked sourdough bread—


when i began this i didn’t—


when i began this i thought of the Mazda advertisement with the refrain “Zoom, Zoom, Zoom” when i first heard about Zoom—


when i began this i had not yet come to hate the word pivot—


when i began this my mother and father were both dead, yet i was not an orphan—




when i began this i had two brothers and one living sister who does not speak to me—


when i began this people gave each other a wide berth on the



when i began this i fell in love with Audre Lorde’s words and wisdoms all over again—


when i began this i had to use the master’s tools—


when i began this i wanted not so much to dismantle as to destroy the master’s house, with or without his tools, and by any means



when i began this i enjoyed making white folk step off the sidewalk—


when i began this i did not know who George Floyd was—


when I began this i knew that Minneapolis was in Minnesota and that the source of the word was Indigenous—


when i began this i did not know that the Minne in Minneapoliis was a Dakota word meaning water—


when i began this i did know the word Minne ha-ha and I loved the sound of it—


when i began this i combed my hair every day—


                                    TRUMP STEPS UP CHINA OFFENSIVE


when i began this my greatest fear was being in an airplane that was flying through turbulence—


when i began this i mourned and rejoiced—


when i began this my toes were painted ox blood red—


when i began this Black lives mattered—


when i began this the idea that police forces should be defunded or abolished was unheard of— 


when i began this Aunt Jemima still appeared on pancake syrup bottles—


when i began this the statue of the former slave owner Edward Colston had not yet been thrown into the Bristol Harbour—


when i began this three young Black girls had not yet danced on the plinth on which Colston’s statue stood—


when i began this i had no idea what deep and visceral satisfaction i would get from watching statues topple—


when i began this no statues of Robert E. Lee had been removed or pulled down—


when i began this all the statues of King Leopold were intact in Belgium—


when i began this the statue of Christopher Columbus in Baltimore had not yet reached its expiry date—



The obelisks of ancient Egypt represented the benben,

 the primordial mound upon which the god Atum

stood at the creation of the world. ...

The Egyptians believed a day would come

when the gods would die and all

would return to the uniformity of primordial chaos. 

Ancient History Encyclopedia



when i began this the state flag of Mississippi had not yet been finally furled—


when i began this the Confederate flag still flew at NASCAR—


when i began this we feared a virus that appeared to stalk us—


when i began this the populace sheltered in place, were shut down or locked down—


when i began this we did not wear masks—


when i began this the land had already been stolen—


when i began this the people had already been stolen and brought across the black waters—



For the artist Michael Parker, the unfinished obelisk

raises questions about hierarchy, failed power structures,

and the relationship between the power of a single person

who commands over many. Maggie George (KCET)



when i began this the owners of the Washington Redskins did not intend to retire the name the team—


when i began this the owners of the Washington Redskins believed that the name would remain for another hundred years—


when i began this time appeared to have come to a stand still—


when i began this time appeared endless—




when i began this Black Lives Matter did not have majority support among Americans—

when i began this Gwendolyn Brooks had already described John Cabot going “down in the smoke and fire/and broken glass and blood”—

when i began this i had only seen a police precinct under attack in


when i began this America was the most powerful country in the world—

when i began this Gwendolyn Brooks knew that John Cabot would ask the the Lord for forgiveness not for himself but “these nigguhs that know not what they do”—

when i began this there was first the land, then the land and next the land and my is-land—


perhaps a huge silence

might interrupt this sadness

of never understanding ourselves

and of threatening ourselves with

death. Pablo Neruda.

when i began this—

when i began—

when i—


Born in Tobago, M. NourbeSe Philip is an unembedded poet, essayist, novelist, playwright and independent scholar who lives in the space-time of Toronto where she practised law for seven years before becoming a poet and writer. Among her published works are the seminal She Tries Her Tongue; Her Silence Softly Breaks and the speculative prose poem Looking for Livingstone: An Odyssey of Silence.

Her book-length poem, Zong!, is a conceptually innovative, genre-breaking epic, which explodes the legal archive as it relates to slavery. Her most recent work is Bla_K. Her fellowships include Guggenheim, McDowell, and Rockefeller (Bellagio). M. NourbeSe Philip is the 2020 recipient of PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature.

Copyright © 2020 by M. NourbeSe Philip, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.