Literary Magazine

Nana Loves Venus Hottentot, Kwaku Loves Kunta | Stewart Shaw

During the Middle Passage

through horror and cries for home, through

stench, and death,

in cramped dark spaces, chains and stains

on souls more corrosive than hate, passions

were kindled, desires lived; hands

were roamed across aching backs

to ease kink and sorrow.



in rows –

once fertile fields now gone barren-

fingered out lice and

dried vomit, unbraided knots of hurt

from napped heads twisted with death,

fondled breasts suckling life back

into their hollows.

Became lost in their own



Men aligned belly to back


to sleeping gods, whispered

hunting stories

crooned love songs deep

into the splintered ears

of their neighbors. Did not

worry about tribe or clan

just succor. Cried

droughts away,

washed red burning backs with

gentle kisses.


In dark,

fetid and thick with

lamentations, deep

in the bowels of boats, someone

blew kisses,

tongued moans

blew kisses

tongued resurrection

blew kisses

like revolution

tongued healing

licking whip lines.

Blew kisses

pushing ancestors into

foul spaces filled with bereavement.

Tongued home

In semi-circles

down spines,

blew kisses

into ears crumbling

under the weight

of death’s rattle.   Tongued

the darkness bright.


Kwaku, spelling

in darkness

Kunta’s name

along the raised mountain

of a back,

blew kisses

tongued midnight air

sung lullabyes.


Knew water flowed two ways


Nana, arm across

Saartjie’s belly,

blew her a kiss

hung gentle memories

in a womb still full of prayers

let go of sick, felt

no roll or tumble of sea

just knew firmament.

just felt rounded

hallowed ground.

Shaw is a Librarian for an urban West Coast public library. He has traveled internationally attending writing conferences in various African nations. His poems have been published in Black Arts Quarterly, Temenos Literary Journal, The Missing Slate, upcoming in the African American Review as well as a short story in Mighty Real: An Anthology of African American Same Gender Loving Writing. He is a Cave Canem Poetry Fellow.