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  • Writer's pictureCiara Bridges

Oluwatoyin

I wondered what my mom would do in the morning

When she heard I was gone.

I don’t know what the word is

For a parent left orphaned by their child

But I wondered what my mother’s face would look like

When she learned she was no longer mother to bone and flesh of hers

only to the niggas on the corner who call her mama out of respect.


My very last seconds defied time

Held them by the shoulders to laugh in its face deep from the belly

My very last seconds were years

They condensed a lifetime into a thick, sugary molasses

My very last seconds lasted longer than the Confederacy’s rebellion

As they were plucked from me like eyelash petals from a daisy.


In my very last seconds, my mouth flashed the taste of cardamom,

My tongue dry and quiet.

In my last seconds, I spent years mourning the life I wouldn’t get to live

A life I fought for every day

A life dragged through the streets under the armpits towards salvation.

I vaguely wondered why the fuck anyone coined the term “friendly fire.”


In my very first seconds of non-existence, I took the moon’s job

Reflected her light — blue and shiny and complete — over my tightened skin

An unwilling beacon to guide my sisters through the dark night

As my mouth flashed with the taste of dirt,

my tongue dry and quiet

I vaguely wondered who will replace the statues

Of non-leaders

Non-pioneers

Wretches

With their metal noses scratching at the pavement.


The day after, I could hear the earth humming

An imperceptible rumble

The feeling of rocks shifting

Deep in the throat base of women who looked like me

As they each caught each other’s fire

And the rumble became a volcanic avalanche

As black women are known to mourn

Loudly, violently

It is so intrinsic that you could find it in our DNA

All too acquainted with how to mourn our girls.

They pushed me out

Through round hips and tearing and blood and spit

I crowned seconds before their grief

And my mouth flashed the taste of stars

And my mouth was hot and quiet.


I vaguely wondered what my face would look like plastered next to Goldman Sachs

In my senior photos

If my shade of brown would compliment the screams.


I couldn’t see

But I could imagine from their cries

I couldn’t see

But I could hear their kneecaps cracking the pavement in my honor

And the girls and the mothers cried out my name

Distinct, precise, syllabic:


O-LU-WA-TOY-IN


Their voices sounded like my own

I made sure to project my vocal cords to them

With my last second, I gifted them my breath.

I can hear the low rumbling of a voice that sounds like my own

Demanding at the very least, that they pronounce each letter of my name with confidence.

And my mouth was dry and silenced and spiced and cracked and angry

I vaguely wondered what the moon would have looked like on my birthday

And if her full face would show itself, reflected in mine

If I listened hard enough, maybe I could hear them screaming themselves raw

With my voice

Maybe

It would even reach the moon.


In Loving Memory of Oluwatoyin Salau, a beloved community activist murdered in Florida in 2020.


Edited by: Ava Emilione

Cover Photo: Oluwatoyin Salau

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