Poetry: Your Name Was Supposed to Be Africa by Kendra Allen

Kendra Allen’s new poem crackles with the energy of language on edge, language in transformation. Without irony or posturing, “Your Name Was Supposed to Be Africa” explores the complicated layering of identity across names and bodies and continents.




imagine dark skinned black girl:

instead of black as hell                                     you’d be eyes closed

++++ like those white folks on safari in the gut of who you was supposed to be
you’d be as lost

++++as yo daddy

++++when he walked into that hospital room
++++++++++++and chained
++++++++++++yo name           from Africa to common

++++++++ain’t gone be no fufu &jollof in yo first or last name
++++++++no accents no arrogance no affirmation in yo Americanness

just texture you can’t claim and yo mama say all the time she knew this shoulda been yo name but
++++she been tired
since yo birth                           and couldn’t get it out of her throat in time

++++say you milant enough
++++say you cast shade on white houses and black men like nobody’s business

got memories from

school years and
++++++++++++++++++++young adulthood

++++++++++++++++++++like when nick walks up to you

++++to translate your nonnative tongue

++++you the prettiest African girl he ever seen

++++++++++++++++++++++++with yo light brown contacts in
++++++++++++++++++++++++yo 14’ inch sew in
++++++++++++++++++++++++and a mouth full of pretend gold
he see you being something you
++++didn’t get the chance to be

++++you say bitch I’m from here!!               and give him yo number anyway

Kendra Allen

Kendra Allen is the author of essay collection When You Learn The Alphabet (University of Iowa Press,) winner of the 2018 Iowa Prize for Literary Nonfiction. Born and raised in Dallas, TX, she's an MFA candidate at the University of Alabama where she is working on her thesis and leading students astray. You can find some of her work in brevity, december, and The Rumpus among others. She tweets @KendraCanYou

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