Recipe: How to Become an Immigrant and an Exile

Mukoma Wa Ngugi


Recipe: How to Become an Immigrant and an Exile

Listen. Do you hear ghosts? Connect them to the sound of a canoe
on Indian Ocean. Listen to that tape of familiar beats that has weathered
foreign seasons. Sukus found in Salsa. Fela Kuti meets Masekela
in Appalachia. Do not inhale the coal fumes. Hold a memory.

Commit sins of transportation. Bite the past. Spit broken teeth
and colored blood that will chart global awareness. Learn
to say fuck without flinching. Seduce anarchy of the mind and try
to order schizophrenia in realms just outside the touch of your black

hand. Image coming at you. Color it in Old English and an accented
haiku and see what you win. If lucky enough, if you are one those
lucky cigar smoking sons of bitches, play the lottery and you might win
the lady’s hand. Do not try to break the chains that bind her feet.

Hold her. Touch an image of her that is a mirage of you. Laugh
and say she is crazy to forget with you. Sip your beer gently.
Light up, let the sizzling seeds pass from your lips to hers. Watch
the smoke and its promise, it will turn you onto possibilities

of the night–Smile. Ghosts. As a child voices sang in my sleep
and then took to life. I dueled them with screams that were hushed
with threats of tranquility. I stole Don Quixote’s sword and found
a horse in my bouncing bed and would have won the battle

but for the doctor who found malaria where there was none. Pills.
Silent duels. And so when the police with guns and big black coats
came for my father, it must have been a dream I dreamt. That
night–pills with no water but morning tea still found a newspaper

damp with dew. Swords thrust, truths as righteousness of strength
bouncing horses and Marx–it could all have been a dream. Learn
to stay up late and talk of classes and footsteps. Not of classes
but of labor at the nearest Micky D’s. Dance to old rhythms

and constitute common law while talking of tradition. Find
the nearest altar. Take pills without gunpowder. Say Mandela
always with a smile. Miss her but call her a bitch. It will make
you feel like man to stare her down feminism. Dust sprinkled

so sparsely and gently on your feet, stripped dress, gapped smile,
black hair in rainbow your laugh and the way your fingers curled
inwards–they always smelled of plums. I miss our evenings
by the pond, that time the sun refused to set and we had to roll
it over and down the hill. You never did come to say good-bye. How
is it I remember your smile at the airport? Stay away from New
York. Too many mirrors of yourself. Read Harlem only in your sleep.
Learn to say Puerto Rican radicals got what was coming to them

and Mexico is no man’s land. Watch birds on National Geographic
migrate. Amuse yourself in the sound of wing against wind. Ignote

the wail of the middle passage. Find beauty in trees where no necks
were broken and burning flesh was not sacrificed and color it Rainbow.

You see, it’s all creation. Streams, your feet washing clean. Your curved
elbows sending rays back to the sun. Your militant khaki skirt wet
at the folds. I sent you a letter. In it I enclosed photos of you as I will
remember you tomorrow. Sometimes I am waiting for you at pond

scribbling little notes shaped like butterflies and birds that bear your
name. It’s Sunday. How did you leave church to come to me? I swear
you make me laugh. A hungry bird once in mid-Indian Ocean flight,
very much weakened by hunger and scared of what lay below, measured

wing against thigh and ate its feet. And as all must come down, it landed
on its head and died. My dear, eat your memories very carefully.


Mukoma Wa Ngugi is an Assistant Professor of English at Cornell University and the author of the novels Mrs. Shaw, Black Star Nairobi, Nairobi Heat, and a book of poetry, Hurling Words at Consciousness. Logotherapy (poetry) is forthcoming. 

“Recipe” originally appeared in Tin House #27:  The International Issue.