by Meron Afutu

why didn’t you teach me
gave me a lamp
of holy oil
but wouldn’t help me
find the way
lost on those
wasn’t able to form my lips
around yiqirta
quickly enough

why did you let me feel ashamed
to roll that r
sweet as tej on my tongue
let me feel as though
I had to smooth over the edges
of my name
as you had done yours
as though the syllables
of the horn
would cut the mouths
of those who learned to pronounce them
on a different body
as if to say
“don’t trust them with it
we will claim it before
they do”

but each glossed Meron
that escapes your lips
feels more like a conquering
than a claim
a flag on that r
that is not our own
but with each glossed Meron
that escapes your lips

I mourn

I mourn for the Genets
the shape-shifters transform
G into J name as smoothed
as their hair, their blouse, the dollars
they sent home
whenever they could

I mourn

I mourn for the Merons
who walked into that beauty salon
in Addis
looked up beyond their crowns to
faces unfamiliar
a message to quiet their curls
their skin
their names

I mourn

I mourn because it is sacred
pronounce each syllable
let it come to your tongue
with the strength of buna
the warmth of chai
the power of berbere
let it command the space

it deserves

say it
say it right
it is sacred

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