Meredith Nnoka ’14

Meredith Nnoka is a Smith College graduate with a degree in Africana Studies and English. Originally from Maryland, she is currently a graduate student in African-American literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her work has appeared in The Massachusetts Review, HEArt Online, Mandala Journal, The Collapsar, and elsewhere. Her poem “Prelude to Your Leaving” was nominated for inclusion in the 2017 Best of the Net anthology. Her first chapbook, A Hunger Called Music: A Verse History of Black Music, won C&R Press’s Winter Soup Bowl Competition.

Poetry Center Reading:

Spring 2018

Big Mama Speaks of Elvis

If death shows up as a man
in blue denim, say I want in a voice
just above a warble, takes
and takes you, fits your livelihood
in his shirt pocket
then reaches for his comb –
ain’t nothing but a shakedown,
a wolf at the door.

I ask you: What’s justice?
Is the cart by itself or the horse
that comes before?

No matter now. Another stone sinks
to the bottom of the river,
another white man
drinks me till I’m dry.
How long, this life.


David Ruffin Leaves The Temptations

After Craig Arnold

there was a sound & it was fire ppppppppppwas
harmony & the rasp of a man tethered
to his own hunger ppppthere was hunger
& it was beautiful pppp there was anguish but
it was called music pppppppppevery night
there was a stage & on it there was dancing
& a chorus of magpies singing their wordless
& immaculate caw         there was a shuffle
then a measured kick five voices &
a crescendo    a man & his public         some-
times there was a bottle & it was called
passionppppppppppppsometimes there was anger
& it was gasoline pppp there was a thought
& in it was separation     still    sometimes
there was a man           he was burning


Prelude to Your Leaving

I’ve never made a thing more beautiful
than music, though sometimes I can
almost hear the trees unblooming. I have
a need for this to function as language
between us, because we are separating
and another way to make music
is by leaning into the water. I’ve learned
to believe that summer goes out like
an oil lamp and has a tenderness I can
measure and depend on: the exodus of birds,
for instance, or the two of us pulling
a boat to shore. One day I hope to have
something that will keep through winter,
but more than anything I want to be
in love with your leaving. I once heard
you speak of the night sky so now
I carry it everywhere as an overcoat.
Days I’ve been wearing loss like a thread
around my wrists and letting my hunger
run free. You and I are separating and
I want that to be something of yours I can
hold on to. From this side of the water,
I can almost only see smoke rising.

As published in The Collapsar

Meredith Nnoka ’14

Meredith Nnoka ’14 graduated from Smith with a degree in Africana Studies and English. Originally from outside of Washington, DC, she spent the last year teaching English in France and will begin graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the fall. Her poems have been featured in HEArt Online, Mandala Journal, Riding Light, and elsewhere. Her first chapbook, titled A Hunger Called Music, will be available from C&R Press in fall 2016.

James Baldwin Discusses Harlem With White Allies

“Your countrymen do not agree with me about this, and I hear them saying ‘You exaggerate.’ They do not know Harlem, and I do. So do you.”

—from Baldwin’s 1963 letter to his nephew

You must understand: I will always be
American, but I cannot believe in freedom
anymore. Only that I was born into a country
where I must struggle for it. What you see
is not what I see. The rooms you inhabit
have no place in the world I have known.
When you talk of death, it is with a lighter
tongue than those of us who have lived with it,
who have seen it creep into the hollowed faces
of our children, children whose lives are worth
no more to you than water cupped between
my hands. & when you talk of America, I hear
only Harlem—it speaks to me in ways
it cannot speak to you. I hear its miseries
& triumphs; I was raised within its borders.
I have seen boys no older than your children
perish in this world. I have seen old men
prophesy freedom from their front steps
in the face of the violence that surrounds them.
This is what it means to live without fear
& is, I tell you, the possibility of Harlem:
the needle on the record before it starts to play.