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