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Give Your Daughters Difficult Names. By Assétou Xango


 

Give your daughters difficult names.

Names that command the full use of the tongue.

My name makes you want to tell me the truth.

My name does not allow me to trust anyone

who cannot pronounce it right.”

      —Warsan Shire

 

Many of my contemporaries,

role models,

But especially,

Ancestors

 

Have a name that brings the tongue to worship.

Names that feel like ritual in your mouth.

 

I don’t want a name said without pause,

muttered without intention.

 

I am through with names that leave me unmoved.

Names that leave the speaker’s mouth unscathed.

 

I want a name like fire,

like rebellion,

like my hand griping massa’s whip—

 

I want a name from before the ships

A name Donald Trump might choke on.

 

I want a name that catches you in the throat

if you say it wrong

and if you’re afraid to say it wrong,

then I guess you should be.

 

I want a name only the brave can say

a name that only fits right in the mouth of those who love me right,

because only the brave

can love me right

 

Assétou Xango is the name you take when you are tired

of burying your jewels under thick layers of

soot

and self-doubt.

 

Assétou the light

Xango the pickaxe

so that people must mine your soul

just to get your attention.

 

If you have to ask why I changed my name,

it is already too far beyond your comprehension.

Call me callous,

but with a name like Xango

I cannot afford to tread lightly.

You go hard

or you go home

and I am centuries

and ships away

from any semblance

of a homeland.

 

I am a thief’s poor bookkeeping skills way from any source of ancestry.

I am blindly collecting the shattered pieces of a continent

much larger than my comprehension.

 

I hate explaining my name to people:

their eyes peering over my journal

looking for a history they can rewrite

 

Ask me what my name means...

What the fuck does your name mean Linda?

 

Not every word needs an English equivalent in order to have significance.

 

I am done folding myself up to fit your stereotype.

Your black friend.

Your headline.

Your African Queen Meme.

Your hurt feelings.

Your desire to learn the rhetoric of solidarity

without the practice.

 

I do not have time to carry your allyship.

 

I am trying to build a continent,

A country,

A home.

 

My name is the only thing I have that is unassimilated

and I’m not even sure I can call it mine.

 

The body is a safeless place if you do not know its name.

 

Assétou is what it sounds like when you are trying to bend a syllable

into a home.

With shaky shudders

And wind whistling through your empty,

 

I feel empty.

 

There is no safety in a name.

No home in a body.

 

A name is honestly just a name

A name is honestly just a ritual

 

And it still sounds like reverence.

 

Copyright © 2017 by Assétou Xango. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 9, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

 

 

 

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