Hey APC! I’m Semilore, an 18-year old, first-generation Nigerian-American writer from Irvine, CA. I am a recently graduated senior at Orange County School of the Arts, where I studied creative writing. I’m a 2020 YoungArts Finalist in Writing, an active slam competitor, and am well-versed in poetry, spoken word, playwriting, prose, and more. I’ve been writing since I was small and now often speak on activism, the African diaspora, community, racial issues, family, and identity. I also serve as a senior editor of Inkblot Literary Magazine. Away from the pull of poetry books, you may find me on twitter, celebrating magical realism, ’80s art, Noname, and the color yellow; or searching for snails on my dewy porch.
My poem “Shibboleth” is an examination of first-generation cultural conflict and thus the inner struggle that brings; you are isolated among peers and family because of the intersections of your identity; there are indicators, or shibboleths, of difference in accents, pronunciation, body language. It attempts to dissect the situation of seeing the effects of colonialism in your family tree while benefiting from a system with colonial history, feeling like an impostor, and then being socially and structurally rejected by that system on the basis of race. It discusses the absence of a singular home where you and the people around you are one and the same, of a strange identity-driven impostor syndrome, of being both the sheep and the wolf that hunts it.
by Semilore Ola
i don’t know when I will completely learn Yoruba.
the language trips around clumsy on my tongue and never stays, but my mother carries it
heavy and potent in her mouth, held like a breath, swished around like
wine when she needs to. lets it out relieved like and exhale. my father carries
it in his shoulders, home sprawled out across his body, lifting his chin,
holding straight the spine and positioning his head to look straight into tomorrow.
where i live, there are no bodies left on the streets, not one man strapped
down to publicly face his death, his sins littered into the grass growing
through cracked pavement. not everyone knows who boko haram is.
held fast in the throats of passerby there are no songs of worship beaten like the
skin of an avocado. my dad says that with the debris british colonialism left behind,
if you don’t have a God to worship in Nigeria you’ll lose your mind. my parents still
tuck these songs behind their teeth, their molars becoming piano keys they tickle during housework.
The music, at least, has a way of staying.
my accent rises like helium above my relatives’ amalgam of speech, Nigeria
and England huffed into the atmosphere. my voice is incompatible. it is
oil to their water, bleach to their unblinking pigment.
when i hear myself speak among them sometimes i think
i brought America’s incendium with me. my relatives chuckle at my voice,
they say i am so American.
my parents’ languages are a belonging that has slipped through my fingers,
whizzing junebugs i try to catch but send me face-first into the dirt.
I am no longer Nigerian, or African American, I am just Black. It is all that is left.
i cut off half of the syllables of my name and shemi turns to semi.
my wet hair lays flat along my nape, straight, unrelenting,
stiff with the chemicals of my relaxer.
i asked my hair to grow and it refused.
for what i have lost, i am looking.
where is my home?
braided desperate along my scalp? laced in the corners of my house?
bled by the sun into my skin? crushed debris inside of a white man’s closed fist?
is it a secret message scrawled into the condensation
trapped under the lid of my mother’s rice pot?
do i lie in the melting pot america where my skin is celebrated the same
as the trampled dirt, or elsewhere? i do not know.
there is less dialogue,
less exhaling in my house than there used to be;
i have lost things a little along the way.
my father is all Yoruba,my mother is half Igbo.
like the fault lines that divide countries, even in my dna i am split.