Meredith Nnoka

First Woman

Before long I see our home as a museum of what I can and can’t understand.
The end still beyond my grasp, we spread fear and acrimony across every wall,

adorn the rooms with dried lavender, mementos of youth. Most nights I have
nowhere to be but here; many I spend searching for anywhere else still open.

I learn firsthand what I’m incapable of, the ways people talk when a woman
steps out hoping no one will come looking for her. Think of Eve walking out

of the garden. We argue over which of us has suffered more, and what
we hesitate or hasten to do by consequence, and whether that can explain

the times you do anything to keep me from leaving. Eventually,
everyone says I tried to tell you. So much history available to repeat,

to balk in the shadow of. In childhood I learned not to speak of those
who would love me by breaking me. I was always within breath’s reach

of women who’d surrendered everything of themselves to live alongside
or for another. Before you I’d never understood the fear of a name said aloud

the way they did; I wonder often whether yours will join that same litany
of silence. What kind of lineage is this: one woman’s damage becomes

another’s and another’s, the fruit I keep drawing from, believing I’m the first.



Meredith Nnoka is a Chicago-based writer, educator, and prison abolitionist. She has a BA from Smith College and an MA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, both in Africana studies. Her work has appeared in The Massachusetts Review, HEArt Online, The Collapsar, and elsewhere. Her poem “Prelude to Your Leaving” received a 2017 Best of the Net nomination. Her first chapbook, A Hunger Called Music: A Verse History of Black Music, won C&R Press’s 2016 Winter Soup Bowl Competition.