“Recordable,” by Nkosi Nkululeko – Michigan Quarterly Review
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“Recordable,” by Nkosi Nkululeko

“Recordable,” by Nkosi Nkululeko, appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of MQR.

Concerned with the tension between legacy and effacement, “Recordable” by Nkosi Nkululeko grapples with the challenges of acceptance (or non-acceptance) of heredity and religion as a means for establishing a tangible sense of self. What initially struck me with this poem is the form. Taken as a litany of “recordable” fragments, fragments that are as easily preserved as they are erased, Nkululeko’s speaker is able to transcend commonplace, household objects, such as photographs or mugs, and a genetic consideration of his family’s medical predispositions to inform what the speaker has active choices and control over, in this case the speaker’s relationship with God. For me, this poem is reminiscent of Nicole Sealey’s “Medical History” and asks similar questions: in which ways can we retain an active influence on the self, given the strictures of science and/or of God? What does science or religion offer us that are tangibly or intangibly ours? And to whom does God belong?

–Justin Balog, MQR Staff

Take #1:     In the kitchen cabinet, there’s a mug
                    with a photograph of my father and I.

Take #2:     In the house, the photos of me diminish
                    and I’m at ease. I keep one of the few
                    next to a bed of matches and a book.

Take #3:     Two brothers on my mother’s side. One
                    on my father’s, as well as a sister.

Take #4:     I was admitted into a hospital only for
                    the death of a tooth. There are negatives
                    of graveyards, albums of black rivers.

Take #5:     Both parents have almost perfect teeth;
                    I had a fever. I chew carefully. The walls,
                    the frames, the windows, they watch me eat.

Take #6:     My grandmothers, one dead, both took
                    pills for something, and I for nothing.

Take #7:     Most of my mother’s side have diabetes,
                    but they have god and a good doctor.

Take #8:     Like religion, I preach for politics,
                    but I don’t believe in politics, like religion.

Take #9:     I only have a quarrel with god because
                    it never bothered to pay my dentists.

Image: Photo of Nkosi Nkululeko.

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