top of page


By : Alula Hussen

5 min read

A young black boy learned how to swim

At the age of nine

By ten his arms and legs

Would swing lithe

He pulled the strength of his body down each length of twenty five

Chlorine seeped into his dark, knotted curls, browning the ends; breaking skin out into hives

But he enjoyed the power held in conquering the water, an ocean’s worth of world available to him now to survive

his body hurdling off of blocks and diving boards before he willed it to rise

Undulating under small waves as his own tribute to ancestors in the Nile, he felt he’d arrived

Sometimes he reckoned his whole life an exercise

In staying afloat

Or maybe trying not to get caught in the debris of mental demise,

a flotsam of overwrought thoughts as he paralyzed

His voice tended toward drowning when his thoughts dived

Its resonance sunk even as its rhythm jived

Into every surface;

He spoke into walls, couches, lamps, his low tone garbled and became a room’s furnish

Left struggling to breathe through the heat

of his embarrassment’s furnace

He used to hate the sounds emitted when he attempted to speak,

Nary a note landed with the impact that others burnished

Smoke would deepen the low end, but cut the highs of his mix; on recordings, his attitude came across Curt-ish

He started talking to himself.

Conversations between the various personalities he’d made or inherited would flourish

Fill his headspace with chatter, often shushed before it rose to a curdling skirmish

or let free to swing and sway, a devotion to movement as devout as a dervish

The music of his mind would grow cacophonous like jazz when it’s live,

His jazz as in jasm, virile in spirit

He now finds himself the most comforting voice, lift his to hear it

Originally published in-print in Boston Compass Newspaper #160 August 2023


Check out all the art and columns of August's Boston Compass at



bottom of page