A Nation Engaged: Kitchen, After Rumi's Guest House

Oct 11, 2016

Throughout this election season, NPR and its member stations have been having a collective national conversation called “A Nation Engaged.”  The project has looked at central themes in this year’s election, including this week’s question:

What does it mean to be American?

For our contribution to the project, we put this question to some promising young spoken word artists.

Today, we bring you a poem entitled Kitchen, After Rumi’s Guest House by Kyndall Flowers, a 17-year-old student at Ann Arbor’s Pioneer and Community High Schools. 

Kitchen, After Rumi's Guest House, by Kyndall Flowers


I swear

this afro is a family tree

every curl its own line of  lineage


tangling around each other beautifully

too often violently

but here

on my black head

and my mommas

“I ain't white

my whole family’s just light”

Black head

my “no I’m not mixed

and we don't call it creole”

Black head

and my daddy just

capital B Black

Black like

didn’t run fast enough


farthest back is South Carolina slave Black

Black like

I can hear my ancestors whispering

my real name to me

from the hair behind my ear in my sleep

I can never remember it in the morning


I swear

this afro is an ocean grave

every wave a new chance to leave

something for the tomb

my hair looks so good in salt water

like it finds home in ocean

thats funny aint it

Black girls hair find home in the ocean

like its always more comfortable in the atlantic

like there it rests in peace

it reaches out behind me when i swim

tumbles through the waves

like its trying to hold on to the currents

if i let it it’d drag me down

all the way down till it reached something familiar

twist around a black girl's skull

and tell me she’s my cousin

and I’d stay there underwater

swimming in all that blue and Black

breathing in all that lost language

floating around their waterlogged lungs

I think I’d take a rib back up to shore

try to grow a girl from it

try to bring back a generation


I swear

this afro is a guest house

every knot its own great depression

you should see how much pulled hair i’ve

flushed down the toilet

trying to rewrite history

with a fine toothed comb

pik out what ain't pretty

the guests that live here and don't pay rent

and be too loud

and don't clean up

the guests so heavy they bent my back

forced their way into my roots

and pushed out of me a graveyard country

there is too much blood and earth

caked onto my scalp

my grandmother tried to wash it away in the kitchen sink until

she recognized some of the bodies in the dirt

it gets heavier

every day a new tragedy makes a home on my head

drips blood into my eyes

turns everything red

I pik my hair out

try to make space for them in all of this thick

and I would be grateful for whoever comes

if each had been sent as a guide from beyond

but I would much rather them be guides here

playing with toy guns and selling cigarettes on the corner

walking home and listening to music

I want to pour the blood back into the bodies

the air back into the lungs

re-set the bones and

none of this ever happened

How does it feel?

To wake up light

To be the carried and the carrier

To taste freedom and not also taste blood



To have it go down easy

To sing the national anthem and not choke on it

To watch the flag and not the rope

To see blue and not see red on black

I swear

this Afro holds a country

a generation

a civilization

hand me the big comb and the oil

get comfortable

let me introduce you

to all of the history that

made home on this




Kyndall Flowers is a student at Pioneer and Community High Schools in Ann Arbor.

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