Theory of Plate Tectonics

Kemi Alabi

for Regina

She says New England hoards college girls like cherries in its cheek,tongue-tying legs to knots, making party tricks out of people.Says it’s an old currency, wads of tangled stems tumoredwith unfinished bows. Says the quick ones learn to curl like ribbon.The brave ones learn to run with their hands. The pretty ones knotand knot into rope and callus, none of their blood stays long.But half butane, half lemon juice, all pit, no skin, us sad onesare a new fruit. I tell her we should shower more. Eat somethingbesides black pepper and rum. I tell her the teapot’s meltedto the stove, the mugs chipped in hazardous places—droppedfrom scalded hands to blades, stealing lips from our guests.She reminds me we have no guests here. Just the half-dead boyswe’ve specialized in trapping, leggy never-giants too grateful to run.Cups brimming with sliced smirks, kitchen table littered with scabs,we pick over the charred parts: matchheads sawed from stemswith his sharpest key (ours now); a still-warm collarbone (ours now);the lightbulb he almost smashed into her throat when he learnednot all flightless soft-bodied girls are fireflies (ours to shatterin the rooftop shadows just like one of us). She tells me Parisis glitter and ash this time of year, red-velvet gloved and scowled.Tells me Cape Town paves its streets with wings that shimmyfor stray coins. Says she’s got a naked man waiting in Havanaand his neighbor owes her seven cigarettes. She’s been studyingplate tectonics. Whispering spells for Pangaea. Lighting candlesfor the Great Rift Valley with bootleg magma from Kilimanjaro.Branding Himalayas to her calves’ Appalachia. Speed testingsmoke signals hitched to waves. She asks me the differencebetween arson and wildfire. I say arson is chain-smokingwith her Tinder wax doll collection. Wildfire is misusing matchesas daylight. Should have said the difference depends on what’s burning.Such old bones for such new people, more cinder than marrow.We feel safe in all the wrong places, most at home in flames.

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Ally Almore

Kemi Alabi was born on a Sunday in July. A poet and cultural strategist, Alabi is the author of Against Heaven, selected by Claudia Rankine as winner of the 2021 Academy of American Poets First Book Award, and coeditor of The Echoing Ida Collection. Their work appears in PoetryThe AtlanticBoston ReviewThe BreakBeat Poets Vol. 2, and elsewhere. Raised in southeastern Wisconsin, they now live in Chicago, IL.

“With abundant sonics, formal virtuosity, and a rigorous queer erotic, Alabi proves that every inheritance can be both wound and portal. Against Heaven is a stunning debut from one of our most talented emerging voices; the wildest part of you has been waiting for it.”
—Franny Choi

“A sacrament to the underworld, Against Heaven ushers us into a vast network of ritual and erotic apertures. . . . This thrilling portal of disobedience and rapture builds altars of sound for the dead and dispossessed. Against Heaven is an ecstatic, immersive debut, a place to reside, and an extraordinary feat in language and experimentation.”
—Xan Phillips

Against Heaven is a book of delightful confrontations—poems that rearrange and reshape a willing reader's relationship to language, and the many universes that language can hold within.”
—Hanif Abdurraqib

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