Zoë Gadegbeku is a Ghanaian writer living in Boston. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College, where she worked in communications and taught first-year writing. She was a participant in the 2017 Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop at the University of the West Indies-Cave Hill, Barbados, a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in June 2019, and the 2021 writer-in-residence at Mother Mercy, an artist incubator in Boston. Her writing has appeared in Saraba Magazine, Afreada, Blackbird, and The Washington Post. Her essay “My Secondhand Lonely,” (Slice Magazine and Longreads) was included on the notable list in the 2018 edition of Best American Essays. Her work also appeared in The Best Small Fictions 2019 anthology and was selected for the 2020 City of Boston Mayor’s Poetry Program Contest. She currently works full-time as a copyeditor for a scientific publishing house. Visit Zoë's website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Some Collective Nouns for Black Girls/What We Call Our Selves When We Are Alone/What We Named Our Young Selves in the Grimy Club Bathroom Where We Became Sisters
by Zoë Gadegbeku
A riot of black girls. A harmony, a chorus, a Sunday school choir with blue and white ribbons pressed into wrinkle-less-ness. A glamouring. A dazzling. A gleaming of black girls and freshly oiled legs. A Dakaroise, have you seen those black girls? A Gentilly, a New Orleans. A Madina, have you seen those black girls? An Erzulie and her sister spirits. A coronation. A rebellion, a [Haitian] revolution. An uprising of black girls. A dancefloor. A shimmer. A hurricane, a storm system. A sorority but not the elitist kind. A group hug, an embrace of black girls, you are missing from us, how did we fail so profoundly to bring you back? A gathering together in the name of Toni Morrison and at the sound of her low voice. A romance of black girls, a Sula and Nel, yes, it really was what you thought about those black girls. A luxury. A softness. A ring shout. A ceremony. A masjid. An altar but not a pedestal. An anointing. A festival. A bacchanal. A celebration. A celestial body. A solar system. A conference but not the elitist kind. A Ramatoulaye and Aïssatou. A midnight. A golden hour. A call to prayer. A sunflower field. A horizon, an endless possibility of black girls. A future. A purpose. A skyline. An imagination. A cleansing. A healing. A lightning. A transcendence. A parade. An extravagance of black girls. A group chat. A blessing. An adornment. A sanctuary. An amazement of black girls. A reconciliation. A galaxy. A mischief∞. An abundance. A culture. An applause. An embodiment. An emergence. A vision. An utterance. A declaration. A tenderness of black girls. An escape. A wildness. A Saturday afternoon. A cosmos. A history. A holiness. A standard, thee standard. A globe. A force. A being. A gala. A subjectivity of black girls. A pleasure. A formation. A union. A wholeness. A ballroom, I bow down, you are the blueprint. A ferocity. A symphony. An echo. A scream∞. A clenched fist of black girls∞. A chaos. A blooming. A flourishing. An insistence. A persistence. A sharpening. A tomorrow. A redemption. A quilombo. A sublime. A glory. A miracle of black girls. An insurrection. An upheaval∞. An ecstatic experience.
∞ A mischief of Black girls cast off their demons--toothy and still cackling--and sealed them in the walls of the houses from which they were forced to flee. On the sunny side of somebodies’ breakfast eggs, they sprinkled sandalwood incense ashes and cemetery dust from a great-great-grand’s resting place in a town that didn’t yet exist when these girls began to die. But all this was nothing like enough, so they knocked back one or four Molotov cocktails to render their palates anew and clinked their glasses before breaking them against the swine-pink and peeling foreheads of their enemies. ∞ Tonight at 8pm, reports of a clenched fist of Black girls descending on the crooked jaw of empire and pocketing the rotting teeth their blow knocked out of place. Sources state that this menacing presence also call themselves a rebellion, a [Haitian] revolution, an insurgence of Black girls—STATIC. STATIC. STATIC.
∞ We are an upheaval of Black girls ripping into the wreaths you have drawn around our heads, adornments that do us no good now that we have died once and again. We will stuff those sickly-sweet night blooming somethings as far into your nose as they will go and even further still so that you choke on the residual scent of all the life we will live through the Black girls who will avenge us. ∞Tonight at 8pm you won’t hear a scream, a sonic boom of Black girls because it is only accessible, only audible to: our loves, our sistren, and those among our mothers who have not glued their pride into the raw and dry inside of their mouths. A wailing of Black girls, but to the uninitiated like your selves, you will hear a child’s cry from next door’s backyard; one car’s bumper curling its metal around another post-collision; maybe just past midnight, a moan through a thin wall, a breath temporarily arrested in your own chest.
Torch Literary Arts is a 501(c)3 nonprofit established to publish and promote creative writing by Black women. We publish contemporary writing by experienced and emerging writers alike. TORCH has featured work by Colleen J. McElroy, Tayari Jones, Sharon Bridgforth, Crystal Wilkinson, Patricia Smith, Natasha Trethewey, Elizabeth Alexander, and others. Programs include the Wildfire Reading Series, writing workshops, and retreats.