Sunday Rumpus Poetry: Four Poems by Ladan Osman






In Which Christopher Robin Has an Incident

“…You took your gun with you, just in case, as you always did,
and Winnie-the-Pooh went to a very muddy place that he knew of…”


“…and rolled and rolled until he was black all over.”


Ow!” said Pooh.
“Did I miss?” you asked.


“I didn’t hurt him when I shot him, did I?”
“Not a bit.”



All Bite the Bitten Dog

I held a mirror under my nose,
walked on the ceiling, hopped onto light covers,
stepped over doorframes, all rooms made new.
I’d wait when my breath fogged the glass,
careful not to tilt the handle and see my face.
I’d check my hair in glances, in the metal strip
at the side of the fridge.

I used my fingers to see the welts
from young tender sticks, small rocks.
“Bleed!” a boy yelled but didn’t wait
to see the slow zipper of my flesh
travel to a low place in my t-shirt.
“Look at all this sand! This paper!
These dead leaves!” my mother would say.
The water from my hair was often brown.
“I was playing. We were all playing.”

An older boy raised a block of snow,
brought it down on my temple.
I could see my back door.
The frozen pavement showed sky,
and my eyes like raw chicken,
too pink from not crying.
There were friendly blue orbs, then nothing.
Then adults slowing but not stopping their cars,
though I could crawl to the road if they called me.
Then all the pink mouths. Fruit punch mouths
showing evidence of every drink and sauce.

He left a little volcano near my eye,
clotted with ashen blood. So similar
to the smoke-plant pods I’d walk through burrs to get,
opening and closing their little mouths to watch their magic.
I tried to cover it with my hair, press it away
with cold-water toilet paper.
These people can do whatever they want to me.
How long have they been doing whatever,
like I’m a hated dishtowel, mildewed and carried in pinches.
They want to set me by the burner while they stand at the sink.

“Hey Niggerface, come here with that big forehead.
Let us rest our candle on it,” the night the block lights
went out. “Let us burn you. How long would it take
to burn you?” Their spit from behind fences when I passed:
it mostly stayed on chain links, thick and white and full
of the same something that kept me from looking
at my whole face at once. The dogs they displayed
with bared teeth: “Big Red bites through basketballs.”
A demonstration. The dog sent after me,
they screaming hysterically
when the animal stopped short.
The dog might snap its teeth for show.
What restrains it, what propels its owners.



Devotional with Misheard Lyrics

There are so many boys from other realms
running in your hallway.
It’s been a while since I heard spirits pacing,
chasing each other.
No little horses galloping in the sink
or whinnying in the walls, either.
We are in the habit of discussing nightmares.
I recall a pair of sullen eyes.
There are women who kill themselves twice.
I’ve met and disregarded them: Your name,
your name again?
My heart is filed to a point, heavy tip,
heavy blade, light handle, no sheath.
Unzip me and I’ll be the same,
just softer, lighter-skinned underneath,
my face and feet the same color,
no blemishes, too much hair.
I feel like my force field is on high power.
I should drink more water.

Afternoon and evening pass, a sequence
of minor tremors in my wrists, forearms.
An algorithm reduces me to one sentence:
I am such a long day.
I’m often tired with my eleven o’clock.
I force a ten into a coin machine
and put all my silver monies
in my breast pocket. My heart is heavy
on the bottom again. When exiting,
I see a woman holding many bags.
She’s tired, I think. Let me move, let me wait.
It’s a reflection. I’m the woman
with Monday-night bags hanging off her wrists.
I smell like figs. Boiled figs.
In Somali, timid sounds like date.
Americans confuse dates and figs.
I can’t eat twice with a man who does this.
You just want to be adored, you said,
then came next to worship over dinner,
rubbery plantains, and two women,
blushing and listening to you praise me:
If it were permissible to exalt
a mortal, you. You didn’t say that.
I’m the most romantic man I know.
I’m only simple in this: I need two-arm hugs.
I sing in the street, small blasphemy
in the diaphragm’s dome:
My lover’s not human. Amen.
At the shrine of your light,
like a dog, like a dog.




I want us to finish before this computer screen sleeps.
I want to make a video and play it on a loop, let it ruin our dinner.
I want to tell you I had a nightmare about Oscar Grant’s murder before it happened.
I want you to believe me and turn me over and over. Say: This hole? This one?
Cover them all. Fill my mouth so I stop tasting blood.
I want to dream we’re miniature people on a watermelon rind, rocking rocking.
I want to walk into a field at night, close our eyes and mouths
so the searchlights can’t find us. I want you to hold me in the grass,
and later, point at the drowned ants, our hides raw from mosquito bites.
I want you to recite your lineage. Let us make formal prayers for the names we forget,
for the ones that history took. Let us pray from the heart for the blood they took from us.
I want to give you my history of blood, of dirt, of police,
of teachers, of social workers, then laugh with all our teeth showing.
I want you to time travel and make cards and bracelets for the little girl inside me
who watched A Time to Kill and never healed.
I want you to try to braid my hair and really mess up.
I want you to braid my hair and make perfect parts.

I want to preside over the new Pan-African Congress,
daydream between sessions of honeysuckle drying in your beard.
I want to feel you with my hand or foot under the welcome table.
I want us to ooh! like Michael and yeow! like Prince.
I want you to bring me to incoherence. I want to keep you up
and ride into levity. I want to sing: I get so weak in the knees
off key because my voice is hoarse from screaming.
I want to sing all the breakdowns I know, and feel their meanings.
I want us to get caught in one of Diana’s closets, in her silks and satins.
I want to play our parents’ records with eyes closed, smile and sway like Stevie.
I want us to procreate ourselves, thereby knowing our folks, finally.
I want to whine, for you to put your hand over my mouth: No Woman, No.
I want us to stay home as the others build Babel, and turn to rubble.
I want to imagine Sheba revealing her ankles, ready to wade in water.
I want to wade in mine. I want to go until our biology stops us.
I want to almost go too far then stop
since Obamacare isn’t as comprehensive as he hoped.
I want you to steal all my oils so you can smell like a shaman, too.
Let’s go visit the pharaohs in museums wearing linens and scare people.
I want you to croon Wyclef’s “9-1-1,” and let me rub your back
and what shows when your pants are sagging.
I want to hum “A Change is Gonna Come” with you in my mouth.
I want you against the hot and breathing grill of a truck or cop car.
I want you to cry falsetto tears if I start to leave you, better run to me
like the notes in the first seventeen seconds of Donny’s “Song for You.”
I want to take a beat for our parents’ pain, give them moody grandchildren.
I want to wake up looking like Edward Scissorhands shaped my Afro.
I want you to minister to me in the morning, pull us under the comforter
so the neighbors and the walls and our devices can’t hear,
and call each other by our secret names,
gasp: I can’t breathe I can’t breathe I can’t breathe I can’t breathe


All text and images excerpted from the first story (“In Which We Are Introduced to Winnie-the-Pooh and Some Bees, and the Stories Begin”) in the original Winnie-the-Pooh, written by A.A. Milne, illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard (1926).

Ladan Osman is the author of Exiles of Eden, winner of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and The Kitchen-Dweller’s Testimony, winner of the Sillerman Prize. She has received fellowships from Cave Canem, the Lannan Foundation, and the Michener Center. Her work in film includes Sam Underground, The Ascendants, and Sun of the Soil. She is a 2021 Whiting Award honoree and lives in New York. More from this author →