brown earth lessons

by Ashia Ajani


My ancestors were the first environmentalists

My grandmother arthritic hands

Caressed the world of eco-friendly practice

With the same tenderness she patched up old clothes for rewear

And wrote doctor appointments on lightly used napkins

Because for us earth was never an afterthought

Because for us  sustainable was survival

Plastic bags make excellent lunch sacks

Shower caps and gift bags

Empty butter tubs turn into motels for leftovers

And if you’re using cooking grease once

You’re doing it wrong


I get a high just thinking about

The scent of coconut balm melting into wrinkled palms

As they dried my soft baby hair with old t shirts

How pleasant the memory is of restoration

Nothing gets thrown away because it is still useful in the afterlife

Empty glass bottles once containing ginger beer and olive oil

Become marigold containers

Isn’t it so funny how we cultivate flowers of death

In a house that contained so much life?


When my grandmother passed on

The house became a mausoleum

Everything preserved and crystallized as I grew

The lessons learned washing off my back like tap water

Mainstream feminism chokes the life out of ancestral knowledge  

Her broken back bleeding as you turn from her

In search of another acceptance that is maybe less sweet

But more validated

The white girls who made fun of me

In elementary school for bringing leftovers for lunch

Are the same eco-feminists who prey on black and brown land

And call it salvation

Who bear breasts and sing “This Land is Our Land”

As if the lyric and the dirt weren’t both stolen

As if eco-feminism isn’t yet another movement that’s been co-opted


Never acknowledging the privilege necessary for the means

That kale and collard greens are sister plants

One just lives a couple blocks south than the other

Are you too busy treating our hoods like your playground

To read up on how food apartheids are plaguing Black communities  


It is so easy to cast judgement on others

While you hide behind a choice and pick your teeth with an agenda

I mean, reusable pads and menstrual panties ain’t nothing new

Just capitalized brown folks work

Who clean their own messes and are one with the Goddess


Even I have betrayed my upbringing

I throw away old newspapers as though the ink were poison

And food waste has become a running joke

Among my selfish fingers and the trash can

It is so easy for me to forget

So easy for me to take my stepping stool and leave

So easy for me to unplug the drain and not worry

About water to soak the greens

Wash the dishes

And clean the floor


My grandmother’s shame

Making the hairs on the back of my neck rise

As if I am so close to healing

But not quite there yet


I like to think that if I am honest about my shortcomings

I make room to be forgiven in the next life

That when my flesh finally becomes nourishment

For something smaller than I could ever wish to become

And wildflowers sprout from my hollowed ribcage

I can give back all I have taken

And become dust

The finest truth  

A soft kiss from the ancestors as if to say

Baby, come back home


Ashia Ajani


                                                                contributor, 2018 third edition


Ashia Ajani is a junior Environmental Studies major at Yale College. She is the incoming co-president of WORD: Spoken Word at Yale. She is a Minor Disturbance Denver Youth Poetry alumni. She was awarded honorable mention in poetry for the 2015 National YoungArts. She is currently working on a chapbook.