cover image Stray


Bernard Farai Matambo. Univ. of Nebraska, $17.95 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-1-4962-0558-2

Matambo deconstructs the tense and often contradictory immigrant experience in his excellent debut collection, winner of the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets. Matambo, a Zimbabwean emigrant to the U.S., addresses racism in stark and original terms, and his anecdotes transpose memory and allegory. In the quietly raging “Ota Benga Returns to the Congo,” he ruminates on the Congolese man kept captive as an early-20th-century Bronx Zoo exhibit: “I too wish I could dance myself free./ I have the feeling I’ve lived in the empire of the zoo/ before.” He also references Guinean emigrant Amadou Diallo, killed by the NYPD in 1999. Matambo expresses the plaintive desire to be granted the future that Diallo was not: “I want to be someone among the plenty of the world,/ among the feathers of things.” Matambo’s personal history is rooted in religion and memories of his father’s indiscretions: “The glow that shed off him tangled good women,/ sweet music, and tar.” The prose poems that occupy the text’s core investigate a Zimbabwe on the cusp of oblivion. “Birds fell out of the sky midflight,” he writes, and “squads of famished children marauded the night door to door.” Matambo delivers an emotionally searing account of yearning—a homesickness for a home that may only exist as a fantasy. (Mar.)