Excerpt: Cistem Bleed Out by Nick Hadikwa Mwaluko from On Violence (Edited by Rebecca Jagoe & Sharon Kivland)

Preamble by Rebecca Jagoe & Sharon Kivland

VIOLENCE IS IN LANGUAGE AND VIOLENCE IS LANGUAGE. The violence of language stratifies voices into those that matter and those that do not, using ideas of appropriate form and structure as its weaponry. It claims propriety and politeness are the correct mode of address, when urgency and anger are what is needed. Where languages intersect, hierarchies of language become means for domination and colonization, for othering, suppression, negation, and obliteration. The demand for a correctness of grammar, the refusal to see what is seen as incorrect, the dismissal of vernacular in favour of the homogenised tongue: all are violent. The narrative of history is a narrative of violence. The contributions herein refuse this narrative. They explore how violence permeates and performs in language, how language may be seized, taken back to be used against the overwhelming force of structural and institutional violence that passes as acceptable or normal. Violence may be a force for rupture, for refusal, for dissent, for the herstories that refuse to cohere into a dominant narrative.

shoulders. voice. feeling the initial bodily surge almost immediately. awaiting public confirmation when out of nowhere—Sir, a stranger says to me three days after my first t-shot. i smile; miracles do come in three-letter words.

Sir. this time it’s two plainclothes cops who stop me at the mouth of a busy local subway station downtown. they say i didn’t pay my fare. No, I did i argue, but suddenly stop short of proving my point because i’m nervous my voice hasn’t deepened enough to talk with cis men, especially white ones in authority. both cops could be a gay couple, read: more fascist fuckers than flowery faggots, translation: trigger-happy, subtext: they were assigned to my neighborhood not to serve or protect but to publicly terrorise people who look like me. i police myself, backing away slowly slowly even slower, avoiding eye contact, making me even more suspect in their eyes. but i’m qtpoc, translation: not male enough, not female enough for their rugged binary so how black am i given the circumstances?

handcuffed. not allowed to ask questions. searched, frisked, not allowed to rage. never read my rights. my gender is black. never shown a police badge nor proof the police are who they say they are. my gender is black. by contrast, my driver’s license, all my identification plus personals are confiscated immediately. my gender is black. dumped into a mysterious minivan. not told where I’m going. my gender is black. can’t ask, Where are you taking me? my gender is black. unhandcuffed. dumped into a holding tank. rehandcuffed. dumped into a private cell. unhandcuffed, rehandcuffed, unhandcuffed. dumped into a much larger holding tank. all-male with two armed guards sitting at a nearby empty desk watching over us, guns ablaze thanks to light streams pouring dreamlike from a tiny window upstairs. i’d say dropped headfirst into a dingy dungeon for limitless confusion to swirl about forever is the desired effect. i’m scared, i’ll admit it, but also excited because A) i’ve never been grouped with so many cis men, and B) i never went to jail in my other body but it’s what? less than a week into my transition and i’m behind bars locked inside a cage like an animal. if this isn’t “black male privilege” then what is, right? i mean, how much more proof do i need to finally, finally claim with confidence i am a black man in America. #celebration

two black guys who’ve been to prison before tell us step-by-step exactly what to do. Yeah, we get arrested every week, they laugh.
Every week? someone asks.
it spins a wild dance bouncing barefoot before swallowed by our dingy echo chamber: Arrested Arrested every week every week every week. 
Yup, they laugh. a mexican kid who hasn’t spoken word one in english only spanish, can’t stop crying.
We’ll see a judge. You tell that judge you’re guilty.
What if you’re not?
eyeroll. delusional questions like that demean group morale down to drops but both black guys figured eons ago that the rest of us are newborns taking tiny baby-steps down a long, bumpy, mysterious path so they proceed gently.
Doesn’t matter if you’re innocent or not, you tell that judge guilty.
Then what?
It stays on your record for six months to a year tops. 
Then what? 
They take it off. Expunged. Sounds like executed, they laugh.
i laugh. the mexican kid looks up, cracks a beautiful smile.

Who is this?
I’m in jail.
Who am I talking to?
i tell her.
What happened to your voice?
i tell her Hormones.
Mom? You there?
long pause then, Yeah? 
I’m in jail. 
she hangs up.
i call back. she picks up her phone thank god, screaming:
You’re such a fucken asshole, know that? D’you know how much of an asshole you are? 
I know, alright?, I know…
D’you really?!
I jus’ said I know I’m an asshole Mom but—
So you admit you’re a pathetic piece of shit on the face of this fucken earth?! 
Will you shut the fuck up for one sec—
What am I supposed to do, huh? Tell me, what in God’s name do you want from me now? 
Please don’t, I’m begging, don’t hang up on me Mom, I’m in—
she hangs up. i call her back. she hangs up again. i call again and again again again when the guard strolls over, Time’s up, so i put the phone down.

my mom hates me because i’m queer. the cops hate me because i’m black. the black guys in my jail cell trust me because i’m in jail. the mexican trusts me because he’s in jail. i worry their trust will turn when they find out i’m queer. i can’t trust my masculinity as much as my blackness so i become more black to become less queer to become more masculine to become more male to secure more trust. hard to know the proper dose of blackness for my level of masculinity, especially given my circumstances. to be or not to be the nigger, that is the current question. the next question is: how much of a nigger should the nigger be? meaning, what’s the healthiest dose of queer faggotry for my current level of blackness? my father, well, i don’t know but i trust his and my mother’s dna inform my masculinity enough to silence my post-butch-pre-trans identity but i can’t know for sure. and i can’t trust that my cisness will protect, read: erase some of my history or at least not reveal that i once walked the planet as a post-butch-pre-trans-tomboi. i don’t know if passing is enough when realness gets you arrested. i’m thinking the judge will hate me because he’s a racist and i’m just another black man in the cistem cistem cistem, say it:
i am a black man i am a black man i am a black man i am a black man i am a blac

Edited by Rebecca Jagoe & Sharon Kivland

Trans, queer, NB (non-binary), NICK HADIKWA MWALUKO has published two books, WAAFRIKA and WAAFRIKA 1-2-3. Nick is a 2018 shortlisted finalist for the Gerald Kraak Award. Nick graduated Magna Cum Laude at Columbia University for undergraduate and completed an MFA at Columbia University as a Point Scholar, the nation’s largest LGBTQIA scholarship fund, and was awarded a Columbia University Fellowship at the same time. Nick was selected for the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop but dropped out. They/Them/He/Him are Nick’s current pronouns but Nick’s gender is Nick.

On Violence is published by Ma Bibliothèque. The editors and Minor Literature[s] would like to acknowledge the entire list of contributors:


Image (cover): Candice Lin, Untitled (Study for Human Pig Corporation), 2017, Ink and watercolor on paper. Courtesy of the artist.