Uninterrupted Refuge

By Kemi Role

Two images side by side: 1) A Black woman smiling with hands raised above her head. 2) A Black woman smiling with arms outstretched, outside in a backyard.

the author’s mother

(Left) Photo courtesy of Kemi Role; (Right) Photo by Nirav Patel
[ID: (Left) A Black woman is smiling with hands raised above her head and wearing an emerald green turtleneck and blue jeans. She is in an apartment living room. (Right) A Black woman is smiling wearing a metallic orange gele and bright blue top and skirt wrap adorned with gold leaves. She is outside in a backyard surrounded by performers in a Nigerian wedding ceremony.]


dear Mum,

the tv is on, endlessly buzzing about the furious snowstorm barreling onto roofs

in this overheated Atlanta apartment you remain mostly on the sofa, swaddled by that hulking heather gray blanket

bones still frail subtly masked by your emerald sweater that hangs a little too loosely across your neck

your frame so small, past near death but the whisper of death still lingering.

it’s the third day of this christmastime visit

three families gather

California, Georgia, Tennessee, but Nigeria binds us.

the togetherness seems to power your limbs or maybe it’s that damn P-Square song that stays on repeat

and then there you are in the midst of a rowdy circle of mostly twenty-somethings

that sweet sly smile as you laugh dropping low to the ground

Momz to the ground tho?

there’s a little bit of victory i see.


dear Mum,

you say these neighbors are going to KNOW where I’m from today with a pleased defiance

this backyard of immigrant dreams

speaker blasting Ebenezer Obey Iyanla Lágbájá and on

once again you’re encircled

the alaga, the drummers, friends in bright blue purple aso-ebi

the brightness stamping the backyard walls weaving around your rose bushes.

you dance the decades and decades in this country

dressing your children in an inconspicuous corner of Murtala Muhammed to flee and to arrive

everything remembered as labored breaths swallow your delight.


oh but dear Mum,

you in the most common of rooms

home shopping network humming as backdrop, the warm light overheard peering into the circular glass top of the dining room table

that sony tabletop black CD boombox nearby ready to host this dance party of one

and today it’s PM Dawn and then it’s Janet and then it’s more Janet

then that specific Fela album and then it’s your beloved P-Square.

sometimes i wander into the kitchen, drawn by the echo of your faded pink indoor slippers, glance at the forgotten stew simmering on the stove and look over to you

your eyes closed, wrists swinging extended above your head

shoulders laughing half turn to meet my gaze

beams of sweat resting on your folded upper lip, you point your hands to steal my heart

then turn back to that dancing, to that joy

uninterrupted refuge.


– Kemi Role

This article appeared in the Spring 2023 issue of In Dance.

Kemi Role is a writer and poet drawn to explorations of family, grief, migration, and what it means to be present. Kemi has been blessed to spend almost the last twenty years working in spaces building towards racial and gender justice and worker power. Kemi is nourished by beloved family and community and quiet alone time watching the same movies on repeat.