August 21–27, 2023
Nadia Adebayo is a queer Yoruba writer, performing artist and shapeshifting hustler born and raised in the Great Lakes region, where she currently resides. They have been a featured poet with the Kalamazoo Poetry Festival and Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative, among others. In 2022, Adebayo received a fellowship from Hugo House and was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow for study in I.S. Jones’s workshop on the aubade and poetry of grief.
Author photo by @coriblck
Closing Time Angel
The closing time angel watches
over me. She makes sure I’m safe
on my drunk walk home when men
pass by me: all strangers, usually
singing. She taps me on the back
when I drop my bike-lock key, says
Hey, girl. I think you dropped this.
She stays two steps behind me,
barely hovering over our concrete
with no attempt to meet my stride.
When I text my former lovers, she
sucks her teeth with a head-tilt to
me, halo chiming in time. Fruitless.
My scalp catches rain, the girls
who fell sloppy and fast from
above. I catch one in my hand:
she slides down my palm, her
tiny hands pressed in prayer.
Tonight, I am my own angel.
I don’t drop my bike-lock keys.
I discover every lost thing again.
The liquor store fluorescent light
illuminates all shirt stains, all ugly
gum. The cans and bottles will fall
into place, posed in glass cases
to whisper Take me, I’m right here.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
I’ve worked in the restaurant service industry for about ten years. It’s the kind of work that makes it very easy to abuse alcohol to make the night pass by, and when I first moved to Chicago, I often would. I would also drop things constantly, a habit from my adolescence, but they would always find their way back to me. I don’t believe in persistent guardian angels, but I do think once my shift was over for the night, an angel’s shift would begin. In this poem, I wanted to imagine a world where I’m less hypervigilant because we live free of the persistent patriarchal violence that makes any walk home at night feel risky. The first draft was written in 2019; I’m currently sober from alcohol, and I think the second-to-last stanza reflects my truth today.
If you’ve ever worked in a bar, you see how people behave in public after a certain hour, when they would normally be in private. I could see people less inhibited and more willing to embody what they’re trying to escape—loneliness, desire, boredom—and I wanted to capture that, too.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on exploring dance as a way of getting out of my head and into my body—I’ve always communicated with words, so I’m relearning how to speak through movement arts, specifically burlesque.
I am trying to remain committed to my newsletter, and am laying the bricks for my first chapbook, but it feels slowed by the pace of summer. It’s harder to accomplish projects without material support or a mentor.
What’s a good day for you?
A day free of responsibility and full of leisure. If I eat something delicious enough, that easily qualifies my day as good.
Where’s home for you? How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other places you’ve lived?
Every place I’ve lived is home: Detroit is where I was born; Warren is where I grew up; Kalamazoo is where I found a voice; Chicago is where I became myself. Everyone says “the food” for a reason, but I would add “the people” here as well.
The access to Lake Michigan is divine and increasingly necessary. I wanted to move here as a teenager, but I didn’t know what this city really felt like because I’d only come as a tourist. Downtown Chicago is like the theme-park version of the larger city, so those dreams were based in fantasy (aren’t they all?) but I’m very grateful that my plans to come here came true.
I feel sensitive about commenting on changes here—I only recently felt like I became a local and I live on the north side of the city, so my perspective is limited. I can say rent is rising out of control here, like most places. The only way I can compare it to other places I’ve lived is scale; it’s just so damn big. You could spend all day on CTA if you wanted to. You could live in the same city and basically have a long-distance relationship.
Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.
Never visited Brooklyn, but I would love to.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that where you live? Why or why not?
A poetry community, to me, is a group of people, near or far, who meet regularly or semi-regularly to co-create and workshop. I haven’t found that where I live, but I think that’s a matter of time and trust. As an artist, I’m not particularly career-oriented and I find the drive to become “established” obscures the purpose of this work for me; my goal as a youth was catharsis, and that hasn’t changed much. I would love to be part of a poetry community of fellow messy b*tches who want to exorcize the drive to prove themselves.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
My writing ancestors are June Jordan, Lucille Clifton, Zora Neale Hurston, Audre Lorde and Ntozake Shange. I don’t know if I’ve ever had specific mentors, but I’ve had teachers and fellow poets who have helped me see the light of my own work and taught me to take my voice seriously. Shoutout to Ephraim Scott Sommers for his encouragement and belief in me despite many lovesick first drafts and Elizabyth Hiscox for her lessons on how to write towards your darkness and ghosts.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire. The opening poem, “Extreme Girlhood,” absolutely wrecks me every time. My favorite subgenre of work can be described as “the omen in women”—Angelica Jade Bastién has written about madwomen in media, and it’s a topic I find myself returning to time and time again.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
This feels like a trick question because there are so many! I can never find myself making it all the way through In the Wake by Christina Sharpe; I often pause to take notes or search something or have a nice, long cry. That book is a brilliant work, one imbued with so much richness and care.
Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?
Definitely a chaotic reader. I read fiction cover to cover because narrative seizes my attention. I like to read theory, but I can’t sit and read an entire book of it without taking notes and pausing. I discover my next read at random, though I think I’m at capacity for new books in my life. I prefer physical books, but can stand digital texts, and recently I’m relishing the ease of audiobooks. And I take notes, but how useful is a note you can’t read after you’ve written it? I have such chicken-scratch handwriting, especially when I’m excited.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
Formally, I would like to write a tanka or contrapuntal. I love forms that borrow from music.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
By Lake Michigan, on patios, when I’m on the subway. It’s never a bad time to write at least one line down, on paper, on my phone. Just so I won’t forget.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate endless sky unyielding,
And what I remember of you, of us:
we threw our hands up to its skin
with hard-earned laughter,
for every cackle fueled me
as good as it once freed you.