Chelene Knight: from Braided Skin


A once promising land—evaporating. The people abolished, divided and shaken by the expulsion, the elimination. The threat of an ethnic cleansing of the Indian minority hovered over

Asian carpenters, mechanics, shoemakers and tailors—the middlemen flail in the political winds. Minority eyes must speak: Identify yourself; breakthrough for Uganda.

Kampala—tombs of kabakas have woven thatched roofs that swoop to a point high above the straw-laden floors, lending a cathedral-like silence to the sacredness of the earth below

where royal attendants continually watched over the remains of their dead kings. Kampala—the arched and pillared windows were endless.

Nestled behind sundown, rests an Indian dialect of silks and cottons. Their eyes lettered names like “Patel,” “Desai” and “Bombay Emporium.”

The ashes of Uganda walked many miles and carried their heads.
The walk was tedious work.

It took years. Now, it’s an image left behind.
Why should we wait in line for justice?

Help us begin to drink the pain of Uganda, and one day replant our roots. The mountains appear at sunset, and the hillsides of women flow in the breeze.

The men bring comfort, but their eyes tell stories of death. In their minds, their birth. Precious jewels in a hairdo or turban—confiscated, but still hear tales of escape.

They look back on the homes they built. They look back on the tiny store their grandfather established. Alone in their difficult hours.



For Craig Brewer

Everyone has to contribute a verse. Get it down on paper, on tape, on canvas, on napkin, on palms of hands or on a crumpled-up grocery receipt, get it down. Speak in prose, encrypted simplicity, and wrap words around words like hands wrap thighs. Let brown eyes drink the blue fragrance of voice. Dream that fragrance. Learn. By any means necessary. Tell stories. Tell tales of all the mamas combin’ daughter’s hair. Every morning. Preach that pain, that tightness, that jaw-clenching fierceness that eventually—causes numbness. Look up, see the light even when it hurts to smile, for days and days and days at a time. Remember stories of hair. Your stories. Talk ’bout that separate entity, that journey. What’s my contribution? I’ll answer questions: “Do you braid? Do you do slack plaits? You quick? Where you from?” Let me tell you where I’m from: I’m from my softness, my texture, my smoothness, my smile. I am from my words, my syntax, my mama’s skin-burnin’ hot wax, and I’m from myself. I’m from my hair, my stories—pulled, stretched, curled, loose strands balled up and tossed; I am from every last piece of every last breath—taken and given. I will tell stories, share stories and write stories. By any means necessary. So, you wanna run your fingers through my hair?


Chelene Knight was born in Vancouver and is a graduate of The Writer’s Studio at SFU. She has been published in Sassafras Literary Magazine, Room, emerge 2013, Raven Chronicles, and is a member of the editorial board at Room. Her work is deeply rooted in her experiences of mixed ethnicity. She has been writing poetry and short stories in secret since she was a child. Braided Skin, her first book, has given birth to numerous writing projects, including a work in progress, Dear Current Occupant, a collection of prose poems and letters written in the voice of a young woman speaking to the horrors, sadness and pleasures that took place in the over 20 homes she lived in as a child. Her mother is African American and her father and his family were victims of the Asian expulsion in Uganda that took place in the 70s, where the President at the time, Idi Amin, led a campaign of “de-Indianization”, eventually resulting in the “ethnic cleansing” of Uganda’s Indian minority. Chelene stands strong in her chosen position as a young, hardworking single parent. She lives in Vancouver.

Braided Skin was published by Mother Tongue Publishing: