Denver (poem)

Toluwanimi Obiwole

Theres still a 7-eleven on almost every corner

The parking lot of Chubby’s is still a popular hang out for angry pigeons

And at night under the beam of the full moon and the crackling buzz of the street signs along federal

The tumbleweeds rustle unbothered, and Denver is still the Wild West

My blood has known the easy wave of palm leaves and Lagos beaches from the

womb I didn’t know what a cowboy was until the age of eleven

This rocky desert doesn’t quite know what to do with my skin

my hair breaks in protest

But my spirit

recognizes these mountains like kin

Before Kerouac lost his mind walking the length of colfax

Before the KKK march on larimer

Before larimer

Before marajuana legalization

Before baby doe and wyatt earp

Before the sand creek massacre

and capitol hill

Chief ouray did not want the white man to build on his land

Fought to keep the sweetgrass wild beneath his people’s feet

Held the hand of the devil only when the bodies started piling up

Construction cranes and New York glass cast shadows on neighborhoods whose histories are

being churned into currency

There’s no difference between gentrification and the gold rush

Whoever said Denver had no ghettos

Never realized interment is synonymous with erasure

Denver can play the part of adoptive mother so well

That we forget who she first gave birth to

For every “native” bumper sticker slapped on the back of a prius

There’s an Apache grandmother who had to lose her language to bend that word into existence

under the chipping paint of our historic homes

There are names that were deemed too poor or too brown for remembrance


gets too expensive

when home

turns into a house with “character”

And safety

Is delighting in Spanish street names

While driving out the paletta carts to keep property value


About a ‘hood with trendy ethnic restaurants

And trimmed lawns

Cannot connect you to a land you don’t know

You have to dig your fingers in the earth for that

Get comfortable with the skeletons buried next to the flower roots in your backyard

In the last five years my city has swallowed up anyone with enough money for a ski pass, dispensary membership and the dream

And spat out the ones who couldn’t afford to keep up with progress

Tell me the difference between displacement and disappearing

When did we let community become optional in the face of the American Dream?

Does anyone remember when property tax didn’t cost a whole spirit?

Does your tia still live in her old house?

Is there a bike path where your ancestors used to pray?

Do you remember seeing faces like yours in your neighborhood?

Do you have hope that you will again?

As long as there are those who will always remember the highlands

As the North side

Montbello doesn’t stop fighting for its food rights

And the front range peaks are never afraid that the skyscrapers will eclipse them

In Denver we gather together like devotees under the saving glow of candle vigils and poetry readings


In the knowing of each other

And the sharing of soul

We make a home

Copyright © 2019 Toluwanimi Obiwole. Commissioned by Grantmakers in the Arts for this issue of the Reader.

Toluwanimi Obiwole is a Nigerian-born, Colorado-raised poet, performer, and workshop facilitator based in Denver. She is a Brave New Voices international slam champion, a city slam champion, and author of an upcoming chapbook. She has been a member of the Denver Minor Disturbance youth poetry team. In 2015, she was announced as Denver’s first Youth Poet Laureate, and in 2016, she became co-executive director of Slam Nuba.