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Content Warning: Everything

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The first book of poems from an acclaimed young author, whose meteoric rise has already landed them on the cover of Time Magazine.

In their bold debut poetry collection, Akwaeke Emezi—award-winning author of Freshwater, PET, The Death of Vivek Oji,and Dear Senthuran—imagines a new depth of belonging. Crafted of both divine and earthly materials, these poems travel from home to homesickness, tracing desire to surrender and abuse to survival, while mapping out a chosen family that includes the son of god, mary auntie, and magdalene with the chestnut eyes. Written from a spiritfirst perspective and celebrating the essence of self that is impossible to drown, kill, or reduce, Content Warning: Everything distills the radiant power and epic grief of a mischievous and wanting young deity, embodied.

ISBN-13: 9781556596292

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Copper Canyon Press

Publication Date: 04-05-2022

Pages: 64

Product Dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.30(d)

Akwaeke Emezi (they/them) is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Death of Vivek Oji, which was a finalist for the Dylan Thomas Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the PEN/Jean Stein Award; Pet,a finalist for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, a Walter Honor Book, and a Stonewall Honor Book; Freshwater, which was named a New York Times Notable Book and shortlisted for the PEN/Hemingway Award, the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award, the Lambda Literary Award, and the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize; and most recently, Dear Senthuran: A Black Spirit Memoir. Their debut poetry collection, Content Warning: Everything, their debut romance novel, You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty, and their next young adult novel, Bitter, are forthcoming in 2022. Selected as a 5 Under 35 honoree by the National Book Foundation, they are based in liminal spaces.

Read an Excerpt

content warning: everything

if anyone had taken the time when i was twelve to examine the split skin under my father's razor surely they would have seen the face of christ in the blood or in the scabs or the pale scars as i survived my neighbor's hands his son's hands and up in appalachia the white clots smearing on jonatan's dick my panic the calm in his voice as he teaches the child he's raping that discharge is normal was christ in those sheets bring me the children he said and all of it called for a life of faith like scars snaking where breasts used to be a life of holiness death drifting by in emergency rooms the man who told me to kill myself raping me in a narrow shower hurt so much less than the one who wanted me to live telling me about their baby is it sacrilegious to say i would rather be savaged again than lied to i rose from my death that followed what wars have been fought on me what hauntings i carry in the blaze of unspeakable light look at me through tears of blood through the healing flesh fall on your knees beautify me canonize me mark me full of blasphemy give me an army for what the fire has made of me you have been seeking wonders in all the wrong places now here, gaze upon me! i am the fucking miracle

july 28

will i remember moments like this, standing on grass, the sky yawning over me swahili beating out of speakers, dancing with a crowd of strangers wondering how love has done nothing more to my body other than deform the left side of my chest will i remember brooklyn, the shocking beauty of a lighted train running above ground and against the sky, before night wraps around fulton an old woman kissing the bus driver’s cheek green tennis balls poured over the courts on malcolm x a little black girl i do not know shouting adios amigo as she crosses the street the smell of a roti shop, silk sliding on my arms yellow kitchens, guavas and parathas a white box fan whirring in our last summer

self portrait as asughara

who ran through a window and the glass spat birthmarks on her neck

no one can see them but me, they whip around her throat like his hands

what if magdalene seduced me

she hunts me with her chestnut eyes and i see why jesus loved her most, vessel to seven demons, left with interesting spaces, apostle to the apostles, after five days i would follow her anywhere

‘tell me what you want,’ magdalene says, then catches my skin as it starts to crawl away, sings a song about staying, wraps her brown arms around my neck when i begin to cry

i stand no chance against her, apostle of apostles, all she does is show up and there is nothing she fears after the place of the skull, she trains my flesh away from years of recoil, steady as death

we don’t tell mary auntie or my mother, joseph uncle sees us one night and lowers his gaze, i keep magdalene away from my father’s eyeline

it is strange, loving someone who doesn’t try to kill you

i tell her this and magdalene weeps into my hair


when i first came out i called myself bi a queer tangle of free form dreads my mother said i was sick and in a dark place my father said i would get AIDS my father-in-law stopped speaking to me my marriage had been folded open its spine cracked my husband returned to snow in his sinuses my childhood friend screamed over the phone what was the point of getting married my brother said you can’t live in that bubble in new york the real world is not like that but it’s a lie there are no real worlds you can live in whatever bubble you like a diving bell made of tender glass clap your hands if they said you’re too sensitive if they beat you because they could because you should be tougher harder gra gra ghen ghen an igbo man in my friend’s home laughs and holds my food out of reach i am so tired my friend holds me in the bathroom as i cry the next day he apologizes says he likes my name but he’ll never give it to his daughter because he wants her to be strong not like me i don’t tell him how little he matters how i have his type at home how they already raised me with blows across the face a belt in a doorway a velvet child upholstered in incoherent rage one day a coward who will break my heart asks me how i ended up still so soft i tell him i am stubborn i wanted a better world a diving bell made of tender glass a better family i remembered how to be a god i give myself what i want no one raises their voice in my house no one lays their fleshy hands on me no one is cruel if they are fool enough to try then they die and what a death what a death to not be loved by me anymore the softest gate-opener i feast on torn herbs and fat gold the wet smear of a perfect yolk seeds burst purple beneath my hands a pulped satsuma bleeds dark juice into my mouth who knew i could love me so loudly who knew i would survive who knew their world meant nothing meant nothing meant nothing look when i last came out i called myself free.

what if jesus was my big brother

when i am ten and no one is looking, he walks the width of the swimming pool just to make me smile. his feet are dry when he steps off the surface, turquoise shimmering in his wake.

no one makes fun of me at home. i never pick up my father’s razor. he turns my water into ribena, sweetness rushing against the wet membranes of my cheek.

when i am twenty and homesick, he comes up to boston to visit, brings me one loaf of agege bread and a tin of sardines. we eat it for a week, soft and oily like our hearts.

we don’t want to die. i’ve fallen in love with a girl. i want to drop out of school. he tells me about magdalene and her chestnut eyes.

our parents leave us steel voicemails about duty.

neither of us return their calls.

i was born in a great length of river

if i run the water at full bludgeoning force it takes the bathtub thirteen minutes to fill twenty seconds for the bath bomb to dissolve eleven if i stir, four seconds for epsom salts i sink as deep as i can, involve my lungs it takes nothing if i add nothing

when i was nine, i could hold my breath for seventy-five seconds, i practiced in class practiced underwater from one end of the pool to the other, the long way, i held the air deep in my stomach, ballooned it into my cheeks let it out in small measured hisses, i rationed it

in ghana twenty years later, i tripped on a rock while trying to leave the ocean and got seized by the quick tide, it tossed and sucked me, i couldn’t stand, so instead i curled against its floor as waves battered over my head, i held my breath and i did not die, do you hear? i did not die what i’m saying is, it doesn’t matter which water i will never know what it’s like to drown


the safest place in the world is a book is a shifting land on top of a tree so high up that a belt can’t reach is a closet opening into snow with a tropical child tumbling through is a river, a mermaid, a spaceship a girl with living tentacles for hair is a red horn gold feathered angel a dusty crocodile on a second star is a fractional platform, another family one with only soft mothers and aunts is a meadow, is a menu of worlds an oxygen mask, chest compressions is a map for someone who has died many times, and wants to come back.

Table of Contents

What if my mother met mary 3

Christening 4

Disclosure 6

Achilles had his heel 7

Please don't remind me we're ghosts 8

What if jesus was my big brother 9

I think my father is dying 10

July 28 12

Thief 13

Self-portrait as asughara 14

Folding for a cruel man 15

Confession 16

Excommunication 18

What if mary auntie called me on my birthday 19

Fuck me in a fresh grave 20

"But why did you feel you had to kill yourself, baby love?" 21

Self-portrait as a cannibal 22

Scraps 23

Sanctuary 24

What if magdalene seduced me 25

Healing 26

I thought i could be well 27

Thousands 28

Ashawo 29

When the hurricane comes the men protect their brothers 30

What if jesus sought vengeance 31

Parallel 32

I was born in a great length of river 33

What if mary auntie explained mortality 34

Self-portrait as an angel 35

Oh delilah 36

I was alone beyond measure 37

What if my father called jesus a bastard 38

Mourning 40

Self-portrait as an abuser 41

Salvation 42

Content warning: everything 43

Self-portrait as a god who is loved 44

What if my family came to the hospitals 45

About the author 47