Richard Prins


Richard Prins is a New Yorker who sometimes lives in Dar es Salaam. He received his MFA degree in poetry from New York University. His work appears in Los Angeles Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Rattle, Redivider and Transition Magazine.


In Swahili, "mzungu," the word for a white person, originates from the verb "zunguka,”
meaning "go around in circles,” as early colonists seemed to do.

Flick. My spirit
cracks, pearls

of oil in a slim green tube. Globe
blurring on my fingertip. Spin,

pluck. Mudsucked babies
scream when they see me

land. I come in spheres,
convince fears. Of snow

men melting their capes.
Skin, a rare license plate,

sucking glare. I wish
I could burn less

quick. I race
sky up a cliff.

‘Zunguka’ began as an etymological meditation on a word, ‘mzungu,’ that has enchanted me ever since it was first hurled my way at the age of 17, volunteering in rural Kenya. As the word's origins prophesy, I have made frequent return trips to East Africa since then, in several different guises (student, writer, consultant, tourist). Currently I'm advising a Dar es Salaam based entertainment company on the production of Swahili hip-hop events. This means I am still called ‘mzungu’ by observant strangers on a daily basis—and still enjoy navigating that identity. Writing ‘Zunguka’ was a way to explore language, race, culture, climate and history—all the commingled shocks and yearnings of my foreign life.