By Ibe Obasiota Ben
The love I’ve known is the love of / two people staring/ not at each other but in the same direction. — Frank Bidart
I am a deserter. Somewhere, a man speaks to the stars, asks them to lead him to the place where love is birthed, the stars lead him to the homestead. The shorebird tilts its beak to the direction of the wind as if to say, see, love is upon us. Nightly, a greying woman in a forest of pines rips her dress into little blue ribbons, ties each to a tree, calls it a map that leads her lover back to her. Hold these as beacon and scripture: we are in the oasis of each other’s body, P, that is to say nothing holds a riffle against us here, to say we have been made hallowed to thread this garden unafraid of ghosts, to say we emerge from the oceans of each other’s voice leaving footprints of water and desire. It’s night but I cannot look into the full moon of my lover’s eyes and tell him that I love him, that there are parts of me named after our metaphors. Is love sometimes not a splinter? Is love not something of a labyrinth unsolved? Why can’t I be with my lover? I want to believe that love is stiller than grief, that both do not stagger towards the same core. At equilibrium, poems about love are the hardest to defend. A song from the old music box of memories breaks into a sprint in a distance. Orange hues slip through the windows of our hearts . The world: at rest and in motion. My lover names me in a language that only him and I understand. Herein, language connects and disconnects signals of two bodies thereof. All my lover and I do with our words is shift the water of semantics. One of us says: I’m terrible at loving. The other says: I love you. One says: I want us to be forever people. The other says: this love is political and I’m rooting for myself with it. One: give me an autograph. Where on your body do you want it? The other says. One says: sex is a mental activity. The other: if two people say dancing is sex, then it is. One says: I love you. We should take a break. The other says: I love you too. Let’s take a break. I have been throwing pebbles at the world, but the universe does what it always does — rains a silence to wet the heart and lets you cry in the rain. You too are a deserter, Folashade’s boy. How long has it been? Come home now, will you?
Ibe Obasiota Ben is a Nigerian. She has won the Bloomsday Poetry Prize 2020, the African Writers’ Trust Prize 2018 as well as the Briggitte Poirson Poetry Prize (Friendship edition). Her works have appeared on Brittle Paper, Kreative Diadem, Nigerian Students’ Poetry Prize anthology 2019 and elsewhere. She writes from Calabar, Nigeria. Follow her on twitter: @obasiotaibe and on instagram: obasiota ibe.
By Timi Sanni
I arrived at this world already primed for pain—
the hurt, persistent, primal, poised.
Born on the rubble in the wake of the war,
I was no different from that child
birthed in the aftermath of the world’s worst divorce.
The world knew nothing of my birthing,
but everything about the conjugal knife
which came before and thus was senior.
So I learned quickly to tiptoe
around origin and place, fearful
of what mines a misstep might make.
I learned to shut my ears to the music of pain
so that what came opening in blooms
were the red valves of my heart.
But today, my father is dying
beneath this broken bridge
and all those lessons become lesions
whipping me into a wound.
My father speaks
of the towers
in the voice of his wife—
that woman who fled long ago
from cot to comfort.
In the distance, the tall metal ghosts do nothing
but remind me how far we fell from grace.
My father says: once, there was a republic;
no towers, no undercity. He says once,
love was a spirit that walked amongst us
in garbs too green to grab. He says—
And then, I am telling him to stop.
I am lying to him
like I always have. It’s okay, Pa, I say.
It’s okay. Though there is nothing of such
in this place of rust.
What even is okay? Death happens
to memory, and like a fool, I forget
the meaning of words.
My father, dying now at my breast like a child.
What milk do I have to give?
Timi Sanni is a writer, editor, and multidisciplinary artist from Lagos, Nigeria. He is the founder of The Muslim Write Initiative and a member of The Deadliners.
The recipient of the 2021 Anita McAndrews Poetry Contest Award and winner of the 2022 Kreative Diadem Contest, his works appear or are forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, New Delta Review, Cincinnati Review, Lolwe, Wax Nine, and elsewhere.
He is an alumnus of Nairobi Writing Academy, and was an attendee at the Revolutionary Poetics Masterclass with Kaveh Akbar.
In response to Billy Collins’ ‘The First Night’
By Chisom Okafor
I am holding unto the past like a monochrome photograph
to my chest, listening to your heart
beat against mine in this untouched dark
You say something about the past
not holding water anymore,
a forecast of hands, yours,
held against the darkness.
Let them go, you say.
The secret to understanding Einstein’s thoughts on relativity
is not far away from us, you say.
There is an orchard of hearts where ours orbit each other,
against the giant star of death,
and are helmed in by a curvature in space-time,
never falling completely into it,
but never drifting away, too
in an ever-evolving ring of grief.
You read me Jiménez in the fading light,
straining with each stroke of dusk, to catch the printed words
above an insurgency of cataracts, already overtaking
the city of your eyes.
The hardest thing about death,
must be the first night,
And Billy Collins:
you have me wondering
if there will also be a sun and a moon
and will the dead gather to watch them rise and set.
In a parallel universe, when we have tired the sun
with our talking,
and having sent her down the sky,
I see you walk to the gramophone
to play my favorite record —
a gift of dirges from a father to his departing son.
You invite me to a dance,
but my limbs, cachetic tonight, collapse just before
our rhythmic ritual begins.
Chisom Okafor, Nigerian poet, editor and clinical nutritionist, has received nominations for the Brunel International African Poetry Prize and twice for the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets, the Gerald Kraak Prize, the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, The Account, Rattle, Prairie Schooner, A Long House, Salt Hill Journal, Isele Magazine, FIYAH, North Dakota Review and elsewhere He has also received support from the Commonwealth Foundation and presently works as chapbook editor for Libretto Magazine. He tweets @chisomokafor16.
Saturdays in Port Harcourt
By Tope A Larayetan
K’ene onye keni ye n’uwa
is how the weekend calls us in —
how the neighbors tell us
Mommy would show up cradling
brooms, packers, and mops.
Her fingers buried in a plastic bowl
of water waiting to wreak
droplets on our exposed skin.
is how Port Harcourt awakes
from slumber: bright buckets climb
on top of townspeople’s heads
as they flow toward a borehole,
eager for the latest gists: couples’
fights that evaporated through walls,
thieves that were finally caught.
Kunie na ibu dike
is how beans become paste between
the jaws of grinding machines
become balls of akara in scalding oil
slow motion gargles of cooking pap
to the shuffle of exhausted feet
packing the last of the dirt, managing
what is left of the weekend.
Tope A Larayetan is a Nigerian poet and writer. She is the 2023 winner of Old Dominion University’s Graduate College Poetry Prize sponsored by the Academy of American Poets and the Poetry Society of Virginia. Her works have appeared in Agbowo, The Shallow Tales Review, Kalahari Review, and the maiden edition of the International Sisi Eko anthology. She serves as the Poetry Editor of Barely South Review.
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