Self-Portrait as a Poem Forgotten in my Father’s Breast Pocket

Okoronkwo Chisom

By Okoronkwo Chisom

My grandfather told my father
that he could be anything he wanted,
so he chiseled his body to look like rain.

He fell in droplets into a tank of an abstract
noun — a name that lacks ownership.
In a dream I learned the chemistry of forgetting,

I tried to hold the nape of my father’s name
& it ferried away on the back of a strong wind.

I chased after it, but mother called me back,
saying I’m a detritus of his doused soul.
I recall how she once set the house ablaze
with the flames of her wailing, how they burned me.

In this poem, I forget my body in my father’s breast pocket.
I pool my childhood aspirations in these lines.
How I’d be his joy on starry nights, his lightning
bug on moonless nights.

But now, he lives only as a lump in my memory.
A lump made heavier by the weight of this country’s ruins.
& though here, we teach our eyes to reinvent ruin
into a garden of tender light, men with contracted
consciences summon vultures with the mouths of rifles.

I mean, I’ve lived in a neighbourhood where kids know
the faces of the wars that ravaged their stomachs.
They, too, have kissed the skin of the poverty that sits
in their homes & watched it abscond with their comfort.

They have seen their parents hold grief like lilacs
till it sashayed its body into their lives, & like me,
they have begun to question if the gods of this place
have gone into hibernation, leaving the sky livid

like the torn image of my father.

Okoronkwo Chisom is a first-class graduate of English Language and Literature. She is the winner of the Delyork Creative Academy writing contest 2021 and a longlist of the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize 2021. She has been shortlisted in the Eriata Oribhabor Poetry Prize 2022, Splendours of Dawn Poetry Contest, August-October edition 2022, YouthhubAfrica FGM contest, September edition 2022 and African Feminist writing contest 2022. Her works have been published in New Man Gospel Magazine, Shuzia, BPPC Anthology, and elsewhere. She’s on Instagram @okoronkwochisompage