This is for the politicians, for the clamping
of a mouth, for every pocket
hoarding notes, for worn-out promises,
for collateral damage,
for those eyes refusing sight, for laughing
at the wrong joke,
for laughing at all.
I have lived through this slur. This circus
dimly-lit with neon lights
& you at the center of it all. You dance
in slimes. A clown’s step
forward, then back. Then back. Then back
again. Nothing moves in this country
except your hips.
There are girls trapped in the Sambisa
as I write. Year upon year
upon the day we stopped counting.
Where I come from,
what is meant to hold you, shoves you away.
[Say] the police is ravenous,
a canine dragging into our flesh. What
I’m trying to say is this:
I know one Nigerian who has never been
shot, and half a million others
who have. Who might be.
& yet here you are. You who dances your
beyond where even light does not slip
through. I want you to see this
now that you can. No, not this protest poem,
not the venom I wish
I had, or my mouth dug open in anger.
I want you to look yourself right in the
eyes, and see
how in a circus enormous as this,
you have become
the only thing that fades in the darkness
when all else endure.
the morning after a man was caught for keeping dreadlocks, i pray
i come to you in the numbness with which
the living approaches dawn.
i have survived
another night, each breath hard as the
ground on which i stand.
in this country,
everything is chiseled to slice through you:
the night, our politics,
and even the police.
& yes, the police, dear God— keep me
from them. as I walk
today towards the road,
scrape this hair of all its locks & bestow it
a new face.
and give me
english. stack this mouth with every
grammar that gaslights
at the tip, so that
i may burn through their hands uncrushed.
but if in the end they decide
i say this because i’m certain they would—
grant me haste.
may i find what velocity
there is in me to outrun an incoming bullet,
so that at the
withdrawal of the sun,
i would reach for all that is mine, and find it
unbroken, or even alive.
Yesterday over sugared Lipton,
my friend asked if I could die for this
course I write about? Which is to say
beyond poetry what the fuck can
you do to save the world? Which is
to say, would you be a martyr in the
real sense of it?
I told her the timing was bullshit.
Because how would you rise through
a blanket of furs, wash your skin
until it glows, oil your way down into
the scalp, then step unto tarmac,
unto traffic, dodge etcetera at the
Barber’s Shop & all those eyes searching
for girls your age to strip, only to
walk into my room and offer me death.
Because can’t you see how close to
ruins I have always been? In the
poems before this one, a policeman lodges
his barrel between my face & I swear
to God it wasn’t for me. It is the way
we self-destruct, these poets—
taking the bullet for every time someone
else got aimed.
But let me go straight to the point:
Most the time, I think about sunrise
while still in bed, I love to assume
that the joke was only a joke & like
every other kid, I’ve got dreams so bright
it shines through my head.
I don’t know if this makes any sense.
But yes, maybe I could die for something,
just not this young.
is Nigerian. He serves as Associate Editor at the School of Pharmacy, Agulu, where he is an undergraduate. His poems have appeared on Rough Cut Press, America Magazine, Isele, Cultural Weekly, and elsewhere. He was a finalist for the 2021 New York Encounter Poetry Contest, and was longlisted for Nigerian NewsDirect Poetry Prize 2020. Selected by Bunkong Tuon, he emerged the 1st prize winner of the 2020 Jack Grapes Poetry Prize for his work “Transatlantic Equation.” He was also a runner-up for the Foley Poetry Contest 2020, finalist for Stephen A. Dibiase Poetry Prize 2020, winner of the Kreative Diadem Annual Writing Contest 2020, as well as winner of the Christopher Okigbo Poetry 2019.