A Complicated Joy & Other Poems

Saddiq Dzukogi


It’s 2am and I can hear the street roaring
with power-bikes and heavy-duty trucks,

I assumed a nightlife simmering with delight.
I grab my keys off the dining table, leftover 

rice, still waiting to be trashed. I can hear
the elation in the exhaust of the vehicles,

as engines and wheels push steel
bodies over concrete asphalt like a day 

eager to happen. I want to find the spot
where I can listen to a flurry of merrymaking, 

a place where a stranger opens their heart
to another stranger because it’s what the music 

demands. A place where deities of the dancefloor
unite themselves in a ritual that tempts sorrow

to transform into a bird with feathers, light
enough for the sky. There are things that happen 

only once in a momentous life. No
place open, remains so, and no 

place sealed, remains so. Each night
shows me someone whose eyes have seen

so much more than exile itself. The night is
the only place that is made of everything 

that doesn’t feel like it is made of water,
a heaviness that smoulders everything to reticence.

A Complicated Joy

She told me a butterfly that mimics a bird will suffer.
   On a surfboard, a surfer that mimics a dolphin
will drown. Look at my hands, my ancestors’ 

toil is buried in my palm-lines; it’s a river. What flows,
   still, is their blood. You cannot outswim
the ocean. You cannot enter a quiet room

and demand a voice. I walked and stopped where
    corn-shaped milkweed pods looked like two
loving birds on a dry stem dangling in the push of wind. 

I didn’t know, on the loop of imagination
   what wearing clothes meant, until I wore
something that pinched my skin. The bones of my ancestors 

are now the joy that temples underneath my flesh.
   The wind shook pinecones onto the bare of the asphalt.
Perhaps there is a storm singing in a nearby sky.

A song is reeling in my mouth. A complicated joy,
   celebrating the life of a deceased.

Waka: Three Sonnets 


In the little estuary that was our home, where 
emptiness like a wolfhound roamed in our bellies, 
my parents,  contended with one too many storms 
that tore apart our house. In the soft lights 
of kerosene lanterns, utterly alone in our plight, 
we pushed water out, emptied buckets in the sink, 
and set them again  under a leaking ceiling. My world is changing, 
sometimes I forget the wear and tear of my childhood, 
I forget mother’s tongueless vigil as her prayers 
yield to the murky ash of God’s rejection. 
I forget all this and take life for granted. 
I grew to despise raining seasons, the strike of thunder 
across the sky was the voice of a monster I never saw. 
I live in a different world now –


Father grew in a world different from mine, 
a frightening bubble. Thirty-two years old now, 
cutting a cheesecake my wife made, I remember |
Father is yet to settle on a birthday. He doesn’t know, 
he says. Because 55 is a bridge his body is unable to cross
 – Mother, five years younger, is catching up– 
Around a lamp-flame, we besiege a light. 
I saw his childhood in stories, many nights he spent 
sleeping on cold flooring enduring his dead mother’s absence. 
One evening, on feeble legs, he freighted himself
to a nearby school and enrolled. His own father, 
unschooled in ways of the white man, was a native 
authority, a watchman at a printing press. In Father’s eyes
a promise, stripped off a stranger’s garment. 


By some stream plodding among mosquitoes,
they built a house of clay and straw. Growing up,
Father’s stepmother burned mint grasses, the smoke
curling around them like a protective shawl.
Amidst the buzzing and crackling of flames,
they learned to find solace in the simple pleasures of life.
Later, they moved to Minna, the city he calls Valley of Poets,
where the world became more infinite in its hunger.
Despite being built as the resting places of trains,
Minna was bigger than his birthplace in every way.
He dreamed of climbing higher than his father,
of mastering a new language and carving out a place for himself.
And so he summed up his life in a dream,
one of endless possibility and unbridled hope.

Saddiq Dzukogi is a Nigerian poet and assistant. professor of English at Mississippi State University. He is the author of Your Crib, My Qibla (University of Nebraska Press, 2021), winner of the 2021 Derek Walcott Prize for Poetry, and the 2022 Julie Suk Award. He is the recipient of numerous fellowships from the Nebraska Art Council, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Pen America, and Ebedi International Residency. His poetry is featured in various magazines including POETRY, Ploughshares, Kenyon Review, Poetry London, Guernica, Cincinnati Review, Gulf Coast, and Prairie Schooner. Saddiq lives and writes from Starkville, Mississippi.

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