A Silence the Depth of Graves & Other Poems
for Aunt B
When you died, mother melted an offering of candles
in her mouth like a menorah – call this silence – wax
collecting in an orifice that should be making ululations
to God. Perhaps, she thought, what is the use of sound
in a place of death, when it cannot lazarus the body?
I do not blame her.
I knew nothing of purple fires, the shape of dreams, lost
in your body on the reaper’s altar, until a message popped
up on my phone, and I knew how it felt to be on the end
of a familiar blow. Irony: a soft statement of condolence
becomes a harbinger of doom: may her soul rest in peace.
She does not blame me.
But if peace is the epitome of death, why come like war?
I wondered what the chances are that, this time, death
has worn a cloak of untruth, and you, the dead, would
laugh awake from the slumber to say, sister, sister, what
are these tears in your eyes? what, tell me, is this gathering?
You do not blame us.
There is something about denial that grows a long hand
to clutch at a fleeing hope. The body is a machine
processing loss and grief, and time – time is our only
faithful companion. This is a nightmare where I run
from God’s decree but move nowhere. You are dead and…
We do not blame you.
Nobody blames the dead.
for Aunt B
Yes, to speak grief, I learnt a whole new language.
No, even a hundred tongues in my mouth cannot
enunciate the words. There’s something foreign
about this kind of pain – the body is never prepared.
For a boy humming wild with life’s every melody,
what pain did I know before I watched a mother fade
at first light, before I probed the darkest depths
of language in my mind and met only the silence
of God? Grief as a language makes a giant knob
of the tongue – an agony so thick with blood
it chokes. I have learnt every known dialect
of this wretched language and no two are alike. God,
I will never understand the way of death – that
endless digging, or pain, how it morphs into a knife
stabbing holes in my heart. This is a complex thing:
write a whole poem in grief and the world still won’t
tip on its edge, the land still won’t protest the weight
of the dead in its belly or spew the body out – alive.
A Silence the Depth of Graves
after the poetry of Ernest Ògúnyẹmí
Sometimes, even words cannot lift the weight
of silence. Today, I break into quietude like ice;
I leave a puddle of unsaid words on the floor
of my mouth. Where is the innocence of water
in the mouth of a parched earth? What do we
find in this water but the very stain of death?
This grief is a festering gangrene – a hot knife
blistering my sore wound. What, in the holy name
of Fate, does the mouth make of salted bile:
spill or swallow? I want to ask death why it shot
an arrow so close to home. I want to say: Death,
my mother’s body will not fit into this grave!
but it did. Such cruelty. Death made a seed
of my mother, and I could do nothing but watch.
See how grief batters the mouth into bloody
acceptance, how it thins out the voice like a string.
I am trying not to believe that this is how boys
become broken china overnight. I mean, the world
freezes, and yet, death made away with my only
garment, left me naked in this bleak house
with faceless people singing tuneless songs
into voids. While, outside, the blizzard shreds
a body like a rag. How glorious, the beauty
of boyhood before death brings the crushing weight
of loss, before a boy decides he has the very eye
of darkness, and prays to be anything but light.
Timi Sanni writes from Lagos, Nigeria. His works appear or are forthcoming in Palette Poetry, Black Warrior Review, Down River Road, and elsewhere. He is the winner of the 2021 Anita McAndrews Award Poetry Contest. Find him on twitter @timisanni.