Abiku & Other Poems
Your mother’s face before church on Sundays
because you were too scared
to tell her that the foundation
was not her shade
The drops of palm oil on the kitchen floor
on those days when your mother
cooked oha soup with oil
straight from the kernel
The almost colour of what
should have been your little brother
before his malformed hands
turned cold in the hospital’s crib
The colour of your mother’s fear
as she held him in her hands
with entreating eyes that made you wish
you could weave strands of fresh breath.
Your father’s eyes under the glow
of the yellow living room bulb
when he began to come home
with fermented breath and rage in his belly
The small tree beside which you slept
when the deafening, desperate
silence of the house made it hard to breathe
What you saw when you closed your eyes so tight
that your thoughts began to swim
you wanted to see black, but you didn’t.
The burning sun on your back
on those Monday mornings when
you wished you had died in your sleep.
The cashew fruits you sucked on
until your tongue hurt
because all the pots were empty
The colour of the stove’s flames
right before your pressed your palms
into it and screamed.
My mother’s name was a confluence of tears and death
beseeched long before she could be known or loved:
Kokumo. A name that cried, please don’t leave us as the others did.
Too familiar was my grandmother with this sad routine.
She was born bearing the sins of those before her.
Three boys and a girl who never made it beyond one
all at war with the earth and unable to become one with it.
Her mother watched like one did a visiting bird.
Admiring its beautiful feathers but never reaching out.
She, too, knew that a helpless shallow plea for a name
couldn’t keep a fleeting soul that didn’t want to stay.
My grandfather had looked away after the second son.
And by the time the last closed his eyes in wicked defiance,
his remaining, barely burning flame of hope died too.
He was a good man, but even goodness wasn’t enough
to quench sorrow or douse the flames that came with failure.
But my mother, she wasn’t like us. She didn’t want to be.
I dare say she was kinder. She listened, she stayed.
She crawled, she walked, and then she fetched water from the stream
where my father’s lust found her and followed her home.
All of this I watched from somewhere behind the veil
until it was her time to sweat in a candle-lit mud house.
I bade my brethren farewell and parted the split veil.
With every birth, I crawled, and I walked but never stayed.
Once, I got to wear the coral beads on my waist for a day.
Another time I was the wrestling champion who died in his sleep.
I knew that she could not remember me.
Once siblings, now in a constant tug of war as mother and child
You should have come back to us.
Beside a collapsed billboard, three boys stand half naked, their lean, shirtless bodies an affront to the cold night breeze. They search for half-smoked cigarette butts on the ground, taking small puffs one after the other until what was left of a stranger’s guilty pleasure fizzles away.
In front of a small bush, a man sprays pee while his phone vibrates in his pocket. Between shaking off and zipping his pants, he will learn that his wife is now a ghost and their unborn child, an angel. In the moonlight, tiny droplets of urine glisten on the back of his hand. The phone doesn’t drop like in the movies. He holds it still because he knows that as long as he is there, standing with the phone pressed against his ear, the world will cease to move, and he can continue to just be a man, urinating in a small bush.
In another part of the street, where the lights do not reach. A girl sits on the pavement with a blue plastic bowl beside her. She counts and recounts the small wad of notes in her hand, praying in loud whispers that she was wrong the previous time. She is not wrong, and she knows that she cannot go home because home is angry shouting and a leather belt. Home is “where is my money!” and no food.
Behind a broken fence, two lovers hide, although they are not lovers. Somebody’s spouse is home alone, and another’s mother is sick at home. Behind a broken fence, four, shadowed, hands, scurry, impatient for release.
Ogochukwu Ogbonna is a Nigerian writer and poet. Her stories and poems have been published in Brittle Paper, Kalahari Review, African Writer magazine and other places.