All the Sounds of All the Things & Other Poems
Joseph Omoh Ndukwu
With the Murex Fishers and Dreaming of My Father
The murex fishers repaint their ballads onto the sky. Out of the sand pores, they emerge fingers first, whispering to their nets, for good luck is always a thing in short supply. I watch with them, a boy in a cloth cap missing home. The stones far out are gleaming. I place my hands against my kneecaps, muttering a favourite word or phrase – macabre, macabre – the way the mallam taught me. This is how you shape of exile your quiescent dreams, he said. The year has since become a moth-eaten rag, and I hear the fishes in my blood, 200 million salmon spawns.
August light thickening around me, I rise to the reckless cackle of parakeets in the bombax. Winter is unfurling in the distant clouds, its light tepid on my lips. I feel in my hair the crackle of foreign weathers, feel all my unabridged journeys brewing in my kidneys like febrile temperatures, like orphaned children in a dark house. We are not far off the coast of Djibouti. The bushy-haired mariner looks at the map so long I fear we are lost. A screaming man rushes to my side. His eyes are wet also with sea horrors. We say a prayer together. His wounds do not resemble mine, but they are yet wounds. I take his and he takes mine, and we go for a day like that.
July 14, 1999 and you disappeared through a trapdoor, and the light blinked for the nineteenth time. A slow boat is coming in. I burrow quickly, disconsolate in my search for Psalms. I tire of journeys, for my name keeps falling off my back, littering these shores. I have never seen snow, I confess, not once, not gone that far. Still, I bend beneath the brazier and eat a half-cooked mussel. It’s been thirteen long days with nothing for company, but these woodcuts at my feet, series of faces, Saladin’s, in profile. My sons will remember me like this. They will bring me six rams and twenty-four baskets of salmon on Eid al-Adha, orange light ringing their feet in the sand. They will be good sons. They will not be lost. They will build me a house. I am still searching for my father. I want to build him a house.
All the Sounds of All the Things
Your father’s dense body is a colony of mosquitoes. He brought into this room a plague of incurable fevers.
Your mother is busy: she is arranging herself into whispers so that she may not interrupt your father in his solitude. She is touching chinaware, cups and skillets, your first school bag, mending her smile in the wedding photo on the wall to a shape closer to truth; her wedding ring is slipping off.
When you have walked long and deep in rain’s hard absence, you shall kick the striped dog in the fiddler’s garden, back into his sour dreams where he throws dice with dead sailors, with your futures pinned to the table as his wager.
You heard two crows talking on the wire last night. They looked abstracted like a photograph of ghosts. They were exchanging whispers about leftovers and dreams, about the way into your mother’s kitchen. You were too tired not to kill them. You clambered up a cloud, up a god’s withered arm, up a vein of lightning and snapped their necks.
You did it because you had been tired out from listening to all the sounds of all the things: the trees straining in the harsh light; the water’s roaring in the street, reaching our highest window; your father’s silence in his colony of fevers; God’s inexhaustible capacity for waiting; your mother’s ageing at the spindle where she sits stitching and stitching a patch.
Because nowhere is home
your playlist is the infantile rage of nurses bound in
their veil of whispers, in anterooms
whispering us toward our totem selves where, derelict
as we are, we lay: patients drawing their last
: In listening, you listen to all of yourself,
to the metronomes going inside you
Music, on these Thursdays we remember, is God
six miles next door in his febrile tempers
and we running to meet him in a rabble of lanterns,
barren in every way…a metronome’s tinkling in our blood
– our bodies remembered, our synapses healed,
rained over like corridors
Joseph Omoh Ndukwu is a Nigerian writer whose writing has been published online in Saraba, Brittle Paper, Expound, Praxis and elsewhere. His essays are also forthcoming in Rele Gallery’s book of young contemporary artists and in an anthology by the Fortunate Traveller. An earlier essay was nominated for the CIAPS Public Interest Essay Prize in 2017. In 2014, he emerged a finalist for the Etisalat Flash Fiction Prize. He lives in Lagos, Nigeria.
*Image by Paolo Chiabrando on Unsplash.