Audacity to Dream at Vespers & Other Poems
Muiz Ọpẹ́yẹmí Àjàyí
at the shoreline of dreams & existence,
a people’s history erodes with the flood.
debris towering over my mother, still
a girl, naive enough to flash a smile at
the excavator, before her father’s house
crumbled under the dozer’s
teeth. mother, another girl weeping
in a lyric yet unsung. old town obese
with ruin & wreck. playground
collecting the future’s decay. ìmọ̀bà,
ìtírín & ọ̀gọyọ̀, god’s pyre. burning
incense. smoke wisping towards heaven,
faint shadow of the christ ascending.
faded currency. splintered seashells.
traded secrets. time’s trick. see, dust
covers what rust does not devour. &
three decades since the miniature
apocalypse, my fore-fathers’ corpses
decompose, still beneath billionaires’
duplexes. rain washes the aftermath
of history into their graves. the flood
(breaking out of dark rivers encaved
deep beneath urbanisation) seeps
into my ancestors’ coffins, as if
to say, here, drink, ọmọ mi,
quench your thirst, the
water never forgets
At the climax of the nocturnal crisis, body surface holds
so much saltwater I fear you’d drown. You carry
two death sentences in one body.
One is your genes, never ever ask of the other.
In another orchestra, an unstringed song winds through
your larynx. & the grey birds do not go
crashing through the clouds. In this nightmare the tune
does not reverberate through the black silvery
skin of River Niger, simulating our silence.
Because even the Niger has been corrupted.
Because our language is as unclear as our
waters. Because in Yoruba the verb for sing &
write is the same. You ask me to sing a song,
& I write you a poem. Because in our mother-
tongue the nouns for song & iron are syncopations
away. You say Ọpẹ́ k’ọrin fún mi. & I think
you mean write to me of steels. & I write an elegy as metallic
as breath. O’ boy with bones bright & subtle as bubbles.
Noun: Nigeria. Variant: portmanteau word. Etymology: Niger
+ area. See, even our country is named after a body
of water. & tonight, as the sickle cells in your blood – damn
internecine, with its reputation for gluttony – plot the crucifixion
of your waterlogged flesh, I wonder if life like the creditor
grabs the collar of the body. Or the body in acute thirst
for sustenance, for salvation, holds onto the robe
of life like the scriptural woman with the issue of blood.
Our country is named after a body of water. & fam,
we’ll hang onto the straws & each other to stay afloat.
Audacity to Dream at Vespers
Where should we go after the last frontiers,
Where should the birds fly after the last sky?
— Mahmoud Darwish
there’s a fluid border between morning & mourning. day?
heart? here, something is always breaking. lover,
here’s my body. toss me in the flood. i beg
a natation which does not require swimming
limbless. some manner of staying afloat which does not
ask that i paddle without oars. at american wedding parties,
djs play burna boy’s last last, & even the eventuality begs
for translation. affirming certainty of the resolution
of night, american vocals lyricise: last last, na everybody go chop
breakfast. elusive that in some climates corpses pile on tongues
at cock-crow. & the brightest hour beyond the dawn
is the mo(u)rning. ode to the blurred boundaries
between languages. alẹ́. ọ̀gànjọ́. òru. my mother-tongue & its
quarter-dozen division of night refuelling my audacity to dream
at vespers. darkness descends on the wings of grey clouds.
& god turns on his spare eye. the burning futility in disarming
the sun. dying light? blinding light? fuck! just sing me something
at the end of the tunnel. no margin dissecting the tides
of hope. only wavy lines depicting the steepness of
the light. dwindling music? burning music? i archive
dynamites in my throat, kiss the clouds at the end of the sky.
& i watch the heavens spiral inwards, a billion iridescent
galaxies unfolding, ushering me onwards,
ushering me onwards, steering me towards luminance.
Muiz Ọpẹ́yẹmí Àjàyí studies law at the University of Ibadan. He’s an editor at The Nigeria Review, poetry reader for Adroit Journal, and a 2023 Poetry Translation Centre UNDERTOW cohort. He was the winner of the Lagos-London Poetry Competition 2022 and the University of Ibadan Law LnD Poetry Prize 2022, was shortlisted for the Ake Poetry Prize, the Briefly Write Poetry Prize, and the Kreative Diadem Poetry Prize, and was a Best of The Net nominee. He features in 20.35 Africa: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, Frontier Poetry, Olongo Africa, SAND Journal, Poetry Wales, Aké Review, Yabaleft Review, Nigerian News-Direct, Trampset, and elsewhere.