Blood Orange & Other Poems
after Martin Nakell (How to Survive a Bombing Raid in a Syrian Village, 2018)
If we wake not
having slept on debris,
we know the day is young.
The morning light is a machete
slashing the void where the voice
of the Mu’addin used to be.
My brother’s half-arm is the afterlife
of a clean drone strike.
My cousin has a cauldron for lungs,
brimming with iron fragments, cancer,
We would like to mourn
but such luxuries are nothing
but a bouquet of withered jasmines
here. To mourn in a rubble grave-
yard is to manage the chore
of harvesting ghosts.
So too is the counting.
We do not have time to count.
We do not have time to crawl.
What tables can we crouch under?
A demon with fire for voice shrieked
from the skies and tore through the hospital
Alima was born screaming in, and where she
had no time to scream in the end. How
do you crouch out of sight from a heat-seeking missile?
How do you count that?
In Tartus: 555
In Al-Hasakah: 1,693
In Damascus: 9,747
In Daraa: 14,227
In Aleppo: 31,257
souls and counting.
. . .
My uncle Abdul teaching French to the First Ring.
My uncle Abdul’s ear stinging with a last ring.
Stuck in an eternal loop as it samples
a wave of wails from still-burning bodies.
Nafisa’s almost-husband has a quarter
of a face left. She would like to bring him
food. But she must gather the rest of her leg first.
. . .
September 2017, not many have died.
Only 14,000 children.
Mom, I don’t want blueberries on my pancakes!
Dude, battle royale mode in this game is sick!
March 2020, just a few more have died.
A mere 22,075 children. Dead.
Only 13,704 women.
1 3 7 0 4
W o m e n
2 2 0 7 5
C h i l d r e n
. . .
Karam behind a white picket fence.
As safe as Hassan in a boat.
Jamal on a mountain.
Fatima in a cave.
As free as Aziz in a helmet, in a metal.
In an armour, in an ambulance.
In a hospital.
In a Syria.
In a Yemen.
In a Palestine.
In a bomb.
If we wake,
we know that the state
of our lying has already been
determined, that come sunset
there can be no telling
where the ashes of yesterday end,
and the smoke of today begins.
If your life indeed flashes
before your eyes moments
before your death, then,
I must have died wrong.
The only bloody thing I saw was
the orange tree behind our house
when I was six. I wondered why
my mother never liked oranges
even as she encouraged us
to sink our children-teeth into
as many of them as we could
until our insides waggled,
like the way the body bounces
into abruption after a crash.
Every time I try to lift my voice,
I find that the national anthem will only fly
at half-mast in my windless throat.
This country is a bullet snug in the jugular,
deadweight crushing the trachea,
with no referee to count to 10.
There is no way to undo the damage
without undoing ourselves,
so we let the bleeding
hold us hostage, or otherwise
pretend like we are not
almost out of breath.
Pretending is how we manage
to make festivals out of funerals
and gods out of charlatans.
In Ghana, dancing is the hungriest
kind of prayer. We walk by faith.
What else is there to see?
This country is a still-breaking dam.
That is to say, a promise for the near
certainty of being buried in another
June flood or arriving dead in the back
of a taxi. What is a promise here
if not a tsunami before dawn,
the inevitability of chaos?
Sɛ aboa bi bɛka wo a, na efri wo
ntama mu: If an animal will bite you,
it will come from your own
cloth. We like to speak of ourselves
as a people who have things: a piece of
cloth here, a slice of hope there.
But hope covers no nakedness.
And neither fugu nor kente
mean much on death-row.
This country is full
of beauty and formerly beautiful things.
That is to say, spilled palm wine
and Ananse stories. We tell ourselves
that this place is ours. That the signs are
vital yet. In this place, every breath is
a fully grown rebellion. And our wounds
leave no scars. There is no memorial
for surviving, only the knowledge that
tomorrow as today, we shall attend
the meaty wail of a freshly bereaved mother,
that we bleed if we speak and die
if we don’t. Is
this not a country, still,
a bullet lodged in our throat?
N.K.A. Prempeh is from Asokore in the Eastern Region of Ghana. He is a former English Graduate Fellow at Chapman University and a current PhD student in the English Department at UMass Amherst where, under the broad category of Comparative Black Studies, he explores questions relating to comparative race and ethnicity, fugitivity, and migration.