Retroflex & Other Poems

Saheed Sunday

in the syntax of some languages, minnesota can fill in the same gap as láfénwá

i always thought my father knew how to do
          it best. this cradling of soft whispers into
a form of hissing. exit was the best way to call it.
         this shoplift from a noun to pronoun, a
tongue into a little phase of yawning. at dawn,
there was someone out there talking about how
sentences are rankshifted
          into morphemes. i picked up my father’s name
in the middle
          of this war of grammar, and dusted it against a
theory. of what use is a stopped vowel, anyway? i shouldn’t
be seen talking about the syntax
        of a language my body hasn’t built ruins in. home
is home,
        even if it doesn’t bear us a poem without dead bodies.
it is all foreplay.
         say the cloud is toppling its fibre-thick skin into a pine.
say on nights like this, we startle grammar of our wide knowledge
of adjectives and their large cry.
        today the late breeze breaks its knuckles into me, into
the windbag of a boy who doesn’t know that things that cause you
pleasure can also cause you pain.
i must
have met that knowledge before, in anywhere but my father’s face.
whatever recognized this mark on me recognizes that i’m a voice
of diphtonghed breath:
          it means, in some places, minnesota can fill in the same gap
as láfénwá. & that in yoruba’s syntax, ogun can translate into two
different things
           if not properly circumcised.
say ogún bàbá mi ni mò ń je
           [i inherited my father’s wealth]
say ogun bàbá mi ni mò ń je
           [i inherited my father’s tragedy]
in this scenery, you are mouth-washed to reality: the same word
           that takes you up can slam
you down.


this year ends with a boy painting himself in
the colour
of his dreams. two girls on their way home
a smile to their mothers. three fathers setting
a canopy
of love to welcome their sons into a shed of
four mothers wrapping àmàlà in a moin-moin
to mark the opening of revelry. i, with psalms
i must have mistaken for a
watch how little flames gather around the sky
become fireworks announcing the beginning
a new year. it doesn’t take forever to realise
your boyhood is gone, and what remains are
reflections of your yesterday shedding lights
on the
footprints of your tomorrow. a boy who
claims him
self a poet collects every metre that forms a
on the footstep of his door. he says: this is
how to
become a perfect iamb starting a year
unstressed. i’m
not sure i understood that, though. meanwhile
this is
how we break into a song to celebrate how
every hard
things that slammed us didn’t break us, my
mother still
goes around with her rounded breasts nipping
struggling flowers by their buds. we, with
bristled music
plead to the sun to teach us of light, and to
the rose to
teach us of beauty. it is time we learn to light our
body and
not burn.

transformational generative grammar

i qualify the memories of my home in a lot of ways than with mere adjectives, by which i mean my home is a body of sentences begging to be grammatical. there is an amethyst transposed in the path where nothing is as delusional as a boy with confused identities: with a dream as deep and shallow as shapes that run around in the mirror. many things have betrayed my chance to be accepted, the displacement of my body is one of them. say my body is a repetition of an endless loop — an embedded clause unworn by the syntax of my body’s arms. but then, aren’t we all in one way a blunder of our riddled dreams? like a phoenix wearing immortality, the same way a child wears his mother tongue, aren’t we all damned to rain and sun? to pain and love? to holding on and letting go? i picked up an acrylic and fermented a drawing burned out of the desire to be seen, or heard, at least. but like everything that doesn’t collocate, my nestled desire becomes a drop of water in the middle of a desert. this is so similar to the x-bar theory, where the headword is an auxiliary element. the only contrast is that in this poem, i’m that auxiliary element.

Saheed Sunday, NGP V, is a Nigerian poet, a Star Prize awardee, a Best of the Net nominee, and a HCAF member. He is the author of a poetry collection: Rewrite The Stars. He was shortlisted for the Rachel Wetzsteon Chapbook Award, Wingless Dreamer Poetry Prize and The Breakbread Literacy Project. He has his works on Shrapnel Magazine, Rough Cut Press, The Temz Review, Brittle Paper, Poetry Column, Off Topic Publishing, Eunoia Review, and elsewhere. In 2018, he was shortlisted for the Wole Soyinka International Cultural Exchange.


*Image by Olu Famule on Unsplash

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