Self-Portrait With Anxiety & Other Poems
Sometimes i am my father’s daughter, but mostly i am his hands
yes, i too, have been left
cradling what silence does to the body –
my tongue, a small animal
trapped in a forest of teeth, able
to demand only what has not been given
freely. & like a song on loop, memory
goes crashing into itself.
i remember the smoke, the smell of burning
cleansing the air, stretched out before me
like an endless tunnel of wind. i remember
cutting through the heat to find me.
& his hands
that wouldn’t let go when he did. the only
story where he is too afraid to be anything else.
i have been too afraid to be anything else.
a group of otters is called a family.
no one can say for certain what that means –
family, not otters. i have come home
humble as rain. i have come home wild
and vindictive as the sea. i have stolen food
from the mouths of lovers
when i only meant to starve myself. the truth is
i am without grandparents & i fear what void
must come next. funny how death forces us
to forsake our best pretences.
say my name & a shadow appears
in the doorway.
say baby & a dam folds in on itself.
say thanks. say thanks.
say you’re sorry even if you don’t want to.
in my worst dreams, i am still trapped
in childhood’s tomb. i wake to the noise
of sand being shoveled in.
the past, a stray dog that keeps returning
with a new bruise.
how do i admit
i almost loved the dog? i mean, the bruise.
or maybe the smoke. i have not known love
beyond a need to punish someone else
for my foolish desires. & isn’t it funny
how forgiveness does not erase
that which it forgives.
can you hear me? i am pretending as though i could breach this distance & you could understand. there are worse histories than this. i know. i had warm clothes & food no one had to be traded for. the truth is my father loved to build things. my father loved to break things. i cannot remember the last time i made something with my hands. i keep trying to tell you about the fire. my father came running to find me.
Self-portrait with anxiety
why does it always keep coming back to this
the river the rain who is responsible
for the flood this time my missing hands
the cloying breath spent waiting for the mercy
of a different sky & another & another &
why is it always the night that goes vanishing
never me that abandons it why does every conversation
feel like i am endangering myself
& there is always danger there is always someone
dying & not enough love & light to grieve them back
again the rain empties a river into my eyelids
a flash of light illuminates what lies beyond the window
& there is suddenly the shadow of a tree there is suddenly
my mother her head planted in the dust her feet
trailing the sky for some place to lay us all down
there is always a tree there is always someone’s mother
planting seeds even if we are not around to watch them
grow lightning invented flash fiction & so did my pills
hold them both responsible for this undoing
i do want to rest someplace if it isn’t my body
my ex calls he is worried i might die tomorrow & now
i am too not about dying tomorrow
i am worried there will be more bruises to beg forgiveness for
like how deep my need goes & how unremarkable
what have i made of this relentless echo prophecy rimmed
in shadow what will become of my hands
how dense this thing called staying how majestic
& well-intentioned the bruise forgive me still i need to find air
purely my own uncontaminated yet to what end
have we lasted this long tell my hands to come back & hold me
this particular night like all the ones before it feels heavy
with all my lifetimes tenacious as the ships ferrying captives
towards plantations when the flood comes it will be only me
that drowns only me that gets wet & my hands
my hands has anyone seen my hands
The past is not always a door you can walk through
- How late is too early to pull a corpse from its slumber?
- Mother says Abraham understood that some sacrifices are necessary.
- The lie is that all our dreams are simply inventions. It is not trauma until you give it a name, a scent it can trace back to the sound of your voice.
- I knew something was missing, but nothing of what it was or where it went until I woke to find my body locked in the narrow closet of another person’s hunger.
- I could taste the heat of him, his meaty hands ushering my mouth into the night.
- There are so many reasons to overlook the threat of injuries to the flesh, need being the truest of them.
- She said all I had to do was stay there with him and try to be a big girl.
- Fear is the line that separates a command from a favour; so is love.
- The lie is that no one got what they came for.
- Some sacrifices are necessary.
- I am what remains after the knife recedes.
- Look, the absence of blood is not enough to prove that nothing died.
Precious Arinze writes poems and essays when they are not sitting in Lagos traffic and contemplating the decisions that have led them to make home in this city. Their work has appeared in Kalahari Review, Arts and Africa, The Republic Journal, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Electric Literature, Glass Poetry, and Berlin Quarterly amongst others.
*Illustration: ‘And his hands that wouldn’t let go when he did’ by Sef Adeola.