The Good Years & Other Poems

Tryphena Yeboah

The Good Years

For D

In this photograph, I keep returning
to our eyes – mine, distant and hopeful,
yours, eager and joy spilling over.
Nobody would look at us now and
think of the brutal history between us,
how we came close to many endings,
how we did, in fact, end abruptly,
unprepared, and without any defence.
How very quickly a strange bitterness
crept in place of what we’d always had.

And what did we have?

Some loving, plenty laughing,
the sweet pleasures of belonging,
and the simple delight in all that is us.

Even now, in the good years, when
the memory of our separation finds me,
it startles me and leaves me with the threat of loss.
Yes, it is true that we have lived through
the bruising seasons apart, but now, here you are,
always so close: your hand on my cheek, your voice
in the other room, your presence a mellow song
that moves through the walls. 

Gratitude for this meadow of new beginnings
we walk into, hand in hand. Praise for the
redeemed blessings of our lives. When you tell me
you’re here to stay, I believe you with all my heart.

TETHERED

For D, again

I was afraid it would come to this,
that becoming one with you means
nothing remains a secret for too long.
Consider this pounding heart, yours too.
That should I hide my sorrow in my eyes,
it is the first place you would look.
If I tuck it under a smile, you won’t be fooled twice.
There is a private life with you,
and there is the way I move through the world:
my insistence that all is well, my reckless denial.
You see through it all, and it scares me – your knowing.

First, you find the veil I have worn for so long
one can’t tell my face from it.
But you do not rip it off or tear it in two.
You touch the mask, gently, tenderly,
until something unfurls between us, within me,
and at once, sweetly within you, too.

IN THIS HAND

For Mama, for Cindy

I

My mother pulls up her skirt and stretches her leg.
There is a webbed skin where an outgrowth used to be.
I look at her eyes as she slowly traces
the history of her pain. First her spine, then her neck,
chest, knees, and every sore bone. She hurts all over, 
although we do not say it. She partitions her afflictions –
makes them sizeable enough to find a language for it,
just the right amount of suffering to keep us out of distress.
We worry about her kidney today and only today,
and tomorrow, something else. On this day, my portion of
care is reaching for her leg and resting my palm on the 
protrusion that no longer exists. A silent prayer: 
May God bless the good years and may healing find us first.

II

In one day, I study two lumps – 
one on my friend and the other on me.
She guides my hand across her scalp,  
explains this is why she cut all her hair. Swollen
lymph  nodes – under her jaw, behind
her ears, and at the nape of her neck. I move 
my fingers over the pea-sized knobs,
afraid of their firmness, how they simply
assert themselves under her skin and wait.
I examine this threat with vigilance and
I am sure of one thing – neither of us can prepare for what’s to come.

When I feel the heaviness in my breast,
I do not touch it. I run and grab my man’s hand
and place it on my chest. “Is something there?” I ask.
What I don’t say is; Is there a cancerous lump? Has it
spread to my bones and lungs? What did I do? 
What should I do? How much time? How much pain?
How many moments before all is stripped away?

Staggering how the body has mastered the art of
surprise. We stand oddly before a mirror,
wishing ourselves something beautiful and lasting.
We are naked and unmasked, afraid and clueless as to
what might lead this flesh astray,
turning the hands of death on us. 
Desperately, we circle around the dark until we admit:
we are strangers, even to ourselves.

Tryphena Yeboah is a Ghanaian writer and the author of the poetry chapbook, A Mouthful of Home (Akashic, 2020). Her fiction and essays have appeared in Narrative Magazine, Commonwealth Writers, and Lit Hub, among others. She is currently a PhD student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, studying English with an emphasis in Creative Writing.

Sign up for our newsletter

Sign up to get our latest stories, poems and essays!