The Odyssey & Other Poems
My penance should cut me well, the way I repay
compassion with silence. Forgive me.
I have let my suffering convince me I am peculiar.
I am not the only one in the terrible world
witnessing a malady. But I am, indeed, witnessing
a malady. Yet what I refuse to do
is anchor brilliance upon pity. I am greater than
whatever sympathy the body demands.
Because I am greater than the body. Greater than
its horror, the thousand ways it limits
the power it holds. But love me, still. Even in my
strange hope. Love me the most when I leap
towards the light. Because joy is an unfamiliar place.
I am a stranger in the land of my dreams.
You cannot rehearse for joy. You will be left stunned,
like the blind’s witness of the sky’s glory.
So pray for me. Your voice, a miracle to my poisoned
eyes. I walk the roads that lead to repair, but
just years ago, I had antlers for feet. Yet the odyssey
must be fulfilled. If your sorrow does not
disgust you, mine is a valley of reek. I am bored
by its constancy. I hold a mirror to the
garment my life. My God, I must be beautiful again.
I must empty my body of the flood,
shovel out the water’s plague. My gloom, although
comfortable, will consume me. Melancholia,
familiar, but collapsing upon my spirit.
Nothing is greater than a poem aware of itself.
Not too gimmicky, like my editor thinks,
just playing around, you know. And am I not
allowed to have a little fun? The world already
is a place too dark and hungry. Especially
my world, flooded with oceans of black teeth.
So can I not dance while the water burns
everything around me? Let me swing
my limbs as if mocking the ruin. You slow
wreck. You haven’t reached me yet?
Until then, then. I am going mad nevertheless.
Whether the ruin reaches me or not, will
something else not raze me? It is only a matter
of time. Always a matter of time. I have
studied the clock and all of its matter. Three
hands that reveal nothing about my fate.
But what do I want? Do I really desire to die
or am I just nonchalant about what is inevitable?
Because, truly, it is not about desire. Death will
eventually arrive whether you throw a rock at it
or not. Again, a matter of time. So shall I not pre-
occupy myself while I can still occupy? I am in
my room keeping the architecture company.
After all, what even is a house without
my presence? I am so significant I can lie
about significance. I can pretend that when I lay
in the sheets, the silk gives a damn about my body.
My body, whatever that is. A death of skin.
A dearth. I am too poor for literature these days.
Not a hyperbole – only the rich write poetry now.
I am trying to afford my life. I have no time to feel,
to pull out the intangible thing that is emotion
and ask how it’s doing often. My misery, my art
won’t feed me. It has been a long season of
barrenness. Silence has moved through me like
a bell. I have planted seeds to save myself,
but the earth has made them forget me. In return,
I try to also forget. When grace finds me, let me
be stunned. If grace finds me, let me be stunned.
It is hopeful or foolish to live in certainty. Outside,
something is working tirelessly for your doom.
The water and its diligent blaze. Its teeth blading
closer and closer. I see the oceans crawling with
their mouths. What do you mean you cannot hear
them approaching? My paranoia, my madness
is purely rational. I am so significant, something
out there hungers for me. It must be peaceful not
to be desired. The noise of the hunt, a quiet latitude.
I am sorry, my friend, but I am jealous of your joy.
Forgive me, but I wish it were me the light covered.
Doubt the flowers. They could be anything
but flowers; garland of teeth camouflaging,
garden of literal blades. Not paranoia, only
severe desire for safety, the need to be absolute.
Interrogate all that is with breath. Ask the heart
what it thinks. How much joy is enough joy?
Small enough to fill a room. Large enough to
swallow a mount. I cannot afford the bareness
of any ignorance. For months, nothing in my
chest moved, everything stood like some wet
vine. Tell me, is this stillness, too, joy or just
nonchalance to acknowledge its absence?
Interrogate, interrogate. Place a garment over
misery & check if it is still present. Bend
before the fabric, listen for the old jaguar’s jaw.
If silence is as violent as the noise it drowns,
then how truly safe are the sheep? My white
wool waiting to become the colour of wine.
How happiness is never secure, transient in all
of its offerings. We spend our lives chasing it,
only to be crushed by its impermanence. So
much disappointment we shelter has cleft out
cynics from our hands. If you deliver me any
kindness, I will peel off its skin, searching for
the end. I do not know how we got here, unable
to consider a lotus before its fossil. Maybe we
are too demanding of our joy & grace departs
because once we find it, we are too wild, we rip
it apart. Beloved, let us now be gentle with every
gift. & when it arrives, even little as a housefly,
we must cherish every part of it like a miracle.
What is the use of learning anything new
if I’m just going to forget it anyway?
Something is dying inside my head.
The past, a ghost running away from me.
I like to convince myself I am not doing
enough, that I am not intentional with memory.
I try to listen more now,
be more present in the world around me.
I look at the trees, the birds with new,
A manual absorption.
When I sight the firefinches, there is an intent
behind sight. When I spot the hibiscuses,
I witness every crease.
I am trying to live more in the details.
I must admit, it bores me.
That is the problem with consciousness.
To be aware of so much is a curse of volition.
But I try.
I treat everything like a journal now.
Tell me your name, my beloved.
I will write the letters on my arm so
I won’t forget once I’m home.
Are they unorthodox, my mnemonics,
my methods of remembering?
I have to try different ways to keep
things from slipping away.
Beautiful woman with eyes of clear water,
I remember your name.
But I forgot to keep my sleeves rolled up.
White shirt stained with smears of ink.
I can never win, can I?
Strangely, nobody assumes it is medical.
Why should it be? I am young, full of life.
Maybe I exaggerate my suffering?
Maybe I exaggerate my suffering.
Again, a matter of effort.
I am not
I am not doing enough.
Anyway, other methods help with remembering.
The tongue is one tool. I repeat whatever
until the ritual is sculpted in muscle.
Again, another chore that bores.
But I try.
Catch me singing about my duties, making music
out of a theory I just learnt.
I will turn anything into song just to preserve it.
I will keep anything in a poem to avoid extinction.
Often, my friend reads my writing.
(What a misfortune, I think.)
I love how your mind works, she would always say.
As if I house a motor crafted by angels.
It is you who should be envied, not this body
where language comes to die. You who can
keep the world inside the polaroid of your eyes.
Yes, I have a beautiful mind. But gardens are
The entire house is burning.
Of what use are the stupid roses?
Samuel A. Adeyemi is a writer and editor from Nigeria. A Best of the Net and Pushcart nominee, he is the winner of the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize 2021. His chapbook, Rose Ash, was selected by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani for the New-Generation African Poets chapbook box set, 2023. His works have appeared or are forthcoming in Palette Poetry, Frontier Poetry, 580 Split, Strange Horizons, Chestnut Review, Agbowo, Isele Magazine, Brittle Paper, Jalada, and elsewhere.
*Image by Gbenga Onalaja on Unsplash