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David Agyei–Yeboah | Inferno


The bath brew chokes my gutter throat
I soap between clenched teeth
Yank my noodle feet away from the dirt rug
The warden cries out in spirited gusto
Crushes his guns against, I’m sure, that mahogany red table
Always soaking up spit and alcohol.
A hush blankets the room, like a loving mother enveloping her toddler.
10 minutes more for darkness to steal day.
The new inmates are ripe with grief bloodying their ocean eyes
Eyes that scream and bloat amidst a whirlwind of infant pain
A slapstick of regret to munch on as they strip for their turn at the bath cubicle
A tub filled with moss and red earth and the scent of loss.
Damn you, Kwadwo!
I honestly thought our kindred spirits would never be shackled
He always egged
Where you at bro?
Let’s go make some quick money.
But oh, that fateful August 5th!
When our footsteps quickened to frighten that potbellied expat mannequin
And stealth slipped on a slippery slope
Grabbed my wrists tensely, laughing devilishly.
That was the day Kwadwo didn’t even blink
As he sprinted on, leaving me in a puddle of mud
Surrounded by guard dogs that seemed eager to crush my skull
Against earth.
I still remember his words as he trailed on, cheerily,
a pistol firing in his direction, seconds later
Every man for himself bro.
The warden pokes our brittle frames with his sharp tongue
Time has birthed skeletons out of full-bodied men
Kwasiafo! Se mose mompe adwuma![1]
He croaks, voice slicing through the PA system.
I dig my fingers into my crotch and armpits,
All clean!
And limp to my cell
A body drained of hope
Foxes have holes, birds have nests
But I have nowhere to safe-keep my sanity
Trauma is a beast I have slain that bellows after every re-awakening
I am where your life starts and stops
I’m a slave on a Transatlantic as I look into my cell
Chamber pot leaking with liquid faeces.
Men laying on top of each other every mourning night
Like carcass layered, arm above torso, head against thigh, to taste flame in a concentration camp.
Musk of sweat, bad feet, onion breath
Swirling about in a room devoid of sanctity.
It bites deep to be all alone,
Black man in a white world.
The slab at the corner calls out to me
Best friend hugging my tears every night
I coil up, contorting like a snail retreating to shell
And drink darkness
Till I awake in heaven!
With baby angels balming the wounds festering in my soul
Or maybe hell,
Damn sure Kwadwo will eat worms and fire too.
The iron bars have been seared into my graveyard eyes
A sink full of soot
Ashy shame and bitter truths.
Till I awake in the afterlife 50 years later,
Mamie Smith, sing me the blues!
Ananse, humor me with tales of deceit!
As I visit mama’s shack at Agbogbloshie
In this paradise I call sleep.
In this sweet escape I call dreams.
Light streams in through the gaping hole besides Borkovi
Mamie stopped singing
No worries.
I will see my daughter, Obaa Yaa today
As I dig my face into her palms, I’ll stick my chest out
And roar.
Before I was
Before Kwadwo was
A long line of warriors bled that I be emptied of bondage
A whole generation of black excellence encircled mountain peaks
I may have damned myself by my decisions
But your sons need not look to me
Look to your heritage!
Look to mothers who combed through plantations
Their fingers prickly from harvesting wheat and cotton and the fragile egos of white tongues
Yet found time and space to cradle their babies
Grandmothers that tucked their grandchildren under blue skies and recounted tales of rustic Asanteman[2]
And Okonore Yaa and Efudihwedihwe[3] interlaced with rich folksongs and legends
Fathers that were lumberjacks yet sliced through every inked pain to care for their kids
Look to the circle of powerful women that have defined our race!
Yaa Asantewaa, Ama Ata Aidoo, Efua Sutherland
Look to the pinnacle of black power
Kwame Nkrumah, Madiba, W.E.B. DuBois
Sparkly Lupita, fiery Beyonce, goddess Maya Angelou
Warden, you will sit in your office
In your fat suit and bloodshot eyes
While I tell Yaa that before there was ever incarceration
There was resolve, strength and fortitude in black blood
And there will be resolve, strength and fortitude even after this horrid experience
I will probably don a mischievous grin
And spill, like your dribbles of saliva every time you lash out at us and roar even louder
My mistakes don’t define me
You’re a square peg in a round hole
Yet can clip at the circles of power,
Body and soul
You’re a skyscraper of shooting talent
So can bore deep and entrench an autonomy that will feed generations.
Let your baby sons suck on your breast and savor the taste of the black alternative
Let their black identity glow like fireplaces crackling with the embers of wild beauty
Yes, we are more!
Black is binding salve
We’re no longer winning halves
Then she would most probably clasp my bearded face
A plantation of bitter kola,
The fierce being she is,
And respond
Papa, ensu![5]
The battle is not over
My sons will re-write the narrative

Poem: David Agyei–Yeboah
Image: AW remix of Pixabay

[1] Kwasiafo! Se mose mompe adwuma – Foolish people. All because you don’t like work

[2] Asanteman – Asante Empire

[3] Efudihwedihwe – Character in Akan folklore

[4] Ohemaa – Queen

[5] Papa, ensu – Daddy, don’t cry

David Agyei-Yeboah
David Agyei-Yeboah
David Agyei–Yeboah is a young artist from Accra, Ghana. His poetry, fiction and hybrids are published/forthcoming in The Lumiere Review, GUEST (from above/ground press), Ethel Zine & Micro Press, Afritondo Magazine, Ta Adesa, Tampered Press, and elsewhere. He was long-listed for The Totally Free Best of the Bottom Drawer Global Writing Prize 2021 from the Black Spring Press Group, UK. He was also shortlisted for Ursus Americanus, 2022 and was a finalist for Harbor Editions, 2022 (Small Harbor Publishing). He scarcely tweets @david_shaddai and posts mini covers on Instagram @davidshaddai.


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