BETWEEN MARTYRDOM & EXILE
(and the earth gave us new places to sing)
Adamawa. Benghazi. Boqolmayo (The Camp). Congo. Darfur. Ethiopia.
Count, until you rest in Zimbabwe. They are there; they are here¬
—empty— cities that gave us memories. I have forgotten everything.
Before me is a new road that I must take to live again.
Remind me, Fatoumatou, where did the rape of music begin?
In what dress did we wear Somalia before? Democracy? Murdercracy?
Every child who’d seen his childhood died the wrong way forgets
the right name of the country of his birth.
You are like me, Fatoumatou. We used to sing free,
like birds, bright like rainbows in city of memories,
until the day thunder emerged from our brothers’ soul—
Our country was baked into barking balls of brimstone
and the mountains echoed with requiems for departing faces.
One day, you are rising. One day, you are falling.
One day, a friend asked you for a song.
You pulled his ears through the city, through
a sepulchre of silence where your father’s bone sits
awaiting a new body & a new song.
Sometimes, our music is a lover dancing alone on the floor
of a new land awaiting us. But you were afraid of distance.
You did not dream of journey to places that could sing your song.
You did not draw your dream & discover:
home is a city that new accents cannot burn
on the day when you surrender your verses to exile.
You did not know that a new dawn in a new land
will follow the path of music to bring you healing one day.
I heard you were naked when the sun came to glorify you.
I will no longer let my tears fall as salaams to crumpling cities.
We died different deaths, in different ways. But I did not wait
for the city to spit me out of its mouth to dust, like it did with you.
The world is too full of love and music for me to breathe sadness.
I am sent this path with a song; I will sing it for all generations
To live sometimes, you have to build your name on a visa
& say goodbye to your childhood & the city of your birth.
I am unlike you, Fatoumatou. You’re raped into martyrdom;
I’m not where we used to be. Until my next homecoming,
I find resurrection in the new anthem I carry on my tongue.
CONVERSATIONS WITH GRANDMA
…and I find love in ordinary places.
Still mourning, grandma called me to her place this morning.
I thought she’d say, I love you, like she did at my first coming.
Her voice broke me: I go to meet my light, Ziemife.
Grey-haired, grandma was a sad emoticon at family dinners—
her voice was a sermon to the fleetness of life;
her laughter brought back the death of her first child, Emordi,
my Ma’s good man. Her last born, Chidoluo, died in Burundi—
Peace-keeping, they said, she would say,
‘Peace’ rolling out of her mouth like declarations of war.
Mother called her ‘a strong woman weakened by memories’
of two long pilgrimages to graveyards to bury her sons.
Family dinners. She’d toy with her spoon, each movement
navigating her memories to reconnect with lost generations
whose lips left signs of silence on silverwares she was gifted
the day she said, I do to grandpa. She would not talk of grandpa.
I’m learning how to select memories, live in solitude
and meditate on different dimensions of her life.
Now, I took her name from my mouth and called her out.
I saw her coming to me with her first 15 years.
Memories. She said my face reminds her of Christmas visits
sometimes to Amassoma, and to Yenogoa, and to the rivers
with a boy who taught her how to speak the language of water—
sail silently into love, and disremember times and seasons.
She withdraws his face from an old photo under her pillow.
Ziemife was the only country without war in Africa,
she begins to refresh the old days, until we were there, in Enugu.
He met a soldier who carried slogans of the new declaration, Biafra
and he, still a boy whose penis was still growing chanted along, like
Al-Shabaab’s bazooka held perpendicularly, saluting his boyhood days.
She waited for him for three years, to resume the memorization of cities
whose skies held their promises before he zoomed off to fight Gowon.
He did return to her after the war, a 19-year-old job for the undertaker.
Now I know why grandma said I am like one who once belonged to her.
Now I know why grandma would not talk of grandpa. Her heart is dead
For many years ago, she buried herself inside Ziemife’s casket.
If you must find it, you must find love in whom you must find love.
Grandmother, rest well! I will sleep tonight and wake my dreams
of Adaora, the raped girl who told me she loved me but I ran away.
Before it’s too late, I will tell her at dawn her how much I love her
and that when she smiles, the God you preached about is on her face
and I find love in ordinary ways— even the defiled body she carries.
THE SOCIAL MEDIA IDP’S GUIDE TO CHATTING UP A WHITE GIRL
Click! Facebook. Message. A girl.
Your white friend’s pretty like sin:
Hey, where are you from? Don’t tell her
of Borno and other cities that slip into your memories
and reemerge with poems of sorrow;
you’re the last branch of a family tree that stands
upon the grave where your father is still praying:
If my son should ever fall, may he rise again.
For, in the construction of Africa, your father may die,
but full of pride like dawn, his name must trace the way
his forefathers taught him how to be a god—
escape into a son’s festivals of memories
and find a place to dance into life again.
Say: I live in ABUJA, (true, you’re in an IDP camp in Abuja) with my father, mother & sisters. Life is good. It’s nice meeting you (yes, your family name just entered Europe). But, I’m bored. & you, Beauty?
Click! Another message of being cool, too; of being bored, too.
Down-to-earth, she goes on and on with you until she goes
Tell me about love, Abdulmumin. Don’t tell her
that love used to be Halima, the dark road you abandoned
in the city where your childhood ran into silence
to find refuge from bombs and bullets…
Or, Zullaiha, the one you set out to learn how to un-love,
tell her, I’ve never loved you, Zully, tell her goodbye
and be hurt till her death, knowing how you had learned
to lie to yourself even before you begin.
Say: I used to be loved, but we are now departed, each to his own silence. There’s too much melancholy in goodbyes.
Send me a picture of you and let me find benedictions in my troubled nights. I know you’ll give me good mornings.
Click! A smiley of a wild laughter.
And a photo comes in. And— You should be a poet.
Yes, you’re a poet unto your family’s death, lovers’ silence
and your father’s legacy of life: Run, when you hear silence;
hide, when you hear voices; become a shadow, if you see light.
But to you be the benedictions of nights. For you this night carries
a new poetry — her wings akimbo, on a beach
in Berlin, a lone butterfly in a parti-colored bikini
will cause a storm inside a twelve-year-old penis
belonging to an African boy in an IDP camp.
Poems: © Innocence Silas Katricia