How to Find a Country in a Map
& this was how i was taught to read maps. first, take note of the title, then pay
attention to the scale. in this map, history sits at the edge of a river, which is to say:
this body is a scar, sitting on an unprecedented scale.
suppose i start by exposing the wounds, or say i choose to forgive those
who cause this ache, those who carved this wound in our memories. but
first, let me name this pain, & find the casualties in this map.
perhaps, i should examine the contours & talk about 6 July, 1967, about the
epidemics that were not talked about, the silent scourge swept at the bight, about
ozoemenam, my uncle who set on an adventure without a map before
his fear ate him up—all of his body—maami told me this.
this, I remembered asking maami whether ozoemenam played a hero. what do
you expect, when you rush into the dark night without a lamp? maami asked.
August 5, 1968_ Addis Ababa
& the appeal went unheeded to people deafened by the cacophony
of clanging armor & rattling sabers of a war. & yes, war has a fragile
body, it breaks easily, & turns its victims into a spectacle of fear, of
famine, of disease, of death. this is not to stir up emotions, but it’s
impossible to forget the people who sit at the edge of the map, for the
important thing to remember is not to forget the men, the women, the children
of our kith and kin who were taken out of their beds and slaughtered. & now,
to interpret these pains, I found a country reduced to a sore
i stand to say this vivid past is on a map none of us can read, only those who
wear the memories. for after war, what is left is scars & its memories. it’s us
yesterday, ukraine today, it may be you tomorrow.
(a portrait, after the absence of my childhood friend, uju.)
& then, i might get through another day of waiting
for this feeling to enter its body & fly for freedom.
supposed freedom is a shadow, say it follows you here & here,
wraps around you, then weighs you & sinks into your flesh,
& lay there until you couldn’t tell which one is you
in a call, ofor told me about his sister, uju. say her life is a graveyard of buried dreams.
yesterday, in another call, she lay under the udala tree, in the dead of night
waiting for the air of happiness to grow on her dreams. she was laid without her dreams.
but i know of sadness, i know of deferred dreams too, i’ve seen them sprout.
first, they grow dark on you, till language or something becomes the lamp to
pave way for you. this thing starts like a little bush, then, a thick dark forest, then a
lord, these bodies are walking graves, waiting patiently to be dug,
but for every silent battle we fight, i pray we survive. if not, i pray our bodies find peace.
perhaps, the hope to find peace dies too.
lord, even to rest in peace is a prayer too.
In My Poems, I drown
In another man’s poem
I am a midnight hunter, with a coin in my mouth as
he perches me on a ferry’s bow beside
the boatman’s living light below
eels on a black river.
In an ex-lover’s poem
I am a gypsy with bare feet
She browns me on the rivers beach—
banks dismal and water murky—
her poem sends a crocodile to seize my knees.
Who am I in my own poems?
Diluted black-ink night, grey is my regard
as I sicken, poised against a railing and
head hanging over the waters slithering surface—
in my own poems, I drown.
Poetry: Ókólí Stephen Nonso
Image: Luis Villasmil on Unsplash (modified)