Nebeolisa Okwudili‘s works have been featured or forthcoming in Ambit Magazine, Saraba magazine, Yuan Yang Journal, Kalahari Review, The New Black Magazine, Munyori Literary Journal, and in national dailies. He won Third Prize in the 2011 ASiS International Writing Competition in the poetry category.
Entry number 1: derailed train splutters
mud on the windshield of a parked car.
Hair’s breadth is in between a woman’s kiosk
and the coach’s lever: hot breadth of metal.
In all our eloquence who’d have thought
that it would wring all of us so crudely
not to permit us any bordering
as if our lips were lined with chalk matter
long before we knew our loved ones could
disappear, that one night a train plodded
through to Sabon Tasha and didn’t
transport its hundred passengers safely.
Entry number 2: on the menu
it was scheduled that a hundred guests would come
and our siblings would be among them
seated on the furthest row, closest to
the priest and the officiating officer,
their garment spilling grape colors in the room.
1969, everything could’ve been
over by then, they could’ve been in bed
retelling stories of the massacre.
But he was called that night to report
at the div. in Abuja the next day
so his wife had to start ironing his clothes.
Entry number 3: we didn’t expect
to fill in this entry but by the news
reaching us, one kilometer away
we’ve been told that in a field, fifty mines
had been planted, like cows dunging in sheds.
If we had a better way to discuss
all those things we were uncomfortable
talking about, like refusing to dice
the carrots we’d use for Christmas salad.
Those letters you sent to my old address.
They are in my drawer in my bedroom,
they make up the size of the Holy Book,
dog-eared. Over the years we’ve found how to
rewrite our histories to pass the buck.
If the time I poured the sauce over
the potatoes was late, why didn’t you
tell me, if I was supposed to leave
before the guest came in, before the crease
and the knock and the latch all came together
with a wraith their own and the dish washing
taking a longer time so I could take off
my socks and come in to help you before
all that nail polish was gone, why did we
have to hammer everything now that
we are in the sitting room and supposed
to be watching TV in monologues.
This is where we stop, as we agreed.
There used to be an inscription where you stand.
It used to read: LIMITATION. Its kin words
have been erased by time. The last time
I came here two beast were eagerly gnawing
at a smaller beast’s hind limbs, now you know
the reason for my cold reception, so
like a parrot in a cage, for safety
hang me higher. Now you sound as if
you’re holding water in your mouth, speak well!
The wind sounds like it’s clawing a high fence.
Lets leave this place. Someone is by the window,
peeping at us, it doesn’t speak well of us
to be alone at this moment, it’s what
I’ll tell you when I’m at my deathbed
because it has led to the death of like men,
though I don’t know any who lives here.
I stand and gawk, like charges at practice
on ion exchange. It sounds like alarm;
it smells like burning paper, this road
is barely travelled on. The footpath
is smooth in all directions, canopied,
when you do want to come here again,
I won’t mind to accompany you.
MOMENTS OF RESPITE
I’m waking up in my taxi with all
the cartons to be delivered in the back.
It bothers me if I won’t be late,
all through yesterday all I saw was
an un-scrolled bale of vegetation.
The only thing the stamps says is, they’re
CLASSIFIED. Fourteen cream cups in the boot –
things I didn’t clear. The new girl at
the warehouse calls me Sweety and each time
she does, it’s as though my skin breaks into sweat
at the thought of resting. How arthritic
my right leg is, yet I don’t miss walking
to her house on weekends if there’s no delivery.
Now I know who to dress for and oil my hair,
sweep the frontage, if those stilettos come
I deceive myself I can hear it from
afar, but it doesn’t, or it’s the wrong gal –
I can’t stop the ants from walking my feet,
I sometimes bear it for hours. What lights
have I not turned off and who’s the character
that has been taking so long to appear
These are the days I can sleep for at least
eight hours and wake up to have breakfast
going cold on the dining table.
These are the days we can talk more than
two hours and don’t be troubled about it
in the least. I can’t tell you how much
the Pentecostal chapel nearby
makes me leave my bed for my study
because a new parson is intent on
filling the pews come next Sunday, hear
the cymbals, I can barely make out
what he says from where I am, a woman
flings herself from the back in rhythmic
ministration, her belly bloated more than
a two-months-due. In all the madness
I can only ask Afghanistan
to pull me close, bury me in a hole.