Winner of the 2022 Boston Review Annual Poetry Contest
My Mother Called Me A Bastard I Stood Laughing Because the First Rule of the Job is to Have Sex
The seventh-largest country in the world, Nigeria, has Africa’s highest caseload of depression, and ranks 15th in the world in the frequency of suicide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). There are less than 150 psychiatrists in this country of 200 million, and WHO estimates that fewer than 10 percent of mentally ill Nigerians have access to the care they need.
Mental illnesses sometimes run in families, suggesting that people who have a family member with a mental illness may be somewhat more likely to develop one themselves.
The trick is to worship the shadow of the thing
& not the thing itself. That’s winnowing the ruin:
to water one’s garden in the avalanche of a storming war.
Replace garden with family history.
Replace storming war with generational curse.
& a recondite hush bassets like an iridescent mist
whistling in the company of trees. Shards of glass
in the throat of a baby hummer. What stories
do we tell only in the dark to safekeep our existence?
What stories do we put down into the red earth
like the appendix of a bad mistake? In mid-199*,
three sisters were found un-alive, hanging
from a tree in a forest near River John. I have seen it all:
each of their faces blotched with laughter
on a monochrome photograph anchored to the brickwall
of my family history. The proof of an existential chaos.
I have heard stories of women who snatch foundlings
by their hair & fling them across the room
like a misguided applause. Women who are afraid to make love
to their husbands at night for what they could become
in their rusting. Women who have lived & re-lived
numberless nights the journey to the end of the world.
The meds are working more than your prayers,
my mother scribbled in one of her pink little journals.
I understand the joke. I count the bottle of pills
on the room divider, the crest of my tongue, hunger-green.
A Conference of Last Cards
Bring me the city whether the city surrenders or not.
What bridges have in common is a monument of letters
written in past tense. Sieve through the ache and noise.
The stones are endlessly weeping in the dark. Or is it
the bird-chatter of rain. O darling, are you writing
another poem about trees? No, not trees but ghosts
that live on trees and their legend of never-let-gos.
The sight of your blood makes me fever-sick. Never
hide a butcher’s knife inside your wrist. You know
if we fuck our bodies hard enough, we might still
make heaven; you know if you had followed the doctor’s
prescription, I wouldn’t need to plant marigolds at your
burial site. Come closer, darling, let’s keep partying
in the same city where those doctors could not save your
diseased kidney. Sweat buds ripening. Urine-blue stains
all over the floor. The spit-wet bone of our hunger, genderless
and spectacular. Another final rough nightstand before you perish.