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When I Stutter My Name

my tongue/        a vernacular/   un-speaks every wrong in my throat/

                           i mean who doesn’t like to laugh?/      a joke looks like the way my body shakes/ when
i say words like softness/     big words like love/     like chandelier/
              all the things in life that do not come easy/

              in my mouth,  birds in the snow grow no feathers     & this is why when asked,
                my face prolongs the joke &    i see where the line covers my teeth/

this way i say no one else’s name
                             not even my father’s/

                 no land accepts a name that goes for burning so
i do not belong/

i’m not from a country i cannot confess correctly
i’m not from anywhere/

                                if you want to hear any of my jokes,      watch how i say i’m sorry

watch me beg to forgive myself,       watch me stutter for light,

                watch the puppeteer stand beside me,

                               watch me control his wish,

watch me say i’m not the victim/              but a little slower/

   slow enough to cast my tongue as clown,     for you to point at my body
& fill your belly with sand.

                      loving mother,              come watch me be patient,

                                    watch how i describe things that never leave my mouth,

                          watch how my fingers stain this poem with blood,

                                     watch how i longed for you to hold me/

                                                my mouth doesn’t open fast enough, i turn all the words back to salt/
                                    i know my father speaks many languages, so in many ways i am no one’s child/

                                    the truth is:                   i forget my name every time i say it wrongly/

                                                       when i stop trying,  the space between my teeth is a quiet gap/

you spend the night listening to my jokes                          & all i try for is something
other than a breathing

                                                       sometimes the ice on my tongue dissolves,                      then i become all that
water makes me.

                                                 i wish no one had to survive me,               people say we put circles in the sky/

i keep bending         to show how i made it out of animation/

 nobody should feel this way,

                but i waited for the bridges     did i not?

& i’m still here

              still learning to split, preach me as water.

                            i owe silence first to my body/

then to the sun.
         then to my body, the sun.

               tell me: why is a thing beautiful only when it burns?

Anthony Okpunor is a Nigerian poet, essayist, and artist. He was shortlisted for the 2019 Nigerian Student Poetry Prize. He was also shortlisted for the SEVHAGE/Angya Poetry Prize 2019. He won the 2019 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest (poetry category). He was a finalist for the 2020 Palette Spotlight Poetry Award. He was also longlisted for Palette Poetry’s 2020 Emerging Poet Prize. He was a finalist for the 2021 Chestnut Review’s Stubborn Writer’s contest (poetry category). He was recognized as a semifinalist for Adroit Journal’s 2021 Award for Poetry and Prose. His works have appeared or are forthcoming on Adroit Journal, the McNeese Review, Palette Poetry, Frontier Poetry, Rattle, Strange Horizons, Roadrunner Review, and elsewhere.

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