You build me up
just to watch me fall,
breaking to pieces
every time, over this precipice.
A flick, a nibble
a taste, a bite
and then I’m tumbling like rapids, with all my might.
you take my pleasure and give me yours in return.
Today you make a dance of it;
Salsa on delicate lobes,
Rumba on golden globes,
Zouk on pleasure’s temple,
Kizomba in the secret crevices.
Today you dance to build me up,
so you can watch me cascade when I fall.
I should close the curtains, it is too bright.
Daddy can’t stand the light today.
He says the light angers the people dancing in his head.
I think the darkness angers them too.
Daddy’s eyes are red as blood and I know it’s the people making them so.
The people in daddy’s head, they like to party
And the noise worries him.
I know it does because he buries his head under his pillows to block it out.
Mummy calls days like these daddy’s happy spell,
And I wonder if she thinks that daddy is happy when he’s unwell.
The bottles besides daddy’s bed have funny names
Written in red, garish flourish.
The box says they belong to some aunties, even though they’ve spelt it wrongly;
Anti-depressant, anti-psychotic, anti-anxiety.
I wonder who they are, daddy has only one sister
Aunty Dara. She has short untidy hair and a huge nose.
Or maybe they’re related to mum. She doesn’t talk much about her family,
I don’t know if she has sisters.
When I ask mum about them, she says they’re for daddy’s happy spell and not to worry my head.
She says daddy needs them because he’s bipolar.
Does that mean daddy likes sticks?
I bet he does, he likes to throw them in the yard sometimes
When the people in his head aren’t dancing.
I should close the curtains, it’s too bright
And the people in daddy’s head are dancing.
We die each day so we may live,
For if we do not die, then we have not lived.
Our days shorten with each day we awaken,
And in this way, we say we are alive,
Even as we are in truth dying.
We live for our daily deaths,
For without them, we would truly be dead.
We celebrate birthdays and wish each other long lives,
But really all we’re celebrating is the reminder of how short our lives are.
The boy who drives the beat-up truck which delivers bread to the shop on the corner,
Tells me each morning that he’s dying for me as he tosses me a free loaf.
I smile and tell him he’s too kind and all I want is for him to live and make a living.
He says he’ll build us a fortune, and we’ll live in a mansion someday,
And that his love will never die, will never fade.
On the TV the other day, the glamorous reporter read that there had been a kidnapping.
Days later, she read again that the victims had been found shot dead for failing to pay the ransom.
A politician cried and wiped his eyes in an interview about it,
Though try as I may, I never saw the tears he kept wiping.
He said his heart was broken over the needless violence and he condemned it,
And that though they were dead, through their memories, they would live forever.
My cousin in the east says it is not our problem,
If everyone in the north is kidnapped or murdered.
I protest, remembering my friend Adama from Katsina,
Who went to boarding school with me and became my sister.
On my way home one evening, I stop to buy mayonnaise,
It’s my sister’s birthday and coleslaw will make dinner special.
On the jar, the expiry date has been scratched off,
And when I call Baba Ayo’s attention he hisses and says, ‘it’s all the same joor!’
We die to live every day,
But if our humanity is dying, then are we really living?
This is how we fall in love.
First, we fold the pieces of corruption and burn them.
We smile at the beauty of the space where the clutter had been that held us.
In the mirror, we see the glint of life that we cannot deny is precious,
And dare the world to deny us.
Next, we conjure from the well within us,
New pieces which we label truth, light and trust.
We stick these pieces all around until what is outside
Is the same as what is inside of us.
We create because we are,
Souls full of magic;
Oshun with our fluidity,
Oya, storming femininity.
In the mirror, we see the creation and we recognise,
The ocean is my curse.
It comes unbidden and drowns me.
It comes in the quiet of the night
in storms or gentle waves,
but the feeling is the same.
When the tides come,
they wash away my peace,
steal away my confidence and I cannot speak.
When the waters come,
they rob me of my courage to reach out
to be held, to be loved.
They soak me in burdens and leave me with
soiled linens and much to explain.
You live on an island, same as everyone before you.
Your life is on the dry land, kissed by the sun
and you cannot understand why I go to bed afraid of the flood.
You are a child of the dry sands.
How can I ever explain to you why I fear water,
or what damage it has done?
I am bleeding rays of light
draining my soul,
illuminating your world with all that I have.
My insides are forests of shadows;
Tall trees of worries,
creeping and crawling things.
I am draining my light
brightening your world,
to keep away the monsters
but you call me the darkness.
You say you see me to my soul.
And all there is, is shadows
and damp things,
broken logs and dead leaves.
You say my heart is cold and dreary
and you cannot live there.
You yearn for the sun,
for the light that fills up your world.
You yearn for the sound of brooks gushing
and the heat of fires burning,
cooking the meals that I serve;
breakfasts of devotion,
dinners on platters of friendship.
You long for fresh wine.
I am the vine which bears the grapes,
but you say my heart is cold and empty,
and my soul is dark and scary
and you cannot stay.
My back is bent under the weight of your rejection;
The roots of my being are not
Deep enough for you to call me sister,
Not deep enough that I be a daughter to your mother.
My roots are foreign and my leaves, different;
A palm tree in a garden of ficus.
Never mind that this is where I am planted,
Where I have always been,
That this is where I call home.
When the breezes blow, your leaves bend,
Protecting only your own and you say to me,
“Maybe you should go home.”
But this is the home I know.
Still I take heed and move
To the land where the trees are palms
But nothing is different.
My neck shortens under the weight of more rejection.
The palms do not call me brother either.
My roots are tainted, they say
By the soils of the ficus garden which nurtured me,
And my leaves are coloured in pigments foreign and unlike home.
When the floods come, I must face the elements on my own.
“Maybe you should go back home” they say.
But where is home?
I cannot go with the winds that blow north,
In Arewa, I am not kin.
Not East either,
Where I am not a Nwa afo.
I cannot set my roots in the west,
As my story doesn’t start with a shell of sand and a rooster.
The palm trees of the south will not have me,
My roots are not southern enough.
My shoulders are breaking from the weight of rejection.
Where will I call home?