the living dead

a mother weeps for her children 
dispersed in the air by the bombs.
she breathes them in with the smell of burnt flesh.
her voice is hoarse from ululations.
mourners force platitudes down her throat.

death came visiting and left behind heaps
of charred bodies and bleached bones.
like the city thrown into darkness by the failed
Power Holding Company, the lights are gone from her eyes.

these are the tourist attractions of this country.
come and experience death in all its naked glory.
feel it in the air. taste its silken smoothness on your tongue.
hear it in the music and dance.

watch us gyrate to discordant tunes,
nimble feet made light by psychotic introversion.
our reality is like a hazy dream.
drums of war serve to lighten our dead souls.
our hoarse hollow laughter echoes
in the empty chamber of federalism.

this country is a woman weeping for her children.
a mother must not know her children’s grave.
she must hold on instead to memories of birth pains
and life’s piercing cries.
and become another, dead alive.

> Published first in Nailed Magazine.


Closed-up Image of Gray Textile
image via pexels

i am unraveling
loosening at the seams
into a ball of yarn
broken pottery
with shards glued
together by skin
i am tired
a breath away
from expiry.

My heart is beneath the ocean

March 15th 2018. 10 am. A month of disappointment continues. It is a Thursday. I am away from home and staying in a room on the third floor of a historic building. New faces, new people, new culture. I decide to cook:  white rice, tomato sauce with canned chicken breasts, and some fried plantain. It is a good day, I am in high spirits. Till the phone call.

Suddenly, the world is spinning so fast, in the wrong direction, and I am dizzy. I can feel it, that sense of foreboding that has been plaguing me all month, it is growing thicker and suffocating me. My heart is breaking. I am frantic, pacing the length of my room, making calls, calling in favors. Begging. Pleading. On the verge of tears. I can feel it: I am failing. I can see it but I am powerless to stop it.

My mother will die. I know this, with a certainty that is chilling. I don’t know how I know, but I know. We share a bond, maybe her soul whispered to me that it was her time. It is hard to accept, this foreknowledge and so I double down on my effort. I have duelled with death many times and won.

December 14, 2008, 5:30 am, Federal Medical Center, Owo. I am woken by a frantic knock on my door: a patient is gasping. A middle-aged woman, admitted for some severe condition, the details elude me now. I rush to her side and bark others. Suction. Ambu bag. Oxygen. CPR. I don’t know how long but she comes back. Fully conscious and talking. Vital signs back to normal. Death lost that day.  

This time is different. I cannot be there to face death. I send in the cavalry. I bark orders over the phone, talk to doctors, family, friends. Death wins. I lose. My mother dies. I don’t get to say goodbye.

Monday, March 12th, 2018. 1:30 pm. I call her. She is fine, returning from a doctor’s appointment. She has some complaints but everything is fine.  

Wednesday, March 14th, 2018. 7:00 am. I wake up from a nightmare. I have a test at 10:00 am. I call my mother but her phone is switched off and I cannot reach her. I try again, same monotonous female voice. Stupid Power Holding Company: her phone must have died because of the usual power outage that plagues the country. I call my wife to call my mom and get back to me. I instruct her to arrange for my mother to come to stay with her while I am away. Somehow, I know. Something is not right. I want to stay ahead of the darkness I foresaw. I am too late.

March 16th, 2018. 4:50 am. I get the call. 30 minutes earlier, I felt her spirit depart. We had a connection. I am crying already. I listen calmly and allow the voice on the other end stammer and sputter trying to string together the right words – the usual platitudes, “take it like a man” and “it’s the will of God”. I say “thank you” and end the call.

I have one more call to make. The most difficult call I have ever made. I have to inform my only brother that his beloved mother is gone. He had called her the preceding Saturday, and they had discussed her planned visit at the end of the month. Now she is gone, and I have to deliver the news. He has a job interview the next day.

We stay on the phone and cry together. I hear something shatter in the background and I know it is the sound of his heart splintering into a million shards and not the glass cup he threw against the wall. I don’t know how long we spend crying and talking and giving and getting virtual embraces or how the call was terminated. I am on the floor; my legs weakened by sorrow have given way. I experience sorrow in a new way; I am accustomed to sorrow, but this is different. I am defenceless. It is ripping me apart. I am gasping.

To cry is not the same as to wail. They are synonyms but the lived experience is different. I am wailing. When your body cannot contain grief, it spills to the floor. I roll on the floor but this makes the pain worse. I lie still. I stand. I pace. No position is comfortable. I want to get out of my own body. Sorrow begins at the point when there are no more tears left to cry. My eyes are dry and so is my mouth. I am heaving, convulsing in agony and struggling to breathe. This is day 1, phase 1 of my grief.

November 7th 2015. 4:00 pm. I am in Zanzibar with my wife on our first anniversary, we are sailing on a boat over the Pacific with two other couples. The waters are jade green and we see gold fishes swimming on the surface. It is high tide and the engine of the boat is off. We are bounding on the waves and the sail catches the wind as we gently travel towards the shore. I lean over the side of the boat and run my hands through the water. In the distance, I see the island we had just had a picnic on getting swallowed by the rising tide. I remember now because my heart is that island, and it has been swallowed up by grief. I have not left my room in 3 days. My heart is submerged beneath the ocean of pain. All my body aches. My pain has eaten up my body. Everywhere is sore.

I cannot fall apart. Everyone is looking up to me to be in control. I make calls, process hospital bills, mortuary fees. No, we do not want a public morgue – overcrowding and power outages; yes, a private one is good. Pay the fees, yes, 3 months. I answer condolence calls and messages. I call distant family members that I haven’t spoken to in years. It is the first son’s duty.

I write a lot too. Writing is how I process the world. Writing gives me clarity. I keep writing. It comforts. It is my lifeline. Writing saves me.

March 15th, 2019. 4:00 am.  I have carried my grief for one year. My mother visits me in my dreams. I do not say goodbye. I do not want to. A few months ago, I stayed with an elderly woman, a prophetess, who told me she saw my mother standing over my head watching me sleep on the nights that I spent sleeping on her couch. “Sometimes she sits and just looks at you,” she added. I don’t believe in ghosts or such tales and I struggle with her words; because I want to believe it – that somehow my mother is with me, that she will always be with me, watching me sleep.  

We buried my mother on May 26th, 2018. It is also my brother’s birthday. He insisted on this. I think it is his way of keeping her alive. It is how he brands her on his heart. This is the closest he can get to her now. That way, he will never forget, not that it is possible to. Every year, whenever we celebrate his birthday, we will celebrate our mother as well.

March 15th 2019. 4:30 am. I am crying in a dark room and typing through tears on my phone. I finally found words again; I have been searching for words for weeks. This is how I remember my mother today – through my tears congealing on the screen. And once again, I am rescued by words.

​February 14th, 2018. 8:30 am. My phone reminder tells me to ‘Call Mom’.

on a date with history

with every layer of clothing removed
desire peels off the restraint
of unfamiliarity,
caution is carelessly tossed
with the last lacy barrier
to the floor. ethanol kindles
a raging fire.

there is a familiarity to the dance
choreographed in the dark
punctuated by gasps for air
& the creaking bedspring
a symphony of applause greets
the curtain call from residues of
past encounters on satin sheets
& creamy walls.

the walk of shame starts at sunrise.
photophobia, migraines & coffee for
breakfast. a mid-morning snack of
safety concerns. at lunch, twangs of
regret. skip dinner with soul-searching
head for the bar instead for a repeat
performance with history

coroner’s verdict

i peeled off myself in layers 
for you first the hairs
& then the skin
subcutaneous tissue
fascia & muscle
in that order
now i am bare
bones & cartilages
& arthritic joints
chronically inflamed
the coroner's verdict will read
death by misadventure
i died the moment
i said 'I do'