what are we?

We’re staring at the ceiling and the light from the afternoon sun streams in and dances on the walls in fiery, waltzes with the paranoia of a dimming fire that never wants to die out. I glance at you and, by the way you’re looking back at me, I know I’m clinging to something that no longer exists.

“So,” you say, breath heavy, “what are we?”

I want to tell you that “we” is a fragment. A distant collision of galaxies. A raging inferno – I want to say that “we” is here. “We” is fervent tongues, skin touching body but slowly reaching soul and mind – a hunger awakening.

“We” was last Monday in the backseat of my mother’s 1981 Peugot. I asked you what love was and you said love was here, love was proliferating through the car windows and closing the space between us. “We” was a word caged between whispers at 1AM, “we” was hopeful nights oppressed by the realization that the morning would come. The mornings are retrogressing because I’m trying to break through what I feel for you but this light is blinding and, you’re blinding me. “We” is the pages of my poetry, trying to string together words that don’t exist because my poetry is trying to find you but “you” is a door I want to stay locked, a journey I wish would end but one I don’t want to ever begin.

Between the silences, when you said it was fading, “we” was nodding. I asked you what was fading. You said what you felt for me.

I’m watching the space between your eyebrows now, studying the bridge of your nose, holding onto the comfort I feel when I look into your eyes and witness a revolution, feel the synergy of our souls. “Don’t leave me, please.” I sound devastated, overly needy. The light from the afternoon sun streams in and dances on the walls in fiery, waltzes with the paranoia of a dimming fire that never wants to die out. I glance at you and, by the way you’re looking back at me, I know I’m clinging to something that no longer exists.

hold me like I am nothing

You describe us as bombs waiting to implode,
as imbeciles gazing at the ebb and tide of the ocean floor,
and feeling whole cities birth in the belly of the sea.

You say to forget the world and look up into the skies,
did I feel the moon calling?
Man puppeteering towards woman, woman fading away in angst?
Lust transcending into effervescence, into haste, into man in woman?
Did I feel the groans emanating from the depths of the ocean –
“be here with me, I am all that you will ever need.”

We waltz to the sounds of Orion spilling her guts.
The world is an elegant haze of starlight and fairy-dust and,
for split seconds on end,
it feels like you believe in miracles too.
But, all too soon ballerinas emerge from the plagues of the universe,
their faces grotesque,
their hands meandering towards nothingness.

Later I’d kiss the salt back into your wounds like silk,
we’d be awake and circumnavigating the depths of our mutilated minds,
You’d be tracing my palms,
and I’d ask you to hold me like we’ll implode together,
almost translucent, almost ethereal, almost ominous in the escaping moonlight,
and you’d hold me like I am nothing.

Baptise me

When the stars elucidate the evening skies
and the twilight pours past the windows and
glazes over our curves like a realization,
like we are the overlap between the sunset and night,
undress me –

when our gentle sways crescendo into a ballad
that summons the constellations to the earth,
I’ll douse myself in your stardust and pretend not to gasp for air
because I’m tired of being a metaphor for flailing arms and legs,
for drowning,
baby baptise me –

When the night is so full of lust
that the moon settles in your left palm with the softness of silk,
grabs my body and waltzes like the ocean is ablaze,
like I’m on fire –
moon puppeteering sea, but slowly losing grasp,
I’ll show you that no amount of turbulence, of monstrosity
will tear me away from you tonight.

I’ll map out every part of your body,
until your name is the the only language my tongue can muster,
like it is the only language my tongue has ever known.

And,
when the galaxies burn holes through my skin,
and I sit us on the banks of the Nile and show you my scars,
you’ll kiss the demons back into my wounds
like this is our last chance at retribution,
like I’m all the truth you will ever need.

and we’ll twirl infinitesimally,
with the profundity, the synergy
of celestial bodies –
you and I.

The revolution will not be televised

You are only a boy and you pace the streets of Accra – disheveled, distraught, eyes scurrying towards the dipping sun and into the fading sunset, distracted so much that you don’t see what came before you were even a boy:

Your grandmother, Okonore Yaa, frail. Two deft scars sailing across her left cheek with angst, body puppeteering forward with want – a woman who has given much of herself and accepted little in return. Your mother, stroking her bump robotically, daring Okonore to look, to live up to the sharpness of her name. But she doesn’t. You don’t glimpse the fear jump in your mother’s eyes at the sounds of Okonore’s fading footsteps and shortly after, of her reechoing walks, of belt in hand. They waltz around the room, your mother slithering away, your grandmother pirouetting towards her. When your mother dies giving birth to you – pupils meandering towards an unknown place, your grandmother’s defeated gait treading the halls, your father quaffing akpeteshie while counting his mistakes with one hand – your mother the index finger and you the thumb – your breastbones nestle the pain of being born into a time of relentless pain and insatiable men.

You will be seventeen when you have held forgiveness by the nape of its neck, kept it patiently in your palms like ripe berries and harvested it like it will give you eternal life. And so, when your father is absent for majority of your childhood you will forgive him. And, when he shows up at Okonore Yaa’s door on the morning of the coup panting aggressively, almost five years since you last saw him, you will feel forgiveness jump in the creases of your palms. He will look almost like a father as his fingers struggle with the keys of the typewriter. From the radio, Rawlings’ voice will bounce around the room – he has seized control of the nation and controls the army. You will watch the fear twirl in your father’s eyes. He, a prolific writer. He, an avid supporter of the Busia government. He, now crippling. When your eyes meet, you will watch love and fear take each by the hands and dance between you. You will remember this, and when you fall in love for the first time, you will study her pupils and associate the excitement bouncing in your belly to loss, to your mother’s last, ragged breath.

You will feel that loss again and again: the first time you’re inside her, the first time you hit her, when she says “I love you, but I cannot take this any longer”. In all of these moments you realize that you have never been handed such naked love, it marinates your lips with want. You’ll beg her to stay. You’ll cry, kneel and scream at her to stay. But, she won’t. And it is the last time you will ever see her. Forgiveness, and you will learn this each time you conjure her up in your mind’s eye, is inadequate in the furnace of sacrilege. 

But for now, you are only a boy and you pace the streets of Accra – disheveled, distraught, eyes scurrying towards the dipping sun and into the fading sunset. The smell of kelewele drifting in and out of your being like a whisper, like a song. You are not looking back into the past or forward into the future, you simply dash to and fro, your curls making love to the fresh moonlight.


“et tu, Brute?”

From the way you hold my gaze, like you’re reaching past my eyes in an attempt to decipher my soul, like you and I – one with the infinitesimal waltz of the evening stars – are falling into a gyre we’ll never find our way out of, I should have figured that I am the girl in the hypothetical situation you have calmly laid in-front of us. You’re picking your fingernails, choosing the least damaging words to tell a truth I’ve craved for weeks. You’re shaking because you’ve seen me crumble more times than one and you’re afraid I’ll finally, inevitably break. I should have known that I would sit in this exact spot weeks later – that when people ask if I’m ok, I won’t tell them I feel like I’m dying or that I go to bed hoping I never wake up again. Instead, I’ll nod. And I’ll tell them in carefully rehearsed lines that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a girl sitting alone for hours on end, clutching a pen like she’s barely managing to clutch onto life.

But now, in this sporadic instance of the present we’re circumnavigating, I’m talking louder than usual and you’re staring at me with your eyebrows furrowed – you clearly don’t know what to do in these situations. So, I pull you up from your seat. I navigate you through the crowd of people pulleying forward with a common anxiety because maybe, I’m trying to convince myself that I can navigate through anything – that I can navigate through this.

When I hear his voice, we are standing underneath the angst of dim, flickering lights. In brief sentences, he says he has no idea what I’m talking about, “you’re letting people come between us.” Grief sedated by silence, the beast within me scurries awake. Maybe you see her too because you’re completely still, peering at me like I’ve gone insane. I let you know I’m fine, aggressively enough to make you realize I’m not. “I’m fine,” I repeat.

That night, I digress into an internal form of anarchy. Like all my inhibitions are scurrying from the depths of my sanity, my humanity is experiencing a diaspora. Everything around me quickens. I digress into nothingness …  and then, I feel everything. Over and over and over and over again I die, then live, then die, then live, then die again. Between each of those moments I realize I have nobody.

On the fourth day, I lay in bed and repeat the same thing I do every other moment when I think it might finally be the end- I stare at the ceiling, I play Frank Ocean and I count. By the time I get to fifty I’m not breathing anymore. But, Frank is. And Frank’s ballads are waltzing on the angst-filled walls. And Frank lives. And so, grief sedated by the impending alienation of self, I live …

-“et tu, Brute?” // I’m scurrying from a gyre I never thought I’d find my way out of


Dug from my drafts of October 2018

Cul-de-sac

The drive from the airport is sullen. The buildings scurry past, whirling into colors that distill into nothingness. We’re going so fast that my soul stops being my soul and emancipates into the air, becoming one with the escaping wind – converging into a cul-de-sac that will only end with one of us rolling frantically on the tarmac tonight. Above us, the night sky and the stars waltz in a celestial form of lovemaking, elucidating our surroundings until we are both so lust-filled that I can only glance at you and you at me. 

We drive in silence because the air is thick with things we’d both rather not say. Eventually, you say you love me. I’m overwhelmed by this – because the night sky is dark enough to make us feel like we’re the only beings worthy of experiencing the bliss of the celestial realm, but dotted with enough stars to make us realize our insignificance in the vast expanse of space and reality. I know I shouldn’t, but I wonder if you knew you loved me when you were inside her. The grimace that tugs on my face is enough to make you know that I am thinking exactly this. And so, you stop the car on the side of the road and stare at me silently – the stars and clouds converge into a seance. You reach for me like one of us will end up laying motionlessly on the tarmac tonight. At first, I protest. But it’s 9:40PM, a Monday and there isn’t enough strength pouncing in my bones as your fingers reel my mind into a place I swore would never exist again. At 9:41PM I realize that I will never stop loving you. At 9:42PM the words crawl up my throat and scour my lips until I pull you in like string and hand the syllables to you like silk, “I love you.”

By 9:43PM we’re making love, and the shadows decide that they are too desecrated by loss to escape their skeletons so they grab me instead, dance ecstatically around a campfire – my body the wood, the car the graveyard. The air is heavy with broken promises, I’ve baked my body into so many confessions that I’ve forgotten the sound of my own name. At 9:45PM I discover what it feels like to be on fire but never burn out – everything inside of me ashes until there is close to nothing left. And still, I am here. Still my tongue is crumbling into a murmur, into a scream, into a song. Still the stars blink harmoniously, dissipate into intricate fireflies of destruction that waltz around us judiciously. Everything is in synchrony with my steady, beating chest. Everything is converging into a cul-de-sac that will only end with one of us on the tarmac tonight. 

– One of us will end up on the tarmac tonight/ Cul-de-sac

ménage à trois

She’s screaming. It isn’t the usual laughter-sedated kind, when she eventually gets exhausted of going back and forth with you and the anger succumbs to lust and you end up making drunk love on the living room carpet. It isn’t one of those things that will be solved by wrapping her in your arms and whispering everything she wants to hear. Now, she’s wailing. Now, she’s flinging her arms about the room in a frenzy and her visibly tender lips contrast sharply with the sounds of insanity emancipating from between their folds. Now, you’re lost. Now, you want to be lost in her.

“Do you love me?”

The air is bathed in silence and her words nestle sullenly in the desolated corners of the room at first and later, waltz around the lie-infused walls. You hate this because they are compromising the intricacy of the situation and their taunting echoes seem to heighten her visible pain. You want to tell her that she is the single, definite thing you love – that she is the only person that you could possibly love. You want to say that you’ve loved her since the first time you saw her – when she was so drunk on the music that she seemed to forget that she was standing in the centre of one of the loudest drinking spots in Accra. When she closed her eyes, took gentle breaths and emptied herself into the turgidity of the music-drunk atmosphere, you got drunk on her. That you still see her face from that night – captivating. That you have the memory of the buoyant locks of her afro making love to the harmattan air locked in the furtherest depths of your sanity.

“Do you love me?”

She snaps you out of your daze. Her eyes are visibly sore from crying and bloated from the constant swipe of her fingers. Her voice is barely a whisper. You open your mouth to speak but quickly shut them tight again when you realize nothing can possibly save this. This is all the answer she needs because she has stopped crying or sniffing and now, she’s staring blankly at you. She’s shaking her head, her hair bouncing in visible frustration, and fuck – she’s beautiful. “I love you,” she says, and you transcend into an abysmal form of nothingness when you hear the knob turn and realize you’re the only one left standing in the room.

That is, until Makafui – her best friend – emerges from the closet, clad in nothing but underwear and mouths “is she gone?” Until you glance at the look of distress on her face, peep at your own morose expression in the mirror and realize that this isn’t even your own apartment, but Makafui’s. Until you register the comedic nature of this scene – that you are stark naked in another woman’s apartment, that the owner was hiding in a space she owns when the love of your life was shattering and your whole world was disintegrating. You nod a yes.

Makafui wants you to finish what you started. There is no reason to disagree. And so, you do.

 

I’ve always been in two places at once

1.
I think of us as two cosmic dances
spiraling towards the same black hole.
In the desecrated darkness of night
you trace the outline of my palms,
point to the resounding stars
and compare the constellations to my eyes –
I’ve always been in two places at once.

2.
“How did you digest the trauma?”
With two fingers pressed between my thighs.
With moans bouncing off the bloodstained walls.
With sways to the macabre waltz my body had memorized
until there was no dance left,
until my insides folded in on themselves and I’d lie awake at night
mapping out the parts of me that could never be enough –
did it hurt when you plunged into her?
did you look into her eyes and find peace?
did you recount the lineage that had transpired to bring her there, to you –
the broken bones of her great grandmother,
the aching back of her grandmother?
did you feel the earth quake beneath your feet, saying –
“it is I, take all of me?”

3.
“Two places” seem like such easy colors to run in and out of,
we are hurtling towards an oblivion that will never end –
I am on the ground, searching,
because I want to map out my own grave
before you have the chance to dig mine,
because I don’t know how to go from calm waters
to trembling grounds,
because your tongue is the only language
my mouth likes the taste of –
the clouds above
are asphyxiated with the sound of your name.

4.
“I want you.”
I know you do,
I’ve always been in two places at once.

La petite mort

Your father’s cologne is the smell you relate to absence. At 2AM, you hear your mother scream. It is raining, and the clouds come together to form the most obliterating compartmentalization of sky, an estrangement that exhumes vacancy that classifies you – young and longing. At 2:45AM, to the intimate beatings of loss, you absolve into an internal form of anarchy. It is raining and the flowers become ballerinas in the fleeting moonlight, making love to the water – clasping the droplets as if drowning a million different deaths. At 3:00AM you hear your mother’s wails diminish. It is the last time you will ever hear her cry. You are 11.

You are 17 when you have embodied the word “love” into a 19 year old boy who folds his jeans up at the ankles and misuses the words “fuck” and “shit”, even when “kwasia” is more accurate. When he sinks into you, when your bodies tremor in unison, you will learn the difference between want and need. You may want that boy, but you will realize, subsequent to the emptiness you feel when he is no longer inside of you and at 1:00PM, that you absolutely don’t need him.

Your father’s cologne is the smell you relate to absence. It is five years later, 1AM, when the boy (or man, he claims) you met sweating profusely at a local waakye joint ten months ago says he loves you. He, who stares hungrily at other girls when he thinks you’re not looking. He, who tells you to quiet down when you’re rambling about something you’re passionate about. “Please please please, not again” he says. The stars are awake, penetrating through the blinds as if calling a seance. When he reaches for you, you think you feel heaven. The ethereal entrenchment of the night illuminating his vacant face makes you think, for a second, that you could love him too.

At 8AM you will realize that it is impossible to love him. He says he can’t do it anymore. That you are a ghost emancipating into thin air. That you are closed off, constrained, piled with too much tremor and loss and pain. He says you are hard to love. “I am hard to love.” You will bake the words into your tongue until they become the only language you know. At 10AM, to the intimate beatings of loss, over and over again, you die then live then die a million times over. At 11AM your death will signify rebirth.

Your father’s cologne is the smell you relate to absence. When you begin to dissociate it from loss, from diminishing footsteps, it will be a Friday night – 11PM. You’ll be walking out of a bar, drunk. He’ll see you, he’ll hold you, he’ll ask you if you’re okay. He’ll drive you home. When he touches you, when you sniff the cologne, you will feel the waves of longing. The first time you make love, it won’t be a confession, it will be laying out all your inadequacies knowing that they are not inadequate, but enough – knowing that you are enough. When he says he loves you, you won’t count the hours until it’s over, you won’t even count. You will stare, he’ll stare back, and you’ll tell him you love him too. When you bury your face in his chest, what you whiff is what you will relate to presence for the rest of your life.

underneath the Ghanaian sky

The blare of horns is deafening. The only thing that encapsulates the burning air is the distant sound of the prayer call and the adept scrape of feet against sand. The colors are also loud, decorating the streets like a thousand drapes in a wedding hall. The colors calm the burn into a flame, the flame into a flicker and the flicker into the mutilated dreams of lives glued to a bike that does not pedal for them – but lives forever launching forth into anarchy. I try to observe the woman shuffling quickly by, the baby strapped to her back evidently helpless and malnourished. I attempt to pay attention to the smoke that has steadily exhumed out of exhaust pipes and formed a fine layer in the atmosphere. I can almost breathe. But I feel the desolation within me again, feel the beating of heart against chest that confirms that I am in the same obsolete place, a place where I am neither heralding forwards or backwards but remain a stagnant thicket of nothingness. I am dying an internal death.

The call sounds louder. My chest constricts further. Distant hearts facing the east – I feel myself emancipate into the surrounding air. It’s raining now, and I am almost so engulfed by the steady rhythm of raindrops that I don’t notice the right turn that will lead me down the road that will end in Femi’s arms. I go down this road because I need her, and she seems to be the single thing completely devoid of trepidation in my life, the single thing that allays pain. I take out my phone then, locate wifey and type “working late, see you soon love.”

Everything seems to calm. The rain has subsided into a gentle drizzle and the drops hit the tarmac in a calculated fashion. The incarceration I feel slowly transcends into freedom and my fingers fidget with the radio trying to find a suitable play. It is a long stretch of road. The distant stars are exhuming a subtlety, an ethereal shine that is everything and nothing all at once. There is a faint glow in the distance. The glow is visibly a blinking light when I am finally parked a close distance from Femi’s house. I notice that they are police lights, lights that move unsteadily like the silhouette of uneasy lovers. I get out of the car. The lawn is littered with people I have never seen. I start to rush towards the door and bump into an odd looking man. He looks exasperated, “ah, you no hear? Somebody die. Relax.”

I see my wife, in that split fraction of time, being escorted out of the house. I stare at her. She stares back. When she smiles, I know Femi is dead.