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SUNFLOWERS IN GOBI DESERT                  
for Ai Qing

 

in the year i was born, my father was a bird of exile. what is a border if you can’t fly right over it? i trawl the sleep of a body, eager to haunt for love & logic in extinct places. eviction is a form of heartbreak, yes, it is—ask me for proof of parentage. the first year of exile, i smuggle my father back into a body of water forced to wander the earth in rags: from desert to desert. what’s the word for a man whose child learns to shed his black hair for marigold in a country he’s never lived in? i open the windows of an underground cavern built with reeducation bricks & say: who are we? why are we here? it’s a common belief we evolve from grief but god knows i lost every picture of myself as a child. the fifth year of exile, my father grows lean from eating only his longings. to disinfect a memory, clean a birdhouse of plywood & store the past. my father holds a gun in his mouth & falls asleep without a halo. a dream can clean a body like communion— what home is for you, country-song full of alcohol &a poem that starts with blood where there should be birds. in the tenth year of exile, my father is sky sick & i whispered: have you tried yelling at god’s sun & everything smells like the picture of a man wearing the horizon, then bruise, then rust. this is a reminder that i was not born here. i was numbed into boyhood from a grave by some government of no mothers whose lantern still glitters in my sleep. in the eighteenth year of exile, Xinjiang province! i put the word on a page, —the privilege of a history every time i find my way around a wound that blurs into a procession of father’s growing out of my body, smoking the sky into meat like a dress unworn from childhood. & on the days when i can’t remember, this trauma holds something like happiness & a bottle of vodka petaling into blades.

 

 

 

 

 

POEM

 

i woke up this morning & realized that what gives us life was taking it back but in small drops of sea-grief. every day i open the door & i do it by looking at my mother: one of spring’s miscarriages. i was five when my mother had cancer. cervical cancer: a body soft with birdlike bones rotting like roadkill. i imagine the cancer preening her from her bones like a vulture: the body burning into itself. little me standing in my mother’s hut, heartbroken & crying in silence. the doctor saidthere is nothing we can do.the cancer—a million tiny jelly fish is spreading & spreading & spreading until she smelled of death sweat sharp as July rain on hot asphalt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

there was a country & i can’t escape the hallelujahs
(Asaba pogrom, 1967)

 

memoryflesh out a past where i’m caught between two lands not country enough to be home. took me awhile to learn that my father didn’t die, he wasshot. all i am is a history of men who carried placards chanting One Nigeria. i had a country once. she gave me ash, PTSD & child widows. she tried to make me more than i was, which was nothing— knowing loss is what moves us to speak. we safekeep memories until we are old enough to carry them. years before this hard kernel of worry rises to a true height. i want to write with duende. i want to peg the canon. this drought. this silence. this blxck girl dying somewhere in a poem. this brokenness. this lush of grief growing on her skin— home is a paradise stolen from her hands. isn’t living for your nationjust a slower way to die? i am not sure where i come from anymore, maybe it’s the sea. i’ve spent days inside & untouched by human noise. & in my heart sits a tall flame of grief—a candle stick with a hundred arms begging for freedom. & in my mouth, a whole ocean & its bodies. i grow green with hope that it’s enough for the knife & tongue. isn’t there enough hands to wring the blood out of a name on my lips. what are the symptoms ofmy sadness? the sun’s last rage in the winter trees. i dream of a woman dressing in the mirror with borders belting her like a waist. i mean to say there is a typewriter in my bones. know this: it’s not for me to specify what part of history is choreographed or real.

 

 


 

What does genre mean to you and how does it build/unbuild your work? 

While the nature of my writing as a whole— the impetus, the stirrings, the objects of hope and grief, feelings of loss or loneliness, where it comes from—has always been (and is) the same– ( to use sadness and the experience of trauma to do actual good in the world). Most of my poems up to this point, in retrospect, worry over the possibility of navel-gazing.
With most of my poems, I begin with an idea, and then the writing is all about finding the appropriate framework in which to house it. I love to interrupt expectations in unexpected ways– I am a disrupter. For that to work in a poem, I create a pattern with its narrative voice more interested in its process, stylistic aesthetic, deeper emotional investment rather than  dredging an expressive textual site of survival organized by literary tropes.
Let me admit that it is a fantasy of mine if my poems uncomfortably draw a line between its adherence to grammar rules,  and literary concepts.
Nevertheless, I can only try to write what I myself would want to read.

 


 

Ojo Taiye is a young Nigerian who uses poetry as a tool to hide his frustration with the society. Apart from writing, he loves drinking coffee  a lot. You can find him on twitter @ojo_poems.

Author: Naima Tokunow