“Birthing” by Chisom Okafor

Chisom Okafor


In memory of Akin, beaten to death on the 17th of February, 2017, for being homosexual

Someday, a soul will come out of the field to claim it
and then, we will know.
—Kwame Dawes

Here, seven nautical miles away, we let our canoe
trail the direction of wind. 
Here, where all things take their roots and a symphony still remains
of the water creatures below, like colours strewn on palettes, 
we’re pilgrims advancing by sight (and sound),
willing this cathedral of our bodies to find home again, 
within the glassy shimmer of water.



When my companion casts his net, 
I see the hands of a javelin thrower, and
I want those hands in exchange for mine.
To hold and be held like mine, at nights when rain clouds gather, 
and I’m looking up at the stars and not finding them there.
But there is no hidden starlit constellation overhead now, 
not even deep into nightfall yet,
and we’re rowing to the shacks on the other side,
lined up on dry land in a solemn procession,
and we’re pitched on both ends of this canoe, paddling away 
past boat parts in disuse, past tired retreating fishermen, 
past floating fish traps to dry land
where there are bamboo pillars, straight as soldiers on parade,
ready for the mating call of a whistling thrush hoisted onto a dais
on the riverbank. 


My lover swears he could trace the scape of the highland 
far into the village beyond, from this distance; 
the ridges stretching so thin that they disappear into the sunset.
There is a serenity in water that builds nests in my head,
shatters only when he grips his paddle again
for one more stroke like the swing of a broken racket, 
before we let us drift downstream with the tide.
They can’t follow us to this place, he tells me.
You can’t lynch who you don’t see.
Consider that all waters spring from an unseen circuit.
That love is water, which means that mine is a summation 
of thick droplets that heralds a rainstorm.
That love smells like loam washed clean at sunrise 
by liquid, ordinary as rain. 
That love is sunrise, 
which means that mine is the petals of a freshly watered rose 
blooming in the sun.
That love is a flowing stream.
That here, on this body of water is where lovers—
boys left for dead by the wayside—
find their names again.

from Rattle #65, Fall 2019
Tribute to African Poets


Chisom Okafor: “I was born in Nigeria and still live in Nigeria. The themes of sexuality, history, my own childhood and family bonds (especially in dysfunctional families) influence my writing. I also write as a way of conversing with myself and finding a way to document my own memories.” (web)

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