March 30, 2021

Ekphrastic Challenge, February 2021: Editor’s Choice


Cloud Dance by Claire Ibarra, photo of birds and trees in silhouette against a lake, mirrored on the surface of the water

Image: “Cloud Dance” by Claire Ibarra. “Telling It Through a Broken Lens” was written by Bola Opaleke for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, February 2021, and selected as the Editor’s Choice.

[download: PDF / JPG]


Bola Opaleke


So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive
—Audre Lorde

We know that our bones can
hardly rescue our skin from carrying
the weight it carries, but if you looked up,

like us, you will see towering trees—
how their leafless branches pretend to be the sky’s veins
filled with wind, not blood. Today,

there is a mirror in the sky
with which everything attempting to touch it
replicate itself. They say, a bird

only knocks on a door when closed.
Sometimes, the cloud feels dangerously pinched
like a black man in his home country.

& like a black man in his home country,
it scampers away from its spot to find another,
then another & another. Isn’t this the portrait

destiny painted of my people? Isn’t this
how things that never speak speak about us
in hushed voices? We see the sky’s bruises

but choose to call them patches
of the cloud. We raise our heads skyward to listen
to what we know will never speak back.

To justify the domestication of our ears
inside the prison of our pockets, we make silence
into a prayer to the unseen god, & let it

explode through the lips of our entangled nights.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
February 2021, Editor’s Choice


Comment from the editor, Timothy Green: “This month’s mind-bending image seems full to me of a strange longing that’s difficult to describe. Everything is mirrored but the birds, which are somehow free from the constraints of this universe. Bola Opaleke’s poem matches that intensity in a similarly abstract way, deepening the metaphor and pushing it into new territory. This was the poem that I kept returning to, and it felt more profound each time.”

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December 31, 2019

Ekphrastic Challenge, November 2019: Editor’s Choice


black and white photo of boy walking dog on a street

Image: “Dog Walking” by Alice Pettway. “A Caricature” was written by Bola Opaleke for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, November 2019, and selected as the Editor’s Choice.

[download: PDF / JPG]


Bola Opaleke


Where I came from,
the street is another religion

& my feet know
all its worship songs
by heart. It effuses a silence that arouses

the slumbering houses;
make me watch their breasts as they rise

& fall. My moment
of peace & tranquility is
when I can look the most human

behind the chromatic harmony
of car honks. Am I not a common sight, marveled

at colors; yellow grass, green trees,
red flowers? I know whatever is not black
or white begs another name. & before I got pollinated

inside this religion, I developed a new body
which blinks only once a day like the streetlamp

of a graveyard. Surrounded
by shadows, I am not as lonely as people
think. I have a skeleton dog lost to the street as I.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
November 2019, Editor’s Choice


Comment from the editor, Timothy Green: “The power of this poem lives within the title that undercuts it. As I read, I get lost in this idea of the street as a religion. I’m lulled by the blinking streetlamp in a graveyard and forget that what I’m lulled by is only a caricature—and that was always the tension within the photograph: that interplay between the scene and our interpretation of it. This is a poem with several layers of meaning, about the scene, about ourselves as viewers, and about the power of narrative to cloud our thinking.”

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September 12, 2017

Bola Opaleke


after Tiana Clark’s “Equilibrium”

After thirty years
I finally managed
to figure out
what home means
to a refugee. Plume
the flickering ash
around the reality
of waking up at dawn
to a new statute
asking me to name
every line on
my thickening palms.
The landlord is
the god I see
at night. I pray
to him for permission
to call his house home.
When he touches
my daughter where no man
should touch
her, I pull the nonplussed girl
by the ear
and warn her to use
the kitchen
door henceforth. Cutting
the sight of policemen
towards my door
makes the fruit bleed
my dark blood,
but they have not come
to ask why I cut
myself, they have come
to ask if I wasn’t
a terrorist to bomb
innocent neighbors
in no distant future.
I would tend to
my bloody finger later,
asking where
my appetite has gone.
I know home was
where death ambushed
my destiny,
I know it should be
where the sun rills in
with a smile,
not climbs arrogantly
upon my vertebrae,
not make rent the tears
that must not
dry up before
the next election.
My weakened muscles
purr at the veins
delivering gas to
my heart that
would not stop
pounding. Each time
someone tries to
extinguish the fire
of political bigotry,
the rotten air
runnels through,
feeding oil
to the rampaging
flame. I look out
through the
basement window,
my eyes traversing oceans
and mountains calling home, waiting
for something beautifully naked
to crawl up ashore and say stay here.

from Poets Respond
September 12, 2017


Bola Opaleke: “This poem is for ‘Dreamers’ who grow up knowing America as their only home. The POTUS plan to end DACA is one that sends a spear through the heart. It calls for a reflection on how politicians often ignore human frailty and human fragility in their everyday decisions.” (web)

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