October 30, 2019

O-Jeremiah Agbaakin


ekùn, økø òkè—tiger, the mountain’s groom
—from Yoruba

the boy with the crow skin comes from a long
line of tigers who moved mountains to please

their women—who paraphrased the serpent in
its own words—fang disguised in fur. our love

of height, not the longing for gods built a tower.
the men stopped crying as soon as they were

born; picked up their claws & spears to fight.
Akinrere crushed the earth & founded a giant

elephant standing above it. then stole a woman
from his own camp, climbing the palace roof to

feel the mountain’s breath he hiked in youth as he
       wrestled wild cats clicking their paws like a shearers’

knives. once, my father’s half-brother, drunk, tipped off
       their balcony, broke his ribs & blamed his wife for descent.

he took them all: women widowed by wars, took war
returnees. the fireplace in his bones was too much for him.

after slaughtering the cockerel, my clan commands
me to pluck all the feathers to prove allegiance

& attention to details. the slaughter smooth & neat.
i come from woodcarvers chiselling their bodies into

gods. i want to leave this land, still toothed with
enough mountains—that crave ghosts’ claws marks

and their clothes hanging loose from uprighted
skeletons like mannequins hanging their snake skin

shedding. yet the mothers still wound open their
love like first milk. the mane shed them like a skin.

from Rattle #65, Fall 2019
Tribute to African Poets


O-Jeremiah Agbaakin: “My identity as an African is largely influenced by the relics of colonial intrusion in the shape of religion, thought, and language. I try as much as possible to reflect and interrogate the tension in my art. While contemporary African poetry may have shifted considerably from colonialism and post-colonialism talks, we are subconsciously influenced by their many impacts. These poems, in a way, examine historical narratives (like the Nigerian Civil War) as well as personal histories on the fulcrum of borrowed language and its tension.” (web)

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March 17, 2019

O-Jeremiah Agbaakin


before, after & for the Christchurch mosque attack

last night, i was an omniscient again.
the evening sky was orange like crushed carrot.

i didn’t die though my body fell off
a bridge, limping away like a serpent bruised

by the son’s gunpowder. in the dream
i carried all my dead inside the wide casket

of my wail and to leave the city now
is to find a crack in the world: which is why

i’m stuck in this poem. my bladder fills
with blood. my heart stopped ticking like a clock

marking the end of time. & i ran & ran
as guns whistled their venom in the open harmattan.

my country was burning. all the men
were singeing into a pile of raven without wings

their birdsong fossilized into lukewarm char.
in my vision, a danfo omnibus was heading out of

the world; the bus stop filled with one-legged
tarry, one-legged panic. i was no more a child

picking bullet casings like cracked peanuts for fun
like i once gathered bleeding machetes from a world

war that started on our porch, circa forever.
but i am trying to gather what is more forbidden:

an apple before it falls on eve’s hand, a bullet
still in motion, a hand grenade before it unfolds its

fist into smoke, a tongue after it says brother—
meat flesh is more pleasing than cabbage flesh because

of blood. you cannot blame me. in the dream,
a gunman my age shoots his voice & there a small

war gathers in his throat. but fear can
no longer hold power when it’s come to pass.

i cede myself to the belly of a whale to find
water to drown this dream of fire. i cede myself without

feeling naked like this sky with no star spot;
like God stripped of his parts he wanted unrevealed before

the fruit was plucked from the field of vision.
then i stirred and jumped out of the dream back into my eyes

and unsaddled my bladder but there was no
blood and i wrote this down and i quaked as i pulled out

my cell to seek out the dead from the night.
tonight dreamland is the unsafest country to stay.

from Poets Respond
March 17, 2019


O-Jeremiah Agbaakin: “In the wake of reactions to the mindless violence that broke out in the relatively peaceful New Zealand, I am forced to revisit the first bloodshed ever recorded in the Bible. That is not the interesting part. This poem was a written account of a nightmare I had before this tragedy so it in a way foretold one more evil in a long line of evils, and that is what makes the world scary. Our unfortunate ability to forget trauma, until the next, and so on. But out of all the reactions the one that tore me apart was a tweet by @Rafiq ibn Jubair that reads ‘the first victim of the terrorist attack in #Christchurch, New Zealand is seen standing by the door of the masjid. He is heard saying ‘Hello brother’ to the gunman before he is brutally gunned down. His last world to his killer was ‘brother.’’ I imagine that kind of ‘dialogue’ between Cain and Abel before the murder took place. I try in my own way to make sure this poem haunts us forever just like brothers murdering brothers will haunt us more than a hackneyed headline reporting of a gun shooting.” (web)

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