“Telling It Through a Broken Lens” by Bola Opaleke

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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