Back to Issue Thirty-Nine



I built this hole myself. This place where all the water in the Nile meet. This place where a shotgun is a memory of blood. This place where sand & dust is formula for man. When I was a boy I used to paint watercolors on stones & pretend there was nothing taken in us. For a while, I could only be one man, which was the role I had to play, which was my life. These days there are not many weekends to celebrate or call the clowns for, everyone is on the tail of something, even you, after this poem. My father is a black man. I take his blackness into a class full of black people who have no history. If I write about my country, that too is a trigger aimed at my teeth. Here, in my country, silence is how you laugh in the dark. Do not test the man who says a land is flowing with skull & bones. Do not even jot a thing down when he leaves, if you look closely you will see death turning its back on you. Child, this is how you know not to wave back. You do not leave a trail for your breath. How do I know all this? I was born close to the sun. But do not write any of this as my essence, I swear my mouth in the water is still the language of run.





I Saw the War Coming


I hid, in my room, by the kitchen, close to the knives. I hid my body in the black & white TV. I watched it. It grew. It wanted to run. They shot a boy, the dead boy. I tell you, I tasted his blood, there was still someone roaming in there. For a while I stood, caging & uncaging, boxing & unboxing. The boy’s mother saw the bullet greet my body, when I didn’t fall she wanted to see who was holding her son’s head above death. If I could flick a finger & unfuck this life, I would. You can lend me your palm & I will fill it with names, the sulfur dying into little children. This is what it means to be born with a cord around your neck, to be born in a place where dark nights are pressed from body into shadow. Yesterday another man was shot, wife: widow. See? See how death is so easy to carry around? Before the war came, the war was a country.






I have sworn allegiance to my tongue. Brick by brick I unsteady the hands building me. There is a house already, I tell them, what the house needs is repair. I swore to you before I walked out the red door to see the world, before I opened my arms & welcomed my body to a city. I said I would return, you drew me in the sand & said: may these lines & sticks keep the fire from the prey. I wish we knew that there was enough sand right there to dream of life. That going to a strange land is to sometimes leave two countries behind. But who doesn’t leave here? Who has left that hasn’t had a daughter? My father’s throne sinks in blood, I do not know how to fully tell you I’m a descendant of a war. I belong to a long line of fathers. This is where I was born, a child with a history of chaos. We belong to the story of light, what can split us dies in the approach towards kindness. But this is what will cost nothing. It is why I will pin hot silver in my brother’s mouth, my own throat an excuse for hate & a country, have him repeat names of my dead tongue before I turn his body into a place even the devil does not speak of.


Anthony Okpunor is a Nigerian poet, essayist, and artist. He was shortlisted for the
2019 Nigerian Student Poetry Prize. He was also shortlisted for the SEVHAGE/Angya
Poetry Prize 2019. He emerged as winner of the 2019 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative
Writing Contest (poetry category). He was a finalist for the 2020 Palette Spotlight Poetry
Award. He was also longlisted for Palette Poetry’s 2020 Emerging Poet Prize. He was a
finalist for the 2021 Chestnut Review’s Stubborn Writer’s contest (poetry category). He
was recognized as a semifinalist for Adroit Journal’s 2021 Award for Poetry and Prose.
His works have appeared/forthcoming on online platforms including The Adroit Journal,
The McNeese Review, Palette Poetry, Frontier Poetry, Rattle, Strange Horizons,
Roadrunner Review, and elsewhere. He can be reached on Twitter @TonyOkpunor.

Next (Julian Guy) >

< Previous (Matilda Lin Berke)