with a line from Romeo Oriogun’s poem: Cotonou
mama is not dead.
she sits under the plum tree beside my window.
she’s a bird with prominent feathers; she’s a girl of fifteen
she’s just like me—broken and beautiful
her eyes are armed with letters from the past:
darts of war and hunger splitting the bowel of cities in halves.
tonight, mama calls me by name: Nkonye.
the river in her voice drowns the ache in my chest. her face wears
the iridescence of the moon. in her eyes, a thousand shooting stars
spring with the weight of what they know—deep yearnings yoked in baskets of time.
on her hand, I trace planets of fresh warmth,
memories pulsating with every intake of breath—the first time
I said mama with the guttural inclination of a child
from her body I drank the first sun and morphed into a garden of promises.
mama’s voice is a guitar strumming broken chords
the earth under our feet is a mouth humming
the wind drums the tale of bodies meshed in love and loss.
tonight, a trickle becomes a deluge
tonight, my body learns the music of birds in exile
she takes me through a door in her eyes and
we amble down a valley of bones—
a long line of women who gave up silence
to sing their loved ones to the afterlife
women who carried the world and their dreams in chapped palms
tonight, my mother teaches me how to carry my dreams—
in jars of wet clay she mends the rift on my
tongue and weaves a new language
a girl is a mirror to the world, she says. a fine mix of blood and water and fire.
mama breathes into me and I become dough—
a pile of soft white batter she cracks open with her fingers.
I watch her knead me into several shapes—versions of myself tucked in a box
versions I revel in. she runs me through the furnace
and I do not melt. she says a girl must be both silk and rock to
survive the manliness of the sun. it was dawn, and i rode into the sun with a smile.
© 2023 Ewa Gerald Onyebuchi