Spring/Summer 07


I will say this:
Somewhere a man is speaking in the dark
but his voice is lost in the rain.
I know about this impulse, the need
to make patterns out of it. To build meaning from the causal
detritus. But it's also the light and the wood
floor bare but for the lone slipper
tossed carelessly to one side. I have no difficulty
admitting to the lies I've told. But you want magic, no?
Look, nothing has been true since that picture of hell
on the living room wall lost its terror.
I say I want a strong woman, but unlike Neto
I cannot have the woman and the fish.
Here is a boy in the airport café, hair cropped from service.
And he closes his eyes to take a sip of coffee.
And smiles as the dark washes the desert away.
Blake's death mask is breathing in the stale air of the museum.
In my memory, one woman has truly loved me.
The hills of my childhood are dark with purple dusks and the wings
of guinea fowl launched like a prayer to the still forming moon.
I hold Bean's shell to my ear. There is no sea. There is only sea.
By my bed, in an empty chair, my shirt unwinds.
I remember my aunt counting the dead in the newspaper,
the name whispered with the dread of death: Soweto.
I never told anyone that every sliver of orange I ate for years
was preceded by the words from high mass.
Peramea secula seculurum. Spit out pit. Amen. Juice. Amen. Flesh.
A full moon leaning on a skyscraper is often beyond words.
The dog's black tongue was more terrifying that its teeth.
The gravestone rising out of the puddle was more sinister
than the body we discovered as children swinging
in the summer hot orchard.
The old woman singing a dirge that night had a voice full of dust.
Sorrow lodged like a bullet next to the heart and irritated:
a splinter heavy with death. A man once asked me in the street:
Do you own your own bones?
The safety of doorways is an illusion. They lead nowhere.
This is why we build houses.
Ablutions, when there is no water, can be performed by sand,
washing grain by grain even the hardest stone of sin.
But you, but you, you are a sin that I live for.
Ne Me Quitte Pas. Ne Me Quitte Pas. Ne Me Quitte Pas.
Nina Simone's voice walks in dragging the bodies of dead black men
that bled unseen in the dark of Southern nights, shaded by trees
and the veiled eyes of hate.
And in a poem, Lucille stands in the shadow of a tree and pours libations—
for our souls, for our salt, for our hope.
Hush little baby, don't you cry.
To die is to return. To fly is to be a bird. Neither is freedom.
If it were we would have no name for it. No language. Not even
The temptation of wind blowing a dark woman's hair away from a cliff's edge.
Instead, feathers are brought to my door everyday by mystery.
Kindling for a fire, a beacon, an epiphany I cannot light.
This is the body of Christ.


Chris Abani’s prose includes The Virgin of Flames (Penguin, 2007) GraceLand (FSG, 2004/Picador, 2005), Masters of the Board (Delta, 1985) and the novellas, Becoming Abigail (Akashic, 2006) and Song For Night (Akashic, 2007). His poetry collections are Hands Washing Water (Copper Canyon, 2006), Dog Woman (Red Hen, 2004), Daphne’s Lot (Red Hen, 2003), and Kalakuta Republic (Saqi, 2001). He is an Associate Professor at the University of California, Riverside and the recipient of the PEN USA Freedom-to-Write Award, the Prince Claus Award, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a California Book Award, a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award & the PEN Hemingway Book Prize.