“The Language Of Love” by Nebeolisa Okwudili
The Language Of Love
I think I might do with a little colour
if I was to declare my day of birth.
A nurse brought a white shroud and wrapped me,
a rough shroud it was, my relation
to it at this time is like rubbing bristles
on my arms. With cotton balls they wiped
the bloody mess from my cheeks and buttocks.
The man I would know to be my father
was standing beside the woman I would know
to be my mother, squeezing her shoulder
lightly, in his brown jacket while she lay
on the bed in a blue loose gown as if
she had given birth to the whole world,
although I was just the size of her head.
I privatised my own world by holding
my cry and when I was handed to Mama
she opened her lips and her yellow teeth
displayed, and the first pink I ever saw
was on her tongue, her auburn lips kissed me
on my temple. It was my first training on
the language of love, at most unspoken
and unconscious, then gently I was passed
to my father who tucked his pen in my palm.
Finding The Language Of The Dead
One night, my brother said if I wanted
to learn or hear the language of the dead
I should stay up late at night. In Bosso
it took later to start hearing the crackle
of branches and dried leaves in the wind.
In Gidan Kwano, as early as ten,
all the shops would have closed and lights turned off
so that every creak emerged as a giant sound,
thin but able to break a wrestler’s throat.
Light and sound both speak the same language, which is
in waves, or else they wouldn’t drown each other.
Then I began to hear the names from doors,
silent but steeping in their tone, someone
crying words like the twelve had done exactly
on Pentecost. I heard a chanted hymn:
“Nso kachisi elu…” while the others,
in one accord: “Sanctus in excelsis…”
I hardly understood the two but I bowed
my head, a blinding light came and trailed off.
I realised there wasn’t any difference
between ours and the language of the dead.
In The World Where Language Is a Token
At night I see dogs conversing in a
fortunate language, in packs, their every bark
a retort, a command that sounds of war.
The dumb man in One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest
chose what language he wanted to cognise
yet he choked the first man who took him in.
A strange Hausa man called my number asking
if I knew when ‘Audu’ would return from work,
in a language that reminds me of sickles,
of girls with large eyes and a stutter
that made all their words unlovable.
When the white policeman in Crash searched
the rich black woman’s body for anything
that would implicate her, he was speaking
in a patois only the woman’s husband
couldn’t grasp at the first instant. Sometimes
we mean to be specific but the dialect
inhibits us from this like the pennies
poor wives screen from their husbands, tucked under
their mattresses. Every colour of my cloth
says something about me, something
I wish is hidden about me yet till I die.
Electric codes, ciphered and passed on through
the porous body of the internet,
which is probably a fine mystery
but all mysteries lead to one blunt end
of which, when, we know the right language,
opens to life’s stupendous fantasies.
Nebeolisa Okwudili (@NebeolisaO) has his works featured or forthcoming in Ambit Magazine, Word Riot, Saraba magazine, Yuan Yang Journal, Kalahari Review, The New Black Magazine, Munyori Literary Journal, and in national dailies. He won 3rd place in the 2011 ASiS international Writing Competition in the poetry category.
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