“Lamb of God” by Chisom Okafor
Lamb of God
Here is what we know:
The dead come alive in the space after midnight,
which is why, midway, the dark harden into dogs, thundering.
Tonight, I wait to see my mother’s face
in the abandon of flowers
howling with the wind;
water bodies stream
through the gaps between my fingers;
zigzag lines of night rain,
burst through the wind,
and again, I’m a child. Again,
I’m stranded between voids.
The dead do not really die,
Father once said;
they journey, with the silence of God’s lambs,
across the bridge over Jahannam,
where all Muslims must pass;
narrow as spider web, slippery as catfish skin.
I hear your voice, narrow as a needle, in the fading light,
Soft and slippery as the rustle
of leaves on nights when
the sky is a starlit constellation, and darkness
is a woman of many names.
But tonight, your face is the moon I drink while
I squeeze you out of the shadows, watch
you cringe like an out-of-season fruit
extracting juice from itself.
She spends the night with me,
then crawls out with the rays,
slicing through my windowpanes
at first light.
I am told:
A bride in my dream,
explains my mother seeking rebirth.
I sneeze at noon, when she calls
from the other side.
I know her like you know a gmelina tree
stripped clean of leafage after a windstorm.
‘never whistle in the dark,
or you call her back from the bridge
she already crossed.’
dead lambs of God do not really die;
they wait for new names,
wait for a reunion with their beloveds,
on the bridge over Jahannam.
At the end of short days and
into longer nights
the sun slithers home in degrees,
giggling into my face,
circles me in her swift darkness
like a badly shaped gown.
Like me, her temper is quick
Papa’s favourite stretcher rests,
serpentine, on the porch.
‘Never touch,’ I’m told,
‘never offend the dead.’
But I crawl with the night,
to sit on its shadow.
He starts to light pipe after pipe,
gifting imaginary whirls of smoke
to the sky.
His mouth twitches
into a knowing smile when owls
screech in the distance.
The moon, journeying with us into the night,
bursts into a fist of clouds
and for long moments,
We let our weary eyes linger on her fading light.
Chisom Okafor is a poet and nutritionist. He was shortlisted for the Brittle Paper Award for Poetry in 2018 and the Gerald Kraak Prize of 2019. His works have been published or are forthcoming in Praire Schooner, the Indian Journal of Literature and Aesthetics, Rattle, Palette Poetry, The 2019 Gerald Kraak Anthology (The Heart of the Matter), Kikwetu, The Rising Phoenix Review, The Single Story Foundation Journal, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, Brittle Paper and elsewhere. He is currently co-editing 20:35 Africa, an anthology of contemporary poetry.
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