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“a brief history” + “voices” by Hauwa Shaffii Nuhu

“a brief history” + “voices” by Hauwa Shaffii Nuhu

a brief history

your body is yours until

you place a lover’s name on your tongue.

after, there’s a new religion. godless.

a husky voice. a release. a dance with winds.

mine slithers, opens as a hungry mouth

every time an ocean advances.

when it begins to latch onto a new name,

i force its mouth closed,

stuff it with a finger or two. until it chokes.

but you do not do unkindness to your body

and walk away free.

your body will evade a memory for years,

boycott all the roads that lead to it

burn. evaporate.

it will ignore. look away. untangle and rip

the fabric of shame;

open to hold another life, another breath;

push out and find its way back home.

your body will create a vacuum to fit peace, and

all the other salvations that do not require blood.

your body, however, will not forget.


i am

confessing my sins again,

learning again the brutal tongue of naming:

how it will speak me to wholeness,

get my heart breathing again

i understand.

still, i only talk about my head:

how, yesterday, i curled on the floor

held it in the insufficient world

between my hands,

pressing hard, trying

to strangle the waves. and the sobs. and the voices.

—but flesh cannot harm water. or sobs. or voices.

still, i lay there trying.

hurting in the same colour as

torn flesh waiting on blood.

hurting in the chest, in the head.

hurting. hurting

sprawled later on the floor at home,

my head and chest do that thing again,

i try to open my body with a blade, allow

the waves passage

i carve a route on my arm

but lord, you promised

you promised

Hauwa Shaffii Nuhu is a Nigerian poet and essayist whose work has appeared on Brittle Paper, Ake Review, Popula, After the Pause journal, The Bitter Oleander and elsewhere. She is a 2018 fellow of Ebedi Writers Residency.

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