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Category archive for: Chris Abani

Histories 4

by Chris Abani

When I was five,

I tried to fetch water from the unfinished septic tank

with a plastic teapot for my sister’s tea party.

I fell, the weakness of water-eroded wood giving beneath me.

What kind of son betrays his father like this?

As I emerged, I saw he was about to leap.

Maybe that was why he beat me so much.

Maybe it is too much for your father to believe

that he would give his life for you.

And who can blame him?

I wanted to be a son you could be proud of, Father.

I killed the way you taught me.

But I liked dolls and tea and playing with my sister.

Forgive me.

This is the body of man.

Sanctificum.

And then the war followed.

from SanctificumFind it in the library

Copyright 2010 Chris Abani
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Histories 7

by Chris Abani

As I grow older I want to hold my mother.

Hold her to my chest and soothe her.

Cradle her head that is small, thin as a sparrow’s,

and say, He loved you, he did.

All those years, they count for something.

And the only lie would be the not knowing.

And I am a man, too.

And like my father, bad, bad, bad.

from SanctificumFind it in the library

Copyright 2010 Chris Abani
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Elephants 5

by Chris Abani

It is not likely that my father and I will take a walk soon

and not just because he is dead.

But he did come back in a dream to cook

me a simple dish of beans with tomatoes

and, through the steam rising from my bowl,

he smiled as he cut me a slice of bread,

vanishing slowly with every saw.

The heart is like this sometimes.

It finds the hands of your dead father

and shaves away another layer

like a thick slab of warm bread.

Sometimes that, Tadeusz. Or sometimes this.

That the lines lead you out of the labyrinth.

That the Minotaur is your toy bear thrown casually

against a chair in the dark.

That rain will come.

That rain will come.

from SanctificumFind it in the library

Copyright 2010 Chris Abani
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Histories 8

by Chris Abani

When you first see a man die

from a machete cut or a bullet,

which is to say, when you first confront

the astonishment of blood and feel it

creep over your skin like a sugary sludge,

even though the cracks it wets are not your skin,

but really the obsidian of the road,

you feel sick in ways you thought not possible.

A deep and wonderful bile

that can never leave your stomach.

And then the days pass and you become familiar

with its ways and it bothers you no more

than cherry syrup dripped over pancakes.

You grow bored and impatient with it all.

With the shock of those just-arriving moments.

After that, people can die around you day and night

and you go on without noticing.

My capacity for it scares me.

Blessed are the undefiled in the way.

There are two ways to view the body.

Resurrection and crucifixion.

Everything that falls between is ritual.

from SanctificumFind it in the library

Copyright 2010 Chris Abani
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Elephants 1

by Chris Abani

There was this small college in the South where I read

and three white boys in the audience

in KKK outfits, stiff like lilies for a funeral.

The walk up to them was long with fear and shame and rage.

But I took the hood off one and wore it back to the stage

and through my reading to a deafening applause.

But I mostly remember how hot it was under the fabric

and how that boy’s smell filled me,

and how wet my tears were.

And Bean in the warm bed breathing softly and me cold

on the floor and writing this poem in an old notebook.

And the arrow slit of skylight lets in only a red night.

And her Gennady Aygi translations flutter by the bed

like a flock of simple white birds.

The more we promise to never leave our lovers,

the faster the horizon arrives. My lust is simpler still:

that Bean return to me every night with her gentle warmth.

from SanctificumFind it in the library

Copyright 2010 Chris Abani
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Sacrament 1

by Chris Abani

Have you heard of the oracle of the Igbo?

The one called Chukwu? Just one word: God.

The oracle of God.

The voice of God.

The final arbitration.

Kpom kwem.

Deep in a grove of trees, the sacred lake,

and rising in the gloom and heat,

mist, the very breath of divinity.

The unbearable trepidation,

the worship, the sheer terror and earnestness

trembling the supplicants. And the priests

sitting on rocks and in trees on haunches,

silent like vultures or Rilke’s unspeakable angels.

And then a pilgrim wades cautiously into the lake.

On the shore, the line of unannointed

shivers in a shared awe.

And if the petitioner is beautiful or strong,

the priests hold her under, then shackled,

for slavers. In the lake, red dye bubbles up

as God smacks his lips.

And that endless line of believers near faint

with the fearsome beauty of the thought:

Please consume me, God.

Consume me and find me worthy.

But don’t let me die.

from SanctificumFind it in the library

Copyright 2010 Chris Abani
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Revenant 3

by Chris Abani

A Chicago Tribune obituary:

In lieu of flowers, please send acerbic letters to Republicans.

In the Red Square, Lenin is sprouting fungi.

King Oedipus to the barman: She wasn’t all that.

from SanctificumFind it in the library

Copyright 2010 Chris Abani
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Divination 4

by Chris Abani

No I am not afraid of the eye chart:

in THE dmv

But i sHakE

at The Uniformed

COP who WaLks In.

My fear of uniforms is an old habit, comfortable.

Sometimes even the chief fryer at McDonald’s can

make me break into a hot sweat if I am not expecting his glance.

Monsters don’t crowd your psyche

but rather sit awkwardly on the remote control,

too polite to get up and move it, until

the constantly changing channel is unbearable.

The odds are that my political views won’t stop the invasion,

but to drink Ethiopian coffee during a bomb-

storm is still rebellious.

from SanctificumFind it in the library

Copyright 2010 Chris Abani
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Pilgrimage 8

by Chris Abani

Growing up, Emeka was albino.

How we feared his pink skin and red eyes.

How we loathed him.

To my shame, I never ate with him,

saying: I just ate,

And to my sister under my breath:

He disgusts me.

She never told on me, but made me wait

while she ate with him

— same plate, no utensils —

her eyes never leaving mine.

from SanctificumFind it in the library

Copyright 2010 Chris Abani
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Elephants 4

by Chris Abani

There is a place on the veld where elephants go to die.

Here they come across the skeletons of other elephants.

They pause amid the whiteness, raise their trunks and howl

to the absent flesh, circling the bones, picking up each one,

putting it down; circling one last time, they stand still in silence

for an age, then move. Steps less assured, slower.

Why was it so hard to tell my mother, I love you,

like the man in Sarah’s translation of Gennady’s poem

tracing a woman’s face with a flower?

To cling to death, to a metaphor as real as a dying parent,

is to wrap language around an absence.

There are stories that can kill you.

from SanctificumFind it in the library

Copyright 2010 Chris Abani
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.