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I Was In Bed All Night With The Moon & Other Poems

Ismail Bala


after Karin Gottshall

When I tell you my adulthood was wasted

at a desert, you should keep in mind

I may be an unstable narrator.

When I say I spent a time

in prep school, masked as a girl,

be doubtful —though in reality I did.

Each day we washed our faces

to a glistening shine and ran through the evil

forest with empty hands. When I tell you

I love coated sugar, it’s the naked truth.

As is the case that my father

was a ranger and my mother a chemist—

or a classicist. I confused the two.

I get confused about the relative

magnitude of my solitude: it seems so hefty,

but where was it? Did you know I survived a

plane crash? That I was stranded

and lived an awful time on the enclave? Really

that explains this crook-shaped scar,

my love of gravy. I ask for no hand

with these loads. The storm shook,

shook the shelter’s base

and the lampposts fluttered

like kites. We set out from quay. All my lies

are about that: they travel

so fast over the skies, then at last

come back: my desert-weary, long lost relations.


I Was In Bed All Night With The Moon

and a slim dictionary.

I saw the cat rise up

On the tattered mat. Outside

a cloud unfurled its murk in vast,

circular spirals: floating off,

drifting back. Memory is not like that—

words pursed like dust specks,

a sleep I slid into: this cat’s

dark-eyed father, his tomb

under baobab root and neem trees.

Then come the spirits of dawn

With their plumes of fire.

One day language will unmask itself

from me—even to the basic

elements: the last time

I heard the word gossamer, the old

sprightly sun on my back, reek

of mire— swift flowage

working itself west. At last

to discharge the word I

into the huge muddy currents of the river.


What the First Day Will Be Like

after Edward Hirsch

You’re sitting by a small glass door

in a deserted bar by the river.

It’s midnight, and the bartender is cleaning,

though you’re still cosy, the AC

gradually blowing hot.

Now you’re trudging down the river

to watch the first lights rippling on the water.

You’ve lived in big houses, large spaces—

the skies above you kept caving in—

but the river and the clouds were also yours.

Nobody else is around to drink with you

from the watery mist, shallow depths.

You’re alone with the purling world.

Farewell, love, far flung, in a cold place.

Dawn is eternal here, time infinite.


Ismail Bala writes in English and Hausa. His poetry and translations have appeared in the UK, the USA, Canada, India and South Africa, in journals such as Poetry Review, Ambit, New Coin, Ake Review, Lunaris, A Review of International English Literature and Aura Literary Arts Review, among many others. Born and educated to university level in Kano, he did his post-graduate studies at Oxford. Line of Sight (2020) is his first collection. His poems have been translated into Latvian, Belarusian, Nepalese and Polish. He is a Fellow of the International Writing Programme of the University of Iowa.



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