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