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The Greatest Idea Yet & Other Poems

Chekwube Danladi




Tomorrow, Chaka Demus Will Play


while I braid my hair long

thump coconut oil between

the sections

crack palm nut with my teeth

rub the

meat on my belly

I’ll want to go dancing might

go to the Shake & Bake

I’ll bless ma with a salah

tuck a mini skirt in my purse for later

might wear lipstick too

there’ll still be red henna on

my hands

from cousin Zaynab’s wedding

they might bend around a

Black

man’s waist

when we dance like we are blood

we will both wonder

was the slave trader your ancestor or mine?

hmm / his rum-laced tongue will coat my lobes / I’ll think of his

mama / while he bonds to me / I can get home myself /

I’ll say / I’ll creep in / past mama on the sofa / drink coffee

to mask the sex / oozing from me / I’ll eat leftover jollof

cold from the pot / I’ll heave / I might struggle / with sleep



 

Biafra, 1968


Street dogs take cover in the muddied coalmines of the Enugu hills.

Meanwhile children learn to lick the soot from upturned stones.

Whole fields fell roots and everything learns to die. An evening’s finish.


If not memory and its ravenous turn. The feast of wild chickens at past Easters.

The harvest by full moon of long-gone New Yam Festivals. One day’s rice,

stew, simmered meat tossed as scraps. In an Owerri schoolyard, children try to

eat each other’s eyes.


Keep faith in the elegant vengeance of an Ojukwu bucket. Blood water

for the soiled state, a fertility rite. Imbue in the earth a trauma’s

genealogy.


In Our Lady of the Assumption Church, now-dead women hold hands in the

oratory. In prayer, they tongue those names of who would-have-been:


Ikeegbunam (Let strength not kill me)

Onwuegbunam (Let death not kill me)

Ogoegbunam (Let charity not kill me)

Odirachukwumma (Once it pleases God)


Their calls macerate into a sweeter truth, hoping soon to stumble to sleep.

Their backs are turned to us. Their bodies cut into their clothes.

Their teeth cut into their heads.

Outside, children scrape at the soil for where to deposit their personal gods.

Outside, many mothers consider how best to kill their children.

The ever-benign father, England shouts his answers in multitudes:

By smothering! By blade! By ravenous appetite! Ilyushin-28! In favor of your

wounds!


In an Awka square, a woman christened Bertha sates herself on the jet bombers’

fumes. PM Harold Wilson has placed the gift in the sky. Our father of hollowed

name. Bertha ties her eyes like a string to the tail, easing the kite to an ambush

70, 80 kilometers away. Toward any place her children are not.


Keep faith in the practice. There is a small boy at her feet

who is not yet my father. He reaches up for her. She leans over to

choose him.

His name is Onyema (Who knows tomorrow)

She slips a pebble in his mouth for him to suckle.


 

The Greatest Idea Yet


the greatest idea yet invented the african can become any animal a

monkey eating fruit on the porch a bitch whelping in the sun a

wolf hungering for blxood or a snake in a box of money

though the african doesn’t need much for money the african has

communal priorities the african can even be made to work for free

the african can jive any way be the treat of any tongue be

swung in any direction be any need say hands any metric or basis be

whittled to any sliver be any cut you want

the african is zero waste the african always squeezes

the teabag squeezes the whole meal squeezes even the bones to chew

savage at everything savage in prayer shudders savage spirit

enjoying all it sets its lips to are not your own now whetted

your constant grabbing grabbing savagely at every golden limb

grabbing oil limb iron limb tin or copper limb swarms of kidnapped girls

grabbing

the african is liable to be grabbed clean off leaving behind just the

rift

the african can be faulted the ill-intent of all others

the african is responsible with its own suffering has drained its own

brain

take caution the stain the african leaves behind a beast to wash out

the african lingers long in the matrix in vacant jowls

sharpened eyes a thick-lipped capture the african cannot smile

in snapshots but desperately clutches a child’s shoulder a gun a visa

a shoreline or vista

a cash crop or crop of hair the african can always be cropped

out the african can always be negotiated in exchange

for brown liquor

or cryptic currencies on the auction block in a

conference room

in geneva or kingston or your town’s main square bartered

at the borders

for any

good of equal

value

the african is the lesser value no body is more adaptable than

the african body can breathe underwater

can survive winters yet the african won’t burn out on a beach trip

the african can go for centuries without food weeks without water

though the african hungers for touch the african is a headache

of sound too loudly dressed always can catch you

slippery if one’s not careful

can bounce back from any ailment or buck beneath its own weight

or wounds easily and is brought quickly to tears



 

Chekwube Danladi is the author of Semiotics (Georgia, 2020), winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize. She has received support from Kimbilio Fiction, the Lambda Literary Foundation, the Brunel International African Poetry Prize, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Wisconsin Institute from Creative Writing. Her chapbook,Take Me Back, was included in the New Generation African Poets: Nne boxset. Her visual work has been commissioned by the Center for Afrofuturist Studies (a program of PS1), Already Felt: Poetry in Revolt and Bounty, Langer/Dickie, and the Black Poetry Review. She is the 2022-25 Writer-in-Residence at Occidental College and lives in Los Angeles.

 


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