The Greatest Idea Yet & Other Poems
Tomorrow, Chaka Demus Will Play
while I braid my hair long
thump coconut oil between
crack palm nut with my teeth
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
from cousin Zaynab’s wedding
they might bend around a
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
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
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
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
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
the african is liable to be grabbed clean off leaving behind just the
the african can be faulted the ill-intent of all others
the african is responsible with its own suffering has drained its own
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
in geneva or kingston or your town’s main square bartered
at the borders
good of equal
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.