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what you should [not] say of a black boy who goes & does not come back

Onyekachi Iloh

say there is a boy,

say his name is Olúorógbó

say he is everyone’s beloved

say all the girls stretch out soap-filled hands

whenever he bathes in the stream.

say mothers point to him

as child par excellence whenever he saunters into the market

say the people dance & shake off brokenness & farm-filth whenever

he plays the drum.

say he can knock down a galloping buffalo

with a single arrow if he wishes.

say all the young men want to eat honey from his mouth

[did he also get straight As?]

say he goes out & does not come back

& we don’t ask the fathers

or the priests through whose fragile bodies

gods speak in guttural voices

[did we ask the cops?]

say we won’t ask the river,

say we won’t hold callousness accountable say we continue to draw water to drown memory.

say his mother gave him up to waves & chased the enemy with fire

say she found the secret to victory in the veins of leaves

& pulled them free from the medicine-man’s tongue trapped between

treachery against his king

& loyalty to the soil which holds the bones of his fathers.

don’t say this one lest we summon darkness, lest we fall to the

ground gently & die:


let this leaf hit death with a stick like a hungry mongrel & send

it running, tail between the legs, back to heaven's gates


may the blackness of this body leave bitterness on the tongue of death


let war not come to our town, let sickness eat dust at our city gates


he who attempts to shake the iroko shakes himself

let their spells be as termites threatening stones with destruction:

let their words stick in their throats


let them sleep & forget, let them taste darkness & lose

all memory of light


twist the arm of the enemy on earth, make him see the back of his

head while the black soil of this earth is still nestled in his mouth


don’t say this one, sing it:

do you not see the son who has been birthed & given up for you?

mother Móremí , say the words, again & again & again

& we will listen & we will open our ears & we will walk into your grief.

your only son, Olúorógbó, you have broken him open that his honey

may cover the nakedness of earth, that our feet may sweeten

every bitterness we walk through

people of the world, listen to the story of the boy who stumbled  

into darkness that the god in him might strut out into the light

//that earth might become sons & daughters of his mother

   world without end

//that the enemy might see us & point with ten fingers

//that we might kill the horse & watch the rider kiss dust  

//that we might mourn the hero & not the chorus.

throw the name of that boy where there are many gods.


Onyekachi Iloh is a writer, poet and visual artist. A Pushcart Prize and Forward Prize for Best Single Poem nominee, he has also been a finalist for the Frontier Award for New Poets from Frontier Poetry, and the Stephen A. DiBiase Poetry Prize. He is a winner of the Quarterly West Prize in Poetry from Quarterly West at the University of Utah; the Oxford Brookes International Poetry Prize from the Faculty of Humanities and Social  Sciences, Oxford Brookes University; and the Emeka Anuforo Prize for Literary Artiste of the Year from The Muse at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. In 2023, he was a selected fellow for the Oxbelly Writers’ Retreat at Costa Navarino, Greece, under the directorship of Chigozie Obioma. His work has appeared in The Bombay Literary Magazine, Off The Coast, Welter, Palette Poetry, Singapore Unbound, Mudroom Mag and elsewhere. 


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