I’m only a boy on the night my father returns from his former life ─
a country that offered him death for two bottles of cheap wine ─
hair, the colour of wet moss
and stranded between columns of woodsmoke and evening air,
a prayer book for exorcisms flipped open in his head.
He wades his way to shore, skin bleached by pale sunlight.
I want to say greetings but he offers charred teeth for smiles.
A bag of bones for gifts. Blood stained hands in lieu of an embrace.
I hurt myself with a fishhook, curious to discover
what remains of my tactile sense. I drill a hole
into the point where the tip of my thumb should be ─
a scavenger, digging for diamond in a deserted coal mine.
My father does not gather strands of my falling hair in his hands
nor does he start to ululate in thanksgiving
for (my) survival in his absence.
His eyes are never here nor there,
wanting love, wanting home again, wanting everything.
He says: ‘come home, boy. Home is an open door.’
I say: ‘a boy’s body is rainwater finding home after a thunderstorm.’
So I’ll stay until deep into sundown when the stars start
to fall and hit my feet in sparkles.
I’ll stay until I no longer see his face, heavy with liquor,
nor feel the painful evidence of his whip on my lower back
─ induced stretch marks.
Until I become unable to decipher sounds
nor answer to this river each time she calls ─ tender notes
rising, then dissolving into echoes, soft and thrumming
like sapphire tossed into her body,
slicing out a neat arc in air before sinking
and causing ripples in concentric circles.
I’ll stay all night, until I’m washed clean again,
by the dews at first light.
Chisom Okafor’s works appear or are forthcoming in the Indian Journal of Literature and Aesthetics, Praire Schooner, Palette Poetry, The Single Story Foundation, The Rising Phoenix, Kikwetu Journal, and elsewhere. He was shortlisted for the Brittle Paper Award for Poetry in 2018. He is presently on the editorial team for 20.35 Africa: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry.