Eseohe Arhebamen emigrated from Nigeria at the age of seven.
She has won several awards for her poetry and fiction. These
are two poems from her first chapbook, Seeding the Clouds
(Ornithology Press, 2003). She lives in New York and is working
on a full length novel. In her spare time, Eseohe also enjoys
writing music and painting.
My Mother's White Shoes
The year I ran away,
I was only eight.
I had never witnessed
winter arriving with rage,
hurling ice like curses.
The burden of our immigrant
poverty slowed my limbs
like a cross or collection of sins
and I could not adjust
to the wingless ways of this country.
Penniless, I took everything
I thought I owned one morning
and fled with a bible,
used clothes from the Salvation Army,
my mother's white shoes
which were half a size small,
worn into tissue-paper
and too many books.
The weight of all those thoughts
scraped black trails
in the pages of new-fallen snow
I was going to be a writer.
Even then, I knew
I had a weak memory.
I was afraid of forgetting the world
in the fog of its own winter mornings,
of losing the rain in the sea.
I sought the irretrievable.
Mother, I wanted to go back
to mangoes and palm trees,
the passionate conversation
of night crickets, humming
threat of malaria, orange vendors
and rivers that housed the sun.
But these are the very edges
of the country we left.
More tightly than land,
I have held the uninhabited
world between continents,
where immense clouds like white whales
drift past our airplane window.
It was in the sky that I realized
the entire world is an ocean;
we are forever adrift.
From that time, I have lost
the things I did not pen
or put in poems -
plastic combs, quarter-machine rings
bits of seashell,
entire cities float away-
Even my name
I have lost
our first year in America
From that time,
all I have remaining
is a faint memory
of a dim street
it is not possible to remember
It is empty of walls and windows
sound or signs, lonely;
confused in its origination,
and erased in the falling snow.
I know I set out upon it,
that I cried as I walked
and was afraid
because I had nowhere to go.
I felt as you must have felt
leaving everything for everything.
We wake up slowly, morning ghosts,
we chew sticks to clean our teeth
and sweep with short brooms.
I walk three miles to the river,
she feeds the children,
six of which are not her own.
A glint of stars, night falls
like a leper's smile -
the sudden shock of white
amidst rotting. Below,
the forest with blackened eyes and black clouds
is silent, there are no stories tonight;
We pound yam for Thursday in the dark.
Iye Oshodi, grandmother, still fleeing
the drums of her father's kingdom, her voice
a loon winging the lonely dark:
I have loved stones. Ungratefully sharp pebbles
lodged in the soft meat between my toes.
A woman grows accustomed to losing things,
but the earth is full of stones.
a tall princess who ate cursed herbs
to force an abortion.
Her voice a loon winging the lonely dark:
I have learned songs. Some that cannot be
held in the mouth. Fire songs. Then I sung men
from the fullness of my stomach. There are many songs,
hold the ones you can.
This world is sad. I have seen
such things to remove tears. Days, I
bit my finger and still could not cry.
in thirteen years gave birth to thirteen birds.
With no one to help cook
or carry heavy things, Iye Oshodi,
grandmother, returns her body to the ground,
her voice a loon winging the lonely dark.
I counted things. Children and money and
cups of flour. Now I have numbered the stars
and in recounting, found the number the same.
Now I am tired, I remember,
I have loved stones.
When the lanterns die,
thrown shadows ceasing to beat the hut wall,
grandmother returns her body to the ground,
a cane mat beneath her head.
I pluck the gray hairs but we are losing.
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