History as a Poem Shaking my Hand

Editor’s note: This poem is part of our #SpreadTheWord poem of the week series, featuring work by Chicago artists based on Injustice Watch reporting. The poem was inspired by a 2020 commentary, Listen: Youth organizers discuss Black joy, West Side history and the future. For more poetry in this series, click here.

Chinua Ezenwa-Ohaeto

I sit on my balcony pretending I’m a parcel.

Here’s a postman as a boy cataloguing letters handling fires.

Investigations that expose, influence and inform. Emailed directly to you.

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Sometimes we surprise ourselves.

Sometimes we make for ourselves.

I teach my wounds that I can be many things,

that I can pose for moon kisses, that I can string my eloquence.

I teach myself how to dance on satin shoes.

It has been years now since I tendered

the light magnets buried in my throat. Five months

now for the Polaroid memories nursing my worries.

It has been years hands have been black-outing our history;

years for our pasts asking for ordinance and recalling.

I learnt how to wait for twilight to understand really

that this is a terrible time to be alive,

that there’s a sad dent on every love story.

I write you my father’s name, his father’s name,

his father’s father’s name, his father’s father’s father’s name

to make you understand the things I have been denied.

I keep looking for what it means to birth;

what it takes to know excitements in celebrations.

 

Chinua Ezenwa-Ohaeto (@ChinuaEzenwa) is from Owerri-Nkworji in Nkwerre, Imo State, Nigeria and grew up between Germany and Nigeria. He has a Chapbook, The Teenager Who Became My Mother, via Sevhage Publishers. He became a runner-up in Etisalat Prize for Literature, Flash Fiction, 2014. He won the Castello di Duino Poesia Prize for an unpublished poem in 2018 which took him to Italy. He was the recipient of New Hampshire Institute of Art’s 2018 Writing Award, and also the recipient of New Hampshire Institute of Art’s 2018 scholarship to the MFA Program. In 2019, he was the winner of Sevhage/Angus Poetry Prize and second runner-up in the 5th Singapore Poetry Contest. He won the First Prize in the Creators of Justice Literary Award, Poetry category, organized by International Human Rights Art Festival, 2020. His works have appeared in Lunaris Review, AFREADA, Poet Lore, Rush Magazine, Frontier, Palette, Malahat Review, Southword Magazine, Vallum, Mud Season Review, Salamander, Strange Horizons, One, Ake Review, Crannòg Magazine, The Question Marker and elsewhere.