Archives: Longlisted poems

Schoolyard Obsession

It’s gay / That’s gay / You’re gay / Reyt gay
Gay boy / Gay lord
Bum boy / Batty boy

It’s all any of them ever
Wanted to talk about:
Fantasies of me
Licking balls / Sucking dick / Groping biceps
Snogging men / Getting bummed
It never occurred to me
To ask why

I became obsessed
With it too:
It’s gay / That’s gay / You’re gay / Reyt gay
Gay boy / Gay lord
Bum boy / Batty boy

It wasn’t something I ever
Dared to bring up,
Not until now
Because now
I know I’m not
The only one
That’s gay / Quite gay
Kind of gay / Bi actually
Gay boy / Gay lord
Bum boy / Batty boy

And I’m sure some of
You are too
After wasting so much
Of your breath
Convincing us you weren’t
And now those of you who aren’t
Any of those things
Never want to talk about it again,
Never want to think about it again,
Never want to look us in the eye
And see how proud we’ve become

What exactly is wrong with
Being gay / Reyt gay
A gay boy / Gay lord
Bum boy / Batty boy

It’s occurred to me now
To ask why

A Bi Awakening in a Red State

My first friend was my first crush.
It’s hard to split apart
our female friendship
when you don’t know what is allowed
in the world as a kid.
You just know the feeling
of anticipation and butterflies
before you see them
and don’t understand what it could mean
outside of what’s been prescribed to you.

I understood that I was supposed to
fan girl at boy bands and litter my room
with tasteless posters of some
teenage heart throb
but I couldn’t ignore the excitement
for the lady pop stars on my TV.
How could both Aladdin and
Jasmine awaken something within me?
How could the entire cast of The Mummy
be inexplicably so attractive
and stir the beginnings of puberty?

I didn’t have many answers
outside of the previews from shows
like Will and Grace or the whisperings
from the lone out gay kid in our grade.
In college I do remember
learning about the Kinsey scale:
something surprisingly queer
coming out of southern Indiana.
It made me open my eyes
about something surprisingly
not straight about me.

I also remember coming out
to an old friend on a late cool night
in the dorm commons,
as we stumbled through words
to share who we are,
breaking free from fear
instilled from the religion
of our parents and the shame
that comes with it.
We hugged to bind our secret
to the Midwestern spring night
and prayed the dark kept our secret
until we could come to the light ourselves.

Like any true American, I came out to my mom
in a rainy Walmart parking lot
as she asked me why I went to Pride
and didn’t I know that it’s a gay parade?
I gripped my steering wheel
in a brace of release:
from Catholicism,
from all religion,
from fear,

Mom, I’m bi.

In June I will fly my pride flag,
one of just a few in my neighborhood
and not even a block
from the Catholic church I was raised
and confirmed in.
While they huddle in the basement
trying to save one another
from the sin of “sexual confusion”
I will do one small act of rebellion,
of compassion.

Maybe some other kid
with their first crush
on their first friend
will see that rainbow on my house
and a few more
and understand that they are not alone.
Perhaps they will have a few more answers
and a few less battles
as they begin to awaken
in this state we call home.

The Gentle Giant

I knew this lanky fella
called Joe, once.
He told me how he’d grown the size he was;
six foot, seven foot, eight foot plus
cos when he was younger
he tripped on his bonce
and the nurse told him
that it would always affect his growth.

‘Skyscraper,’ we used to call him
(very imaginative).
We used to joke that he’d always be first
with the weather forecast.
‘What’s it like up there?’
He’d smile gently, then look up for us, at play.
‘High chance of rain,’ he’d say with outstretched palm
and we’d buckle with laughter.

He could never meet a girl,
he told me much later.
It was cos of his size, he said.
But what I reckon was that
he just got tongue-tied –
a lack of confidence
– just like the rest of us.
‘It was more than that,’ he said.

Getting clothes to fit was a problem
(they never did).
Always bursting at the seams they were
and getting a proper bed was another
(his long bony legs were to be found
most nights hung out the window to the moon).
I lost touch with him not long after.
Moved on.

If I ever bumped into him again
and nowadays that’s well within reason –
I’d spot him a mile off
– and I’d ask him how he’d been
and if he remembered old times when we were friends.
I’d tell him that I always liked him on my basketball team. We often won.
And I’d ask him if he’d met someone,
you know – the one – cos it would be really good for him.

When People Tell Me I’m “Still the Same Person”’

I watched the shoreline pushing back the ice for weeks
until the last knotted muscles of the lake broke free
and it smiled in silver glimmers beneath the pier,
took cast-off leaves in quickened fingers to adorn its cheeks,
and was happy.

Someone will say it is the same lake
because they love joy less than they hate surprises
and don’t feel the difference when the light strikes the bottom.

This Is What it Means to Be a Yorùbá Nigerian and Practising Muslim, or, Refusing this Biased Shahada of Cancel Culture

ereyesterday, i updated my facebook
profile & poured my complex identity
into a bio of two nominal phrases:
yorùbá nigerian & practising muslim,
all cases lowered as though to
stifle the soundtrack of sobs
mapping the topography of all the
humiliations osmosing through every
follicle on my skin to the
epicentre of my mental health.

i’ve lost count of how many times the
screen of my gionee m12 has insulted
the labour of our heroes past: sorry
this [ ] is not available for you-
r country! does this mean the internet
collages me from all the 419ers
this nation has ever exported? when
the only inheritances from your
brothers’ reputation is a (cyber)prison
& a raffle ticket to xenophobia, you
begin redrawing your family tree.

i don’t know which compatriots to
call my brothers any more. last month
while in kaduna, i hid my àbàjà tribal
marks under a concealer of pretence
by which i mean i camouflaged my
tongue to avoid becoming the next big
sallah ram. in this country, we convert
patriotism to ethnic chauvinism, &
measure its depth by how much our
blind bullets or knives or cudgels
recognise our own kinspeople.

in the inaugural communion of a poetry
group i just joined, i introduced
myself as habeebullahi, told them
it means God’s beloved. someone asked
if the [A]llah suffixed to my name
hailed from sokoto, & when i’d lynch
blasphemy off the next deborah.
another queried if i’ve ever considered
the alchemistry of transfiguring
my abrahamic brethren to soot a shortcut
to my harem of 72 virgins in jannat.

down south, in the dawn of the recent
religious skirmishes up north, mike, my
best friend since primary school drilled
a hole in the ship of our relations: he
unfriended me over my bio, said in his
eyes, my bearded profile photo next
to the bio has started slideshowing
the faces of muslim murderers of his
christian brethren. i forgave his choice
of faith over familiar friendship, but i
don’t get the mathematics of how
someone who nicknamed me dove
suggested my addition to the list
of sleeper boko haramists. i’m still
trying to dissect the psychology of the
transfer of hatred & hostility—how
the mob actions of an unknown people
subtract the history of positives shared
between pals, till it zeroes to negatives.

on most days, i wish to bowdlerise these
stereotypic nominals & adjectivals
from my psyche & proclaim : i am!,
or i want to be! — meaning, i am a victim
of my brothers’ errors; meaning, for
once, i want to be a holidayer in a
foreign identity, free to live outside
of mine. i’ve started erecting a barrier
between my individuality & the devils
these people are trying to lump me with.
i’m saying even when i wear my identity
on my head like the abetí ajá cap,
i refuse to make a credendum this
biased shahada of cancel culture.

Freedom in Viriditas

it is my job to love the ever-turning earth, in its fierce and undefinable chaos;
often i feel as though i walk between worlds,
as glossolalic ambassador to the transgressors;
as a well-intentioned missionary,
waxing lyrical about flea-bitten pelts and the smell of the earth;
sermonising on the goose and the squirrel,
on the air and the water,
on freedom in viriditas.

i know the wilds as holy blurred boundaries.
bright-eyed and flea-bitten, the lioness grows her mane;
divinity is in her sunlight corona, flashing copper under the hot cat’s-eye sun.
thus crowned, she defends her people;
the uncaring brazenness of her change is almost unbearable,
but my dreams of pack-running find solace in her gold-brown gaze,
and in her pride.
there are, after all, no bargains between beasts and men.

Mother Tongue (Beau Bassin-Rose Hill)

There is a little girl, on a flowered hill,
who you can no longer speak to

because you, the third of four, were too little
to fill the body of water

that welled between mothers
and satellites
and empresses that made you sign away

her left hand with your right,
blow her into glass

and paper to stay the shore
that remained unburnt.

But still I heard her
five decades later,

in another country that
sugared words down your throat,

my proud number crumbled under
a mother tongue,

just like they said it would
just like they said she shouldn’t

and called in sisters
to transcribe her wrongs

rend her out of
the whiplash between seas

and eyes meaning you
to be bloodless

So you might stand before us
and claim you cannot speak

while the basin of your mouth overflows
water from two islands, fluent

like those measures of hands and fragrance
in the half focus

behind our words, in the kitchen
as you come to

make something
that she would know

to be home.

Pink Lady Razor

if I was to contain myself
to an existential form
you would spot me
between early morning
purple clouds
above the town
I grew up in and
polaroid red flash reflections
in the eyes of my laughing friends
because the best parties
are those that
are not planned
sometimes you would find me
neatly tucked away
in the back of my
grandmas’ wooden cabinet or
buried under frozen pizzas
in the Sainsburys freezer section
shyly offering smiles to whoever
walks by and I will call it
fate if our gaze meets for
just a second before we
go back to
our busy minds
but don’t be afraid
for we will meet again
one day in the forest
behind the school
like we used to

tuesday gave birth to me
and I chose to get up again on a
wednesday kicking and screaming
I defy gravity of relentless
tiredness on sober
thursday afternoons
and the lingering dread of
time grinding my bones
every time I realize
it’s Friday again
what if I told you
a buzzcut can save a life
and so can some poorly
applied bleach
the hairs under my arms
have become life lines
I cultivate like flower seeds
the pink razor of my
girlhood long forgotten
but the scars still show
most days

if you would ask me
what I want to be
I would tell you
that you cannot
contain me
at all
if I was to choose
my existential form
I’d rather be a paint stain
or a freckle on my
mother’s nose
the way smoke evaporates
but always leaves behind
a smell that lingers
on your clothes for days
a bubble just popped
but still reflecting
light in every
shade of rainbow
what if I told you
that most things
don’t mean anything
yet we make them
what they are
and because of
that you may
find me in between
these lines or in
the silence before
we wave goodbye
both on different
sides of the
and yet right
next to
each other

Groundbreaking Lovemaking

when i was nine a boy told me my father and my mother were gay
what a shock! not to find that the two of them were supposedly homosexual
but to find they were Gay, inherently bad.

my friend told me i should tell my parents
it looked like i should be upset
so i told them
and they laughed
but i think the boy was grounded

when i was thirteen on the school bus i thought about kissing my friend
imagined it would taste sweet, and she smelled like cheap flowery perfume
and had soft warm hands that fit better than boys
realised i’d never felt attraction before

naturally i panicked for six or so months
having never heard of a lesbian
broke down crying into my nuggets one evening
and eventually spat it out to my mother
‘i think i like girls.’

when i was fourteen i was in my first relationship where we were too self conscious to hold hands
one day, drunk on the silliness of it, we came out online
and it wasn’t until she went home i remembered I had a cousin’s communion later that day

(the joys of catholic Ireland)

i hid in the bouncy castle and watched family arrive and huddle to talk
mortified i’d ruined someone else’s special day
then one by one my uncles came to me
hugged me tightly, told me well done,
and that was that.
i mean grandad thinks it’s unnatural
but he has two metal hips, so

now i am nineteen
i was never naive
knew part of the world would relentlessly hate me
but i didn’t care about what that part of the world thought about something so harmless
so natural
like learning to fly

but i see what some post
their perverse lesbian fantasies
like we exist to fuel their libido
and never think of anything else
but when i fell, that aspect never once
entered my mind

loving women is wonderful
gentle to hold, warm to touch
empathetic listeners who care so much
beautifully different, not one the same
none interested in playing some game
we love to love
we share our passion and pain
though no coming out is ever the same
we unite in our similarities
fall again and again
hopeless romantics
and built in best friends

when i am seventy, i imagine sitting in a chair
my wife beside me, ruffling our grandchildren’s hair
a pretty house, maybe by the ocean
always full of music, the kitchen a commotion
i cannot picture her, all i know is her smile
easy, reassuring, reminding me while
that though we didn’t choose who to love, we still chose each other
and her hand’s in mine for life through stormiest weather

they’ll still call it sin
they’ll still find it perverse
they’ll still make it a tragedy, because we’ve got to have it worse
we’ll watch their caricatures onscreen
laugh at the inaccuracy, flick it off
dance in the kitchen and into the loft

and then continue loving, knowing we don’t exist to create history
we love because we love, no other reason or mystery
you were the ones who called us queer
when we’re not any different than anyone else here

Do I Belong Here?

I hold the soil from my roots in my hand that
I have carried with me here in this country every day,
As I lay my impregnable longing against room’s wall,
I hear my helplessness like weeping at dawn,
As my soul wrinkles with the motherland,
I parted with my parents, wife and kids in the country of skin

No one leaves home unless your home
is a floating nest on the river Nile of industrial waste,
You find yourself among the mining crocs or drought alligators,
When you swim across the seven seas of population
put yourself in a boat of hope thinking the strange salty
water is safer than the familiar sweet land,
You have a shadow of blood in your veins but an empty
belly and the anthem under your breath,
the miles travelled means something more than a journey

My heart is full of stories of my streets,
I carry black scars from wars of white greed,
Dust of my family carbonized in dry mushroom clouds,
I carry parental house along the vertebra, pink dreams in my eyes

When the night liquidates the day as a sinful cloud
plasters its sun, everything seems shiny for me-
Migraine flash in my left brain-
Shiny open eyes when I fail to sleep-
The shine of stones in my kidneys-
Two shiny pearls on the cheeks-
The word “motherland” over the galaxy of stars
and the Moon behind the clouds called “migration”

I don’t know if I am an Australian or not?
May be just a rudiment who is deposited
in this area by a migratory trade river and thus
left open in the “unwaged sun” and the “taxed rain”

I live in the Sahara or floating on the Dead sea
an expanse of concrete cities, a sea of neo-brotherhood
I’ve transcribed all my dreams into poems, not into realities
that reconcile my exile from home, stretched them into poetic lines,
The streets where I grew up is punctuated with electric poles,
I have imagined myself surviving by transforming
flowers into the bread I have never eaten

I am a brown floret spring out of your mind
from the womb of a black history birthed from white memory
This is how it feels to live and move in two worlds at once.
I came here to outlive the ghosts of martyrs,
beyond the hatreds of nationalism,
But I am marginalized to the point of disappearance
Barred as a shade of skin, a tone of speech,

Kicked by the mighty, detested by the commoner
Now I know humanity is Janus faced-
Half devil-half human, White faced black truth
I will not recommend it even to political foes or religious friends