May I Not Return the Same Way I Came

by Diepreye Amanah

                                               after Gregory Pardlo



I was born head first on a Thursday night into the burn 
of a kerosene lantern, its shy flame sighing my name. 
I was born blinking at the glint of fireflies, fast rats lazing
inside stew pots, croaking choir of drunk uncles at wake ceremonies, 
the occasional sunshower. I was born a number 
among fervent eyes: children thick-coated in Vaseline – polish 
for feeble limbs poverty feasts on, poverty familiar as the savor 
of fresh butter bread at breakfast. I was born to red clay roads, 
King James Versions, yellow mangoes, swarms of cheerful mosquitoes, 
salt on doorsteps and room corners, moonlight playdates, onion juice squeezed
into the eyes of a convulsing infant, all your neighbors’ secrets, 
no pet cats – they house witches’ spirits, naked husband and wife 
fighting in the streets. I was born wise and superstitious: never blow a whistle 
in hot afternoon sun, snakes will creep out the bushes to attack you.
I was born shoulders-steady ready for unexpected burdens:
the biggest: I was born. I was born to our green and white flag, 
booming music at 1:00 AM from the corner motel, yellowed-armpits 
of teenage boys’ shirts, pawpaw trees, crude oil, polluted water, 
cassava farms, palm oil, plantains, six families to one bathroom. 
I was born on the east edge of a canal, the wooden bridge across
flimsy as our trust in government, driving us farther to the feet of faith.
We all—market women, lawyers, wife-beaters, adulterers, politicians, 
drug addicts, housewives—were born as Nigeria, into churches, mosques, 
shrines, synagogues, with one song on our lips, a prayer, a supplication: 
                                               May we not return the same way we came. 



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