We Drink at the Attenuation Well
Motivated forgetting is a psychological defense mechanism whereby people cope with threatening and unwanted memories by suppressing them from consciousness.
—Amy N. Dalton and Li Huang
in Badagry there is a hung-
ry well of water and memory
loss. in Badagry there was a well
of people lost across a haven
of water. in Badagry there was
a port overwhelmed in un-return.
to omit within the mind is to ebb
heavenward. memory is a wealth
choking the brain in un-respons-
ibility. violence in the mind and
the mind forgets in order to remember
the self before the violence begot.
in Badagry trauma washes ungod-
ly memory heavenward. in Bad-
agry there is an attenuation well
meant to wish away a passage,
meant to unhaven a people.
violence is underwhelming
in return. what the body eats,
the mind waters. responsible
is the memory for un-remittal.
royal is the body for return. god is
the mind for wafting. forgetting
is a port homeward. in Bad-
agry hungry memory grows angry.
in Badagry the memories un-
choke. trauma un-eats the royal.
in Badagry there is a heaven
of people responsible for the birth-
right of remembering, for the well
of us across a haven of water
overwhelmed in un-return.
Copyright © 2020 by Porsha Olayiwola. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 17, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
“The poem explores an ‘attenuation well’ along the route walked by Africans leaving a slave port in Badagry, a coastal town in Nigeria. It is said European slavers hired local root doctors and conjured women to ‘fix the well’ by which enslaved Africans would drink and forget their way home. The poem seeks to provide refuge via motivated forgetting and questions whether this forgetting is purely violent or a possible attempt in preserving the psyche of the Black Diaspora against the trauma of the Middle Passage.”