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Chris Abani

Chris Abani is the author of There Are No Names for Red (Red Hen Press, 2010), illustrated by Percival Everett, and Sanctificum (Copper Canyon Press, 2010). Born in Nigeria, he is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Board of Trustees Professor of English and comparative literary studies at Northwestern University. He lives in Chicago. 

By This Poet

4

Renewal [Excerpt]

I set you free that night, father.
When you came back in that yellow Volkswagen,
in that dream.
I made a boat of honor for you.
Woven of poems and words and not words.
I set it on the ocean.
Father Obuna said to me,
a gift is freely given and a gift
is freely returned.
It has taken me thirty years
to understand this.
Yemenya has your heart now.
May she be merciful.
May she love you.
The wound bleeds no more.
Which is to say,
what I have desired is like salt
left out all night and gone.

This is not a lamentation, damn it.
This is a love song.
This is a love song.
Like reggae—it all falls on the off beat.
If there is a way, it is here.
They say you cannot say this in a poem.
That you cannot say, love, and mean anything.
That you cannot say, soul, and approach heaven.
But the sun is no fool, I tell you.
It will rise for nothing else.

Poet of an Ordinary Heartbreak

Who hasn’t been tempted by the sharp edge of a knife?
An ordinary knife cutting ordinary tomatoes on
an ordinary slab of wood on an ordinary Wednesday.
The knife nicks, like a bite to the soul. A reminder
that what is contemplated is as real as the blood
sprouting from a finger. As real as a bruised eye.
Instead turn back to the meat stewing on the stove.
Scrape pulpy red flesh into the heat and turn.
Say: even this is a prayer. Even this.

The New Religion

The body is a nation I have never known.
The pure joy of air: the moment between leaping
from a cliff into the wall of blue below. Like that.
Or to feel the rub of tired lungs against skin-
covered bone, like a hand against the rough of bark.
Like that. "The body is a savage," I said.
For years I said that: the body is a savage.
As if this safety of the mind were virtue
not cowardice. For years I have snubbed
the dark rub of it, said, "I am better, Lord,
I am better," but sometimes, in an unguarded
moment of sun, I remember the cowdung-scent
of my childhood skin thick with dirt and sweat
and the screaming grass.
But this distance I keep is not divine,
for what was Christ if not God's desire
to smell his own armpit? And when I
see him, I know he will smile,
fingers glued to his nose, and say, "Next time
I will send you down as a dog
to taste this pure hunger."

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