Published on Academy of American Poets (


What words can you wrap around

a dying brother, still dying, even now.

A man who has not eaten for a month

sips at water and says, even thirst is a gift.

He asks what other gifts God has given him.

I’m your gift, his daughter says from a corner.

And he smiles and rasps—

you can only unwrap a child once.

The rest is prayer and even more prayer.

You sing softly to him in a language

only the two of you speak and he

snores softly into your palm, breath and blood.


Copyright © 2018 by Chris Abani. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 31, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“For the Ehugbo, how we die is as important as how we live, and to be allowed to sit in the presence of a dying brother is a rare privilege. To be graced with the chance to sing family across, to ease the journey, to make a love of dying, a grace of loss, is an incomparable gift. This is all.”
—Chris Abani


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. 

Date Published: 2018-05-31

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