NJOKU NONSO

Pray the Elegy

I woke up one cold January morning of this year, after long months of not-writing, feeling a strong wave of hopelessness and an itch inside my palms to write a poem, a story, just anything. The first line of the poem came fully formed like an envelope slipped under a door, and cleared the forest for other bodies of the poem to evolve. I don’t remember whether I wrote the poem merely out of pity for myself or as a prayer to manifest healing, but one thing sticks to my memory: I was mourning something at the time—a friend’s suicide, an unsuccessful professional exam, a dislocated knee, a failed love story. Grief was everywhere, and the funniest thing about grief is that sometimes you never acknowledge its presence until someone or something (let’s say a poem) points it out to you and whispers: “can you measure how much suffering you carry within you right here, right now?”

Atop a frozen lake, we dug through seasons past
and gone, leftovers of a bombed world. The bones
of our hands, steel-cold and full of weight like
a tongue in distress. Bloodworms in a litany of ice.
We dug for little, little things, that would make
each of our nine lives bearable. We christened
the performance: Burying the Chaos. Watched
our garden of teeth grow rotten-dark with longing.
What keeps alive Arabian pilgrims who carry jars
of water that would not last them three hundred
and sixty walks across the desert. All day, we dug
for the harvest of a joy-wet world. What was our
kingdom before the war became a spell of flood.
Yet no one, not even the Almighty Seer, told us
whatever we had wanted was no longer there—
at the wild gate-end of our suffering: a ghost-face
trapped inside a ghost-town—a road trailblazing
through a forest of things. Neat gold coins jangling
inside our trouser pockets. Mid-afternoon housetop
views of a new world nesting outside the wicked
mouth of a homeless bullet. A sonnet that turns
a broken tooth into a hail of silver into a soft shimmer
in the midnight lake. O borderless mirror O eyelids
snapped shut against this blade of tattered glass,
of what use is living if we are all moving graveyards?

Njoku Nonso writes from Nigeria. His work, which explores the self as a unit of language, familyhood, spaces, death, grief, and otherness has been published or is forthcoming in YabaLeft Review, Agbowo, Bodega, 20.35 Africa, Rising Phoenix Press (Pushcart-nominated), Memento: An Anthology of Nigerian Contemporary Poetry, Ake Review and elsewhere. A 2022 Unserious Collective fellow, he’s a finalist for Open Drawer Poetry Contest, Lumiere Review Inaugural Writing Contest, and most recently Chestnut Review’s Stubborn Writers Contest. He loves stray dogs. Hook up on Twitter: @NN_Emmanuels.

MORE FROM AUTUMN 2022 (4:2)

INTERVIEW

A Conversation with Seif-Eldeine Och, Poetry Chapbook Winner, Mark Blackford, Chapbook Editor

PROSE

An LSAT of Culture, Mike Yunxuan Li
Chichi and I, Noel Cheruto
Sudden Evolution, Eileen Tomarchio
Paying for It, Lana Hall
Decay, Rachel Lastra

POETRY

do you see me, Maya Hersh
Delineation of a Woman’s First Child as Her True Religion, Abduljalal Musa Aliyu
Busted Cantaloupe: Pilgrim, Isibeal Owens
Pray the Elegy, Njoku Nonso
Semper Augustus, Jessie Zechnowitz Lim
THE SEA SQUIRT LOSES ITS MIND, Claire Scott
The Long Call of Yearning, Guy D’Annolfo
Djinn and Men, Biswadarshan Mohanty
Last Communion, Joan Kwon Glass