The poem “Deborah” is a tribute to the late Deborah who was lynched by religious extremists in Sokoto, just a few metres away from where I formerly stayed. Writing the poem was not easy. Through the process, I understood that proximity has an effect on how tragedy is received. And for me, I felt the tremor in my bones. This one, unlike others, was close to home. It could have been me; it could have been me.
I see it circling your eyes, that proneness to reduce my bones to ash.
You can go on. Pick up the match; begin from my thinning hair, where
a flame is quicker to be conceived.
I enter memory through
its mouth—that round, purple
orifice where God is nothing but
a shift in language, a war for
supremacy. I see you gap-tooth girl.
Your flesh lit with fire. Your bones
brimming with napalm—a casualty of
this war. At sermon, the pastor said we
must burn for God. I cannot help but
imagine this was what he meant.
The way your hair became one with the fire.
The way your bones crackled like dry woods
in the roar of amber flame.
I am sorry I could do nothing.
I had nothing to gift you except poems.
What use is my poetry if it cannot save a life?
I hid behind the sun-kissed tree and watched.
The birds were silent, air was black and quiet.
Everything was mourning. The dust, laced with
marigold fear, did not lift a finger.
I waited for rain. For the merciful tears of God to wash
your flesh into gold—something beautiful
enough to survive fire.
A friend once told me life is a sentence. If to end
a sentence, a punctuation is required, then the
fire was a full stop, the way a full stop is closure. Deborah,
look how they ended you. Look how they sutured
you like a sickle cuts through a sprouting pumpkin.
How the moon eclipses the sun and the day is
no longer day again.
Michael Imossan is an Ibibio poet. He is the author of the award-winning chapbook, For the Love of Country and Memory. He is also the author of the gazelle, A Prelude to Caving. His full length manuscript, Broken in Three Places was named a semifinalist for the Sillerman Prize for African Poetry ’23.