MARYHILDA OBASIOTA IBE

Object Permanence

My teacher once said: we forget our lives all the time. The poem for me is an activity in the enterprise of remembering even though I cannot trust memory. However, in my fidelity to language, I trust the image—how it can become something not only ostensibly useful but practically functional in creating the logic of a poem. In the beginning of this poem, I wanted to remember my childhood, to, if not restore, at least inhabit it but I found myself incapacitated by the blur and the interplay of the forces of the real and the safely imagined. The most substantive image for me was that of torn slippers on a playground after sunset. The playground at once the truth and the metaphor. The loneliness of an empty playground, that silence stapled to the image, that moment charged with capacious somberness and my inability to fully name it accounts for the dialectic of this poem in its conversation with the ephemeral and the unsayable.

During the harmattan, a film of white covers the Cordyline. The Ixora and Red Acalypha are quiet and satisfied like mothers on the front porch. The albino neighbor sings an Igbo carol in the yard, laying clothes on the heaps of granite stones bordered by bricks the color of red earth. His voice firm as scripture. It was as though there was a playground in his throat, children the height of little trees clapping loudly in ululation of a looming absence. It is evening in his voice and the playground is littered with torn slippers the color of yellow bush and climbing ivy. In his song, there was the year of hymns and in the hymns, there was the year of recollection and in recollection there was memory, the body’s echo. In his song, decades sat like worshippers in the pew of an old church. Outside, the wind crackled like scars. In his song, there was a skyline of children with laughter loud as dream chasing pigeons and failing to catch them, which really is the game—the sublimity of looking at the world in failure. The birds perch on the children and like wheat in a field they run into one another giggling like rain. This is the closest I have been to understanding Kafka’s philosopher who ran into the playground seeking to seize the top of a child just to capture the ephemeral. Except when I run into the playground, the children are already gone. The silence, small as a punctuated sentence. The sky, a femur of blank page. The world silent as waving. I have seen years carried abroad like coins in the teeth of butterflies and the language I have is not the one I crave. I have watched my childhood awake like dawn and christened it joy because it did not stay long enough. I only wield semantics large enough to entomb what I want alive. I, who have lost in transmutation the potency of my name. I, nameless protagonist of a threnody.

I          who             Language                            fails

                                                  Language

       empties

Language         demands

of                     a            body                    I

               cannot            give.

In the beginning was Language.

                                             In the beginning, Language.

In Language, a beginning.

In the beginning, Language was a half-opened eye exiled to the lonely center of life.

Maryhilda Obasiota Ibe is a Nigerian poet. She is the winner of the 2020 Bloomsday Poetry Prize and was longlisted for the 2022 Palette Poetry Emerging Poet Prize. Her works have appeared on Brittle Paper, Blue Marble, Poetry Column and elsewhere. She’s currently an MFA candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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