Poetry / Romeo Oriogun
:: This Way to Water ::
Along Sénégal’s river, in Kayes, where the bus from Bamako dropped me off, before speeding toward Dakar, I walk alone, trying to find leaves that whisper of roads, trying to sieve through water the haunting part of home. There, children throw stones into the river, watch them skip and skip before sinking, a game I played as a boy. And before tall trees whose names are lost to my hands, I stoop, picking barks, gathering leaves, a labor to tie me to a new beginning. I watch the rise and fall of water, the wide horizon calling in its wisdom of ages. There, an inlet leading to a village speaks of possibilities. I see the women in white, the man with his kora, playing stories of the past, suspending history in the miracle of sound, reviving it through voices, and the river path discovers its true purpose of worship, the children clap. I turn from them, diving into water, watching the unknown rush towards me. There, in the midst of women dancing on the riverbank, I didn’t discover the path home. I only discovered a goddess, the coolness of water.
:: Welcome ::
Kokrobite And before dusk bring the boats home, and before the sea pronounces its great regret upon the sands of Kokrobite, I sat alone, far from beach goers, from eyes wandering bodies of Rastafarians at beer tables, far from music of revelry. Before my toes, little animals burrow into sand. I, too, have traveled around the world. Boarding houses of cities, fountains of strangers, the deep eyes of roads have known my sleep. Before me, the sea, wide and a mirror, holds my thirst abate. The rope tied to a rotten boat tugs, announcing the sailor’s homecoming. It is time to hold the tired being of journeys, to praise trinkets around ankles of women carrying home, to praise the sailor’s song of longing. I join the long line of people pulling the boat. The sea knows our strength, it teases and lets go. What weakness I know is a surrender to waves, the boat rides on them. What returns is not complete, what we hold is only hope. Tomorrow we’ll go out, the shore waits. Neither grief nor pity holds back the desire of water. The sailor knows and we sit, side by side, in the makeshift store, waiting for gin, and before us the sea continues, fast pace and ever moving.
From the writer
:: Account ::
On the 17th of February 2016, Akinnifesi Olumide Olubunmi, a gay man from Western Nigeria, was lynched to death. On the night of his death, I was scared. I was scared because it could have been me or any queer person I knew. That night, I began to write poems that interrogated queer survival in Nigeria. In 2017, I won the Brunel International African Prize for Poetry with these poems. I was outed, harassed, threatened, reported to the police and attacked. I had to leave Nigeria. In exile, as I place my foot in water, in rivers, in the sea, I hear the echo of home. I hear queer bodies finding home across Africa, across Europe. Every space I have inhabited was a place of conflict. On my journey from Nigeria to America, I traveled across West Africa documenting cities and villages, documenting the history of conflict and how the sea played a role in both the past and the present. I intend to interrogate how queer people survive displacement; I intend to link the beginning of displacement to the displacement of queer people across West Africa.
Romeo Oriogun was born in Lagos, Nigeria. He is the author of Sacrament of Bodies (University of Nebraska Press, 2020). His poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, American Poetry Review, Harvard Review, McNeese Review, Bayou, Brittle Paper, and others. He currently is an MFA candidate for poetry at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he received the John Logan Prize for Poetry.