Two Poems

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 ::


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.