First Prize: Lute Man; I Still Hold Memories
for the man; for every beggar at Upper Iweka
The man on the sidewalk drags
himself along the tarhands steady
on a lutedust on his
shorts. All around there are
passersby smooth & stampedingthe
soft yellowness of city light.
It takes a casual look to see
the cut beneath his knees. His femur
like a poplar hacked from stem.
From our school bus we waved at him,
out of pity I’d say, or maybe awe
—as if his body, disheveled,
begins to glow.Kids that we werehow
we bowed at the first sign of
light: brushfire ashfireflies
Pascal candles at St. Peter’s Church &
to this man softening the air
with his lute. It’s August
of that year. I remember the silenceheavy
as lead& then my
buddy Ken curious as ever,
asked what did I think chopped off those
legs?As if at 14 I knew
anything about the war;
about those villagesraided & charred.
About the bombs & each
maimed kid. We sat in
the school bus, waving & watching as he
returning to the lute.As if to say, See I
survived.In Bio class,
back at school, I
could barely pay attention to my teacher
going on & on about
What in the name of fruit flies was I
had all that science justified?In one
place, an Alaskan wood
frog freezes its body to
survive the winter.In another a kangaroo,
deprived of water,
hydrates on desert seeds.
In yet another, this man flourishes on two
a lute like something
bright. How—running out of time—he
lived as though capable
of bloomingof suspending
time. His body an hourglass. The sands
I Still Hold Memories
About waterabout the brothers
sunk & drowning. I go
back to where their memories began.
In every depth, a steel ship.
The port opens& a man I love
walks towards the ocean in
search of hope. My mother calls him
Petercalls him brother.
Calls him every name we imagine
would bring him home. This is the
thirty-sixth year, she says, & then
silence—the way grief
renders the mouth motionless.At Hull
—1949—a cargo ship returns
from Lagos, thick & slippery. In its
stomach there is young
David flattened, his shirt rumpled.
Just like my uncle, you could see the
size of his dreams.His European dreams.
When home is a field on firethere
is nothing left to do but to leave. I know,
because I have prayed for
water& I have prayed for a ship. But
my mother says, Even the shores
are harder than you think. How, after
he left, my uncle phoned
to say he was homesick. Never before has
he been judged by the
color of his skin.Never beforethis
malice & this whitened grip.
I do not know the noun for it, but
here was a man unravelinga man
severed from himself. In Igbo we say
mmiri & mean water. We
say it & what we mean is life. This is
what I want eagerly to do—
to look beyond their wounds & see the
men for the times they healed.
See their eyes radiant with hopethe
sweats they drewthe racism
police cuffsthe freedom they bought
for other Blacks with their
own blood. Memory itself is enough
weight, so I want the
joy part, the part where triumph enunciates.
Where their names—
fresh as ever—are still carved deeply
along the shores.