2019 Jack Grapes Poetry Prize winner selected by judge Alexis Rhone Fancher
This remarkable poem, referencing the 1966 anti-Igbo pogrom in Nigeria and its aftermath, haunted me. The exquisite, precise language, juxtaposed with mass murder, made for an unforgettable read. Each line, each image, played out like a film. Each time I read this poem I ended up in tears.
— Alexis Rhone Fancher
There Is Nothing You Can Do to Replace My Fada
(Igbo Genocide, 1966)
Maybe a bit dramatic, there is no such thing
as a soft war under capitalism. In one night,
Sabon-gari became a shaved tongue.
Going outside isn’t the only way to have
anything interesting to say about a pogrom.
If a proof is what you seek: this town,
clear with fright & a make-shift graveyard
burst at the hinges with floating bodies.
To be a good daughter means to carry everything
with you at all times, the luggage of the past
lifted to the mouth. This nation I was born in
now belongs to burning. History starts like a
housefire & I braid smoke into the empty pause
that encircles desire. You must know black isn’t
always a void. I am a war bride groom & I count
soldiers before I sleep. My eyes like a night helpless
in forgetting. To write carnage in our language
takes only four strokes, but so much depends
on the first mark. Today is a good day to dream,
it doesn’t matter if I am right or wrong. No one
in this town knows forgiveness. At least here at
my desk I can start again & write: this is the hand
that reaches for God. I carry a pair of suns in
my head. I insist on the tenderness I may soon
forget & remind you— I am a specie of amnesiac.
And this is how the beginning sounds: I harvested
the silhouette of my father’s voice from the night sky
and drown in a glass of daughter with a piano bone.
I wanted to show you how quiet it gets when I listen
to the radio & I conceive of a woman moving to the
Niger as a tower of water.