Preacher Man Knows My Name – A Poem by Bryan Obinna Joseph Okwesili

Preacher Man Knows My Name

The first thing that is taken away
from LGBT people is our spirituality
-Billy Porter

Sunday hymns remind me of cassocks swooshing in
the wind, marked white with holiness.
                                              I have always loved this picture; a boy
learning to say, who made you? God made me.
After a long while, he plucks it from
                                              his mouth, wondering why it is something
he cannot swallow. Preacher man knows my name.
He holds it in his palms and puts it beside the
                                               things he says must burn to be saved.
I have been told I need to be saved, many a time, that
my prayers only stop halfway to heaven and begin
                                               a descent; a walk of shame home to me.
Beside these candles, I have cried myself into a
penance, seeking the face of God in the beads of
                                               rosaries strung around my neck like a leash,
wanting to be led to the pulpit, to be led into the
light, like the preacher man says.
                                               But I have seen Billy Porter wear a gown
into a camera, and I do not believe an art from God
could be impure, could need saving.
                                               I have seen his smile strike light
into a photo before owning it. It is a thing about believing
your God takes your face, and you, in the moment of living,
                                               let him shine through.

Chi is how we say it in Igbo—one’s personal god—
and I have seen mine sweep her hair into a bun,
                                               before reaching out to hug me into a happy thing.
One must feel the river try to become him, before one
can sing of drowning. I am afloat. I can see the sun
                                               above me, the wind behind my ears, gentle.

My chi rows me, by and by, past the hymns of
a catholic church. The bells sway their heads into a dong.
                                               I can see cassocks swooshing in the distance.

Bryan Obinna Joseph Okwesili is a queer Nigerian poet and storyteller, keen on telling diverse African queer stories. His works explore the interiority and tensions of queerness in a heteronormative culture in which he imagines a world of inclusivity. He is a 2020 Pushcart nominee (SmokeLong Quarterly) and a Finalist for Tupelo Quarterly Open Fiction Prize. His works appear and are forthcoming in Craft, SmokeLong Quarterly, Slice, Foglifter Press, Tupelo Quarterly, Brittle Paper, Rising Phoenix Review, Ghost City Review, Cypress, Shallow Tales Review, and elsewhere. He is currently a student of Law at the University of Calabar, Calabar. He is @meet_bryan_ on Twitter.

Banner Art: places where these birds gather, a VISPO by Robert Frede Kenter (c) 2021. Twitter: @frede_kenter

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