Purple Ode to Madness, Love and Grief – An Essay by Ernest Ògúnyẹmí


It’s a slightly cold night, and I am slightly angry. Maybe not slightly; but I don’t know, really. How much do we know about how we feel? Are emotions not wild, wild things, birds too crazy to be tamed? But even that idea crashes on itself, for, if they are too crazy to be tamed, what is the essence of this? What use is a poet? A writer? A musician? And, if you prod the hole of our being well enough, you’ll find that every one of us – black blue and beautiful – are makers of music; that is the purpose of our lives.


I am not well.


It’s true. Love happens. It just does.

She read my tiny book of grief and she thought, I’ll shoot. So she slid into my DM to say, O, I loved your book, Ernest Ògúnyẹmí.

Let’s tame the story: She calls me Nkem (My own) now and I call her Mesoma (this doesn’t really mean anything romantic, I just like the way it sounds. Remember, music?)


I am dying, and that is the mildest way to say it.


A few days ago, I was so terribly soaked in my madness that I couldn’t rise from my bed for hours. I couldn’t take my bath throughout the day. I brushed my mouth in the evening. I spent the first early hours of the day crying, like a child who lost his destiny to the mouth of a gorgeous ghost. All I could do was sing. All I could do was sing. Sing. Sing. Sing.

And she was there, Mesoma, to hold my hand through it all, to hold me to the light until, like a lame dick, I rose from my madness. That night, we spoke for five hours: about my life, about poetry, about arrogance, and about all the wild, beautifully dirty things we will do with our bodies.




I am tempted to talk about my mother, but aren’t you tired of hearing that story? So, I’ll tell you instead about God.

I hate him. I love him. It’s complicated. I hate how, like a careless boy, he forgets his hands (Ocean Vuong). I hate that at the trial of God, we will ask: why did you allow all this? And the answer will be an echo: why did you allow all this? (Ilya Kaminsky). I hate that, according to a poet-brother-friend, God’s quiet is an admission to guilt.

I hate that he gave me a life I don’t deserve. Do you deserve yours?


I love how malams peel oranges, the artistry.


Forgive me, I have to talk about my mother; her death has tainted my life in a way that nothing else ever will. How the Lord dug his fine hands in her body and emptied her of the tiny birds of joy, and planted that terrible animal inside her. How, on the day she died, earlier that morning, she ate more than she had eaten in months: she had a wrap of ẹ̀kọ́ and ewedu, and she asked for another wrap. She – a woman who couldn’t rise from her bed for days, whose body had to be cleaned with wet towel, who couldn’t open the box of her mouth – stood up, had a bath, did ablution and prayed.

I still wonder: Why was she so green on that day? Did she know that Death was in the room already, waiting to suck life out of her the way a woman sucks mucus from her baby’s nose? Could she see her life slipping from her like silk from a finely polished table?

On the day I’ll die, will I know? I have tried to die twice: first, at eighteen, I hung myself to a tree; the second time was earlier this year, I was going to gulp two bottles of ota-pia-pia. Did I feel Death in each of those moments? Maybe. I still feel we brushed shoulders, Death and I. We are lovers. I will die soon. Or maybe not soon. Mesoma says it will ruin her if I do; but do we not all go on? My mother left when I was eleven, she left me to this hard life; eight-plus years later, I am making purple music of my grief. I like to think that Mesoma will write me such cute elegies when I finally swallow the cold stone (yes, she writes).


I love Chike. He makes me think of joy. Of sweetness. I’m listening to Amen tonight, and I swear I want to be held by my lover, in those small hands, her fingers slender as soft, gorgeous spikes. She kills me, every time. I love the perk of her nose. The marvelousness of the book that is her body. Her breasts such lovely fruits. The soft honey colour of her skin. Her eyes. I love how something happens to me when she laughs. When she moans. When she calls my name.

Ernest Ògúnyẹmí.


When I die, will you miss me? Will you bring chrysanthemums to my grave? Will you say, O he was such a beautiful soul!

Will you forgive me?


Why am I still alive; I should be gone already?

The book, man. I have to write the book. I don’t want to leave without writing the book. I know this is weird, to be alive because of words, mere words. But is that not all that we have? Is language not our prayer and praise? The mouth is a god, one we don’t really worship. Words have raised monuments; words have broken things down. So, yes, the book.

I like to say that when I finish writing the book, I can leave knowing that somebody, some boy or girl in some room in some corner of the world, will one day read each word of the book and be moved: to tears or joy, but especially to hunger; hunger to learn to love the world, even if only briefly.


In the end, I want my life to mean something. I don’t know what.

Ernest O. Ògúnyẹmí @ErnestOgunyemi is a writer from Nigeria. Some of his works have appeared/ are forthcoming in Tinderbox, Yemassee, Down River Road Review, the Dark Magazine, 20.35 Africa: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry III, 34 Orchards, Erotic Africa: The Sex Anthology, Memento: An Anthology of Contemporary Nigerian Poetry, and elsewhere. He is the curator of The Fire That Is Dreamed of: The Young African Poets Anthology. His tiny book of poems, my mother died & I became _______, is forthcoming from Ghost City Press.

Banner Art: Tree in dormant splendor, soft pastel painting on canvas, by Moira J Saucer, digital manipulation.

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