Three Poems – Chiwenite Onyekwelu

At the Carpentry, My Brother Slivers Again & Again

the hammer slamming onto a nail      knocking it
halfway in       & the carpenter
sweating       like a hose       his body falling
in little shreds      every grey
strand on his scalp     holding light       at the tip
the way he makes labor look     like sex
or something sweet. I recall back in those days
at highschool when my brother worked
the hardest in his class     his first real attempt
at standing tall       until his Maths
teacher held him by the nape     & said
you’re really not good enough—
nobody believing afterwards
that a teacher could say such      could ask
a kid       to shrink      to pocket
his sheen       & disappear       like a flame
dipped underwater.      but in the meantime
my brother points at the man       his
chin moistened by sweats      & asks      if that
is the furniture we plan to buy      the one
with its surface hollowed by a nail        like christ
a hammer slamming        building some minaret
out of mere junk.

Canaan party grapevine

The woodpecker is the
symbol of everything
we were taught as kids.
11 years ago, at that dinner
where my brother (for the
first time) was missing

          was angry
                     was the only one
                           in the house feeding
          on herself.

11 years ago, my father
stood over us like a pine,
teaching us how to drill
a wood until it bursts,
its fibers tearing at the
seam     shoving honey

      into our mouths.
                 I sat at a corner
                      choking on my own
              thirst, my heart

burning & burning. & I
spent the next decade
book-worming, because
he said I must learn to
read     to know     to see
with my mind wide open

                  in the dark.
                              Although I
                                       have to forget
                    he did the same

& nothing glowed, nothing
burned bright enough
to show him the way     at
least      at least, a drop of
honey. Oh lord, teach every
father to walk in your way.

          You who turned
                water into wine,
          chose pleasure in place
         of pain,

all people at the Canaan
party laughing      dancing
wondering if there was a
miracle more beautiful
than this.

A Conversation with the Carpenter, or What the Tree-man said to the Tree

you with a body smooth as a mole.
you δέντρο. you cinchona hold-
ing lushness between bare teeth.
They tear you down to the smallest
stick, because they love what you
become after you wreck. Beauty
emerging from within the ruins,
the furniture with its oiled face, &
every bridge named after sea. you’
re beautiful like a tree, or a damsel
with her ponytail. I try not to be
hard, this hammering, this seeking
only to break & nothing more. It’s
all I know about love. The shattering
that fosters the forge. I’m a man
in the many ways I ravage whatever
I come across & call it love. & call
it work. Every hug I give encloses
the heart & punctures it. So you can
see what it means when I come to
you. First your roots. Then your stem
the whole of it. The lacquer comes
afterwards, like dawn, bringing clothing
to a body disrobed by scars.

δέντρο: the Greek word for tree.

Chiwenite Onyekwelu is a Nigerian poet and essayist. His poetry appears/ is forthcoming in Chestnut Review, America Magazine, Rough Cut, Hiraya, and elsewhere. He was a finalist for the 2021 New York Encounter Poetry Contest, winner of the 2020 Jack Grapes Poetry Prize, as well as runner-up for the Foley Poetry Prize 2020. He serves as Associate Editor at the School of Pharmacy Agulu, where he’s an undergraduate. Twitter: @chiwenite9, Instagram: @chiwenite_onyekwelu

Banner Art: The Frames of Trees, a visual poem by Robert Frede Kenter (c) 2022. Twitter: @frede_kenter

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