Two Poems by Bola Opaleke


A lover says to her lover, “I will not
retrieve my tongue from yours”.

Even though this could mean anything,
her lover chooses a flickering meaning for it.
Remember, there are names man gives

to everything. & there is a name
everything gives to itself. In the year
of the Pandemic, who in this city
was not already cursed with opening boxes

of gifts in sealed boxes with suspicion?
Who was not already cursed with leaving
things close to the lips closed until chlorinated?

A grandfather watches his child’s child
at a distance. The line between them thickening

by the hour like the walls of a country
whose border must not be crossed. This is
the name given to tears we can no longer shed.

A mother feels the hurt of her baby’s
flowering teeth on her breasts, but
welcomes the pain as a penultimate symbol
of motherhood. Who in this city (on either side

of the plexiglass) like a lost sailor, is
not already blaming the map? The lover

in saying to her lover, “go rinse your mouth.”
forgets that the rind of the pandemic is the pandemic.
& until now, she cannot tell how quickly things get

misnamed. She says “I will leave the boxes
of kisses unopened until the viruses in your mouth are dead”.


After she left, I dug a hole inside me
to hide all her unopened gifts. The wounds

no child should have for inheritance. Love is a tragedy

which changes color when held
to light— the shape of exclamation on a lover’s grave.

Have you tried walking inside your own voice?
I was rooted at the vault door like a flag. Do you know
this is how some nights refuse to let you go

until the love you will die to hold turns to powder?

She said, “smile for me”. & I did. But
all a smile knew to do was to wield a sharp knife—

the guerdon for the happenstance
of the sword the body becomes once entered.

She left. Then the crows started circling my thighs for crumbs.

Bola Opaleke is the author of ‘Skeleton of a Ruined Song’. Winner of 2020 Thomas Morton Prize in Poetry.  His poetry has appeared in Frontier Poetry, Rattle, CBC Books, The Nottingham Review, The Puritan, Literary Review of Canada, Sierra Nevada Review, Canadian Literature, and many more. He is currently Arts Community Director with Winnipeg Arts Council Board of Directors. Twitter: @BolaOpaleke

Banner Art: Window, a digital image (c) Robert Frede Kenter Twitter: @frede_kenter

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