On the one year anniversary of the pandemic: Skin Hungry

How satiating a hug from a belovéd, like a tender sirloin steak,
how sweet, like pepsi, a lover’s kiss quenches the throat,
when unsure fingers, graze – then entwine; spaghetti bolognese w parmesan,
the spilled wine of spent time with those we call mine,
the oregano and thyme of a road trip stereo,
the slap on the back from a mate, buttered toast,
the sweaty revelry of boozy strangers at 2 am, chicken skewers
the fleeting touch of a friend in a fit of laughter, honey
even the accidental spit that flies out, sugar,
most of all, eye contact with beautiful strangers, salt
                   and when they smile back, Ben and Jerry’s cookie dough.

To my uncles

To my uncles that nod from their posts with their badges
and suits, the ones that stand security for white
collars and stand as pillars for us;

to my uncles, with dreadlocks wrestling red lights
dishing trims at barber shops, whipping up sauces
and showing us who’s boss,

to my uncles with white aprons behind counters
to my uncles in well lit theatres with sharp scalpels

to my uncles who landed and stayed legit, salute
to my uncles who landed and deal illicit, invest.

to my uncles with PhDs, Drs, Mr’s, Sirs
and still know their kin, – chiefs.

to my uncles who kneel on Sundays and bow on Fridays
who chew khat and miss sugar cane, may the Father bless you.

to my uncles who send Naira back home even when rent is late
who squeeze Arsenal jerseys onto their pot bellies, captains.

to my uncles that came before, who stuck their foot in the door
my success is forever your success.

to my uncles who’ve stood like Jupiter and taken the meteors
of injustice on their backs, who bled, fled, persevered

to my uncles who know their rights, stand their ground
and keep their fists loaded, we see you.

to my uncles in the ground & in the sea, honour.

to my uncles in the motherland, the ones who will never leave
who insist home is where the soil is a mirror,

to my uncles who’s seed now give shade,
enjoy the fruit of the land.

b.1992

We’d rush down before mum dropped the ladle
on the frame of the pot, stew still popping
pepper permeating the walls
we’d pray and hold hands,
and grace distinctly Nigerian meals
with British culinary etiquette
till the very last drumstick.

Dad would come home and
we’d rush to his tree trunk legs and dangle
as he dragged us to the living room where
we’d take off his shoes and
pull smelly faces at his socks
and he’ll tell a long tale about our lineage
till we fell asleep

and then

one day, the socks really do smell
and we don’t want to hold hands
because someone is too proud to say sorry
and it sits in the air till the stew gets cold
and we don’t watch Saturday night TV on the sofa anymore
and we’re too old for bedtime stories
bored of ancient glories
and then finally we shed skins and leave.

You come home, eventually
they’re a little greyer
and you recognise some of their darkness in you
and it shadows you, humbles you
and they talk to you like you’re friends,
because friends are those who stick around
and family is what you’re stuck with.

Mum’s voicemails

41 seconds of crunching pavement
two minute conversations of interlaced Yoruba and English
intermittent cough in otherwise silent 30 seconds or
seven seconds of “hello, hello, hellooooo”
rarely meaningful messages like “call me back”,
glittering glimpses into her everyday life
and her completely unrelated complaints about
being charged ridiculous prices by Orange
and how these network companies are crooks…

I listen every time.

The backseat

Dad takes up a lot of leg space behind the wheel

So I’m always behind mum’s seat,

I’m older, anywhere in the back

With the greatest room is without a doubt my birth right

 

The back seat doubled as sibling’s cage

Vying for room with stretched elbows

And overzealous hips

 

Often the front seats taught sermons of forthcoming discipline

No space for tantrums, we might be in the West

But this is a West African household

With West African rules for backchat from the back seat:

One hand on the wheel, a knock on the head with the other

 

Older, bolder and obnoxiously more knowledgeable

The back seat spoke political correctness and opinion as fact

Like the continuous disenfranchisement of the Palestinian people

And why Eskimos are Inuit and Red Indians, Indigenous Americans;

Backseat crusader.

 

Some journeys were full of sunny skies

Warm sighs whether on wintry nights or beneath summer lights

Rippling laughter from back to front and front to back

Branching at kebab shops or McDonald driveways,

Straining our necks to check the menu

Choosing the same thing anyway – chicken mayo,

Forensics can trace our trips by dips stained on the back seat

 

Throughout the year

The back seat takes some strain-

Sandwiching unwanted guests, sweaty cousins,

Fat aunties and noisy nephews

 

I’ve seen afternoons turn to evenings, static in the back seat,

Something all ministers’ kids will understand

“We’ll be back soon”, they repeat

The most consistent lie ever told

 

Great novels have been read in the back seat,

Even better dreams have been had dozing in the heat

Waking up to home sweet home or jarring potholes

 

Once, in the backseat of our green Hyundai

Lost in the poor lit streets of a northern village

The front seats are in stormy animation

 

The pitter patter of “I told you” and “shut-ups”

Thunders to a slap that sends the rain away

Bringing heavy clouds to mum’s eyes

Dad’s lightning hand shocks the back seat;

My sister shrinks in electrified silence

I shake and sob with fear and suspense

Like children counting between bolts and claps

The back seat never seemed so far away

 

I grew up in the backseat you know,

Watching hairs grow grey in the front seat

Learning that dads get scared too

And mums shed more tears than you do