Poetry Centre

EAL category

  • First Place (EAL): 'Grief Is a Man With Many Gifts' by Onyekachi Iloh

    I sleep after a supper of beans & yam & wake up to my great aunt dead
    I am 7, or 6, or 5 & have not yet learned the language of grief or the
    sound of a body falling into silence. People die everyday in our country,
    but it is not our country; it is someplace faraway in our TV where
    there are bombs, fire dancing on bodies, schoolchildren without desks
    & 9pm news that are about stolen billions & men in boats saying
    they tire of drinking oil with water. Already knew the square root
    of 16 is 4 & that in ‘67 our people went to war, but I had not wandered
    yet into the ambits of pain. Mourners tore soft songs from their souls
    with their tongues & their wails bounced off the walls, off my little
    body & sat at my feet in shards—the crowd waits upon Christ,
    seeking bread from his hands, then blood from his side—
    They whisper that I do not cry. That I am dry-eyed. That I do not
    tear my hair apart to clear the path for the departing dead.
    Me; dry driftwood of a miracle dancing with careless abandon while
    the boatswain, arms flailing, tries to rouse God from sleep. I think
    that moment was when I began to look back at the call of names
    belonging to another, walk into dreams not mine & pluck hibiscuses
    in fields where vultures make the trespassers-will-be-shot signs sway.
    In a hospital in Ibadan, a man clutched to his chest the grief of another
    man & his eyes closed to give him a taste of lightlessness. I understand
    a man fainting at the sight of a headless mangled body that left blood in
    the wake of the stretcher but I did not know, until the doctor ran tests,
    that grief has beautiful names & psychic trauma is one of them.
    A boy I knew would run across the sky every night to harvest a star for
    every woman he loved & each of them always left with a part of him in
    her handbag or on her; just between her hair & her weave, until he gave
    the only part of him left to a rope from his ceiling fan, stardust spilling
    from his mouth, & each swing said something like grief has many robes
    & one of them is heartbreak
    but I am not sure—the cops cordoned off the
    area do not cross but grief is a borderless country to which you can get
    trafficked/ into which you can wander & as you drive on, you won’t notice
    the signs trespassers will get shot/no stopping/welcome because you are
    too happy to know you have been here before, too amnesic to remember
    that grief is a man of many garbs & one of them is joy.

    by Onyekachi Iloh

  • Second Place (EAL): 'Mother won't know who signs her DNR' by Dianty Ningrum

    It was God. It was godly of you, hands, to decide what's for the best
    what stops collective pain. Throat as dry as that dangling

    catheter, dry as that slim, cold saline pack—which unlike life

    is about to be replaced. We know only so much warm flesh

    the earth embrace, only so much pressure her ribs can
    endure. There is a shame in remembering that I slept well

    that night. Numbers blinking like andromeda. Numbers swimming
    on the screen. Sixty per thirty, seventy five percent. Numbers jumping

    up, numbers drowning, numbers I keep wanting to go the opposite way.
    Fifty per twenty, forty three percent. This means you’re half-breathing

    Mother, this means half of your lung gives up while the other’s foolish. Poor
    half-lung, doesn’t know we’ve settled the score last night. They said

    the body can’t betray itself, yet God can stab anywhere without hearing
    the word betrayal. Forty per twenty, thirty eight percent. Let’s just leave,

    skip the long beep. Skip the Yasin. People flipping your worldly, jiggly
    remains in a metal desk. The urge that I have to kiss the bruises on

    your chest. On your lower back a burgundy crust, a gaping dark basin.
    I mutter a muted Allahu Akbar. God you are so Great. When I say this

    it means hypnosis. It means faith. Like batons, life is being passed on
    by the dead. A quiet poem flutters in your palm. Like orphans, we—

    by Dianty Ningrum

  • Special Commendation (EAL): 'my mother asks me how to leave my father' by Milla van der Have

    it's about the dogs, she says
    she sits and she isn't mother

    but helpless nonetheless, a divorce
    is as much about leaving as it is

    about what you take with you
    what you can carry and it's the dogs

    they need homes, you can't leave
    dogs, it goes against the soul

    so you leash them with soft hands
    you direct them into kind-natured

    killing until whatever you are
    whatever even mattered, is that

    your house has become twilight
    a shade of desperation and they

    say Cerberus was once a snake
    coiled around his master's ankles

    you see, so many things can be called
    dogs, love for instance when it's sweaty

    and pawing your cheek for attention
    or when it springs up unawares and

    catches you, in shackles for hands
    eager and panting, as it spills

    like a pomegranate at your feet 

    by Milla van der Have