Old Coffee Shop and Other Poems

Old Coffee Shop

We saunter in through the translucent doorway
like two sinful men who didn’t need
but desired it, anyway. At the table,
we converse in hushed tones,
more in the way of friends, 
than teacher-and-student.
You, the interpreter of my dreams.
You, who have come a great distance
to offer companionship
against the snares of the fowlers 
hidden in my head.

A waitress tells us of the finality of this day
for the coffee shop―
this is our last day of operations. We’re closing shop forever,
she barely mutters through clenched teeth and a brow 
plastered with a frown that refused to stay hidden ―

while we stare history in the face, and beyond us, the mother
of all histories bleed. 
Gaza bleeds. Iraq is dying. There is blood
on the windowsills of all the first-borns in the Congo
and it has reached our doorsteps at last:
this coffee shop closing her doors in our faces
and us―two migrants from both ends of the earth―
one confessing his sins to the other
and each sipping cappuccino as memorabilia for the tongue.

Within our aloneness, you appear in need 
of some transfusion
you tell me how you now go to sleep each day
feeling like cane sugar sucked clean of sucrose

but if I knew one person in the world who could die
for others, it was you,
if anything on this table is bitter, it must be my coffee
stripped of milk,

and if any heart in this café needs forgiveness
it must be mine.

Sonnet by way of the sea

I am pummeling down Carter bridge, where the wind catches you by surprise, 
where automobiles whip past as though propelled by an evil wind,
striving to get to town to become one with the evening rush, and beyond me, 
at the foot of the bridge, the city punishes: choking smell of smoked fish mingles 
with the stench of unwashed bodies of the fishwives unleashing justice 
to the evening air, unforgiving in their vengeance. For the briefest moment, 
I stop to take a peek at the river below, two boys on a canoe row past,
one casts his net, blind for a moment, to the rushing world beyond him.
Lift up your heads, o ye gates, the river seems to say,
cast your sorrows into me, for no ailment survives my alkalinity.
On the far side, the waterbody is marked by a reflection of the polaris overhead,
hidden in a streak of stars, but fished out by these young seafarers skilled
in nautical ways. One points to the starlit constellation and seems to say to his companion:
Follow the North Star, dear lover. For this is how shipwrecked seamen find their way home. 

Self-portrait as Heraclitus stepping into Five Cowries Creek the second time

“For it is not the same river and he is not the same man”

And here, I’m lost on a fisherman’s boat
and perched

as a sentry from a dias
that overlooks the city

in all of its ugliness
and all of its beauty,

I want the unending 
cycle of choiring, taking place

within this swathe of water―
serenading a motionless

parade of lights 
and its extension to many nautical miles―

more than I can ever admit,
my boat, parting the waters

ever so slightly, into two frontiers
before they’re covered up again,

in a shadow of silver
as though nothing ever

rowed passed—

for some things need 
to be nudged

so as to remain unchanged—

and for a moment in a rising
mumur of waves, I swear I can hear

the invitations of the deep

far beyond, and crashing
into tidal sequences,
this call and response of the sea:

Take my hand. Take my hand.
Come home, come home, 
child of the sea.

Teach me to shapeshift

We sit at the point where Carter Bridge
begins to gain some ascendancy, and I follow
the trajectory of your left finger, pointing away to the moon,
its pearly robe of silver
nothing tonight, but heraldic.

The moon, I mean. Not the finger.

I let my line-of-sight dribble into the shoreline and beyond,
it stops at the axis where a girl performs her laundry
in the palm of night 
and spits lather into the mouth of the sea.
In this way, she lends liquefied portions
of her body to the deep histories of floatation.

Behind her,
her brother, still a toddler, negotiates the boundary 
of sea and earth,
tending to a sand house
like a woman beautifying a bride
before her wedding.
His twinkling eyes seeming for a moment,
to consider the technicalities of structuring
in clay,
translating Fahrenheit to Celsius, ounces to pounds, 
stones to kilograms,
in the untouched dark.

My eyes linger so long
as not to distinguish anymore, the points of convergence
between twilight and full nightfall,
so long they linger at the hinges of childhood and youth.
Not even you, sitting calmly beside me
or the best music of the sea can save
the eyes of my heart from this journey into the palm of night. 
Not even the sea itself, boisterous with history,
nor the resplendence of speed boats tied to the jetty,
and motionless tonight.

*Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash.

Chisom Okafor
Chisom Okafor, Nigerian poet and clinical nutritionist, lives in Alabama where he is studying for his MFA in Creative Writing, as a Graduate Council Fellow. He has received nominations for the Brunel Prize, the Gerald Kraak Prize, Sillerman First Book Prize, and Pushcart Prize. He has also received support from the Commonwealth Foundation and the Sundress Academy for the Arts. His debut full-length poetry collection is set to be published in Fall 2025 (APBF and University of Nebraska Press). He tweets @chisomokafor16.