Three Poems

patrilineal ruin

how do i tell you that i can’t kill
a cockroach, not because it’s a little animal

but that i am disgusted by what death
looks like even before the body begins to rot—

that being able to touch life into
unbecoming is not the kind of god i want to be.

as a little boy, i’d pluck spiders off
the wall and wrap them in cotton wools. i wasn’t

giving them a home. how do i tell you
that i dream of this violence because i thought

it’s who i wanted to be. there’s a way
dirt adheres to dirt, a way soot keeps its ashes

from turning grey, a way my blood cells
sickles like my father’s and the filial men before

him. in a familial tale, my great-great-
grandfather walked into an overgrown forest,

cleared it of its weeds and witches, and
named the land after himself. i tried to cut myself

off this lineage of ruin, used my name to
seek absolution. okpechiamanam—when the lord

judges, let it not be against me. how do I
tell you that my great-grandmother placed a curse

on my father’s chest, that in his anger
his body shudders like a fever, and i once watched

him hit a man so hard he fell down
the stairs and life left him for a brief while; that

i know this rage as much as the fatigue
that comes with it, like an ancient call to rest

under a body of water. it’s been years
since i last got into a fight, but if i stay silent long

enough for my blood to settle its living
debt, the lot of it would pump me into a dream

where i am the main character riding shot-
gun with the four headless men to a bloodbath.

mercy like an unwanted dream

i learnt forgiveness in the dark passage of my father’s village home. it was written
on my mother’s skin with four knife gashes on her arm. my father stood by her,

in the tears she shed silently so as not to haunt her children, and in the cruelty that
came before the tears that endangered his family. there, my heart would go out

for the red soaking up cotton wools, as though i watched a lover give out gift i got
her with all the thoughtfulness i contained. perhaps i wasn’t meant to be born into

this blood tree; its branches climb me like a barbed wire. save for this memory,
somehow, i learned to forget the details of that day. i forgot about the wanton taste

buds of my siblings and i, how we plucked fruits from the neighbouring compound,
how this enraged them, and my parents, shocked that they’d come for their fruits

with knives and machetes as though it wasn’t children they were trying to warn off;
as though they were not also my father’s brother, sister, and mother. i learnt

forgiveness a decade and a half later, from an ancient book that said, judgement
belongs to the lord—more like fear. i once lived inside my mother, like god lives in

me, so i know how easy it’s to presume the suffering of others. i know the demand
for beauty from a deformed body. i have watched my mother live through it twice,

and each time from the high blood pressure of her pain, she’d go against her body
against the rage she’s owed, for the god in her, and like a nightmare scream, mercy!

transcendental ruin

in the event of my great-grandmother’s death, my father had returned home for the first time
after several years of moving to the city to fulfill a dream. there he was, seated under the
evening glow of the stinging cold harmattan season, accompanied by a bottle of punch, thinking
about how fortuitous he was to have been born into a bloodline ripe with the violence of his
youth, and a last name as old as the first green that sprouted in the land. he had a guest. the
oracle of the land had come to inquire about his life and welfare, but refused to drink with him.
the oracle couldn’t stay long, wished my father well, and stood up to leave. my father would
walk him to the gate where he stopped briefly, looked up to the heavens and called my
great-grandmother’s name three times: don’t say i never checked up on your son.

i want to confess a love
far beyond the speak of my palm

lines, & the water that spilled before
my birth— in my veins is a cruel

legacy of afterlives. if i love you today,
i’ll love you for all todays. if i hold

you, in this moment, i’ll be etched
into your palm, for all of you to come—

what i know of devotion is coiled
into me like the burning light of a star

i know no other way to pray.

*Photo by sander traa on Unsplash.

Precious Okpechi
Precious Okpechi is a Nigerian poet and editor. He is an alumnus of the Los Angeles Review of Books Publishing Workshop and The Singing Bullet Writing Workshop. His works appear in Palette Poetry, Lolwe, The Shore, Isele Magazine, and Kissing Dynamite. He is managing editor at 20.35 Africa.