“And it is there, a son and a father / both paraded before an audience / both asked to stare back at humanity / and you say, show me.

Pa Amadu Kamara
                

      on 19th November 2019
      photographs of the 
      descendants were shown
      in the Guardian holding 
      returned pictures of their ancestors
 
 
We have come again to the town created
out of red earth and prayers.
 
Every historic road leads back
to the body and you say, show me,
show me the past. In the trenches of history
Pa Amadu holds his ancestor into light.
 
I am not supposed to weep at this.
I am not supposed to name the past,
so I can witness it, sometimes the years
we run away from are the ones calling us
 
and I see the men, the numbers
held above their heads, the numbers
used to identify them, I see the ledger
of trauma, the colonial book of naming.
 
In open space, Pa Amadu holds his ancestor,
smiles for the camera. Again this begins
a journey and you say, show me.
 
And it is there, a son and a father,
both paraded before an audience,
both asked to stare back at humanity,
to become human and you say, show me.
 
 
 
 
 
  The Dead
 
              after Yannis Ritsos
 
 
Graves do speak to those who listen,
they do speak to gravediggers,
those who stand at the threshold
of life, preparing bodies for departure,
 
and in their conversations,
the dead are silent.
 
Alone,
what remembrance they ask of us
they do not say,
 
what remembrance lies in the emptiness
of bones, they do not say.
 
So I write to them, not a song, not an offering,
I write in the language of loneliness,
 
in the only understanding we know,
in the only way we interpret a man walking
into the deep end of life where the dog of death
barks, where marble heads lie in the open,
 
where our prayers, like arrows shot
by an unskilled archer, fails to reach,
 
and the waters, green and undisturbed, holds
no reflection, neither the pleading of our faces,
nor the tail end of prayers, where it holds only
the dead, only their bodies, the wetness of our grief.

Romeo Oriogun is the author of Sacrament Of Bodies (University of Nebraska Press) and the chapbooks, Burnt Men and The Origin of Butterflies. The 2017 winner of the Brunel International African Poetry Prize, he has received fellowships from the Ebedi International Residency, Harvard University Department of English, Oregon Institute for Creative Research, and The Hutchins Center for African and African American Research. He currently lives in Iowa, where he is an MFA candidate for poetry at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. 

Featured image by Nika Akin from Pixabay