In another life, I am twenty-two, gifted and curious and dreaming of fleeing the world, while perched on the transom of a stallion of the sea, breathing stale evening air off the waterline, an entanglement of sodium chloride and ancient seawood. The boy on the other side is waiting, arms outstretched, as though to receive a prodigal advancing to the interlocking welcome of an embrace. Worn by the ways of the sea, I have mastered the art of smearing my sternum with white and green watermarks, and this is the year of my first diagnosis, and I’m pressing a miniature paintbrush to my chest, tracing the shape of a heart, feeble with cardiomegaly, and whispering the words of the scriptures into it: Tabitha cume. Tabitha cume. Feeble girl, rise up. Rise up. And I’m thinking of what happens to the heart when its vessel ― an entire body ― is immersed in water and left to slouch against the rippling music of immersion. I am thinking of the calculus of bodies, the time between Point X and Point Y ― time between immersion and the bottom of the sea ― the exquisite mathematics of drowning. Woodsmoke Each one of us is born sensible a heart incensed then falling. ─ TJ Dema. Falling, by which I mean a synchronized art of dying. By which I also mean something burning in my chest as I skid in full velocity off the middle of a rail track. I want to say to a century of twinkling species overhead: I too have been touched by wildfire in a previous life I too, have memorized the simple art of free- falling. Echo-cardio-gram Cut your heart open, you say. And I open: Who says the dead are farther away from us than the distance between my failing heart and yours, which I count as nothing, even now, as we soak up the noonday sun. Who says there are no murmurs grinding away beneath me, when a miracle of hands pressed on my chest leave me gasping for a last violence of air in sunlight. Take air as vehicle, or fuel for naked light, as it travels in a freefall through a vacuum, half expecting to be caught. Do you know what it means to fall, and not be caught till a shattering arrives to offer some relief? Like an agony of lights from a thousand distant stars: cellphone-holding species, whose illuminations, shed a million years back, but without the malevolence of being caught midway, are just reaching us tonight. But there are no absolutes, you say, and time, like truth, is relative, which is also to say nothing of the benevolent earth that stops all freefalls. Earth, to which all travelers must return, when the day is spent and the dance is over, and I see all the men I ever loved rise before me, like the steam from chamomile tea. And I see all the cities I ever fled from, return to reclaim from the barren fields, souls which were theirs before time began. These days, I philosophize more on death than the last man caught in the volcanic rage of Pompeii, with his daughter, a mass of solidified ash, freshly preserved in his arm, as though he was saying to the fire: Let her body only be taken by the things she never saw. For the things you possess the least knowledge of don’t really kill you. Hear me out: On my first trip to the cardiologist's, a man had stared at me in the waiting room, as though he was a teacher who had scribbled questions on a rough cardboard surface: What caused your heart dysfunction, son? Was it an excess of nicotine or the freedom of alcohol or lack of both? But I know nothing of these things. Just as an owl dies knowing nothing of the etiology of its nocturnal fondness, why only in empty darkness is where it finds home. But we misinterpret emptiness as guilt, which is why the owl is so strange to us. See how easy it is to confuse the act of falling with the act of failing. See? See how we fall into the things that fail us, like the reverberations of this cardiac machine, faithful in its representation of how much closer I am to the end of my heart dysfunction than I think.
About the Author:
Chisom Okafor is a Nigerian poet and clinical nutritionist. His debut full-length manuscript, Birthing, was a finalist for the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets.