She never thought she could lose her husband 
to an excuse of drunkenness soon after the haulage firm 
where he worked without saving a coin had packed up. 
She didn’t prod him or wait out his daze 
when she brought their baby home
and found him on the carpet gazing up at them 
through a haze of recognition, too drunk 
to lift a hand. She plucked a ripe fruit 
from the tree—that udara tree in their compound, 
sturdy with the care of several old fingers—
split open the fruit, squeezed sweetness into 
the tiny mouth and whispered a prayer. 
Then she held the baby to eye level 
and called it—Ahamefula. 
The boy grew up like that tree. 
Twenty years later, I bumped into him in a mall. 
His father late, but Ahamefula looked dapper 
and settled. He spoke with a lilt 
as if mindful of the heft of word, 
shaving each syllable, smooth as butter. 
I heard in his voice how distance 
kneaded people, clipped tongues, 
as we recalled childhood mischiefs, slips 
in high school, and flights from our land. 
Midspeech, he spun at the sound of a name, 
so toneless. I was about to think he’d turned 
only out of curiosity, when a girl, with skin
like freshly cut pawpaw, sailed into view 
and latched onto his arm, flicking 
chestnut hairs off her face. 
I caught a smile on the sheen of his face. 
Ahamefula introduced us to each other. 
The girl called that name again, and I 
remembered the story of how
his mother had let his name lift in praise 
to the sky because of what she thought 
she had lost—or might lose. 
Now, we three sat at a table
in the food court. Ahamefula and I laughed, 
the girl sipping bubble tea and calling him 
by that name every minute or so.
I almost asked him if he’d heard how 
his mother had wailed while zealous men 
hacked down her old tree to make space 
for what was new. Roots left in the sun to wilt. 
We laughed more and mapped places to visit 
in the coming summer. 
I watched them leave—
Ahamefula walking with flair, the girl leaning 
on his arm, like a pelt, the name he now bore 
clinging to her lips. I headed for the exit 
and rolled my name over my tongue, 
feeling its timbre as if 
to flatten its history. 

Coyote Down the Valley

                during your usual walk 
in September     when the sky is losing its blue 
the air is the scent poplars have shed 
the trail a rotting carpet
the wood is sparser now     count the gaps between grasses  
hear the fall of your footsteps 
until you’re surprised by another sound 
a swift rustling across your path 
you stop     he watches from the other side     eyes of a stranger 
his fur a lighter brown than yours 
pariah of stealth and shadows     to move untethered 
between backyards and the wilds     even as commerce exhausts space  
you like to think you’re not animal  
you’re never territorial 
this here is myth in the flesh 
              that is how you encounter the other
stories that go before their presence 
stories you hear before you’ve had that encounter 
the worlds you make the other carry    the worlds each of you carry 
some myths branch off such encounters—
before      you’d grab a stone     scare off the trespass  
until your grandmother told you a story     how the bridge 
between sea and land was home      she once stood aside  
let an iguana ply his way home 
now you stare at the story you’ll someday tell 
an encounter      different      from the telling you heard in the hall 
where a boy pointed up at a shoulder mount of a coyote 
as people skirted around him       his father said
              Oh, you mean—that?
              That’s just how people remember.

About the Author:

Uchechukwu Peter Umezurike is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Calgary. He holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Alberta, Canada. An alumnus of the International Writing Program (USA), Umezurike is the author of Wish Maker (Masobe Books, 2021), Double Wahala, Double Trouble (Griots Lounge Publishing, 2021), and a co-editor of Wreaths for Wayfarers, an anthology of poems (Daraja Press, 2020). His poems and short fiction have been widely anthologized online and in print magazines, and he has interviewed dozens of writers for Read Alberta, Prism International, Brittle Paper, and Africa in Words.

Feature image by blauthbianca / Pixabay