Writing about desire is like writing about religion. You are sitting inside the storm of music in your dark room, the speakers aching the fervid voice of Zayn Malik’s It’s You, the acute progression of the giant piano chords your body towards her. You imagine that she was right there, in your arms, your hand searching the latitude of her face, which would then draw yours into hers for a kiss. It’s harder when memory is navigated through loss if the subject was never there, if your love story was a case of happenstance. A few months before, you were reaching deep inside each other, bolting bowel against the shaft. Love, sometimes, does not make sense. You are here all by yourself, grounded in your own shadow. They are somewhere else, in someone else’s arms or body, sharing with them the magic you once cradled like a storm.
When my dad returned from the UK in 2009, he brought a Panasonic sound system whose subwoofer shook the ceiling and the ground. I remember that the first song my dad played was Ebenezer Obey’s Eni ri nkan ee, an anthem that later became my brother’s and my Saturday morning house cleaning worship song. Days after, our subwoofer probably shook away the comfort of Mama Folusho’s household because she told the landlord that my family wanted to jostle her out of existence with the new radio set. On a Tuesday morning, my father played Haruna Ishola’s Mary Awolowo Funeral record, and by the time we were back from school, he had sold it. About a month later, he sold his Opel car. He sold a few other things. He gathered the money and applied for an American visa, which, without remorse, was rejected.
Twenty-One Pilots’ Car Radio was playing as we had sex. She stopped, reached for my phone, and played something else. The shuffle AI played Train Wreck by James Arthur, but as it started with the angst in James’ voice, she pressed the next button again. She played five other songs before settling for anything. By anything, I mean James Arthur’s Certain Things featuring Chasing Grace. Then Bon Iver’s Calgary. Angel Olsen’s Window, which was, in that year, my favourite song. The way she burned for my body that gentle night, she pushed her worries aside till we were panting from the exhaustion that flamed the room.
Are you depressed? She asked, breaking the awkward silence that slept between us on that small mattress. I barely said anything because it was 2016, and I did not know what it meant to be happy or sad. I simply existed.
Why do you have such a playlist? Are you okay?
In Perth, Vernon of Bon Iver writes about his partner’s best friend, Perth. That grief ferried the mood of the entire album. You’d imagine the shaking in his voice as he vocalized the crunching lyrics of that piece. Holocene was set in a bar in Portland. The entire album shuffled grief with the concept of geography, how one memory is tied to a place. I remember you now, in your magnificence, baby, in Ilorin, how you jumped on me the very first time and the whiff of your perfume consumed me forever. Ask me why I am juxtaposing grief, love, and place together in one paragraph and I will look you dead in the eye and tell you that everything that happens to the body is similar. The night after you jumped on me, you agreed to date me. That same night, you refused to kiss me. We didn’t kiss until we saw a month after. If I could, I would make music about the glamping of the sun in your eyes in Ilorin; the gentle fire that glowed inside them as you sucked empty your cup of milkshake.
So far, I am not dead yet. My father’s star or my grandfather’s upturned eyes; something is out there saving me. After my final exams at the Rufus Giwa Polytechnic in Owo, I was returning to school for my clearance when I got involved in a ghastly accident on the Brewery, Ilesha – Akure expressway. A girl had tried to slap the driver during a heated argument, he lost control and flew into the woods. The van became a tree cutter, tearing through a plantain plantation. Clutching my schoolbag to my chest, I emerged from the van unhurt. Imagine my friends writing poems on Facebook about my demise. Stop. Stop imagining. I know how heavy it is to think about my dead friends. Alao died in 2016, mysteriously. Farouk, in 2015, after a brief illness. Korede in 2018, in a gas explosion. We were eleven or twelve when Taofeek died. Where is Michael Shotinwa, the darkest boy in my class at Bodma School? He’s in a field of fireflies, mining light into the moon’s eyes? Maybe? Where is Tunmininu, my first crush? She disappeared after the end of the year party in 2001, the year Ayuba released Turn Me On.
Redemption. In James Arthur’s Can I be him, he pleaded. Shawn Mendez cried for Mercy in his 2016 Illuminate album. Although both artists dove through the idea of redemption in the oceans of love, I want to believe that we are all lost, godless souls consistently seeking redemption. When my father and mother had a fallout the year we almost ran out of money, our house had dark clouds hovering over it. We drank garri in the afternoon and ate eba at night. We skipped lunch to save food for dinner. It was bad because we all believed the fallout was a spiritual attack. I mean, of course, it had to be. My parents had traveled outside the country. My dad sold cars and landed properties; I joined the church’s prayer group in the quest for a solution. I prayed my knees red, prayed my throat dry, prayed my voice away. I would dream that a strange woman was holding me down in my sleep, and as if I attempted to shout Jesus, she would seize my voice. I once fasted for 12 days, breaking with water and fruits. One Sunday, my father followed us to church. As I prayed vigorously after service for God to continue to order his steps back to his house, he stood beside me, watching with disgust how I shook the giant head that sat on my thin neck. To be honest, it was terrible. It was bad. We were in debt and were being owed. My father marketed land to his friends and associates. Lands that the state’s sitting governor had already seized. Now I understand delinquency, the power that drives it; the spirit it seers across the station of a grieving body. I know that home is not your place if you feel inadequate. So he stayed out late, drank, and would look for the slightest opportunity to enjoy himself.
He sold a few more things and went to the UK. The arguments between my parents didn’t stop, despite the love they attempted to build over storms of cities apart. In fact, it was as chaotic as Imagine Dragon’s Radioactive.
We do terrible, unimaginable things at the break of dusk. The dark is an eerie place, it and the shadows have teeth. In Game of Thrones, Theon Greyjoy was held in the dark in Season 2 of the series, when, after betraying the Starks, he claimed Winterfell for the Greyjoys. The words of Ser Rodrik often anchor me through that scene, where he said, Gods help you, Theon Greyjoy. Now you are truly lost.
Redemption is for the lost, the prodigal, the hopeless. But being lost is a state, a place, a city. And so is redemption. As a result of Theon’s torture by Ramsay Bolton, he found the essence of family and rediscovered the idea of home. The script redeemed him when he freed Sansa from Ramsay’s grasp and ultimately lost his life to protect Bran in the Battle of Winterfell. I cried at that point. To be very honest, I do not care about Theon, but I find grace in rediscovery. How my father slowly walked himself back into our lives, that is. He never left, but he wasn’t home. And my mom?
You are nowhere now. You remember that you jumped into my arms when you climbed down the bike after plying the horrid road that led to my father’s house in Ibadan. That afternoon, we kissed under the wild sun that scorched the earth and burned the aluminum roofs. I fondled your ass. You broke the kiss and led me into the house. Your oily face, spotted by pimples; I loved kissing them. I drew you into me, and we started again. I broke the kiss this time, played On the Low by Burna Boy. We began to tear each other’s desire out; our tongues met at the intersection of teeth, and we both gave way for the reunion. It’d been days since I last saw you, and when I did, it was at the mall, bringing you a plate of jollof rice.
The memory of you that stayed was when you told F and O in secondary school that you’d never be with me. I’ve loved you before days were formed. I’ve loved you before I found poetry, or loved it even. You gather yourself beneath me, and I inside you, and we flock desires towards a certain ending. Each thrust reminded me that we all are cities. That one day, someone will walk through the landscapes of our soul, the inside beauty of songs trapped in our throats. I think you cupped my face with your small hands and drew it into your lips. We kissed again, as I worked myself inside you. Your moans took me to church. When Ocean Voung said and so I learned that a man, in climax, was the closest thing to surrender, I learned that I may have written epitaphs inside you. I may have buried myself in the well of passion our bodies command.
But you shoved me off, didn’t you? You started to cry, and I, worried, hurried to the TV remote to mute the loud music so I could hear you.
I-I-I don’t think I want to continue, Dayo. I don’t think I feel the same way you feel about me.
Some things end terribly, but this one was graver. I was sitting inside myself as I stood over you, still naked. My shaft shrunk, and my confidence was crucified by the thick nails of the words that fell off your lips—the ones that kissed mine moments ago.
You are nowhere now. Aren’t you?
When my time comes around
Lay me gently in the cold dark earth
No grave can hold my body down
I’ll crawl home to her
I fear that one day, I will twist the doorknob, walk past the comfortability in this place, and never turn back. I’ve done it before, to ex-lovers. You’d love me to bit, crave my body as your swelling, want me as your dwelling place. The door opens, and I take my leave.
I fear that one day they all would see how the sea they see in my eyes has waves that cannot be caught. I have been trying to surf myself for years & I still haven’t mastered the drowning that takes place in my body. It is my fear that I’d never been enough. That I might fuck up your life. That I am no good for you. One day, I woke up from a dream in which my grandmother was singing me aja kú bo, kú bo ee, a dirge I led in a school drama in SS1. That day, I welled in so much grief, pushed myself back into the lake of depression, broke up with her, and that was it. It happens in a flash, this unwantedness that surges inside me. It happens like I carry a curse that cannot be broken, even by the purest of kisses. I found Isak Danielson’s Broken a mirror of my own disaster. In the song, I found a lost, battered boy carrying baggage of memory. I don’t know what it is that holds me to the past, but I’m there trying to break out of the house of glass. But I’m also here, with you now, attempting to give staying a long shot.
Don’t be afraid. I’m not leaving you.
Remember how you’d drive me through the ancient of Ilorin? And I’d play you boring songs. And you’d pretend as if you liked them. Then you’d ask if I listen to Christian songs. And I’d be silent; we both would be quiet. In that silence, Lorde’s Writer in the dark would begin to play. Then Foolish Love by Allman Brown.
Dear God, hold me. The day I got to America was the day my father lost his paternal sister. The streets of Newark were oddly silent, the stench of wetness overruling its avenues. We drive through and through the large and small parks, the soccer field, the dirty lake, but we do not say anything. I want to hug my father but I don’t want his salt to soak my shirt. At home, he sits and falls asleep.
I feel like I am obligated to save everyone from falling. I go out with him in the afternoon to fix me a Boost Mobile number. We leave for his friend’s afterward. I have known my father all my life, but I understand that the body commands decorum when grief is ushered through it. Some other times, it commands a house full of music. They talk about childhood over gin, then beer. I imagine my father craving his sister’s face in the dark. But she’s not there.
She’s not anywhere.
Here are some songs for absence:
- Say You Won’t Let Go by James Arthur
- Nowhere by Black Match
- Your Shirt by Chelsea Cutler
- Windows by Angel Olsen
- Dancing with your ghost by Sasha Alex Sloan
I miss the taste of your mouth, my love. The weight of your body over me. The running around that we do in my house. They still sleep silently in yours. The no-sex make-outs. The first time we attempted breaking up, I broke down at the office and cried like a dejected soul. Your eyes bled for hours. We are inseparable. We sync. I like that it’s you I dream about now. Perfectly tucked in her coffin, my grandmother once told me to hold fast to you. You are music before the melody begins. You are music after the melody begins. I love the storm of you, and the calm. You run through my veins. Your lips, and mine, lock like substrates and enzymes.
I cried on the plane, but I didn’t tell you. I hope you read this and know that an aching comes from this longing. We were perfect before ambition curled in, before the windows of opportunities were flung open by God, before our prayers were answered. And we should still be perfect now that I am destinies away from you.
The body is forever wreckage. We began with ambition & ended in distrust. We started with the flowers stacked in our mouths, eluded by kisses, strains of hopes sewn from our esophagus to lungs. We started with love, built a city out of the paradise of our bodies, tended the flowers in our mouths, pruned the weeds, broke the walls. I have learned to stay, linger, suffer because love gathers you together until it no longer can. Today, I am writing from the pain of absence. I am asking you now, are you okay?
Can you hear me?
I am not angry that I mistook pressure for concern. I am because you doubted my effort at attempting to love you forever. We are no longer together, but the boy in my dream is dancing in the rain of your face.
My father calls and asks if you are doing very well. I say yes. But what I mean is, Daddy, I swear I don’t know what it means to be inadequate for someone whose love burned me into what I have left of me. I was holding on to the end of the rope & the fire was catching up. It was the burning rope that I mistook for the fire of patience. I expected to be understood, expected to be cheered on.
In JP Saxe’s Same Room, he highlights how I am processing you, how I flip through Triller Videos of us dancing the years in velvet love. The photos of you tiled around my gallery. I am drowning in the dreams where I pluck from your lips a kiss that cut me off the tree of wanting. You once mentioned that love is not enough, but I didn’t get it. Now I know time is eternally heavy with the unveiling.
Adedayo Agarau’s Playlist:
About the Author:
Adedayo Agarau, shortlisted for the 2022 Brunel International African Poetry Prize, is a 2022 Robert Hayden Scholarship fellow of Stockton University and the recipient of the 2022 Stanley Awards for International Research at the University of Iowa. He is studying for MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop ’23. His manuscript, The Morning The Birds Died, was a finalist in the 2021 Sillerman Prize. His chapbook, Origin of Names, was selected for New Generation African Poet (African Poetry Book Fund), 2020, while Vegetarian Alcoholic Press published his chapbook, The Arrival of Rain in January 2020. His poems are featured in Poetry Foundation, World Literature Today, Anomaly, Frontier, Iowa Review, Boulevard, and elsewhere. Adedayo is the Editor-in-Chief at Agbowó: An African magazine of literature and art. Adedayo edited Memento: An Anthology of Contemporary Nigerian Poetry. You can find him on adedayoagarau.com and @adedayo_agarau on Twitter.