For dinner, my lover served salted pears.
If it can go wrong, it will go wrong.
Everything went wrong: hope cracked our spines.
You were milk, and my body was full of tongues.
I was milk, and your body was full of tongues,
Cheeks stuffed with crows, anthracite for eyes.
I kissed your cheeks till my eyes bled anthracite.
Tonight, my breath belongs to the moon.
Tonight, I will wear the moon on my breath.
Hunger will be back. You will forget your name.
Hunger is your name. Forget your teeth back home.
Love is the difference between rain and God’s tears.
Love is God’s tears, crimson dew in dawn’s blue.
My pearly eyed lover, salt of the earth.
Ghazal from the beginning
nana/body a bewildered alif standing in your rabb’s throat/like a beginning
anqa in your mouth/golden eggs for teeth/this distance between your tongue and the beginning
what to do with your throat/now that you have left your rabb cold/palms kissing cheeks?
you dusk/you bloated desert/you who would still be tart/had your mouth remained yours from the beginning
by the fig/by the olive/they will come for your hands
they will take umbrage at your delicious hymen/they will demand a new beginning
you dance naked for so many moons/your spine cracks/your ribs slit the sun
you become the dagger/the sour earth/the bones/the rain/the stench of bloody beginnings
you stealer of tongues/al-asr stuck in your hair/like stray hay
will you not tell us/where you have buried our hands/show us a new place to begin?
my god, the ugly story of your face/lips smashed against jaws
we know why you howl louder than the moon/trace all the alifs back in search of your beginning
portrait: your cold golden teeth/bewildered/lost in an ayah about dogs
nana/yours is the sweetest blood/without you/there is no beginning
You, citizen, are the aftermath of forest fire: fingers sizzling,
smoke for hair, even your knees have been done in but you
must move on from this. You must drag your wreck of a body
from noose to noose and only stop when you are told to stop.
When the police stop you, you must give them your hands.
You must pass this simple test of patriotism: the government
and your mother are in a burning house, who do you save?
It does not matter which option you choose. This story
always ends with blood pooling in the center of your forehead.
Have you learnt nothing at all? You must know better than to
ask what the government can do for you, instead, what can you
do for your government? You must keep your body and mind fit.
You must pick pebbles in both of your hands, and swallow just
enough to survive. You must leave adequate space in your belly
for a bullet to rest. You must report your neighbor to the authorities
when he spits on the flag. You must not speak the name of the dead.
You must not speak the country’s name in vain. You must not speak
unless you are told to speak. You must sleep with your eyes and ears
wide open. You must spot treason from a mile away. When you go
to the market, to school, to the bank, you must wear your best dress.
You must say hello to every citizen you meet on the road. You must
let your family know where to find your body. And when it is time
to sing the national anthem, you must, by all means necessary, scream
the words so loud, your body explodes into millions of tiny, bloody flags.
My left leg
Aubade to ruin
wax lacquered eyes,
conch shells for collarbones,
earth pliant between your toes,
who are you when you have no more soles to take?
you who would love me to death,
braid your teeth in my hair &
that would be enough
under the jade moon,
your fingers undressing me are jerk needles. I lean into them
& feel the warmness trickle down my arms
look how breathtaking we are,
tongues out, bellies
quivering with need, fur
glistening with blood
cobbler boy, it is you who I have kept this skin supple for.
sink your teeth into the softness of my hip
& get drunk on the lignite in my veins – that would be enough,
this hunger is all I need.
I have wanted you for so long, cobbler boy;
breasts deliciously wrapped
in leather, dusk lined eyes, body
musked to perfection. I have waited for you till my eyes
rolled backwards, till time
became me. I have loved you, cobbler boy &
you have eaten my soles.
Haneefah Bello is a poet and short story writer. She lives in Edo, Nigeria, and studies law at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, second place winner of the Akuko Lit competition, and winner of the Loft Books Short Story competition. Her works have appeared/are forthcoming in PoetryColumn NND, Praxis Magazine, Kissing Dynamite, Akuko and elsewhere.
– ‘Duplex’ has been accepted for publication in Atlanta Review as the winner of the 2021 Dan Veach Prize for Younger Poets
– ‘My left leg’ has been published in IceFloe Press as part of the New International Voices Series