Saddiq Dzukogi with Verity La Poetry Editors Michele Seminara and Robbie Coburn
When your mother found strands of your hair
hung up in the teeth of your comb,
your father squirreled them into a wineglass.
It bites him hard that your life happened
like an hourglass with only a handful of sand—
this split to the seam of his body, a split
of darkness that won’t kill him but squeezes
adrenaline into his veins, so he lives
through the pain of your absence. He’s not all right
to speak. His voice rims with bereavement,
and he wants to sing by your grave, child,
now that birds blow songs through
the window— counts sadness on the prayer beads
necklaced around his collar. If he had known the sky
would inhale you out of him so quickly,
he would have stayed with your toes forever
in his hands. Your face is still everywhere,
even in the places he is not looking.
He presses a deep kiss on your grave,
on your forehead.
Hands, cloudy from rubbing the grave,
as if on your tender skin.
The distance he feels is more
than the four hundred kilometers that often stands
between you. He will travel this far
to hold you against the moon.
They say you are like his reflection
pulled out of the mirror he stares into.
To pull you out he plunges his hand
inside himself and pulls.
The Fruit Tree
She comes as a wind with her brother’s ball
and places it into his palm, the earth
spinning on its orbit as his bare body
levitates, her eyes deep
and shiny with the ardor of stars,
and he asks what juice comes from the fruits
of the placenta tree? She whispers the recipe
and he holds it in his body, the river
that meets the roots and only speaks
through the open eyes of leaves.
He stays in the company of all her toys
as he remembers how she clutches each
by the tail. It is her way of keeping in touch.
Under the tree, he’s in the bathhouse of memory.
She enters his skin
and lays hands on bones. He wonders
how to feel a ghost’s touch
despite the dirt of loss in his eyes—
he walks into the fallow of grief—the sharp ends
of the grass cut into skin—
cracks him open for scavengers.
Now the fruit is thick as milk
and now it seeds— bubble-
like with all the things he has lost as a father:
her soft fingers on his chin, her eyes
that open all the hidden chapters
of his body. The ghost is a wine.
He drinks this last memory.
Learning about Constellations
Today Baha is not dead; she is twelve years old,
sits beside a flower vase, presses her thumb to the clay.
Her heart buds into a magnificent sun,
waterfalls its warmth all over her satin face.
Taller than all her classmates,
in the corner she leans her head to white paper,
carves moons out of her notebook,
while other children
sit and listen to the teacher. The class
is learning about constellations.
She takes colors off a flower, folds it to her skin.
A chameleon gathering quotes from leaves,
she questions daisies, reveals all suggestions
when he stares into her eyes.
Baha grabs a speck of darkness,
molds it into a moth and places it in the darkest point
in his eyes. He sits close to his daughter in the yard—
joins her and the moths. Baha is not dead—
she is walking her way into myth, a world
of new constellations where buried milk
nourishes the placenta to heal
his broken bones, broken eggshell of his heart, mend
each back together with the energy of a clock
that never stops moving backward.
These poems are republished from Your Crib, My Qibla with the permission of the author.
Your Crib, My Qibla interrogates loss, the death of a child, and a father’s pursuit of language to articulate grief. In these poems, the language of memory functions as a space of mourning, connecting the dead with the world of the living. Culminating in an imagined dialogue between the father and his deceased daughter in the intricate space of the family, Your Crib, My Qibla explores the fleeting nature of healing and the constant obsession of memory as a language to reach the dead.
Saddiq Dzukogi’s poetry collection Your Crib, My Qibla (University of Nebraska Press 2021) was named one of 29 of the best poetry collections by Oprah Daily. His chapbook Inside the Flower Room was selected by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani for APBF New Generation African Poets Chapbook Series. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Cincinnati Review, Gulf Coast, Kenyon Review, Oxford Poetry, Poetry Society of America, Prairie Schooner and other literary journals and magazines. He is a finalist of Brunel International African Poetry Prize and a recipient of fellowships and Grants from Nebraska Arts Council, Pen America, Obsidian Foundation, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he is a PhD student and serves as an Assistant Poetry Editor for Prairie Schooner.