An Empty Street
Someone placed a map on my heart
and said: too much space here.
When I think of hearts, I think of houses,
the skin of walls during empty moments,
playground of old ghosts.
When I think of space, I think of men
holding empty books at the end of their life.
A man in an old uniform is shooting men
from his dream.
This is what movies are made of, but this is real.
I swear, I’ve been there, I have seen the gun go off,
I have embraced the bullet and tasted blood on my tongue.
Down the street a man is running to a river,
a mouth is saying, water.
The radio is saying, come out.
This is why I came here,
to be just another shadow,
another voice wandering round and round empty streets.
Tonight there’s another mistake waiting to happen,
two girls will love loudly, listen, listen, listen to their voice breaking the peace of water
as men pour fire inside their bones
and break them into stars dying in a dark sky.
The street is empty save a cat, a lady in a red dress
a boy, a lamp and me, from an empty sky
music descends as a dove and we dance
in puddles till we become a blur of madness
and all my mouth could say is water. Water. Water.
as a body exit the night in a furnace,
as angels fold the cry of burning girls
within their hearts and resurrect in red petals
in the heart of a girl learning to love
her wild self.
This is the place of loss.
A woman learning the name of a dead child
is my mother or my mother’s mother
learning how her son died under a street lamp
or a word learning to breathe
into the mouth of death
or a street in my childhood
where we first learn about gang wars
and freedom and how a body is a son in prison
reading letters he thought was written
by a father in a distant city,
where we first saw young boys go into the ground
to become deserts in a heart of women,
where we first replaced absent fathers with violence,
where we first saw the night and thought about silence and about broken hearts crying on wet beds,
where we drank our first beer
and saw the image of a man that looks like our father in the eye of the sun and gave praise
to the drunk goddess living in cheap bars.
If I retrace my steps to this city
I will walk through the streets of my past
& try to understand why young people die so early,
why we search for love and all we find is a bullet
crying for home within the emptiness of our hearts,
maybe in the middle of the night
when the night is a drunk man sleeping in the gutters,
I will walk and listen for the dead
to tell me if they found peace
the moment the gun went off
or was it when the earth and flowers
reclaimed their bodies
and placed seeds under their dead tongues?
The mouth is a casket.
There is no light in the head of a boy
getting ready to turn on the music.
Here is the dress,
Here is the toe dipped in wings,
Here is the soul lost in the hands of time.
Look how he dances like a butterfly trapped in a bottle,
His mouth is a slice of sunlight.
How rare and beautiful are endangered things,
How sweet is the cover of darkness
before dawn ushers in a book of lessons.
Nina Simone croons about freedom and dark skin
as he weaves across an empty room in a red dress,
his hands are ropes released to the winds.
what is it they say about freedom and Eden?
a fruit is also a naked skin
finding pleasure in the art of a finger
before a voice cuts life into death
and sends man to a voyage of sadness.
It is too early to talk about a gun
in the heart of burning city
but before the song comes to an end
he will learn that a father’s hand can be a gun
trailing a boy deep into a lonely forest,
He will learn how the heart can swim in sorrow,
He will learn how a mother can be a wound
in the side of a man,
Before darkness is shattered by fire
he will dance with a boy’s name on his skin
and give light to dark flowers,
He will call the gun a name from his childhood
and as he is led to the altar
he will look at the hand raised in thunder
and call a face on fire, father.
Bio: Romeo Oriogun’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming on Kalahari Review, African Writer, Brittle Paper, EGC Blog, amongst others. His Chapbook “Burnt Men” is available for download on Praxis. He lives and writes in Ikare-Akoko, a sleepy town in Western Nigeria.