I Carried My Father
Across the Sea

I Carried My Father Across the Sea

He was a child. He was dead.
He was the shaft of a Long-tailed Astrapia. He was a forest

of bruise. He wore a door on his face.
He wore the black suit

of his wedding. The square pocket
was still full of his vows.

He was light to carry,
his burdens and vows had bled out of him.

He was heavy
with the responsibility of the dead.

What sort of a son
leaves his father

chained to fatherhood?
I lifted and propped him up with my frame.

I measured the length of him with my length.
The feet stuck in sea sand, his weak knees,

his arms gripped my sides.
As the currents rose, the collar on his broken neck

flared into a float.
The gash the surgeon’s knife left on his head

became a halo, it signaled in the dark.
I put my nose to his nose.

I put my finger in his mouth.
I tied his IV tubes, now a human gill, around our waists

and swam in the vein
of the water.

“Look,” a sphinx in the waves said,
“A son carries a father.”

Death is not silence.
It is where I hear you most clearly.

What sort of a son
leaves his father’s body

chained to the dark grievance inside the earth?
I carried my father on my back.

I felt the bracing inside his afterlife heart
on the skin of my spine.

He wore his face as a door
he promised to open to me.

He bled
out his vows.


When my father fell

into himself and the waters

within him broke their
vows                                                    She

wilted to half of her carp.
She wrapped herself in a black shawl. She,

my mother, crawled
to his side, put her

ear to his chest. Said: if a body
is yours, you

can hear where silence
throats in its skin. She,

my mother, put her mouth
to my father’s ear,

said I’ll call your body,
which is mine, by name,

you’ll come back to me.
How can a body the whole length

of which you once
traveled with your tongue close itself to you.

When he, my father, closed his eyes
and breath and his body became

a bridge he had left behind on a journey and
they wheeled him down the stairs,

she sprang after them.
She cried out:

My name is
inside his tongue.      I need to get it back.

Thirteen Ways of Naming My Father’s Body

My father’s body knew pleasure. It tasted like
thorn on his flesh.

Once on a bus, a child smiled at me, and I knew
it was my father’s body

On some days, the morning is my father’s body.
I wear it like loneliness.

When I’m dancing and twisting alone in the dark,
my father’s body joins me. He brings in night as his
dance partner.

Once, on a street in New York, afraid for my life
I shouted at my father to stay back indoors. I told him
not to come out of my body.

I’m the light of the world. My father’s body is the world.

Sometimes when I’m singing, a door opens and gives
my father’s body back to the night he was born.
Fela Kuti dancing on the stage is my father’s body.

I sat beside a man a while ago at a garden; his hum was my father’s body.

I love the magpie. It has my father’s body.

The man sitting beside you is my father. He’s dead.
His body is a sigh.                 Where I come from, rain
leads home the father’s body.

Once, at a rock concert, I asked for a dirty martini,
my hand wanted to find a way to hold the night. The
purr of the electric guitar was my father’s body.

In the beginning God made heaven and my father’s body