Gbenga Adeoba is from Nigeria, where he lives. His writing explores themes of memory, transition, and the intersections between the imaginative and the historic. His poetry has been featured or is forthcoming in Elsewhere Lit (Anthology of Contemporary African Poetry), agbowo.org, Notre Dame Review, Prairie Schooner, Oxford Poetry, Poet Lore, Salamander, Pleiades, and others. Follow him @_Snowburl.
The sea is History
The refrain of this water says something
is imminent, says loss is upon us.
Bordered by kelps—brown murals supple as wool—
and a cloud of winged witnesses,
our boat is somewhere in the middle of the Mediterranean,
miles and miles from the coast near Tobruk
in Libya, where we had camped until the smugglers
and the sea spoke of its fidelity.
It was a soft, fluid tune:
the tender draw of water, a rare liquid craft—
the sea, keen, humming a promise of calm,
urging us to draw closer, to unlearn
all we thought we knew about the posture of water.
There are dismembered boat parts, whole dinghies too,
shooting out from somewhere beneath this expanse, yielding us
to catalogues of told and untold mishaps,
the sea’s unfulfilled promises to those who had knocked
on its door, those who sought to know its ways:
the Nigerian boy, wan as the fruit of wilt, comforting his sister,
after they lost their mother miles away from Sabratha,
and those with whom we had camped at the coast,
the ones who drowned overnight
some hundred miles south of the Island of Lampedusa.
What binds us now is a known fear,
a kinship of likely loss, the understanding that we, too,
could become a band of unnamed migrants
found floating on the face of the sea
or swept ashore by wave upon wave
on a beach west of Tripoli.
along the coasts of Northern Africa
On the fortnight of your return,
they would bunch around the evening fire
to learn of your resurrection: the unhallowed season
of the sea, the throes, the convention of birds
on the route where the smugglers
joined you to a truck towards the waters;
and the sovereignty of dust in half-empty towns,
past the caves and their autonomy of green—
foliages retelling parables of no return.
How the sea beyond keeps no record
of the drowned and those it washed ashore,
how you, too, are a Lazarus of the Nile.
at a slave port in Dahomey, old Benin Republic.
All night, they had waited for the Captain’s blast—
an initiation into a ritual, piercing as a dark prophecy—
so that the ship would sail away from the piers
into a future unfolding in fetters.
There seemed to be an urgency on the sea,
a rhythm of narrowness,
and it was unlike the tune they had learnt:
to be wide and free like this water.
Ripples too, the sheer liturgy of liquid bodies.
Held within the crevices of each ripple
were tossed dreams, rehearsed scenes
and unheard songs, the lexicon of memory
and wisdom told in *Bariba, Fon and Fula,
unwinding, reeling into that Dahomeyan pallor
and the soft pockets of the sea.
And for once, they knew their dreams too
would ebb into a patina speaking only in whispers,
the language of a body speaking to itself.
*Bariba, Fon and Fula are dialects in Benin Republic