Romeo Oriogun lives and writes in Udi, a little town in Eastern Nigeria. His poems, which mostly deal with what it means to live as a queer man in Nigeria, have been featured in Brittle Paper, African Writer, Expound, Praxis, and others. He is the author of Burnt Men, an electronic chapbook published by Praxis Magazine Online.
And the voice was a lost bird embedded in a boy
like a word stranded between pages.
He said flee from the heat wrecking your body
and you ran to a place where water
running over pebbles is a whisper of wildness,
where lost boys are birds hiding their heads
under wings as they touch their wetness
in the dark and whisper hallelujah.
The radio said, a father shot his son for loving another man.
Marvin Gaye lives in the heart of a black drag queen
and to be a song of pebbles and water is to run into a city of light
and surrender your throat to the song of a bird.
On the streets of Lagos, a boy searches for himself in mirrors,
he opens his heart and hears the voice of his father
breaking his bones into a prince
collecting burnt teeth lying as warning on holy grounds.
This is how we kill love;
hunting it in the dark when it is soft
like a newborn chick,
breaking its bones till it becomes
a boy filled with dead men.
Rainfall teaches the ground how to breed:
a boy learns about the wetness of his thighs on a cold night.
Poster of boys diving into water holds him in a trance.
A horse hears the coming of speed rising in his blood;
a horse responds to the call of wild hills as water tickles the sky.
a boy hears the whisper of another boy deep in his bones
and wonders about the origin of stars,
his body is a lamp learning how to give light
in a place where a boy opens his mouth
from the door of a tomb;
where a boy takes his first breath
and resurrects into life;
where a boy learns how to make honey
out of a skin.
This is how to live:
a resurrected boy hides in dark bars and stare at muscles of hard men.
He is called Joe, he is called John, he is called The Wind
and that is how to be unseen.
And this is real:
a man hides his voice in a throat
before bursting out into songs.
Verbs are boys learning how to kiss,
like you turning your body into a blue sea;
turning your lips into pictures of love.
Like you opening your body into a little island;
opening your skin into a beautiful world.
Verbs are boys learning how to love
in a place where death lives in water.
One step at a time. A boy learns how to dance,
his voice is a stream learning the music of the ocean.
He opens his mouth and paints blue skies with the magic of flying.
He opens his hands and flowers plait the air with music.
One step at a time. A man kisses another man
and hears bullets hitting his windows.
A man kisses another man and hears a mob running on his skin.
A man lies on the edge of bliss and hears the rape of boots on doors,
still we rise with the sun and plant seeds of love in dark places;
still we love and hide and wait for rapture inside a boy’s body
as a voice flirts with the birds in his throat,
while a man burns on a street in Lagos for singing too loud.
Elegy for a Burnt Friend
Because the night is silent,
the trees will search for a voice,
the wind will fill a body with sorrowful songs.
Forgive me, I drank an old wine
as a mob marked your body.
There is nowhere to say enough,
nowhere to breathe in the open sea
without salt stinging your throat;
nowhere to wash our body in water and become free.
There was mockery on the spot
where your hand touched the blood on your shirt,
the voice said, you are fallen ashes, a mirror
of something unnatural, the dark side of God.
This was the point my mouth should have poured water
over your burning skin.
Forgive me, there was a pipe lying so close to another man;
there was a fire burning nearby and I ran into a dark street,
where I called your name in silence and said live,
knowing people like us will always be hunted.
I remember the night you licked the salt
on my palm and said do not be afraid to live in your skin.
Maybe you knew, you knew one day your screams
will stretch my throat and my silence will break
out of a darkness hard as a wall.
I’m trying hard not to cry,
I’m saying the earth ate the moon last night
but someone will mock your last prayers
and my skin will burst into a river.
How to Survive the Fire
The first rule of survival is to Run,
I tell you this to understand how memories
are floods drowning a lonely man,
how the sight of a man burning
in a park stays with you;
his voice becoming yours at night.
There’s no boy hiding in my throat,
I tell you the truth, my mouth is clean
but on my tongue are cities
where boys are beaten to death.
Say Lagos; say Onitsha; say Lafia;
say cities where the only freedom
for a man who loves another man is to leave.
I tell you this to understand my silence,
to understand why I crawled into my voice,
I do not want to die.
There is no where safe in this city of mine
and songs of freedom are just what they are.
You have to see nails drawing blood
from a swollen head
before you understand why God turned
his face from Christ and whispered, run.