Theresa Lola is a Nigerian British poet born in 1994. She was shortlisted for the 2017 Bridport Poetry Prize, 2016 London Magazine Poetry Prize and won the 2017 Hammer and Tongue National Poetry Slam. Theresa is an alumna of the Barbican Young Poets programme. In 2017 she was awarded an Arts Council/British Council International Development Grant to run poetry workshops at the Lagos International Poetry Festival in Nigeria. Theresa is part of SXWKS creative collective and Octavia Women of Colour collective resident at the Southbank Centre in London. She is currently working on her debut full length poetry collection.
Portrait of My Father as A Dead Man
While painting a portrait of my father as a dead man, I am also cooking dinner. I gorge out my father’s eyes and blend them with the red peppercorn seeds to heighten the sting of the soup’s spice. /////// Call me a cowardice, he is asleep, tired from work, even made time to ask how my day was. /////// I cut my father’s spine like it is the water leaf I am chopping to make eforiro soup. In his portrait I paint his bones as a white caterpillar, the kind that never grows into a butterfly. You think killing a man is enough to give you peace, but his body will collapse onto a seesaw that springs up all the buried trauma from the past. /////// To complete my meal, I peel off his black skin and blend it until it looks like Amala. I try to continue the painting of my father as a dead man, but truth is I want to feel his approval, to hear him clap at the brilliance of my talent. My father’s health has been failing anyway, a cyst in his kidney, a nose operation, a dim eyesight. My father’s eyesight is so poor he bumps into my ghosts and calls them obstructing decorations. /////// Before I began this painting, my father said art will not pay me as much as becoming a chartered accountant, but the world loves commodifying pain, this portrait of my father as a dead man should make me rich.
My father is reducing the radius of his friendship circle
to make it easier for him to spot death’s reflection.
The little he knows from the bible is Judas
was able to kiss death unto Jesus because they were close.
In this town, neighbours pray before shaking hands.
The rumour is that someone blended death into a soup
and fed it to my grandfather
and [abracadabra] he transformed into corpse.
My father dines alone, places mirrors on the other chairs,
paranoia is the arrow that has stabbed his Adam’s apple.
He once asked if tomato stew was blood.
He strokes the stringy hairs on his eaten mango with pity.
In a voice deep as a black hole, my father
tells me it is wise to be selective of your companion.
Half of my father’s friends are dead,
a small circle of friends is not his choice.
Today, the doctor told my father he will need further tests
to determine if cancer has kissed death unto his kidney,
my father is now numb, there is no one to blame
but his body, cancer is not a close friend,
he cannot call this betrayal.
We inherited black holes for eyes,
so light was the benchmark we measured the beauty of skin against.
We sat in our dorm room
and discussed who the fairest of all was.
The Igbo girls claimed they could be cast as foreign
as long as the sun didn’t betray them.
The girls with skin the shade of the bronze masks
our ancestors carved directed the conversation.
The myth was that backstage curtains are dark colours
so that dark girls can camouflage into them.
We never said the word ‘race’, substituted ‘yellow pawpaw’ for ‘white’
as if we knew the word ‘white’ would peel our tongues down to a seed of guilt.
My bow legs hung from my bunk bed like question marks.
I was unsure of which shade my skin will grow into,
so I could not be the lead role in this fairy tale.
Now I know our ignorance is a kind of bacteria
bleach multiplies instead of killing.
One of my dorm mates used “Papaya Skin Lightening Soap”,
the scent was like every other soap,
she rubbed it on her skin until
she was cast as Snow White in the school play.
The myth is that despite all the light on her skin,
her soul remains a backstage curtain.