Othuke Umukoro

Othuke Umukoro—Nigerian poet, playwright & educator—is the winner of the 2018 I Found It Short Story contest organized by Swift Publishers. Born in Olomoro, a small town bounded by untamed rivers, in 1990, Othuke spent most of his childhood fishing & learning how to read from his mother. A University of Ibadan graduate, he has taught in an underserved public primary school in a low-income community as a fellow of Teach for Nigeria—a nonprofit organization devoted to ending educational inequity. His poetry explores the language of quietness, the geography of memory, home, depression, hope, loss & occasionally the ‘other’ that hovers around traditional father-son relationships. He is a Pushcart & 2 x Best of the Net Nominee. His writing has been published in Agbowó, Crooked Arrow Press, Random Sample Review Mineral Lit Mag, The Sunlight Press, Kissing Dynamite Poetry Journal, Sleet Magazine & elsewhere. He tweets @Othuke__Umukoro


Every night I take a shower
& sit on the balcony with my cat
& watch December’s velvet darkness,
glassy as marbles, play with the city’s nakedness.
I am HIV positive. My father isn’t talking to me.
On the public radio the host is asking
his callers to say at least one thing
they’ve learned in quarantine. I’ve learned
the economy of how to be alone, learned that
it comes with a harvest of small breathless things.
In the distance a swollen church bell is
spattering & how many times have I tried to
abandon my own body, told myself that
I don’t have to die in this poem? 

What did I stand to lose in the kitchen,
standing there this quiet morning for
several minutes trying to remember
how my mother used to make spaghetti?
Isn’t the body designed to forget like a river
losing its life to the sea? Forget that
he chased you from his house,
forget the silence in your throat,
forget the first thing the company did
after they knew your status
was to fire you. 

Outside the window it’s begging to rain.
I have been faithful to these pills of wild
colours & Lord, have I been courageous this
year. But I can’t tell you if my father will ever
come around to love me again, if I’ll ceased
being seen as a disgrace, if we’ll ever
sit in the backyard together & eat
bright yellow slices of mangoes
like we used to before the
fractured days crawled in.

at the poetry workshop one of my students kept on insisting & insisting that the poem

for Gulnaz Kahtoon, 20, burned to death for refusing a man

is a whole season of falling leaves this country’s hungry history of men always swallowing & swallowing blooming pink lotuses softening air opening windows wounds at the edge of spring waxwings & pollens splayed from the memory exhausted disaster manual body of promises broken in flames girl unknown unheard undone milk & honey & dusk & sunlight something always eats us drenched eyes walls shell bodies dust-coloured grief rewriting an old playbook with our blood fed to gods & monsters between beginning & end lies all that hurt sharp half-broken shadows still shadows shattering a mother’s mouth covered in ash an empty chair at the dinner table & you sister of my country burning & i am sorry & i am sorry & i am so sorry & something breaking inside of me something keeps breaking sister of my country burning in this accordion playing a dying song

The federal constitution

of ghosts, 9102 as amended stipulates
that a ghost is a map drawn from silence.
Section 7 (e) says familiar ghosts are hard to
name; some are adjectives trying to modify what
could have been; most are conjunctions of things that
gnaw at deserts: in a way that is an equilibrium to
something pauciflorous.

Section 7 (f) explains that in a consensus of some sort,
in that psychological department of chaos, man is a
machine in the day & a grave when night
blankets him: all ghosts are advised to eat night.

Section 9 says if a ghost is lost (in transition), the night
becomes a pathway into something fractional (call it a home
outside a home), an old body sterilizing happiness
with loss unveils a mechanism that is—space.

Subject to the provisions of section 7 (e) of this
constitution, ghosts move like history, no time
zones splintering them—reinventing
& planting in little circles.

Section 1 (a), which is the most
important, says no ghost should ever answer
the question: how do you measure the
circumference of departed laughter?

Since the war (—)
ended, mother & I have been
eating the same ghost for dinner
—his laughter sits quietly between
us like unread messages.