Chisom Okafor

Chisom Okafor, 28-year-old Nigerian poet and clinical nutritionist, lives and writes in Lagos. He divides his time between the diet clinic of a Nigerian military reference hospital and the military college of nursing where he teaches clinical nutrition, diet therapy and hospital practice. His poems speak to the geometries of bodies ravaged (or strengthened) by disability, relationships, departures, trauma, and loss, and seek to adopt language as a tool for breaking stereotypes that surround the experiences of the clinically vulnerable. His poems appear in Prairie Schooner, adda (Commonwealth Writers), Rattle, Beloit Poetry Journal, Jacar One, The Gerald Kraak Anthology: Heart of the Matter (2019), SAND Journal, the Indian Journal of Literature and Aesthetics, and elsewhere. He has received nominations for the Gerald Kraak Prize, Isele Poetry Prize, the Jack Grapes Prize, Frontier Award for New Poets, and a Pushcart Prize, and has worked as co-editor for the 20.35 Africa Anthology of Contemporary Poetry and the Libretto Chapbook Series. He tweets @chisomokafor16.

Judges’ Comments

Chisom Okafor has made a lovely, compelling suite on the heart. Perhaps the calculus of science abhors mystery, or appears to, but here Okafor tests a marriage between the two.  Obviously, to come close to death and dwell in its poetic possibilities is arresting. The poems play with the meeting point between heart as metaphor and heart as deadly literal organ, lingering over the real limits of being.


angina decubitus

in the face of darkness, I’m giving names
to the days before my first
myocardial infarction

by which I mean, counting off the tips
of my fingers, the intervening moments
between each clinical

dizziness. fatigue. lethargy.
an agonizing force, rising
in rebellion

from deep within my shoulder blades
invoking breathlessness into
my supine body.

this body revolting against

signs are the demons you see.
symptoms are what permits you the sense
of feeling.

i’m a perpetual marathoner in the nocturnalsport of insomnia,
but tonight, i’m deep in sleep
and dreaming of rows of peppercorn seeds
in a deserted orchard

stretching into thin lines, and receding
far beyond the courageous
advances of the eyes
and deep into the distance
of this night.

i’m journeying alone into psalms
lost among pines,
rising with the wind
to whisper choruses to the moon –
a fellow lone journeyman
on this deserted road –
then falling back

and there is an impenetrable darkness
trapped within the slaughter-house
of my body,
even in the face of all the repeated
promises of moonlight.

Otherwise, I choose to die intestate

Nine times, I’ve found myself sprawled out,
etherized on the ECG table, in a room
peopled by cardiac monitors and
bespectacled cardiologists.
Nine times I’ve known the speed at which my heart beats
to exactly equate the velocity of light,
which is the same, I suppose, as the gravitational pressure
exerted on a given body in motion,
taken by the exquisite art of free-falling,

One night, my father hid himself somewhere between bodies,
stationed at the entrance of my room
while I agonized.

I swear, if I believed in forgiveness,
here is what I’d have said to him:
I forgive you for passing unto me,
your heart of stone.

A heart not capable of loving in the way
the world has come to know it,
and choosing instead, time after time,
all the several darknesses that I hated once,
but have now come to love
like the cologne of a passer-by,
long lost to the winds.


Each one of us is born sensible
a heart incensed, then falling.
─ TJ Dema.

Falling, by which I mean a synchronized

art of dying. By which I also mean


burning in my chest

as I skid in full velocity off the middle

of a rail track.

I want to say to a century

of twinkling species overhead: I too

have been touched by wild fire

in a previous


I too, have memorized

the simple art

of free-