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THREE POEMS

Fuck / Trees

Dego / Though we know it isnt his birth name / Dego he is to us / his scattered swiftness / calling for the dull red orb / It is dusk and behind him / we don’t know their names either / but they line the ball court / claw up through the concrete to hold him to their thin shadows / Dego jumps higher / arms outstretched to suggest a safe pass / be more visible / but is a Christ-shaped silhouette against their darkness / as if nailed to wood / strangled in their grip / the way weve been strangled before / strange fruit framed by air / dangling / How many crossed over here / who else shuffled earth / attempted flight / and lost it all among the trees

 

 

Fuck / Dante

The day Melissa complained I spent too much time dribbling and I better assess my priorities or else / Dante stepped on the court with a fake left and release so crisp / it looked like a nine oclock / you could set your watch by it / Dante said he wanted dudes to know what time it is / which was a hip hop reference drawled in his thick Brooklyn accent / which was all we needed to follow him like lemmings / through the estate / up to the roof where hed look into the middle distance over our listening city / at the few drifting clouds / clumped together like we were around him / and say something stupid like / You can tell what kind of Dad youll be by how you play the game / how you screen against danger so your boy can fly / and if you ain’t there his world comes crashing down / Jamie goes quiet like he does after loosing a game / shivering like he badly needs a hug but the sky is just too vast to hold him / like a man / Roger asks suddenly how Dante got so tall / Jamie says / Thats a stupid question / Dante says / Not at all / he just copied Jordan / spent one summer hanging from monkey bars with weights / around his ankles till his bones drew out / Last time I saw Melissa / I had bricks tied around my feet / dangling from the crossbar of a metal swing as she sucked Dantes bottom lip beneath the street light / which flickered once / twice / then finally guttered out

 

 

Fuck / Sunflowers

What Im trying to say is / Kelechi hates sunflowers / because Tyrone grew obsessed / after his class daytripped to the countryside / That first time he left the hulking concrete of his ends / that afternoon where the sky / enormous as it always is / looked down on him / Tyrone / for the first time / looked back / as if into the face of God / properly studying its swoops and tonalities / the contours of the countries of clouds / and the force that rose in him to match its unblinking vastness / brought him down to his knees where he squelched his fingers into the good and clean earth / drilling his black thumb into the blacker soil / The teacher scolded him all they way home / for his mud-streaked seat and soiled trousers / What she didnt know is Tyrone had planted saplings of his spirit / among the fields of barley / and seeds of himself among the sunflowers / and these kept calling for him when they returned to the city of bricks / clawing for their kin / Though he filled his room with them / he couldnt match life out in the fields / the skys unencumbered gaze over their choir of black faces / their petals like flattened crowns or ruffled haloes / So Tyrone walked out his fourth floor window to join them / and Tyrone never came home


ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

Born in Nigeria, is a UK-based poet, playwright and performer who has written for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre, and the BBC. His latest play, an adaptation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters set in Nigeria, is on at the National Theatre until 19 February. The Actual will be Ellams’ fifth poetry release, and first full collection, after Thirteen Fairy Negro Tales (flipped eye, 2005), Candy Coated Unicorns and Converse All Stars (flipped eye, 2011), The Wire-Headed Heathen (Akashic Books, 2016) and The Half God of Rainfall (Fourth Estate, 2019).

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