A First Responder Takes Stock of the Empty Streets
Even now, when time’s emptying out,
Into silent, paler streets, moving by degrees,
Love’s echo might still be heard riding a pair of gloved hands,
Wrinkled with an effort to clear the mist clouding a future anterior –
No one asks questions more that hope can affirm.
Customarily, despair is a song that blares with this beat;
My track logs are habitually flame red,
Counting the ruins of bodies at desperate nights,
The unnatural circumference of terror circling the last hours
Of life slipping out on the owner…
The streets have grown silent now, as if evil too
Must bow to the higher order of devastation,
An Eastern migrant defying border protocols,
Feet firmly across immensities, smirking at a tramp’s
New distrust of familiar pavements.
Hardly Easter yet, but the year has grown old.
And we too are stretched thin and voluble, like a regular day in isolation,
Trading memories of last yuletide, contesting the certainty
Of auspicious air even then, craving the dialectic
Of human touch.
But the streets are still preeminent, even if their sensory core
Has dropped its active verbs, like nervous birds leaning
On light and homily, they sometimes coo out a wail
That a woman’s voice then accepts somewhere
In the swaddling gloom of a door defiantly ajar,
Stroking out an austere note to a still intensity –
But there are no more veils – none to caress, none to rend,
None to swat time’s lingering fear, growing,
Viral, a kilobyte of apocalypse winning space and time
Peace be. For all else is nothing.
A draping darkness has descended on the cool confidences
Of this street, and we shall all be changed.
Alemayehu in the Cold of the Victoria and Albert Museum
so again I return to the pains of his recumbent body,
Alemayehu, the young prince whose body – dragged from twilights of youth
into the white cold – could not come forth to light,
or return beyond the Feroze, to the hills of Makdela.
to the stones that wove his father’s body to legends – except as memory
how often did he look back towards sunset, grey with unspoken terror, amidst the white swarm of conquering feet?
how often, alone in his head, like a bird trapped in a cave,
without the forest of its birth to fill the hollows of its body
perhaps the Royal Surrogacy meant well:
but who could match the extent of “difficulties of every kind”
with the immaculate solitude about him, the amputative silence
read as dignified foreignness, unintended mockery of a voluble lineage
now all is images, curated by curious cameras,
obscuring the clenched soul and the vastness of loss.
Peter Akinlabi has had works featured in journals including Maple Tree Literary Supplement, Sentinel, Saraba, and elsewhere. His chapbook, A Pagan Place, was published by Akashic books, and his debut poetry collection, Iconography, was published in 2016. He holds a B.A degree in English from University of Ibadan and an M.A in English and Literary Studies from University of Ilorin. He currently lives in Ilorin, Nigeria.