I CAN’T BREATHE 

(For George Floyd) 

All night, fear

Drills my fragile eyes like an arrow’s head

Until my body unsettles: the inability to 

Still its core from crashing

A rabbit’s skin: squeaking under the cold paws of grief.

The coffins watching us from the pandemic 

News stretch; replace all the lights in a room

Once alive with names — a gash splits open, 

Acute silence and carcasses collected into a mass grave. 

A name takes root on every country’s mouth: death. 

I step outside for fresh air to fall into a more tragic footage, 

Washing black stars dressed in reversed elegance

Singing bones after bones into melodies of flesh from a

Broken reed —

My throat lifts up, collecting blisters and unshed tears; 

I pull a man’s knee out of my breath.  The air finally escapes 

With a name: George Floyd. 

THE INSTINCT EATING US 

This house wasn’t naked 

Until the trees were felled — our eyes, now heavy 

With sleep and fear; 

Each time I say the prayer of preservation, 

I end up watching the names of monsters 

Fall off my tongue. 

In my search for safety, I have found nothing 

Other than a red radio on a red morning

In between heat and night, a thin silence 

Escapes my breath; peeps at the full moon, 

Wishing for milk

And what do you say again about 

The false promise of light: the trap of darkness

(I am devastated by memory: 

17- year old Tina shot 

By a police in Lagos and Uwa raped and murdered 

In a place of worship in Edo)

How fearful when those who protect us 

Also kill us? When a place that fortresses

Becomes a death trap? 

In my country, teeth and gnashing;

We pretend not torn — 

The way we collect our 

Smithereens into a bottle of cheap cologne, into 

A shimmering whole and laughing face masks; you’ll 

Mistake we’ve never known thorns. That we’ve been 

Happy all our lives. Behind, 

You’ll marvel at the festering complacency

In the face grave injustice, our appeal 

Of suffering; how deep, 

The river of tears meandering the back of our tongues.

poems by Goodness Olanrewaju Ayoola

Goodness Olanrewaju Ayoola is a Nigerian poet and English teacher who reaches out to poetry as escapism from the contentions within/around him. His poetry appeared in Glass, Pangolin Review, Mojave Heart, Ethel Zine and elsewhere. He is a Best of the Net Award Nominee and author of Meditations (WRR, 2016).

1 COMMENT

  1. Goodness Olanrewaju Ayoola writes true from inside out. With these two poems I am gifted with some small understanding of the out sized burden of withholding oneself, of not being free to just be alive; instead to be disciplined by threat of death every day. All colours of women understand holding our spark, our fire back. This is different, but the same. No one is free until we are all equal.

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