The melancholic allure of Chinua Ezenwa-Ohaeto’s poetry – The Question Marker
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The melancholic allure of Chinua Ezenwa-Ohaeto’s poetry

Here, in the poems below, excerpts from The Teenager Who Became My Mother, Ezenwa-Ohaeto bares his soul, again.

Chinua Ezenwa-Ohaeto
Chinua Ezenwa-Ohaeto

“People should understand where they come from,” says Chinua Ezenwa-Ohaeto, whose debut poetry chapbook, The Teenager Who Became My Mother, is set for release, this month, from Sevhage Publishers. The world, he believes, will never be equal (because power then ceases to exist) but universal respect is a viable goal. 

He writes poetry because he wants people to feel the things he feels, to see the world the way he sees them, to buy into his vision for the future. In one of three poems published below, Ezenwa-Ohaeto imagines a conversation between a bird and a boy; except it isn’t mere conjecture. The boy is him trying to talk about his worries, his could-have-beens. “Sometimes I miss my dad,” he says. “I think about what I would have been if he was alive.”

Ezenwa-Ohaeto, Chinua’s father, was a decorated scholar and poet who wrote a biography of Chinua Achebe. He died in 2005, soon after arriving at the University of Cambridge as a visiting fellow in the African Studies Centre. But the junior Ezenwa-Ohaeto doesn’t want to be defined by his father. He wants to be his own man. “My father, he never taught me writing,” he says. “He asked me to write my own.”

And that he has done, a deluge of literary accolades in his trail. 

Here, in the poems below, excerpts from The Teenager Who Became My Mother, Ezenwa-Ohaeto bares his soul, again.


Dear Sweet Night Bird by the Lamp on a Lighted Street

sing to me. Sing.

Pull me off the forlorn filled box with your voice.

I have been touched more than I can bear.

I am a boy who has refused to grow reversed.

I am a boy left on a middle of a dream.

Sing to me dear street bird.

My hands are light bulbs abandoned in packs.

My hands: shadowed room where a child rattles his toy.

My life has never been perfectly perforated for any prayer.

I didn’t walk this far to become a twisted tree on a twisted road.

I do not want to agree that my story is a wounded wagon.

Or an abandoned shirt in a girlfriend’s house.

Sing to me bird. Sing to me dear sweet night bird.

Pull me off this swing that swings me unsteadily

Like a malfunctioning shaft of a machine.

I am a boy whose dream town’s name has never been on a billboard.

I am sorry that I have to make this a short poem.

I am a boy who has refused to grow reversed.

I am a boy left on the middle of a dream.

Sing to me bird. Dear sweet night bird.

I am no Ozymandias. No history artefact.

And no line separated from a sentence.

Sing to this boy on a lamp lighted street dear sweet night bird.


Portrait of Forgiveness

I grow a flower for each moment I forgive.

If I had done this all my life,

I would have grown a country of flowers.

You see I have never understood how free

I could be until I emptied the stones

Piled in my head, eyes and heart.

A bird on a pole drops guano 

Down on my shoulder

And I make a mosaic of laughter out of it.

There is a road running across my dreams.

And a girl walks on it 

and draws along the moonlight.

It takes no heaviness to be free as forgiveness, as light.

For years I have harboured a 

Can full of nails fronting my ancestors― 

It is like a boy holding a knife against his past. 

I turn into a humpback whale on upturning it: 

I mean I held my ancestors by the hands 

And understood the lines flaunting in the grey.

My dreams keep coming to me like poems,

And in them I grow a stem for each of my defeated nightmare;

And in them I become a satin in the breeze for each moment I forgive.


There Is a Song I Often Long For

I want to learn a kind of 

Song that bears another song.

In that kind of song I want to hold kindness.

And I wish not to live alone by my dreams:

It’s like a seed lying in an empty flower vase.

Bless this day as I look for my soul’s pocket.

I smell my own body to weigh the heaviness on my shadow.

I remember walking into a museum 

And touching my shadow settled

Inside a box. And on this box is a tag, saying:

Here is the painting of another painting.

I have been looking around not to miss 

The beautiful curves on my body 

Since I understood the geometry

Of baptism and apostolicism. 

A whale flushed ashore taught me about being 

The kindest and the tinderest thing.

And when I take a picture: I think so much 

Of myself omitted. And when I say I wish to be 

Like water, all I am trying to say 

Is that I am trying to say I am a song moving. 

A song moving without cloak and without masks. ✚

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