A Great Fire and Other Poems

 
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Samuel A. Adeyemi

Art by tamara suarez porras 

 
 

A Great Fire

Darling, I struggle with beginnings. I run from
invention. I have been silent like the space

between a drum and its sound, waiting for music
to be struck out of my skin. The question—to die
with wonder or to live without? Let me answer that,

my friend. I dread disappointment, but I must survive
myself first to impress. Come be the troubled bard for
a line. What is inside me is any trope you choose for

disorder. Not like your liberty of language can exactly
quantify my troubles. I am distinct in my distress.

But have your fun. The world is much kinder to what
it understands. Your windows are made of glass, so you
will not show them your violence. The tomatoes will

perish inside a tight fist, so you imitate their softness
when you hold them. That is the logic to empathy.
Fundamentally, we should be kind. It is as we pass

through the tunnel of the world we are stained by
the inevitable air, our hearts mottled by the ambience

of blood. But we still have our choices. You can crush
the fruit. You can shatter the glass. You can be violent,
at least, to whatever you do not love. You do not love me,

so I can shatter for you. I do not belong to you, so hurt me
with all of your faith. You hope I bloom, but you never ask
of the garden. You want me to hold the world, but you never

look at my hands. Look at my hands. You will see the origin
of my silence. All the burns wrap around my fingers like proof

of a thousand wars. If you nurse any mercy, you would let me
be selfish. I am my own, this afflicted land. I am who I owe
the light of my spirit. What then should you do with all of

your faith? If you care about my gifts, be gentle with me.
I am growing my life through a great fire.

 
 

The Shape of Misery

My apathy is a whole disorder,
explains the self-diagnosis.

To begin anything is pushing a city
through the length of a city.

But what do the critics know about
the labour? They see the song

but not the music. The blood art,
but not the state of the vein.

They worry too much about language,
they miss the heart of the poem.

Èmi tí mo bẹ̀rẹ̀ẹ ewì kíkọ
láti sàlàyé ìbànújẹ́ mi.

Ask the stars. They know penury
is ubiquitous. When we suffer,

it is beyond semantics, beyond
the essays of identity.

Nothing alien about my blood.
So nothing alien in the painting.

If the expression is quieter than
the muse, ignore it. Focus more,

not on the darkness, but on the
poverty of light. This is simple

to forget since the shape of misery
is a flower. But who whimpers

just for the sound of whimpering?
Ask the song. Ask the paint.

They will lead you to the martyr.
He will tell you what the portrait

projects, what has darkened
and bittered the blood.

This is what the critics do not
see. They do not remember

the duty of patience.
Only time will lead me

to the feet of my brilliance.
Will you forgive me

if you never feel the full force
of the fire? Despite my troubles,

I do not wish to die
with so much promise

crackling in my bones.
But the music of my life has

only begun. How do I know
if I am not in the refrain?

 
 

Disillusionment

It is as I tell you.

Truly, there are no roses
curling
around my eyes.
I am not webbed
by any beauty,
flowery or anatomical.
The garden in my chest
is a festival of pines.

I would not lie
about being glorious.
Yes,
I crawl towards the light,
but there stands
a great distance
between us;
a mirror
where a door
should be.
& I keep arriving
at the same image of myself—
the threshold to glory
leading back
to the threshold.

Whatever kills me
will be disappointed.
Here it comes,
the illness.
Here it comes,
the grand weapon
approaching my body.
In search of gold,
I am split open.
But what else will you find
if not blood?
I am ordinary,
almost wooden.
Even if you adore me,
do not elevate me.
If you came
searching for copper,
you would find copper.

I cannot pretend.
It is a terrible thing,
this lack of elegance.
I would burn for beauty,
burn for joy.
I would give up my breath
to be kissed by your God.
The angels do not know
as they starve me of beauty,
they starve heaven
of colour.
They think it is punishment
for my disbelief.

But I swear, I am so full of faith.
Whenever I fall,
I worship myself
& rise up again.
I am the heron
before the church window,
pecking endlessly at the glass.
I am looking
beyond reflection.

Beyond the image of myself
—an altar.

 
 

Disillusionment

It is as I tell you.

Truly, there are no roses
curling
around my eyes.
I am not webbed
by any beauty,
flowery or anatomical.
The garden in my chest
is a festival of pines.

I would not lie
about being glorious.
Yes,
I crawl towards the light,
but there stands
a great distance
between us;
a mirror
where a door
should be.
& I keep arriving
at the same image of myself—
the threshold to glory
leading back
to the threshold.

Whatever kills me
will be disappointed.
Here it comes,
the illness.
Here it comes,
the grand weapon
approaching my body.
In search of gold,
I am split open.
But what else will you find
if not blood?
I am ordinary,
almost wooden.
Even if you adore me,
do not elevate me.
If you came
searching for copper,
you would find copper.

I cannot pretend.
It is a terrible thing,
this lack of elegance.
I would burn for beauty,
burn for joy.
I would give up my breath
to be kissed by your God.
The angels do not know
as they starve me of beauty,
they starve heaven
of colour.
They think it is punishment
for my disbelief.

But I swear, I am so full of faith.
Whenever I fall,
I worship myself
& rise up again.
I am the heron
before the church window,
pecking endlessly at the glass.
I am looking
beyond reflection.

Beyond the image of myself
—an altar.

 
 

Beyond the Body

What am I truly capable of? We talk about our lives
often in theory and metaphor. But the real world
outstands us, breaks us bitterly. The mockery of
the hopeless perplexes me. It takes something beyond
the body to wish for a joyous life in a world
that ruins us. What logic is there in optimism?
The world is collapsing outside our windows.
Might as well sleep. Might as well forsake my might.
Lamentation is comfortable. It seems fair.
After all, the persecution is real, needless of hyperbole.
I cannot shake off the suffering of those I love
with love. It is never enough, cannot replace health,
cannot replace currency. Look, your weeping mother.
Look, your troubled father. Suffering spreads through
the blood like colour. I, too, am red with wreck, red
with the river of my lineage. They don’t say it,
but they want me to be a saviour. Want me to place
a pebble where the anguish pours. I ain’t no Jesus, ma.
I am more misery than miracle. Mostly flesh in the
council of spirit. But hope is of the spirit. And to
dream is to reach for its fire shut away inside of us.
Greatly, I doubt my abilities. But shall I doubt, too,
the power to improve upon them? I must find out
what exists beyond my supposed limit. I may cast
myself to the furnace. I may jettison from a rock to
see if I will grow wings. Hope is the miracle.
The calm, not before the storm, but within it.

 
 

We Go Where There Is Love

Even if love keeps me alive, it will still ruin me.
But for now, I have let loose the animal in the cage.
All the bones that bound my heart have knelt to
something greater than them. We go where there
is love, says Diaz. I am at the river, undoing all
of my defences. If an arrow were to move tonight,
it would wound me. Yet what is love without the
suppression of fear? What is love, if not a wildness?
We take the carnivore by the horns, hoping
to tame it into something beautiful. About beauty,
my melancholy burns before her body. When she
takes me in her wreath of hands, all of my worry
turns to stone. I cast my woes upon the architecture
of her body. Every curve, every mound. Hips of light.
We touch with the tenderness of wounds, but with
the absence of their aches. Only healing is here.
Soft miracle of skin. Love is what the poem cannot
keep. It begins where language is inadequate.
In the cage of my tongue, all the beauties I cannot
express. Her eyes, her eyes.

 

Spring / Summer 2024



Samuel A. Adeyemi

Samuel A. Adeyemi is a writer and editor from Nigeria. A Best of the Net nominee and Pushcart nominee, he is the winner of the 2021 Nigerian Students Poetry Prize. His chapbook, Rose Ash, was selected by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani for the 2023 New-Generation African Poets chapbook box set. His works have appeared in Palette Poetry, Frontier Poetry, Strange Horizons, Chestnut Review, Agbowo, Isele Magazine, Brittle Paper, Lolwe, and elsewhere.



tamara suarez porras

tamara suarez porras (they/she) is an artist, writer, and educator from (south) Brooklyn, NY and based in the San Francisco Bay Area. tamara’s work considers how photography attempts to know the unknowable, exploring dynamics of seeing, remembering, and forgetting. tamara is a graduate of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and California College of the Arts, and is a Lecturer in Photography at Stanford University.



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