False Leads

Jakky Bankong-Obi || April/May 2021

For G, after reading Breai Mason-Campbell and Nâzim Hikmet.

In the receding light of the day
my eyes are thirsty, the world is fine.

You could never get enough of grassy meadows
ribbons of green and lemon, fronding and cheerful.

I am at the doorway of the police station
a slow wind rustles through the field of lemongrass.

And beyond, there are birds singing the evening
I want to believe I can hear your voice in the fray.

Even if I am still walking around, it will

be in the haze of pain and defeat that so

many Black people are judged ignorant,

dangerous, or angry for displaying.

Seeing in the Dark,” Breai Mason-Campbell

Inside, someone undone by grief crows brokenly
“all this grieving and the dead stay dead.” 

And it’s true, we are born with the same assurance of death
meaning we do not always have to go looking for some things to find us.

The city is known for its throng of mourning doves
to leave the roost is to know the way back.

His death was no accident, or sad “wrong

place wrong time” story. As with most social

constructs, coincidences are rare. 

It All Compounds,” Ed Sinclair

But the real injury is a stray bullet, the indifference of its plunder
– a raptor’s swoop and stolid violence.

A gun shot inside a dove’s nest would hardly miss 
by which I mean deplume its flight.

I could never look into the faces of the dead
on the news screens, though the bodies pile and pile. 

Look at it this way:
the point isn’t just about how hard it is to face the cruelty of loss 
but to stay soft, to grow new wings from the cracks.

* * *

I had just finished reading “It’s This Way” from Poems of Nâzim Hikmet when I received Breai’s essay. I was struck by the similarities with which they weave intimate details — a favorite flower, little family heirlooms, children, shared memories, and ordinary everyday experiences– into a broader conversation. 

When one lives with the daily reality of violence, especially state-sanctioned violence or violence resulting from failed institutions, death can become as clichéd as a headline or a political punch line. But it is not. Not to the people experiencing and living with the real consequences of it. I wanted to honor, in some small way, the intimacy within the emblematic significance of such loss.

Jakky Bankong-Obi is a co-editor at poetry journal Ice Floe Press and a communications consultant currently living and writing from Abuja, Nigeria. Her work has been featured or is forthcoming in London Grip, The Kalahari Review, Amberflorazine, Zarf Poetry, Gutter Magazine, Hobart Pulp, Pidgeonholes, Reliquiae Journal, Memento: An Anthology of Contemporary Nigerian Poetry, and others. She enjoys long walks, yoga, and dabbling in nature photography. 

Edited by Ben Huberman.