Wednesday, September 30, 2009

two women blues (23)

two women blues

“in pious times 'ere priest craft did begin,
before polygamy was made a sin:
when man, on many, multiply'd his kind
ere one to one was, cursedly, confined;
when nature prompted, & no law deny'd
promiscuous use of concubine & bride”
John Dryden

i got me two women, that i love about the
same; i got me two women, that i love
about the same; one girl wants my baby,
& the other wants my name.

one girl's tall & pretty, with skin that’s
honeybrown; one girl’s tall & pretty,
with skin that’s honeybrown; when she
wraps me in her softness; makes my love
come tumblin' down.

the other is short & shapely, dark as
the summer night; said the other is short
& shapely, dark as the summer night;
when she puts lovin’ on me, i can’t
help but treat her right.

i try to treat them equal, but it’s getting
kinda tough; loving two may be too much,
but one is not enough. so it’s even days for
number one, & odd for number two, but
if u ask me on a friday, i won’t know
which one is due.

loving two women is about to get me
down; & sometimes i wonder, if i’m
enough to go around.

now both of them are jealous, in their own
peculiar way; if they ever get together
there’s gonna be hell to pay. sometimes i
get so durn confused, it’s a scandal & a
shame, when i’m holding one girl in my
arms, i call the other’s name.

loving two women is about to get me
down; & sometimes i wonder, if i’m
enough to go around.

one girl is expecting & she swears
the child is mine; & she won’t go see a
doctor, she’ll do nothing of the kind. her
mother came to visit, just of see if she was in;
said she dreamed the girl was heavy,
& the baby may be twins

loving two women is about to get me
down; sometimes i wonder, if i’m enough
to go around.

well the other speaks of marriage before
the end of year; & she’s sent word to her
village, that the family should prepare. her
baba sent a message, just the other day;
said his baby was expensive; i should come
prepared to pay.

loving two women is about to get me
down; sometimes i wonder, if big joe’s
enough to go around.

© Joseph McNair; 1990-2009

standing in the safety zone (22)

standing in the safety zone

while strolling along the highway there rose a mighty

[roberta ]martin and [thomas a.] dorsey's
gospel according to songbooks
paused me/poised me
in the same way the photograph
chilled the native amerind.

songs heard sung before bore
small semblance to sonic symbols
imprisoned in printed bars & staves
how tragic the transliteration!
where is the soul,
the color,
the true form
to imitate
to sing my turbulent
to bend trees or tremble sinners?
where is the light & the lightning
the shakti shock, the tonic bludgeon
to lay out or transfigure
the faithful?

i heard a voice whispering
you're standing out there alo

The small
c. [olored] m.[ethodist] e.[piscopal] church
choir, a fractious but fragile social experiment
built around
one dour, middle aged & obese
but competent alto,
three other nondescript female voices
indeterminate of pitch and timbre --
sometimes alto sometimes awful,
sometimes mezzo, often messy --
whose major contribution was
their regular faithful presence
at practice,
at sunday service,
a palsied bass who sang so low
few could tell how off-key
he always was;
a u.s. army sergeant piano man
giving orders but afraid to offend;
honky left hand tonking,
spreading right hand chording,
dreaming of piano bars & juke joints,
trying with difficulty to sing & play
at the same time.

my sister faye, my twin soul
who has known music for an eternity
who has known just as long
how to shape her face into a mask
of comic censure,
the precocious twain
well met with me,
the puerile voice,
waiting to emerge
from the chorus,
from the chaos,
from the storm,
to embrace the solo,
rounding out that incompetent
but well-intentioned choir.
my inadvertant springboard
to stardom.

& then I thought of Jesus;
& there I folded my arms...

i can find no record oral or written
of a singing savior, no progressive
model coming out of nazareth
to imitate, so I took my cues from
the great ones of black gospel radio,
measuring my tones, technique
& phrasing against their recordings,
feeling freudian fear when I
likened my small vibrato,
my trivial tumescent timbre
to their larger than life instruments,
deciding quickly to be like
them rather than presume to challenge
them -- such a cutting contest was too
fearful to consider.

i started out for heaven
and stepped in the safety zone

© Joseph McNair; 1990-2009

zazzau (21)


did zazzau really kill her hapless lovers?
did she really let them know her for just

one night; one convenient coitus – then
have them slain before daybreak? why?

to keep them from spreading tales at
common watering holes? to keep them

eternally faithful? or maybe, like the
spider, she required a corpse to feed her love.

this town, bearing her name, is thick with the
shades of lovers; strong with the aroma

of love long dead:

in adolescent girls, fair game for grade wielding
teachers & dons;

in working girls augmenting their incomes; in
plump wives resigned to streetfooted spouses.

is this, then zazzau’s boon? amorous
ghosts to animate

where love is dead;
where love has fled.

© Joseph McNair; 1990-2009

soja come (20)

soja come

soldiers perniciously
present; ominous splashes
of khaki marring nature’s
deft brushstrokes; marring
the color & texture of her
jungle landscapes, her
pastoral scenes & urban

they stand in feral
clusters at checkpoints.
their nerves & collars
frayed; their boots, brass,
& behavior unpolished.
they are brusque, bolstered
by native gin & miscellaneous

they search your car;
demand your particulars,
& read them upside down—
then dismiss you with
contempt or detain you
if you give them cause to
think up some excuse to exact a

in the towns & villages
they invade the
drinking parlors,
sitting four to a beer
& lasciviously leer at aging
harlots too expensive for their
pockets but bought easily
with coercion.

in the evening, they go home
to their barren barracks or
to their sparse meals, battered
wives & hungry children;
where they drink more & dream,
not for war, but of greedy
politicians & fat generals
whom they might chance replace.

© Joseph McNair; 1990-2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

requiem aeternam II (19)

requiem aeternam II
for coretta scott king
mama coretta
when u left heiberger's fields
never to pick the flat, twisted,
ribbon-like bolls of alabama cotton
again; when u trained as a teacher
in segregated ohio or studied music
in chilly boston, did u see yr self
in some distant time walking shoulder
to shoulder with an icon?
leading large protesting crowds?
being transfigured;
changing the world?

when u steadfastly practiced
to make the most out of yr voice;
to sing an even tone from the top
of yr range to the bottom
even while u cleaned the stairwells to
make rent in the house u lived in —
did u see yourself, then, as the
eternal life-giving emblem of
human rights?

when yr lips sprang apart
to shape the sounds of vowels,
to let them flow & be projected,
keeping the flow of yr breath
constant throughout, did u see
yourself breathing life into a flagging
movement, crippled by yr husband's
untimely demise?

when u vocalized italian vowels
prefixed by lip consonants, when u
ma-na-ra-la tad; when u prayed for
divine guidance to help u decide
whether to spurn the advances of
that wife-seeking dreamer — did u
know then that to marry the dreamer
was to marry the dream?

when u sang daily into yr mirror
mouthing vowels & consonants,
singing scales, noticing yr breath,
the position of yr tongue,
the feeling it created in yr breast,
did u ever think u'd survive
yr beloved dreamer?
that u'd be left to nurture &
preserve the dream?

u, too, have done well, mama,
trying & never failing in yr trying;
bearing bravely the cross of heinous
heartache & deep emotional wounds
to keep the dream & an all-too-human
dreamer alive.

millions have been touched, lifted up
& transformed; have become much more
than they were. u have carried
the message & the burden
u have spead the word
preaching, beseeching the multitudes
dining & dialoguing with the greatest
among us & in yr humility
remained no more, no less than any.

rest now, mama coretta,
rest now, mater matris
surely u have earned
yr ease.

© Joseph McNair; 2009

abandonment issues (18)

abandonment issues

for sarah w. mcnair

that u’d leave me was my oldest fear;
with none to mind my urgent needs.
abandonment’s grip would rend & tear
the tissues of my attachment.

i’d panic when u were out of place,
naught but yr return consoled me.
i’d cling to yr skirts, bury my face
in the fabrics of yr presence.

security sedates. i felt safe
when i could see u, felt u near.
i welcomed yr nervous nurture’s chafe;
yr thereness in my figureground.

eventually, i learned to trust;
could leave u long enough to play
outside, go to school, or ride the bus --
assured of yr anxious waiting.

but how could i know, sweet mama dear,
my young chest pains were mostly yours;
the songs of yr loss, yr primal fear--
a sympathetic vibration.

nor did i know u’d birthed a son
& lost him to the reaper’s blade
that clove yr heart & left a wound
no subsequent child could ever heal.

i was told u raged against yr god,
yet mumbled not an anguished sound;
but withdrew instead behind a ward
of recurring catalepsy.

just a child was i & could not know
yr lingering grief was not some
failure on my part; some maiming blow
delivered by my trembling hand.

when i was but nine i saw u leave.
yr eyes were vacant; u were gone.
no more than a wraith, someone to grieve,
i’d watch u haunt our joyless home.

in the gloom of night u’d leave yr bed
to drift about from room to room
looking, listening u’d cock yr head
searching for yr lost attachments…

so soon they came to take u away
& lock u fast behind those walls,
an asylum’s taint & disarray
did mark u so indelibly.

& thus my heart knew a wound so fell;
a trauma to hold all others.
each hurt & loss that my stars foretell
gestate in this festering hole.

often gone u could not protect me:
from daddy’s grand expectations
from feeling less than or incomplete
from my real or imagined fear.

where were u: when ruben pissed on me;
when that white girl called me nigger?
when weird grownups looked at me funny?
when i peed in my pants in 2nd grade

because i was too afraid of my
teacher to ask to go to the bathroom?
i wanted to die,
or run away…
or disappear.

where were u, mama , when i needed
to fight, kick ass, defend myself?
soon i stopped wondering; conceded
yr absences & remoteness.

left to my own devices i learned
deception, ruse, legerdemain --
the base coin of lying dearly earned
to create for myself a masque.

a masque to hide the face of my pain.
a totem to spook snap judgments,
& to spoof so much more than i’d deign
believe i could ever become.

that masque took on a life of its own,
made as it was from living stuff.
its purpose? to disguise & disown
hurt, fear & still-tender feelings.

& so began my self-sabotage,
mama – but u are not to blame.
though an easy target for my rage,
i am the one responsible.

to blame u for failed relationships
is disingenuous at best
control, abuse & my lying lips
drove most of my women away.

nor are u to blame for the choices,
the acts of self-betrayal that caused
me to cower before the voices
in my head –- that dread committee.

i chose to live in my head detached,
disconnected, vibrating
above my feelings. & i dispatched
any emotion that forestalled

my self-destructive ambition.
my hubris was without limit.
a measure in inverse proportion
to my lean & hungry selfsense.

in this time of reckoning, mama
i will not blame u. no villainess,
are u in my sordid drama,
just a woman living the blues.

u never put a drink in my hand,
& yet i became a hopeless drunk;
drunk on whiskey, adrenaline &
my whimsical cup of sorrow.

on my own i became addicted
to drugs, infatuation &
theatrics. wretched & conflicted
my masque slipped; my world surely broke.

all that i had ever thought, said or
done made my undoing certain.
the circle that began with desire
did not end in satiation;

did not close. i watched my life spill out;
powerless to occlude the flow.
yet in my darkest hour, turnabout –-
& a moment of clarity.

balance, mama, grows out of excess.
i came back from the edge of death
to live; face my fears, embrace success,
put conscience in perspective.

in the instance of my greatest loss,
in despair’s desolate spaces,
i redeemed my anguish; paid the cost
to refresh myself, be born anew,

rapt in spirit’s ecstatic whispers.
i felt the toxins drain away;
felt my anger, guilt & shame disburse
in day long hours & minutes.
i heard the voice of spirit say,
the past is ever wisdom’s foe;
look not u backwards, find yr way.
to peace in the eternal now.

in the now, in the now my truth
& glory ever. my fey soul:
did glimpse incontrovertible proof
of grace, synchronicity,

eternality -- evidence of
a silent witness in the heart,
unblemished by the malignant love
of intense emotional pain.

did glimpse in the heart a place of peace
where even an old god’s vengeance,
wrath & jealousy can never reach,
nor the troubling of the wicked.

in the moment, in the now, the path
to that heartplace is clear; access
is easy. i cannot help but laugh
at the irony, drollery --

the way to peace is through my heart wound:
through that pain which needs be embraced,
then let go. through once-lost-but-now-found
self-forgiveness that heals truly,

completely – that transfigures wholly!
through the veil of ego into
the mystery, into the holy
presence of the knower within.

that glimpse, mama, was what i needed
to take my life back; be at cause
rather than effect. i conceded,
then, my responsibility

to live life on its terms; to eschew
the outside fix for the inside
job. there have since been many new
looks & more expanded moments…

how i wish, mama, i could have told
u all of this while u yet lived.
but u left us just when we made bold
to believe yr frame immortal.

not that i didn’t try to absolve
u, forgive u or make amends.
i thought that we had much to resolve.
but u resisted all attempts.

blithe dementia made these issues moot,
‘til death came sweeping in yr room;
sent u through the gate of life in route
to a better understanding

bye & bye. so rest in blissful peace,
mama. i know we have nothing
to resolve. vesting all of my needs
in u was the act of a child.

looking outside myself for nurture,
validation, reassurance
was child’s play. my pursuit of pleasure
& power ignited my guilt;

forced me to abandon love. when i
was a child, like the apostle
i spoke, thought & reasoned childishly;
& long after my childhood’s end.

that child always needs a protector.
in truth, i’m a child no longer.
a point of light i am – a vector;
i’ve put away my childish things.

© Joseph McNair; 2009

stepping (17 )


14 years, 4 months 19 days
& counting

thirteen or so..
the alcohol consumed on that fated night
(that virus infects my memory still) moots

i remember ...
thirteen drunks in a holding cell, just like me;
disreputable, derelict, powerless
just like me.

i saw my life...
its sorry reflection undistorted in
the funhouse mirrors of their faces. i was
one of them.

i was with them;
that jail cell, the narcotic spaces were but
some of the flagrantly normal structures on
my mindscape

a revelatory godtouch this; the truth
of my drinking revealed in a moment of

i asked for help.
i beseeched god like one who begs a stranger –
a stranger who knows aught about me. then i

incapable of resisting impulses;
obsessed by wide gates & glittering broadways –
was insane.

committing self-murder by installment;
shortening my demented life with each drunk –
was hopeless!

a drunken assassin, the car, my weapon
of choice, ill-contained my lethal, spiritless

in denial...
a sadly unmanageable melange of
grandiosity, anomie & spirit

self-loathing voided my stomach; leaving a
gaping, insatiable hole only love might
fill anew.

i prayed until...
god demurely came with sedate reserve &
sobriety; spiritus sanctus, blessed

to everything ...
turn, turning -- i changed the basis of my life –
to god. psychic change came independent of

from sinking sand...
lifted he me from deflated ego's
living terror & my
less than adequate

with tender hand...
his specializing power cleared the way back
from isolation through desolation to
sweet nurture.

on bended knees...
i made a decision to commit to a
future of right actions & choices. grace is

now, i'm ready...
to serve god & man; to labor in
consciousness, even beyond ordinary

watching my feet,
i let my prodigal faith look up the road.
faith fears not; scouts ahead -- while i attend to
my footwork.

with heavy heart
i catalogued the contents of my shadow –
old resentments packed away; the grotesque parts
of my self;

hurts inflicted by others, the rejections,
the criticisms, the disgrace, the threats to
my domain.

i conjured up
the faces i stamped on the randomness of
events. (i have always been competent in
placing blame).

i considered
the victims of my selfishness, my godplay,
my cruelty & vengeance yet afloat in
vision's wake.

i began to
sense patterns, attitudes, habits of mind that
could make automatic my flawed responses
to events.

self-will & negative thought filters had run
me afoul of friend, foe & stranger alike.
this, i wrote –

wrote the darkness
conscious. i took my writing to god, to heart.
i found a sober drunk, a friend & sponsor,
to talk to.

i read to him
my self-confession; told him of all my wrongs.
when i faltered from the weight of a secret,
he shared one –

one so debased,
so vile that it made my guilt seem second rate;
& then he yawned during the telling of my
deepest shame.

he heard me out;
showed me that the only consistent factor
in all my triumphs & tragedies was that
i was there.

he showed me that
shit happens, some events are random, unskilled
conduct offends & some people are sicker
than others.

my defenses
stripped away, i repossessed my shadow; stepped
inside, looked around. the darkness joked & my
sponsor laughed.

& afterward...
alone (save that my creator was near) &
at perfect peace, i really could look the world
in the eye

having revealed
& shared my anger fear guilt & shame, could i
release them, the pent up forces that they were,

might i even
step clear of my practiced defenses & dare
to face people & events without ego

i am ashamed
to say how daunting it was (& is still) to
act in ways contrary to those tendencies,
those habits,

those character
flaws. each day did i labor, sometimes light,
sometimes heavy, to do some things different;
next right things.

when i rested
though, those shortcomings would come back like weeds;
i wondered if god really cared enough to
remove them.

i realized
after a short parenthesis that i was
willfully trying to make myself over.
god chuckled.

when i opened
up my heart, god's laughing grace, operating
therein, resonated in the space between
my heartbeats;

sounding the deep
reservoirs of spirit -- interior to
habit, to compulsion, to thought, to self.
god's spirit

working on me,
in me, even when i doubted; moistening
the dry interiors of ego -- keeping
it supple.

& then i knew ...
he surely would remove my shortcomings in
his time, at his pleasure & in the succor
of his love.

drawing mercy
& self-forgiveness from within, i trained -- to
act against compulsion is spiritual

made a list of
all those i had harmed; checked it twice, even thrice
then called again the friend who made me explore
my shadow.

could i do this?
could i move through my shame & self-loathing? could
i risk exposure? my sponsor thought i could;
said i must!

into my shadow
again i went. much less dense than before, i
could see so much clearer -- the relationships
i destroyed,

the deceptions,
sexual exploitation, controlling &
abuse; the dishonesty, breached agreements,

some misdoings
were soaked in scotch, demon rum, cognac & beer.
others, though, bore the stench of drugs & instincts
run amok.

more important ...
i saw how my egocentric connections
to others left them at best angry, injured
& confused.

i saw the harm
i caused people, the damage done ... & sat me
down 'midst the wreckage. how could i possibly
pay for this?

was i willing
to yield not to dependence on shortcomings;
like i had surrendered my dependence on

was i willing
to make amends -- to take crucial action
appropriate & requisite to repair
the damage

caused by errant
self-will & noxious character defect. if
i opened wide my heart, could this shadow make
make me whole?

after careful
consideration, we picked from my list, my
sponsor & i, just a few of the wounded
to contact,

to arrange a
face to face meeting. i saw most of these -- those
who agreed. some i wrote letters, others i
put on hold

until i was
willing enough to treat with them. i made all
i saw or wrote know how wrong & sick i was;
how sorry.

i humbly made
restitution, reparations, recompense
for damage i caused & in that same process,
freed myself

from some guilt &
shame; freed myself to act independently
of my compulsions; freed myself to live
in a world

less than perfect
with woefully limited physical strength,
mental acuity & emotional

but secure in
my connection to infinite reserves of
spiritual power if i just let god's
will be done.

so i review
most nights the deeds of the day. if i have harmed
anyone, i quickly try to make it right.
i'd rather

have a belly
full of accord than bloated with toxins of
angst, anger & acrimony. perhaps this
is god's will.

i am not sure...
so i pray, silently & aloud, asking
the good god of my understanding to
speak to me,

reveal that will
to me in ways in which i am familiar –
in the solicitous attentions of friends;
the message

repeated time
& again by disparate messengers; the
seamless ease in which events ebb & flow. god's
will disclosed

in the way that
new doors of opportunity open when
old familiar ones close; & in glimpses of
the wonder

between drifting
thoughts, in the space where my prayers are always
answered, where knowing comes without words, even
without thought.

have i had a
spiritual awakening, a psychic
change? my personality has certainly
been transformed.

i don't think the
way i used to, placing blame on everyone
but me; contrary & in collision with

i am slower
to anger, much more patient & even more
considerate of others. i don't avoid
the hardships

& suffering
but embrace the fullness of being human;
nor do i have to drink or drug

& the message
i carry? i've been delivered from bondage!
just like me, so u may also be, if u choose.
watch me step!

please step with me.
step into a faith that works. i like the way
u work it. never again will u have to
be alone!

© Joseph McNair;2009

Monday, September 21, 2009

for olori ( 16 )

for olori
a taste of honey,
a taste much sweeter than wine…

a drop of honey.
the glory of olorí;
sweet eternity.

smiles upon his dreadlocked child.
the pert queen of hearts
who shadow paints the river
yellow, quicksilver & gold

what fragrance is that?
what pheromonic allure?
oh, it’s u, olori!

my clothes were stolen
while i bathed in the river.
i followed footsteps,
sweet orite, to yr house.
u met me wearing honey.

oşun kayodẹ (owner of the dance)
mo ti de iwa pẹlẹ
(i am a person of good character),
will u dance with me?

oşun o pẹ o,
the birds of my thought fly free:
feathers float & fall,
vultures & peacocks undress,
make ebọ for olorí.

olorí ede (who creates beauty & elegance)
fun mi ni ori tutu
(bring me the blessing of calmness)
i will make beauty.

in my house of light;
òrìşà’nla brings aşẹ;
each moment pregnant
with a million possible
actions, interpretations.

but eşu opened
the road to u, olorí,
tender blessing come,
consistent with my highest
good & greatest destiny.

please ọbatala
fun mi ni alafia
(bring me peace),
abundance will come.

promise infuses dawn
with yellow-gold expectation
she’s interested!
fear has faded with the night.
he paints the day with laughter.

all praises, baba,
owner of all that comes from
invisible realms
& owner of my head.
thank u for yr precious gift,

that erotic impulse
that binds & inspires me;
is called orite,
who informs my destiny
& helps me weave my white cloth.

©Joseph McNair; 2009

Friday, September 18, 2009

initiation (15)


when love is in bloom
even the weeds are glad!

across two continents the tendrils
of feeling stretched. we thought
it love, but it soon proved to
be less than that; much less love
than need.

fated roles often overshadow
hapless actors, regardless the
the stage – & ibadan was as
good a stage as any.

there in that native city, with
its hills & valleys; its gently
rolling plains, our roller coaster
of romance climbed a false summit.

its momentum built upon passion
stoked in another city; in another
world, & sustained, juvenescent,
fresh by our brief separation,

carried it over the top to plunge,
downhill, out of control, me holding
on u; u holding on,
praying that the ride would end…

u were a dancer, twenty-three
summers, & gemini nimble.
& i, broken on the wheel of
imminent divorce, needed a fling.

u were a warm, scented breeze,
blithe, intoxicating, but near
impossible to grasp; a welcome
diversion from the stale air of
stagnant wedlock.

& yr stanford-trained mind,
faster than yr flying feet,
lead me on a merry chase.

i can still smell the sweet sweat
of the dance studio, so generously
supplied by u & yr company;
can hear those congolese
percussive pulses racing the
throbbing in my temples.

night after night i watched u,
secretly singling u out from
the others. u were, sometimes,
a black blur, a lithe, leaping,
vibration, or a slow, undulant hip
& belly rolling temptress.

i needed u, then, like a strong
drink. i would loiter around that
studio like a drunk around a bar,
too bankrupt to buy, too proud
to beg.

though a longtime intimate of
most of the dancers (i roomed
with yr directors; had
photographed many of the company’s
performances), some wondered why

i was always around.

i kept my motives veiled. i was
after all, an artist of note &
professional community pillar;
there was nothing passing strange
in my interest, in my partronage.

i convinced most that since i was
arrow-aimed at africa, & soon;
free of worldwork & rigorous
responsibility. i simply had nothing
better to do.

the truth, though, of my deception
was that i was warweary of
entanglements, & terrified of

i needed to test the waters, toe, ankle,
knee, before committing
again to wetness.

& so, before conceding to con-
spicuous court, i urbanely conspired
to sneak up on u like an old friend,
win yr confidence, then hit & run
or miss & run, depending on which
god ruled the day.

u weren’t for a moment fooled;
played me like a fish, & i took
the bait unaware of the barb in
its belly.

i offered to drop u home after
one particularly grueling rehearsal.
u were coyly hesitant, but at
last agreed when i convinced u
that my samaritan gesture wouldn’t

take me out of my way.

i chivalrously left u at yr
doorstep without incident. we
did talk a bit, though, on the
ride home, & i got a glimpse
of the complexity shrouded by yr
simply sensuous body.

after that, when we met, by
contrivance or coincidence, we’d
greet each other with the ritual
hugs of the civilized; a transparent
excuse among the socialites, black

or otherwise, to press flesh, from
cheek to hip, & confirm or deny

what the eyes have suggested.

soon, i asked u out. u could
hardly turn down xanadu, & i
wined & dined u up & down
san francisco’s scenic hills; from

broadway to lombard, chinatown
to fisherman’s wharf.
we caught johnnie griffin, off
broadway, his rotund riffs sharpened
during his swedish sojourn.

we walked arm & arm along the
strip, smiling at the tourists
ogling the topless; laughing at
their revulsion to the gay lovers

kissing & fondling each other
in neon alleyways.

& again we talked, in the quiet
bars, & during the fast, forty
miles going home.

i learned much about u that
night, things i didn’t remember
until later; until too late.

this time, when i dropped u
there was no chivalrous intent.
when i intimated that i would love
to be invited in, u politely declined,
begging an early morning

i was stunned! had made my move
& missed. before i could recover,
u thanked me for a “super”
evening & let me kiss u good-

my mouth was too thick to work
properly; my tongue only suitable
for biting.

i saw u to yr door, hissed
a civil see-u-soon, & went
back to my car thinking dark

san francisco, johnnie griffin,
& two hundred dollars for…this?

well, i shrugged, this makes it
easy. & i drove home. that
night i dreamt of track shoes.

a week later, having gone through
a semisuccessful exorcism, i got
a message saying i should call
u. when i phoned, u reminded
me that u had considered moving
in with my sister (my god!)

well, u had decided that this
option would be attractive financially,
& could i please (since i had
a van) help u pack & move
a few things ?

what the hell, i couldn’t really
say no & save my indifferent
big brother routine, so the next
day, a saturday, i spent most
of the early evening helping u
change residences.

we finished around 8:00p.m. &

after our last trip to my sister’s,
u had me take u back to yr
former house, since u weren’t
officially to move until wednesday.

i was prepared to leave u
unmolested at yr door (once bitten,
twice stupid) but u suddenly
remembered u had forgotten
one item. i was tired by now but
determined to get this moving over
with. so, i followed u in.

once inside, u went to the
fridge & retrieved a bottle
of wine. “i don’t have a cocksrew”
u said.

“wait right there!” i said, &
flew to my apartment, nearly
ran through the door, & tore
up the kitchen until, under the
spoons, forks, & knives, under

the dirty dishes, the potato grater,
& the pancake turner i found
the defective corkscrew.

back at yr place, i mangled
& mayhemed that cork, trying
to free it from the bottle.
throughout the evening we were
both spitting out bits of cork,

straining them with our teeth, as the
all time best tasting vintage
flowed across our palates.

we became lovers that night.

& in the initial days to come
i found i couldn’t stop seeing

as those days turned to weeks
turned to months we suspended
time when we could, rode the winds
when we could not; clinging to
each other through the boring
& the bizarre, the quaint &

the curious, the storms & the
sunny days.

soon, the imminent day of departure
was near at hand.

i had proffered to take u with
me, but on thinking, backed off
to let u make yr own decision.
still, i bought u a return ticket
& paid yr bills just in case.

“if u find that u just can’t
manage nigeria,consider it a
vacation” i said. “…or, cash the
ticket in & use the money as
u wish, i’ll understand.”

on the day of the flight, u
drove me to the airport & we
spent our last hour together
on the continent. we talked
of love, then, love that could
span distance & time away from
each other.

& i kissed yr month & the
tears welling in yr eyes. we
said our goodbyes for the moment…
much had transpired in the four
short months between my departure
& yr arrival in ibadan.
i had gypsy jaunted to liberia;
fled from there disgusted,

i pierced lagos, moving fast, but
soon grew tired of the fast lane,
the incessant money chase, &
vicious social posturing.

so i slipped into ibadan looking
at last for work & a lapse into
somnambulant sincure.

a gracious couple offered me a
room; sanctuary in their house.
i offered to pay but they refused,
saying that i should get settled
first; that i should relax & take
it easy.

& the disparate deities of ibadan
began to work me over, make me
over until before long, i was
becoming a strange to myself.

had i known the slow amble of
time here; had i suspected the
information float to be months on
end instead of days, i’d have never
let u come; certainly never
let u see me less than i was.

the man u knew & thought
u loved wore big shoes
in his home town; had a good history,
was well-connected; a bright
star waxing.

the man u met when u came
was out of work, living on the

largesse of his friends; his meager
wealth dwindling; his credibility
& future, not at all certain.

u bought with u to nigeria
notions of what u thought it
would be, should be. yr hopes
so bright; how could u have
known of or suspected the mismatch?

when the light failed daily, u
were shaken. when the taps
went dry, u panicked. &
washing clothes by hand drew
out of u fits of pique.

the shower, when there was water,
was always cold.

u were shocked at the way
people let their livestock run
the street; at the aggressiveness
of beggars; the way garbage
was thrown everywhere.

the television bored u; the
markets didn’t impress u; &
u hated the danfos.

the rice & eggs for breakfast, the
stew & eba for lunch, the stew
& yam for dinner, or any
combination of the same day after
day reduced u to tears.

after going out a few times at
night, u refused to go again –
not to the beer parlors or the
hotels featuring local juju bands;
where girls in the trade sat

in front of doors in the hallways

leading to the dim-lit, dingy bars;
where a few drunken locals in
absence of female partners danced
by themselves or with each other;

not to the so-called five-star
restaurants where the chicken was
rubber, the peas cold, & the
water had colonies of something
floating in it.

when i suggested to u
that far too many nigerians have
no choice but to negotiate in
some of these conditions, u
accused me of just trying to make

u wrong; that u’d never get
use to some of the things u’ve

u were depressed at the status
of women, generally, & poor
women in particular; said u didn’t
want to sit around in the house

all day long, cooking food, watching
the children, while the men worked,
& drank, & ran the street.

u said i accepted things
to readily.

by that time, i was learning to
keep my council to myself.

i tried to take u with me on
my daily excursions (when i wasn’t
looking for work), to dugbe &
the cocoa house for a beer,
to oke ado to check for mail.

occasionally, i’d go to molete, to

drop in on chief (mrs.) taiwo, an
american from chicago who had
lived in nigeria thirty years, &
then back home again to bodija.

u joined me regularly for a
while then u stopped doing
that, too.

we began to argue a lot, not over
much, but the rows exposed our
frustration; our room became a

our hosts took note of yr
unhappiness; how u’d rarely come
out of the room. it was tense
for a time between u & madam.

once or twice i had to go alone
to kaduna to chase down some
job applications. each time i
returned, i met u less happy than
when i left.

on one occasion, when i returned
i learned that u had cried every
day. on another, that u had
contracted an infection. our
repeated trips to the doctor
brought no immediate cure; &
u were in pain.

soon, i became a major factor
in this overwhelming negativity;

i heard hard contempt in yr
voice whenever u spoke to me.
when i asked u about it, u’d
withdraw, say it’s nothing.

when i touched u, u’d flinch,
pull yourself away or endure my
handling with resignation, as if
out of some repulsive duty.

i saw myself diminishing in yr
eyes daily; becoming unclean,
loathsome, unloved. & i began
to despair – no job, no money,
no home of my own, & now, a

woman who despises me.

u started going out by yourself to
escape the house, the room, me. u
found a friend; another african
american woman who hated nigeria
as much as u.

the two of u commiserated,
& she revealed to u that she
was soon leaving; her husband,

an indian, would join her as soon
as he could or would, but she was
going as fast as she could get out.

u announced one night in bed
(all we did there now was talk
& sleep) that u had decided
to go home, as soon as possible,
that what we had, in effect, was over.

i almost let u go then,
drained by yr unhappiness; had
made up my mind laying beside u
touching, but not feeling u,
penetrating tentatively into yr
space & finding it inert.

but them my chest caved in.
my body shook with paroxysmal
grief. wave after convulsive wave

came & i soaked the sheets
with my tears.

i begged u in incoherent hiccups to
stay; for more time, for another

for an tnstant, i was two selves,
one floating above the bed, aware,
observing the scene below, but
unable to recognize that

wretched emotional wreck, that
grotesque groveler, that parody
of the pitiful, curled up fetally
beside u.

sometimes moved in u, though,
& i heard in my dual consciousness
u say that u would stay –
for awhile.

but i couldn’t stop crying.
u left fifteen days later. i
followed u around, a haggard
hangdog until the last.

together at the airport, one hundred
& thirty-four days after u
arrived, three hundred & fifty-
seven nights from the night we first

made love, i listened numbly to yr
promise to come back, after i’d
settled; after u had sorted yourself
out; heard u say u loved me.

somehow i knew that u were
making it easy; for u to leave, for
me to accept; afraid, perhaps, of an
embarrassing scene.

but u needn’t have worried so;
there was no more water in the
well. i was by then little more than
a dry dusty, riverbed.

there is no cure for heartbreak;
one can’t even ease the pain. but
it is something that can be lived
with. in the time that u’ve been
gone, i have since been rehabilitated,
& have put u behind me.

some obscure african proverb says
that u should thank the one who
dose u a kindness, however harsh
that kindness may seem.

well, ese-o, baby! i needed u
& the kindness u’ve given.
the scales are now balanced. u
have exacted recompense for every

woman i have ever, & will ever
love & hurt.

©Joseph McNair,1990-2009