Writings / Poetry

Lola Shoneyin


He tells me he wants to eat me,
tear at my tendons, gnaw at my flesh
part muscle, lap up blood,
nibble at the hardened tips,
dribble over the softened bits,
swallow me hole
by hole and pick his teeth
with my small, succulent bones.

Look, I tell him,
I’m not a seasoned chicken breast
or mutton minced to munch
And anyway, you know
I’m having someone else for lunch.

He doesn’t give a shit.
He parts his lips and licks them
again and again and again.


I have become a vagrant poem,
a cautionary tale,
an old story, an open book.

My belly opens and pages fly from it
Words fall to feet, letters flood the floor
Questions mark my steps
and like Sylvia, I straddle stops
and stumble.

Who will put me back together again?
What will bind me and bring me to a close?

The Head Story

We wait for the boarding school coach.
My son puts his forehead next
to mine. And says how great it would have been
if he’d grown out of my head.

The coach sighs to a halt.
I touch my head to his and tell him he did.
I tell him how before he was born,
he was no bigger than a blackhead.

He loads his bags into mouth of the coach.
I tell him how I grew him in a small sack.
How he swayed each time I turned my head
how I had to steady him with my palm.

He walks down the aisle and sits by the window.
I tell him how I held my breath
when he burst from his sack,
how he landed in my arms, like a promise.

The coach lights disappear.
I marvel at how nimbly he has eased
himself from my reach.
How firmly his feet stand his ground.

He will be gone for three weeks.
On his journey, he will think about my head story.
Then, with each passing hour, it will become
nothing more than a fleeting thought
a little thing in his head.

Like Split Reed

That night,
the waves wouldn’t return
to sea’s dark womb
but thrashed about
like insolent children,
playing with everything
in their paths.

That was the night we stood
together like split reed,
swaying in warm sand.
Lover’s born at noon
lost in the fruitfulness
of a mischievous moon

We stood bare-
footed on plastic chairs,
cheering on minstrels
who beat their guitars
and strummed their drums,
eyes lowered in homage to Trench Town.

O how they sang for us!
Spurred on by spinning feet on every seat,
they steered us down the aisle,
towards every good omen
we were destined to meet.

Then we walked to the tip of Yemoja’s nose.
Her breath circled us
and swelled into a pale billow of smoke.
Was it she who blew us into that unlikely embrace?
Or did we plot the stirrings of our waists,
the quiet rustling of shuffled lace?

Bath Day

Strange how the morning
you spend a lifetime trying to forget
is the one you want most
to remember.

Stranger still,
how joy can be rinsed
from a moment set apart
for laughter,
leaving the memory frayed
like a threadbare rag.

Morning at the ward.
Women coo-calm infants
fresh from the womb.
Nurses, heavy of hip, roll round beds
with padded hands.
All morning the mantra: breast is best.
All morning they latch open mouth
to swollen breast.

I am in awe of the worm
I spewed that morning,
I watch it squirm
at the unrest of our world.
It jolts at every whimper,
jumps at every whine.
I wish I could swallow it,
save it from earthly rustlings.

By afternoon,
incessant cry and tear-glazed eye
tell me my august visitor
is a task master.
He who must be fed like a seed,
he whose bottom must be wiped,
whose suckling cuts my nipple
and makes me bleed.

Mid afternoon,
the bathroom is free
for me to wash away the shame of birth
‘Clean up for Daddy!’ a nurse teases.
That word rattles a silenced bell clapper.
My insides ring.
I kiss Augustus and bolt
the door behind me.

God! How the silence of the tiny room asserts itself.
The echoes flush me to the drain
but I stand firm. One and whole.
Then, quite unexpectedly,
pain seeps from every pore.
Yowl begets wail begets howl
for wounds that will never scab,
for the abscess of afterbirth.


Sleep is an unloving mother. For tonight,
like all those other nights, she has thrown me
from my cradle, shooed me from her side.
Take me back, I cry. Clasp me to your bosom!

At first, she is torn, beats iron with her fists.
Then, she remembers how to resist.
She buckles her windows and bolts her doors,
her children to her.
The hum of suckling deafens me.

This cream isn’t free, she says,
my sucking-on-demand thing is thoroughly underhand.
She has thrown me away to punish me,

3:17 is not a time for the innocent.
The winds weave through gravestones
and darkness plays with deathly shapes.

I am afraid of this still, present loneness,
the threatening silence, its finger-pointing.
I hold up a white page; I have my own ghosts too.

Deftly, I paint a portrait of water-colour mamas.
Odes and elegies fall from my quill, until
Anne rises in her six-foot manger, and sings to me.

About The Author


Lola Shoneyin has published two collections of poems: So All the Time I was Sitting on An Egg (1997) and Song of a Riverbird (2002). Her new collection, For the Love of Flight, will be published in 2010. Shoneyin also writes fiction. Her first novel, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives (HarperCollins) is due soon. She lives in the UK.

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