The Poetry Corner – 9 March 2021

[To read an introduction to this column, please see the first paragraph of the previous post here]


This week I would like to share a poem I found recently from the Nigerian poet Gbenga Adesina. The following poem I discovered in the Fall 2020 issue of Narrative magazine. It is titled “Across the Sea: A Sequence”:






                        Across the Sea: A Sequence                       

                        Gbenga Adesina            




Across the Sea


The bottom of the sea is cruel. — Hart Crane.


On the sea, your prayer is not to the whorl scarf
of waves. Your prayer is to the fitful sleep of the dead.
Look at them, their bodies curve darkly without intention
and arrow down into the water. What do you call a body
of water made of death and silence? The sea murmurs
on the pages of this book. There are bones buried in the water
under these lines. Do you hear them, do you smell them?


In the panic of drowning, there are hands lifting babies
up in the air, out of the water, for breath. A chorus
of still pictures brought this news to me, to us. Because we do
not see the bodies sinking, because we do not see their mouths
already touching water, the hands lifting up the babies look almost
ordinary. Like the Greeks lifting their newborns unto the sky.
What is the failure of dead? That they sink?
Or that they sink with what is in their hands?


The children of God are upon frightened waters,
And God being hunger, God being the secret grief of salt
moves among his people and does not spare them.
The children of God are upon frightened waters.


There is a child whose protest is of eyes.
She has crossed the water with her mother,
they are shivering, waiting for her father, two days now, they are
shivering for a father the mother knows would never arrive.
The mother holds the child, she says to her, gently:
“It’s a brief death. Your father has gone on a brief death.
He’ll soon be back.”


A man is bent on his knees, wailing at the waters.
He slaps his hand on the wet sand and rough-cut stones
the way one might fight a brother.
He grabs the shirt of the sand as though they are in a tussle.
The stones here carry the island’s low cry inside them.
A landlocked grief. They say the man was a newlywed.
Now his vows are inside the water.
He claws at the sand. He wails: “Ocean,
you owe me a body. Ocean, give me back my lover.”


Think of the boats. The timber comes from Egypt.
They are cut into diagonals and made pretty. They
are polished by hands. Their saplings are watered by the Nile.
The White Nile flows through Khartoum
before it puts its teeth into the Mediterranean.
The waters and the trees eat bodies.


The children of God are upon frightened waters,
And God being hunger, God being the secret grief of salt
moves among his people and does not spare them.
The children of God are upon frightened waters.



The silence is a prairie country. The silence
is the silence of hospital sheets.
The silence is of IV tubes, veins, quiet siren of ghosts.
The silence is the silence of what
is dappled invisibly by a body
that is no longer human but not yet a ghost. The silence in your
body has lodged in my throat.
Silence, can you hear me? The silence is of lime,
and kraal stones. The silence is not shadow
but the light of a body buried under a mound of rough stones.
The silence is the silence
of hands. Hands, wire-vine hands, can you hear me?
The silence is the silence of broken ribs.
The silence is the silence of the head,
shorn and shaven. The silence is silence of a bandage wrapped
tight around what is sunken, what is fallen in the gait of the head.
can you hear me?

The silence is silence of blood,
seething through filament of bandage.
Blood, can you hear me?
Father, blood, Father can you hear me?






I have read this poem multiple times and every time I discover something new about it. Each section is a separate scene, but they are all connected by themes of water, death, and the struggle for connection and survival. The language, images, rhythm, line breaks, and everything is so striking to me, by the end I’m left speechless. What do you see in it? I would love to read your thoughts in the comments below!

The Poetry Corner – 2 March 2021

My vision for this column is for it to showcase poetry from around the world to let people see the beautiful and important work poets are doing in our time. This means I will mostly show contemporary poetry, but there may also be poems from the past if I find them particularly relevant or beneficial to show at a certain time. Being an arts column in English, all the poems I show will be in English, but some may have been translated from other languages. I will try to show originals alongside the translations if possible. As English speakers I find that we so often forget about or ignore literature in other languages. To counter this, I hope to show that beautiful work is being done in other languages and that by reading that work we can gain deeper insight into our common humanity.


For my first post, I want to show you one of my absolute favorite poems from one of my absolute favorite poets, Ocean Vuong. This poem is titled “Seventh Circle of Earth.” Read it below:

Read More

Giving Up

Am I the story with broken chapters 

Riddled with typos 

Contradictions and plot holes? 

Do I have creased corners 

On crinkled pages? 

Molded over dusty desks 

Marked by finger swipes 

Do spiders make their homes on my surface? 

Stretch their webs around bookshelves? 

Bending by the weight 

Of my words

Empty Poetry

Broken rhythm 

Hits thoughts in

Fallen poetry


With lowly rhymes 

Catch-all phrases 

Useless adjectives adding 



To make twisted 

Alliterated stages 


Grasping for spindly straw lines 


My fingers immerse themselves 

In words 

To make sentences 


Like bracelet beads

Held together by a thin thread 


Eyes absorb the colors 

The feeling 

Manifested in


The clench of the stomach with music 

And sweat

With meaning

waves: blacklight

photo cred: me. in my apartment with my partner.

{trigger warning: childhood illness}

this whole year has brought about many hours of reflection for me and my life. one thing i’ve been thinking about a lot and trying to process is my experience as a cancer survivor. i was diagnosed with stage 4 hodgkin’s lymphoma at 16 years old (my junior year of high school). while i’m in remission now, the trauma i have tied to that experience is something that comes up again and again — especially during something as stressful as a global pandemic. the precautions i take to protect myself and others from the virus (like wearing masks, washing my hands often, disinfecting everything i come in contact with) feels eerily similar to the precautions i had to take while protecting myself from infections while being treated with chemotherapy and radiation.

i don’t talk much about my experiences, and part of the reason for that is because, well, it isn’t pretty. having cancer, being treated for it, fearing that it will come back, and having a deadly virus going around that only intensifies my anxiety isn’t something i can talk about in a few minutes or hours and be done with. i think about it all the time. and i take the pandemic very seriously mostly because of my fears.

i just wanted to let anyone who is struggling with processing or navigating this pandemic know that they are not alone, and things REALLY suck at the moment and it’s okay to acknowledge that. it’s okay to not be okay, and it’s okay to fear the uncertain future ahead of all of us. it’s okay to talk through your feelings with people you love andcare about, including yourself. this poem, ‘blacklight’, is one of my many attempts to do so. fun fact: this is a contrapuntal poem, which means that it can be read in at least two different ways 😉



that moment when you look                                                                            your eyes don’t adjust to the darkness

        it’s just dark                                                                                                             and thick wet black

        and i tell everyone i know it’s just my shadow                                          it’s just the back of the throat, i say

        and they believe me                                                                                           and no one asks further questions

        but i’ve been trying to figure out,                                                                                  like,



how do i come to terms with the tumors growing in my body?

how long have they been there?

was there a such thing as light before the universe?

did darkness come from a wounded womb?

has anyone found its keyholed belly?





Is the name you give to the tapeworm 

Nibbling away 

Keeping your stomach empty 

Something that to which your brain

Can’t help but wander

It made someone lace opioids 

Into their blood vessels 

So that their tangled veins force them to sleep 

For their mind to go to quiet 


That mingle

Regret with dreams.