The Morgue in my Tears by Bola Opaleke
2021 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist
Bola Opaleke has made the 2021 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist for The Morgue in my Tears.
Lise Gaston has won the 2021 CBC Poetry Prize for James.
You can read The Morgue in my Tears below.
She was trapped in a snail shell. I caught
her gaze. Inside my eyes, a proliferating fire.
She kissed the sky, & recited all the ninety-nine names
of God hived to the limestone of my voice. Swallowing sunset,
Nadeeya said, Ya Habibi! I regret nothing. I am
honored to have touched the clay from which a god was made.
Behold, the mother of children who refused to be
born. A road splitting into two, or three, or four. On Ellice,
wingless pterosaurs. On Balmoral we swam, unseen
in a river of cloud, like dodo birds. Language is a leather belt.
I said, Ya Habibti. & they're the first Arabic words
I learned. Nadeeya whispering into my ears: if you cannot
speak my language how can you tell the mileage
already eaten by my silence? I buried her blank coffin
in my heart — it was a graveyard for one. It was where love died.
This is not what anyone should crave.
After the first beating, I turned on the shower
& nailed myself to the imaginary cross beneath it.
Sometimes, I wish for this drowning
more than a baby does breast milk; more
than a song does dances. Because I know
water is a better lover than most men,
I let her fingers drill into the delicate part
of my body until the holes I knew were there
became visible. Until the honey
inside me is made manifest for slurping,
I stay drenched in the flood of my own crucifixion.
& this is not what anyone should dread.
After the last loving, I fanned the suds of a flame
lathering between her thighs. Nadeeya said, remember
my ashes are not to be sprinkled
on any random ocean around the world.
But it was too late. It is always too late before
the unloved realized how much of an ocean
resides inside him. This is the morgue in my tears.
They warned: if you ever come near again you will die.
They said we do not hate anyone.
We just don't like a stranger spoofing our gods.
Who knew she can let the gun go off in her mouth?
For this is the fourth bashing.
Her creamy body glowing like the sun. She said,
choose your death now that you have eaten the forbidden fruit.
& I laughed. I did not understand
the language of gods. Under the shower —
her ivory breath swirling around my bleeding skin,
Nadeeya lit a candle between my thighs.
I was beaten. I died. You cannot die on me now,
she said. I must do the dying for the both of us.
I kissed her gravestone. I slaughtered time.
My lips mutated into a heap of rubble. Perhaps,
love is its own guilt. Perhaps, death is its remorse.
We crave what we dread. Nadeeya wrote for me
a poem — she did not say the words in it will become a knife.
Her people coming right after. They screamed,
what have we done? Oh, what have we done?
In my mother's country, some say
abamo ni gbeyin oro. That the regrets of life come later.
I looked. I saw in the people, a retreating
shadow of a mournful wolf. To everything in life
there is a purpose. A moon for the night & a sun for the day.
They said, let us now love you like our own. I said,
he died. I said lift, first, the coffin of Nadeeya off my shoulders.
Read the other finalists
- Onion by Mia Anderson (Portneuf, Que.)
- James by Lise Gaston (Vancouver)
- Untranslatable by Adriana Oniță (Edmonton)
- Addendum —"Flora of a Small Island in the Salish Sea" by Alison Watt (Nanaimo, B.C.)
About Bola Opaleke
Bola Opaleke is the author of the poetry collection Skeleton of a Ruined Song. His poem Rite of Passage won the 2020 Thomas Morton Prize in Poetry. A few of his poems have appeared or are forthcoming in publications such as Prairie Fire, Frontier Poetry, Rattle, the Nottingham Review, the Puritan, Literary Review of Canada, Sierra Nevada Review, the Indianapolis Review and Canadian Literature. He holds a degree in city planning and lives in Winnipeg. He is currently the arts community director with the Winnipeg Arts Council board of directors.
The poem's source of inspiration
"Some wounds never heal, they hide. I started writing this poem a few years ago. Six times I have completed it — or seemed to have — and all six times I ended up tossing it. But during the pandemic, it became, as Jericho Brown said, 'a gesture toward home'. I wrote this poem to avenge myself against the guilt swallowing me up and against the forgiveness stuck in my throat."
The winner of the 2021 CBC Poetry Prize will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, have their work published on CBC Books and attend a two-week writing residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity. Four finalists will each receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and have their work published on CBC Books.