new zealand electronic poetry centre


Chris Abani

Fugacity 05
Online Poetry Anthology


A Way To Turn This To Light

There are stories told. Old stories.
    How when real men died, elders would call them
back from darker shores, with only the moon to witness.
    Returned, eyes either completely black, or white; blind,
they saw only what light they carried inside them.
    Placing a tombstone on the corpse’s crown, the old said:
Death is but our own burden, only we must carry it.

Body stiff, limbs cold and jerky, the corpse,
    grave marker on head
        walks tirelessly into the night
    kept in check only by
the oldest woman in the village lighting his way
    the oldest man closing the rear.
        They alone know death
            but don’t fear it.


Don’t try to follow this macabre procession
    as they fade into that good night.
We all must have our day. But this one
    is shrouded in a mystery deeper than a swamp.
And the bobbing lantern holding back
    hungry shadows, may be a jack ‘o’ lantern,
a phantom leading you to night.
                And the silence.


Thresholds. And –

    Doors.         Doors.         Doors.

But without the hinge there is nothing:
    but space and more void.
Not this; nor that; the cleft in the universe
    is the careless fold where light becomes sound.
This is where God, the hinge, resides.


And this is what Passover is.
    The blood emblem of the lamb.
That sometimes death, unlike the meter guy,
    does come unannounced.
But in this vicious streak,
        blood and all.


    The moment is fire.

            The moment is fire


What is this vanity of words?

What chance this?

    A cello full of sea. And tea
    steaming a winter window.

The Old Artist Speaks To The Young Poet

Each visitation changes something.
Let the angel go and climb the ladder.
There is God in this effort. This thing.
More existential, only not desire.
To the left, metal assemblage leans lazily
into rust. He runs arthritic hands
over its rough. You always work
with something, he says. This is
an actual horse’s leg. Nicely weathered.
Why if it weren’t for the nails it would run away
with the picture. Chagall would like that.
A blank television regards me –
The news and the weather, he says.
With time, he says, everything dissolves into art

War Widow

The telephone never rings. Still
you pick it up, smile into the static,
the breath of those you’ve loved; long dead.

The leaf you pick from the fall
rises and dips away with every ridge.
Fingers stiff from time, you trace.

Staring off into a distance limned
by cataracts and other collected debris
you have forgotten none of the long-ago joy
of an ice-cream truck and its summer song.

Between the paving stones;
between tea, a cup and the sound
of you pouring;
between the time you woke that morning
and the time when the letter came;
a tired sorrow: like an old flagellant
able only to tease with a weak sting.

Riding the elevator all day,
floor after floor after floor,
each stop some small victory whittled
from the hard stone of death, you smile.
They used to write epics about moments like this.


Through the keyhole and spreading rapidly
like a shadow or light which is a brighter
shadow and the eye struggling skin cold
against metal and the hoping to see and then
a fragment of a word lost down there on the floor
where light from a lamp patterns in slivers
the disapproval and even the goose bumps
crawling up your skin and the licking
of chocolate off the baking spoon never tasted
this good and then the muted rustling of cloth
and the slap slap of slippers clapping against
the wood floor and even the rug is a jungle
and still the metal cold around an eye straining
to see and the sound which is a whisper travels
up your body to lodge just beneath the skin
which bumps and shivers and the pulling away
is the door swinging open onto shame.


Chris Abani
Los Angeles. 22 April 2005


Last updated 21 April, 2005