"1945" by Chris Abani
from DAPHNE’S LOT
When the magic mushroom clouding Hiroshima cleared
on peace, Daphne was fourteen. Her imagination could
not measure the desert of death that was Normandy’s
beach or the oily cough of tanks through small dusty
Italian towns where everybody wanted to be Americano!
But she remembered waking to the siren of the air-raid
alarm, disoriented by blacked out windows.
The shelter; a family huddle under the stairs
with the musty smell and the tang of cleaning products,
face pressed into the familiar hardness of the ironing board.
There was the thrill of the gasmask and the free candy
she got at the local cinema on Saturdays if she
remembered to bring it along, and the ballerina in her
music box that lived only when she hoarded sweets.
I pretend to smoke my pen, listening to Beethoven.
Moonlight Sonata. This is the thing.
Long hours, late hours, much of it tortured,
waiting for sense like patterns in the sand.
Or language poetry or conceptual art.
To say: Oh my craft and the time it is taking,
but Derek Walcott got there first and how
do you follow a poet like that?
I cannot call Mum. It is four a.m., this late,
the tone would be loud enough to touch.
I want to ask – did Granny brush your hair,
the moment fragile yet tensile as a strand of that hair?
I need the material, but this thing, this shape
cannot be found with her. Like the rabbi said,
never give up a good question for an easy answer.
And this much I know – the deeper art
is to follow where the shape leads,
but my fear needs a map. Lines, in couplets,
to contain the uncertainty. Still it mocks me.
Oh my craft, and the time it is taking!
Praise for Feed Me the Sun by Chris Abani
“In this eclectic and imaginative poetry book Chris Abani takes us on a time-travelling journey around the world. He explores history, war, myth, religion, relationships and a poet’s personal and philosophical musings. His versatile voice is, variously, audacious, energetic, visual, oblique and always, always, thought-provoking.” ~ Bernardine Evaristo
This collection of Chris Abani’s longer poems, some previously published, the majority new, displays his astonishing energy, beauty of expression and range of reference to contemporary life, history, art and literature. Having this work together in one volume enables us to see the dialogue between a sense of the personal and an engagement with the public and historical, from ‘Daphne’s Lot’ which explores the life of an Englishwoman (his mother) caught up in the madness of the Biafran civil war, or ‘Buffalo Women’, an epistolary sequence of poems between lovers caught up in the American civil war.
The focus of Abani’s poems is frequently on extreme situations where the unspeakable becomes too readily the doable, but where against the odds compassion and love remain and the individual determination to resist public madness. In ‘Sanctificum’ there is a profound meditation on the sacred, whether reached through religious ritual or through art, and the narrow dividing line between the urge to reach for mastery and transcendence and the abuses of power whether personal, contemporary or historical.
Chris Abani is the author of 11 books, the recipient of numerous awards for his writing, and is currently holds the position of Professor at the University of California, Riverside.