Nomenclature or a Prayer Become Flesh


Here is my body, I say, eat it, do this

Remember me

                             —Chris Abani, Om

Start with my name. I dare you to swallow without choking on the syllables. It’s hard, isn’t it?

Let the letters crumble first into its different parts, then slowly roll down the throat.

O—The progenitor of my language was non-binary. Or maybe blind.

Couldn’t decide if the figure was a man swaying like the wind, or a woman,

firm as a tree. Then he couldn’t decide which was firmer: the wind or the tree.

Who did the swaying? Who enjoyed it more? The conflict of questions

brought him to his knees, and the only audible sound he made, he chose as its name.

Sa—the verb to answer

Sa—the verb to wash or cleanse

Mgbe ala kporo gi, I kwesiri sa

When the land calls upon you, you answer

When the land calls upon you, you cleanse. It or yourself.

Someone said when a loved one dies, do not hold back your tears. It is just

the person’s name answering the call, cleansing the pain from your eyes.

Which is to say, that a name is a flood, the voice calling, rain, and I,

just a filthy gutter in harmattan, waiting patiently.

La—in my language, our verbs are feeble children

leaning on the shoulders of a prefix or holding onto the wrappers of a suffix.

Because in my country, children have mastered the art of dying.

Mastered how to mount on the wings of the wind

and float away like a whisper.

The letter ‘m’ is a many things: a possessive & a way to mourn loss, an answer

& a question, an exclamation & a retreat.

But for the sake of my birth, it became a desperate attempt to capture

the fleeting and floating verb ‘to answer’. It became a trap. The lips snap shut

to keep out the world while the flood cleanses the pain away.

O-sa-la m—He/ she/it has answered me.

O-sa-la m—He/she/it has cleansed me.

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