My youngest cousin is much older than I imagined
yet I haven’t been away that long. I remember her
as a baby with soft feet and skin, the color of charcoal.
My mother called to say my aunties were in town.
They are all here. I want you to speak to them.
Aunty said she hasn’t spoken to you since you left.
I try to remember a call that would make this false,
She is asking how I am,
telling me she’s called and caught
my voicemail each time. I apologize
because it is probably true. I would still apologize
even if it wasn’t true.
Auntie sounds as light as a whisper.
No surprise. We navigate
the questions and the silences
that precede them. I laugh a bit.
We talk at the same time. I stop to listen.
In the background, I hear Aunty—
Speak to her in our language so she doesn’t forget.
Auntie turns to ibibio.
My Ibibio shrinks at scrutiny, but I try.
I waltz to english when it gets knotty
and back to Ibibio when I have unraveled.
I could have called before my mother did.
I thought about calling. Then I thought about the
uneasiness strewn between words.
It has something to do with being held apart by oceans.
Not knowing who I have grown into or how much
of me is left. Still thinking of me younger
than I am. a child. not a woman.
I love them furious. I love them strong.
I love them belly deep. I love them wide.
If we were sitting across each other in my mother’s kitchen
Or cramped in a room with a lantern in the corner
Or sitting beneath the guava tree before
the generator overtakes the moon’s light,
they would see I haven’t been away that long.
I haven’t been gone long enough to forget.
I will never be gone in that way.
furious. strong. deep. wide.
there will be no forgetting here.
The image in the post is an adaptation of a photograph by Loren Kerns via Flickr.
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