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Photo credit: Lana. Source: Flickr.

i was born with a graveyard.

– Safia Elhillo.


i do know about the hate that sinks a name

& turns water into homes eating boys

& i cannot speak because my mouth is a grave

my father’s ghost roasted a boy found in the hands of another boy

& his ashes look like the sun dying on my skin

& every day nails are passed as praises as heroes

riding bodies into pain as Facebook posts

opening bodies into fields eaten by locusts


i was born to be darkness hiding under a cave

& i know the weight of exile in a body

the origin of bodies looking into faces

with gratitude  leaving a part of them

in bistros  to forget  how they prayed

to the winds to ferry them over waves


the maestro said all art is full of departure

i was born to hold a boy on a bus station

shake him loose  a house leaking memories

& tell him go  run   bleed

into a language that knows the meaning of freedom


tired of running  of biting into oranges

i open my body into pain & bring out your words

faggot  sin  bones waiting for the tongue of fire

houses waiting for the lynching of rain

& i let them slice me  burn me

i was born into a war  my God’s duty is to hide

the honey dripping from my mouth

& i write the names of lovers leaving into sand

i let it grow on their tongues so they won’t forget

how they lived in the dark before finding Agadez

pathway to road across the sea


i worship the day because it survived the night

& i’m in a bus station

saying bye to boys searching for cities

where they can hold hands & walk on beaches

& i know what it means to live here

with words invented for hate   with wounds asked to be silent

& when they leave i want to whisper into ears

filled with dunes of the desert

do not forget i still live here



I cannot make this up.

Sunlight sneak behind dark curtains


& you sit up, say the light is here again.


The streets hum with voices,

vehicles run into the rising sun,

my neighbor press her ear against the wall

to hear the voice of heaven

falling from a mouth made beautiful by sin.


I want to find home in the rooms of your veins,

allow you carry me as you flee into the day,


as you look back to stop your shadow from holding my hands.


In your room, your father smashes our bones against the wall,


our blood mingle, sing kumbaya as it streaks into the rug.


Tell me this is not love,

tell me this is not how couples run into sunsets,


Tell me this is not the universe saying love is eternal

to two bodies traveling through the sea as salt,

two bodies sitting on sands

in a map that doesn’t die.


He digs me out of your stomach.


He says, no son of mine is going to be a faggot.


I allow light preserve me, I allow it slash me into songs

traveling through the forest softly as dew.


Here’s my body, take it.


Here’s my song searching for space within your lips,


open, sing it.


When they came for me with knives and sticks,


I became songs falling through rain.


Do not be afraid, I will always be here.


Just step into the wet sky,

open your mouth, sing,

sing baby.


Saddest Night Alive

It always starts with your silence, your body running away,

even though you are here and the music is still playing

and all I want is to dance, just to dance baby

but you are really not here and the sea is always hungry

and everyone is watching how you will feed it.

We are in a movie, we are acting

but you keep saying this is not right,

I want to know who made love so wrong.

The director is screaming, his veins are bulging,

I’m shouting leave him alone, it was the words I shouted

when they lynched you in my dreams.

Can’t you see my buttons undone and waiting for your fingers?

Can’t you see the leaves are falling?

It’s the season for wearing new skin,

for pretending you don’t love the boy who rode across your mouth

last night and I understand you are afraid

because your friend’s father gave him up to the police

on his birthday and I know it’s a shitty way to celebrate a new year

but I do not want to beg for love,

I do not want to steal into your dreams.

The DJ is playing my favorite song,

bodies are moving like fireflies dancing by the riverside,

you are leaving, in my hand is a glass of gin and tonic,

I’m learning how to live with this fear of not finding love

in this city, how to watch my waves run back into the sea

like a dog cursed with the luck of finding dead lovers.

The director is shouting but you are already gone

and I’m leaving, drunk and in tears,

the music is still playing, still calling our hearts like clouds

waiting for the miracle of wings.

They will write this as the saddest night alive

but it won’t mean a thing to us, we’ve been hurting

before the earth put to birth.




About the Author:

Romeo Oriogun’s poems have appeared in Praxis, Afridiaspora, African Writer, Brittle Paper, and elsewhere. Shortlisted for the Brunel International African Poetry Prize, he’s the author of Burnt Men, an electronic chapbook published by Praxis.



Otosirieze Nnaemekaram is a writer, an academic, and Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review ("Mulumba," 2016), Transition ("A Tenderer Blessing," 2015), and in an anthology of the Gerald Kraak Award for which he was shortlisted ("You Sing of a Longing," 2017). His work has further been shortlisted for the Miles Morland Writing Scholarship in 2016 and a Pushcart Prize in 2015. He attended the 2018 Miles Morland Foundation Creative Writing Workshop facilitated by Giles Foden. He is the curator of the ART NAIJA SERIES, a sequence of themed e-anthologies of writing and visual art exploring different aspects of Nigerianness. The first, ENTER NAIJA: THE BOOK OF PLACES (October, 2016), focuses on cities in Nigeria. The second, WORK NAIJA: THE BOOK OF VOCATIONS (June, 2017), focuses on professions in Nigeria. He studied History and Literature at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is currently completing a postgraduate programme in African Studies and Pop Culture, and teaches English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu. He has completed a collection of short stories and is working on a 600-page novel. When bored, he just Googles Rihanna.

6 Responses to “Departure | Three Poems by Romeo Oriogun” Subscribe

  1. Samuel Oladele 2017/04/28 at 10:12 #

    Gosh! This is inspiring.

  2. Farida Adamu 2017/04/30 at 04:22 #


  3. Neofloetry 2017/05/02 at 19:17 #

    I Respect Romeo Oriogun all over again!

  4. Mike Baynham 2017/05/04 at 07:40 #

    Took my breath away! Wonderful work!!!

  5. Omolara Oriye 2017/05/23 at 20:26 #

    I cried.


  1. DEPARTURE | AMETHYST SAW - 2018/01/11

    […] came across these poems on Brittle Paper while on a bus ride. I remember the poet’s name from the 14:We are Flowers Anthology I read […]

Leave a Reply

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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