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These poems are from my forthcoming collection, This is How We Disappear, which explores the physical and psychological disappearance of women and girls in Nigeria. It is horrifying to consider what it means for almost 300 girls to go missing for 3 years, what they have endured and the other ways they have had to vanish in order to survive. It is haunting to acknowledge the parts of our own humanity that we have lost through our inaction.

—  Titilope Sonuga


We Drew Chibok on the Map in Our Blood

“No matter who my daughter is when she comes back,
she is my daughter and I want her back home.”


dis·ap·pear /ˌdis ˈpir / verb / the men, thick as baobab, become
a forest, drag us in by the wild of our hair.


the men scratch
our names from our throats
betray our bodies
bones bend back


we become a whisper
hands gather a scream
back into her mouth
the only way we know how
palms clasped and reaching
elbow deep into a soft night

beg god between her legs
birth and bury
what we must to stay alive

silent stream
silk fish swirl
a red amen around our ankles


beneath the moon that sees us all
our mother prays into the black
bloom between her legs
reaches deep to birth us back
red scream in her throat
names we no longer answer to

we scatter from her hands
silk fish swirl
in a wild stream


The Girls Are Still Laughing

In the dream
I close my eyes and count backward from 276
the girls crawl feet first from their hiding places
behind the curtains where their feet stick out
under the bed untangling from a mess of limbs

A slit in the silence bursts open
and their voices fall out
calling each other’s names
unlearning memory
bones melting back to whole

The ones who do not make it into hiding
shake their bodies loose from where they stand
suspended in time

They brush past me as they go
peeling back the skin of a thousand days
calling up the blood to dance beneath
their former faces still soft enough
for their mothers to recognize


The Girl Comes Back with Fire in Her Chest


By what name do we call the girl
when she comes back?

Is it cruel now to call her Joy,
to call her Precious,
to call her Patience?

Do we turn her old clothes to rags
to wash her with or break
the bed where her feet now dangle over
and burn it to ash?

Do we sing a praise song or dirge
when the girl comes back
with her mouth sewn her eyes sunken shut and
her eyes sunken in?

Do we welcome her home
when there is none
and forget how savage
the privilege of weeping
before the one whose tears have dried up?

When the girl comes back
whose arms does she run into?

Who will call her daughter
and call her daughter daughter too?

Who will offer up their back for her to climb on?

Whose milk has not yet curdled?
Who will nurse this broken woman back to girl
and back to whole again?


her mouth pools with blood from her razor tongue
in a corner with her hands held high she becomes a wall
savors the anger like fruit she stole when no one was looking
tells her sins to God, no one is listening

in a corner with her hands held high she becomes a wall
becomes a fire no one can touch
tells her sings to God, no one is listening
she is alone here

becomes a fire no one can touch
savors the anger like fruit she stole when no one was looking
she is alone here
her mouth pools with blood from her razor tongue


no one could say which one of them
held the baby or the bomb

each cradled a heavy head
held its body across her chest
beneath a billowing cloth

both walked with the grace
only mothering teaches
moving without disturbing
a sleeping thing

when we were putting the bodies back together
trying to bury what we could not name
there was no one left, not even a child
to tell us which mother they heard ticking
or clucking before they knelt

We could not bend the bones back from broken
to know whose forehead touched the ground last
or gather the breath back into their mouths
even into a mumble to say
whose prayer was answered first
or whose daughter went home


Post image by Beth Tate via Unsplash

About the Author:
titi-0759-2012863535-OTitilope is an award winning poet, writer and performer who has graced stages across Nigeria and internationally. She was the winner of the 2011 Canadian Authors’ Association Emerging Writer Award for her first collection of poems, Down To Earth. Her spoken word album Mother Tongue was released in 2013 followed by a second collection of poetry, Abscess, in 2014. She is currently the ambassador for Intel’s She Will Connect Program across Nigeria. Titilope was the first poet to appear at a Nigerian presidential inauguration ceremony, performing at the May 2015 inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari. She adds acting to her accomplishments playing “Eki” in the NdaniTV hit television series Gidi Up, which airs across Africa. Her forthcoming collection is titled This is How We Disappear.

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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.

6 Responses to “The Girl Comes Back with Fire in Her Chest | 3 Poems by Titilope Sonuga” Subscribe

  1. Efe 2017/04/14 at 11:48 #

    Wow. Mindblowing…

  2. Hanna 2017/04/14 at 13:11 #

    “the men, thick as baobab, become
    a forest, drag us in by the wild of our hair”
    Hauntingly beautiful.

  3. Patricia Staples 2017/04/14 at 17:41 #

    You leave me weeping near keening for those and so many other girls and women, mothers, fathers, siblings. Dear woman your poetry is beyond words. Praying you are still well and wonderful.

  4. Simzah 2017/04/15 at 13:20 #

    The first time i heard her recite these, i cried. They still touch me in ways i cannot describe.

  5. Jhon 2017/04/24 at 06:56 #

    Like one sends a pale into the well to fetch water, you stone your poem into me to draw tears. (I just stop them with series of blinks because I can’t afford to cry in the public.)

    This is just so nice. Thank you for being a poet. I am not poetry fan, but you make me more than a standing fan – Air Condition.
    More grace.


  1. The Girl Comes Back With Fire In Her Chest || Three Poems By TITILOPE SONUGA – KAWEAFRICA BOOK CLUB - 2017/11/17

    […] These poems were first published in BRITTLE PAPER […]

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