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Portrait of Us as Snow White
We inherited black holes for eyes,
so light was the benchmark we measured the beauty of skin against.
We sat in our dorm room
and discussed who the fairest of all was.
The Igbo girls claimed they could be cast as foreign
as long as the sun didn’t betray them.
The girls with skin the shade of the bronze masks
our ancestors carved directed the conversation.
The myth was that backstage curtains are dark colours
so that dark girls can camouflage into them.
We never said the word ‘race’, substituted ‘yellow pawpaw’ for ‘white’
as if we knew the word ‘white’ would peel our tongues down to a seed of guilt.
My bow legs hung from my bunk bed like question marks.
I was unsure of which shade my skin will grow into,
so I could not be the lead role in this fairy tale.
Now I know our ignorance is a kind of bacteria
bleach multiplies instead of killing.
One of my dorm mates used “Papaya Skin Lightening Soap”,
the scent was like every other soap,
she rubbed it on her skin until
she was cast as Snow White in the school play.
The myth is that despite all the light on her skin,
her soul remains a backstage curtain.
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Observations or Home In Order of Nostalgia
[i] The gum popping hairdresser would braid my hair so tight
my edges looked like a bribe hiding from the public.
She always reminded me she gave me a discount
in this tough economic climate for being the daughter,
of the Aunty, of the uncle, of the mother.
[ii] My mother and I would spend weekends at the market,
negotiating the prices of food before buying them.
I used my skills to negotiate the cost of digesting
my father’s mistakes into my body.
His mistakes drag like Ogbono soup,
accompanies new trauma to make a tasty meal.
[iii] When home smiles at me I see the gap tooth
between the rich and the poor,
politicians swallowed the money meant for braces,
their stomachs look like swollen gums.
[iv] My grandfather was a simple man,
the flashiest thing he flaunted were his teeth.
We tucked away his belongings
when the chewing sticks he used to brush his teeth
reminded us of what dementia did to his brain.
[v] The devil is a business man
it’s no surprise a false preacher once charged
the pepper seller down my street her life savings
in exchange for a mansion in heaven. The preacher
warned me I was behind on my payments to heaven,
I told him I need God to extend my overdraft first.
[vi] Fela Kuti’s mother was thrown off a balcony
by soldiers angered by her sons activism.
Fela’s mother’s spine was a flagpole broken into half,
leaving my country’s flag to drape on the floor
trying to clean the blood stains
of those who died by the hands of the country.
Observations or Home in Order of Nostalgia was originally published as part of a Gal-Dem exhibition called “Explorations of Home” showcasing Women of Color poets in the UK.
Post image by Autumn Goodman via Unsplash
About the Author:
Theresa Lola is a British Nigerian Poet. She is a Barbican Young Poet Alumni. She was shortlisted for the 2016 Bridport Poetry Prize and 2016 London Magazine Poetry Prize. She was a highly commended winner for the 2016 Charles Causley Poetry Prize. In 2017 she won 2017 Hammer and Tongue National Slam.