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nothing is earned unless something is lost. the ocean grants safe passage, but i fear the cost is too great. you tell yourself, [if i survived Nigeria, there is no greater beast above me], but you grow to understand America is the beast after which all other beasts are named. you try to be a Good American, but this accent gives you away. this skin. Americans are impatient & rename you ‘stupid’ for asking questions. the calls back home become more & more infrequent. [E ma binu, joo. mommy, i’ll call more, abeg. the winters here are so cold, i can barely get out of bed. no mommy, i don’t have enough money to send back home. i will next month. my friend just gave me a social security card to use, so i have to be careful. i’ll come through for you, i promise]. days slip through your teeth. then months. at the temp job, you spill an excess vat of chemicals between your legs. for months after, your inner thighs bubble & split & pool into sores. half the year goes by & you don’t call mommy. she calls & you have nothing good to share: still no money to send back, just enough food to last the week, class work piling up so fast, you wonder if you can keep up. a year passes by. then two. you hear that your cousin went to the UK, but you don’t phone because you’re embarrassed you have nothing to show for all your suffering. time unspools & the year slips by faster. you graduate, but none of your family or loved ones come. you wouldn’t have enough money to bring them here. you decide this is the year you will find a wife & within a year you’re engaged to a woman from your neighboring state in Nigeria. her sister arranges for you to meet. she fits all the requirements: she cooks, doesn’t ask too many questions, wants children too. your first child is a girl. you’re secretly disappointed, but when you hold her for the first, you weep. not because she is healthy but because you remember your mother & how you wanted this moment with her & now you don’t remember where she is or if she’s even alive. it’s your greatest moment of shame: that you failed her. that you let the ocean & America & stress & fear drive you away from her. you weep over your daughter & this is her first memory of rain. you have another daughter, then four years later a son. & another. you decide four is enough, your wife wants more kids. you fight over finances & bills; she curses you for being irresponsible with money. you drink too much & hit her. you remember your stepfather & walk out of the room. you come to the realization you have no idea who your wife is. you’re not sure if that’s alright or not. your first daughter moves out when she’s 19, you resent her for not calling, you resent her for not needing you.

she looks so much like your mother it scares you. your firstborn son looks like a lot like your brother, the one who lived with you for a short time when you came to America. the one who, for days on end, wouldn’t move off the couch. who would stare off through the window, would weep uncontrollably, then laugh, pick up a second wind of haggard tears. one day, you return to the flat & all his things are missing. no note. you stare at the near-gutted apartment & think nothing of it. between the years of sorrow and the year of marriage, your brother appears to you in dreams, sleeping under highway bridges, face down in a ravine. the last dream is of him standing in the desert. you reach for him & he fades to dust. a week later, someone calls saying your brother was found dead. you would come to know the language a year later [He was mentally ill. Forgive me: I thought he was lazy]. your wife finds pictures of your cousin online & you suspect, like you, he’s had a stroke. the way he covers one side of his body, how he almost looks propped up in his pictures. your daughter returns home & asks you about your life, about your brother. you think of your son, how he spends days and weeks on end, not leaving his room. he dropped out of school & won’t say why. he tried to end his life a month ago. you & your daughter found him in a park with a noose in hand, surrounded by police officers. it’s the first time you hug your adult son. it’s the first time you tell him [I love you. I’m sorry. I love you. I’m sorry]. you say it to your son, but you say it to your brother. you say it to your mother. your daughter asks you about your family & you don’t weep. you even laugh some. finally, you talk about him [my brother perished & returned to me as my son. they even look the same. god, what curse is this?]




I.S. Jones is a queer American / Nigerian poet and music journalist. Her works have appeared or are forthcoming in Guernica, The Rumpus, The Offing, The Shade Journal, Nat. Brut, Puerto Del Sol, and elsewhere. She is the co-editor of the Young African Poets Anthology. I.S. is an MFA candidate in Poetry at UW-Madison as well as the 2019 Kemper K. Knapp University Fellowship recipient.

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3 Responses to “On Transatlantic Shame | I. S. Jones | Poetry” Subscribe

  1. Eyo Inyangette December 12, 2019 at 9:16 am #

    Sometimes it can be hard. The problem remains that some people find it embarrassing to accept that things are not supposed to be perfect all the time, so, they let their circumstances turn them into unrecognizable people. We humans should define ourselves not by our strengths or weaknesses alone but also by possibilities.


  1. Here are the best Nigerian articles of the week » YNaija - December 15, 2019

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    […] On Transatlantic Shame – I.S. Jones  […]

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