Poetry Pause: Titilope Sonuga — Missing

Poem Author: Titilope Sonuga Poem title: Missing Poem: As much as I wish to, the president said, I cannot promise that we can find them. They converted to Islam, married off to the fighters, Abubakar Shekau said. They were taken across the border into Cameroon, witnesses said. A negotiator told us, At least three died in the early days, from a snake bite, malaria and dysentery. I’m outraged and heartbroken, Michelle Obama posted a picture of herself holding a sign. Please know this, Malala Yousafzai wrote, we will never forget you. Years passed without a whisper from the girls. * My father’s gun in the upstairs closet will shoot its first and only shot when I am ten and the armed robbers come rattling our gate like rabid dogs. My three sisters and I huddled in our nightgowns on his bedroom floor. We have to leave this country, he whispers to my mother, his finger trembling on the trigger. That night my father will almost kill a man to protect our childhood. He will never say the words I love you but in the chamber of his heart is one loaded bullet. * Midnight at the water’s edge. Blessing and 3,000 refugees wade in, silent and barefoot. They fall into the sea. Soon, most will wash back ashore with no name to call but the numbers scribbled on their clothes. For weeks, the smuggler’s telephones on the other side, silent. No one to answer for the girls, with skin like rich palm oil bloodying the water. * They built fences in Morocco, paid the nations on the coastline to keep the teeming bodies back. Tomorrow, Europe might no longer be European, said Qaddafi. We will use human beings as weapons, cram the black bodies into fishing trawlers, launch them from Libya into the sea. The ungovernable, the slaves, the concubines and prostitutes, burn it to the ground. * Swift flowing river snakes its way through the heart of Edmonton to lay still in the winter of our arrival. Our hands turn white, the air like shards of glass to our faces. That night, our family shares a pizza in our basement apartment. Then we fall asleep, three on the bed, three on the floor, our bellies bloated with hope. We tread water for twenty winters between our yesterdays and the tomorrow we were promised. * Everything here is borrowed or stolen: the language, the land. My own body, far flung. I lose my old English, my tongue twice colonized. * All the women I know are running toward, or away, and everything I know of disappearance begins with water. The girls, their thirsty mouths open skyward, rainwater muddying the forest floor. The six-month ocean crossing that pulls the salt from our skin. The dam breaking inside my mother. The first blood sacrifice that pulled me from one world into the next began inside a woman, sliced down the middle, so another woman could emerge whole. All I know of magic making and survival I learnt at birth. * I want to defend my country. Which one? I mythologize my grandmother, write stories about warrior women with thunder between their thighs. Then the girls disappear, and no one goes looking. I ask my mother the Yoruba word for shame. Do you know they only drank water when it rained? What kind of country does nothing when two hundred girls disappear? A thousand Indigenous women stop in their tracks to crane their necks back in unison. Tears flood the highway till even the rivers overflow. * The girls had disappeared for three weeks before we knew their names. Then we spoke them: two hundred and seventy-six in Chibok, but thousands more, missing and murdered across the country, answered. * It is customary to wait seven days to name a child. Touch her lips with water and palm oil, honey and salt, kola, give her a taste of the bitter and the sweet, the joy and the pain. Pray for her a spirit with the resilience of water. All of this just to say: Stay. End of poem. Credits: Copyright © Titilope Sonuga from This Is How We Disappear (Write Bloody North, 2019) Titilope Sonuga is an award winning writer and performer who calls both Lagos, Nigeria and Edmonton, Canada, home. The recipient of the Canadian Authors’ Association Emerging Writer Award, and a past Open Society (OSIWA) Foundation Resident Poet on Gorée Island, she is a leading voice in both local and international poetry communities who has travelled extensively as a poet and facilitated workshops across the world. She is the author of three collections of poetry, Down to Earth (2011), Abscess (2014) and This Is How We Disappear (2019) and has released two spoken word albums, Mother Tongue (2011) and Swim (2019). Sonuga has written and performed in theatre productions including Finding Home; an interrogation of identity and belonging, The Six; an intergenerational exploration of womanhood, Lala Akindoju’s Naked; a one-woman play and Ada The Country, a musical. Sonuga is the writer and producer of Open; an interdisciplinary spoken word showcase that she performed to sold-out audiences in Edmonton, Calgary, London, Johannesburg, Abuja and Lagos. Her writing has been translated into Italian, German and Slovak.