Violence Is a Shapeshifter

by Ridwan Tijani

I sing Won Kere Si Number Wa in three voices.
Fatai rolling dollar= a philosopher of the transcendental lyric/a man with
gastric problems & whenever I’m bloated,
I think of him.

I saw this boy(let’s call him Ikemefuna) whenever I skipped past his oga’s shop  to buy moi moi— an alhaja opposite the king’s house made them with eggs and fish.  I never spoke to him, we always smiled at each other, and I’d intuit from his face what kind of day he had, what he thought about the rain, about the mud, about the locusts, the wild dogs, goodluck Jonathan
on this day, he was pushing
a wheelbarrow filled with grey cement,  face ashen, lips split
—from the harmattan—into thin lines.
I told him, at the shop, finally worked up the courage to say
that I liked the shirt he was wearing,
the Manchester United shirt—number seven,
Eric Cantona. He just smiled.
When the bus hit him as he crossed, he screamed
& laid there twitching, twitching—
blood & glass everywhere, covering the whole universe.

truth be say I still dey blame maisef for him death

I read about Dennis Banks & AIM,
the Alcatraz stint, wounded knee; how they pissed,
on Roosevelt’s face on the Black Hills, home of the Thunderbirds.
I read about his wife, Kamook, being an informant for the FBI for a decade plus.
Banks wrote, “My emotions as described earlier still stand—she was a good mother to our children. History may judge her differently.”
Familial violence is oft under mentioned.

Who reads Rosa Luxemburg,
the greatest Marxist of her generation
—of any generation.
My panic attacks are set in a maze.
In Uni, a boy sold me Bollywood movies,
16 in one USB drive.
& when the sitar
sounded in the scene
where Shahkrukh Khan
bursts into the room &
whenever I watch the movie,
I tap the side of my head
as the sitar vibrates,
in love with the love on screen.
What I’m doing here
is connecting Rosa Luxemburg to Phillis Wheatley,
the violence in her having to explain
how she wrote Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral
(the violence already in the liminal state of being a slave)
how dare you know such things, they said.

What I’m doing here really is crying,
because nostalgia is so violent, duh.
Delillo says he doesn’t trust any body’s nostalgia
but his own.
& you know what I agree with him.
Kabhi Khushi Khabi Gham Kajol’s eyes as Shahrukh walked up to her at her daddy’s funeral.
Delillo didn’t “say” that,
a character who isn’t even
the main character in White Noise does,
but if we’re going by the idea,
that all characters are approximations of the author,
who’s to say Delillo doesn’t
use Nigger and Slant eyed whores in his everyday life?
I once pitched an essay
about Bollywood and Nigeria
to this magazine & I didn’t deliver,
I just couldn’t—I still don’t have words
for what Bollywood does to me.
Maybe I love the films so much
because I can recognize the Nigerianness in them,
in the aspiration, on screen, to make everything beautiful.
Therefore, they travel to “exotic” foreign locations
to shoot the videos for their songs.

my childhood: elephant grass/palm oil/ Akara/ hot yams
Milo/ Agege bread    how in boarding school someone
broke into my cupboard
but took only the tin of Milo.

Here is my dad roiling like a wave
his whole life,
to me, was contained in how he adjusted his shirt.  That man had style, you know,
he had this way he        adjusted his shirt with his shoulders
and      I’ve made peace with myself
that sometimes I can’t remember
what          he looks like until I look at pictures
& how I used to mimic that in the mirror
And adjust.     my shirt same way in school while I walked to the assembly.

I’m high and I’m thinking
that Nigerians can’t be on
Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares
because we’re all very good at eye service.
He goes to these filthy restaurants
where the owners wonder why they’re failing.
No Nigerian person
will keep their restaurant dirty
if Gordon Ramsay is coming there.
To be Nigerian is to be preternaturally ashamed of everything;
so, we’re always on our best behavior
when someone else is watching—
it is very self-serving of course
because like all sentiment, it can be colored,
like when a girl is raped by a family member
& everyone keeps quiet because
they want to preserve the reputation of the family.

the phenomenology of discomfort
I’m afraid I’m going to be a failure, like Kafka in life/ I don’t think I can be brave like him/ to accept it
I’ve been thinking, recently, about Kafka via Walter Benjamin—
who wrote that once Kafka was certain of failure,
“Everything worked out for him en route as in a dream.”
Walter Benjamin also accepted this about himself—he was so tired of failure; having to acknowledge it in all the letters he sent begging for money here and there
his writing, Sontag described as “freeze’s frame baroque”
I’m so tired. Drop ojoro bat
He took his life at a border, running from the fascists
it seems we’re all always running from fascists.
Mrs. Dalloway called death an embrace which is Homeric of her. Death
Borders, national and of the mind
For Wendy Trevino, a border, like race, is  a “cruel fiction,”
“Poetry is not enough,” she writes.
It will never be enough but we move
The faux nobility one feels being in pain
the loneliness too

Ridwan Tijani was born in Nigeria and now lives in Indianapolis. His work has appeared in The Stinging Fly, Cosmonauts Avenue,  and other journals.

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