A Song For My Father
By Jordan Hartt
firelights of the burning mosque the Christians in their green t-shirts eyes and foreheads flickering with light brown bandannas green bandannas the smell of oil and
what does it mean to say Nigeria
(For every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, the minister blackfrocked says : white foam of collar : tongues of green wag through the closed window : the child—me—averts his eyes as the minister talks about the wages of sin)
The hotvividgreyskies of Lagos : the oily sheen of rainbow on the grey water : green and rusted Lagos, my home
(Boys, look into the fire, the blackfrocked whitefoamed minister says, poking at the whitehotembers with his hot stick the boy—me—watching the flames eat the white flesh of the charred logs like ghosts, eating even the ghosts, the heat so intense I lean back as the minister opens the fire up with his stick and the white fallingapart scurrying out. Boys, look deeply into the fire, he says again he pauses for effect: this is what hell is like. This is the destiny of those who fall short of the glory of God.)
: green white green : the flag green and white against the humid grey and the rust and the burning smell of oil: Father, I say, did you know that when the Lord returns as King and Judge, we will be caught up to meet with him in the air?
—but my father continues to sleep, drunk on his drink that smells of gasoline vapor, leaving me alone, young and undrunk to imagine the coastline spread out beneath me as I descend with Christ, all the Ewe, Igbo, Twi, Yoruba, Duala, Ewondo, Hausa below me, all the rolled-out tongues laid out like carpet beneath the great and glorious feet of Jesus Christ Lord and King, coming soon.
(What does it mean to confess? That I stood there watching the mosque burn like an anthill? That I smelled the bodies of the heathen? That they smelled like the gasolinesoaked dogs in the streets after a rain? Wet dog and charcoal the burning bodies as we aimed our rifles into the fire, shooting at anyone who dared run out. Yes, I confess—but.)
: he—me*—rides his motorscooter through the streets, through the advertisements, through the smells of gasoline and dog and rain and oil and cooking oil and yam light rain warm on his skin the great oceanic rain like the washing of the Spirit the sky closed, but ready to open at any moment for the great and wonderful day of the Lord coming soon:
*Was me, understand. Was me.
The campus is wide and lawned and flat with stone buildings. What does it mean to say Sunderland. I never knew you, cold grey north of the world where ships fall off the table and no room for the center : the deserts, the forests, the firelight, the warm smell of oil and rain where God still lives : where his sons still fight one another with sticks and guns and gasoline—our own wars of the roses, our own hundred year’s wars, yes, our own, for which you have eyes, but cannot see.
(I come back, but to university, to Nsukka. I return to the smell of the warmth and the wide lanes and the palms planted in long academic rows and students in rows at their desks, their starched shirts and yellow collars—
—Do I still believe?
No, emphatically. I remember the English boys and their guitars twanging to Jesus and I want to believe but cannot). Krydz wants to know, will I return, and for a moment I think he’s talking about the firelight on the green, the bodies burning like husks, the fire eating even the ghostlogs. But he’s talking about the curriculum committee. The sky: blue : white clouds : palm fronds rattling in the warm empty wind
Jordan Hartt is a reader, writer, writing teacher, and community & events organizer. He directly facilitates five annual writing retreats, serving just over two thousand writers per year. Creative work has appeared in many literary magazines and journals: collection of rainy, watery narrative poems, Leap, appeared in 2015.