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- because I watched my umbilical cord grow into a tree
- because the tree grew into a road & roads must constantly be fed
- because I witnessed a bat turn into an old woman & the mob bayed for her blood
- because the bush baby cried at our gate and the landlady did not wake from sleep
- because I saw a boy spread his school uniform on an invisible clothesline
- because he picked back his ear after it was chopped off
- because the toes danced after the axe lost its head.

- because the girl had the gift of pyrokinesis
- because the fire engulfed her entire family
- because their heritage became carbon
- because carbon can never be innocent
- because no story is innocent
- because the children turned into tubers of yam after picking coins on the ground
- because the yams bled when cut with a kitchen knife in preparation for supper
- because one returned with a scar where the knife had made an incision.

- because the tree did not yield fruits yet was home to strange birds
- because the birds were fed with nothingness & filled our roofs with droppings
- because this is bad luck & the curses cannot be washed off with mere water
- because I called down blood rains & the floodgates were opened
- because the storm swept our village off the map
- because the waters drowned our history
- because child with no history is taboo & must be left at crossroads
- because this child must fight multi-headed ghosts alone
- because the spirits have refused to die by fire
- because she must run, she must return to the river
- because no axe head was floating on the water
- because she must uproot the tree with fingernails.
- because there is no pyrrhic victory in this story
- because there is only surrender
- because I can’t
- because I won’t.

Soonest Nathaniel is author of Burying the Ghosts of Dead Narratives and Teaching Father How to Impregnate Women. He is the winner of the RL Poetry Award, was named a Langston Hughes Fellow at the Palm Beach Festival, and served as the Poet Laureate for the Korea Nigeria Poetry Festival.
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15 Apr 2024

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