To be silent is to say we are not alive
Romeo Oriogun is a poet from Nigeria, a country where homosexuality is criminalised and can give up to fourteen years of prison. In Nigeria, the publishing of queer texts is restricted and even if voices such as Oriogun's makes the country more open, the prize is high. PEN/Opp publishes two of his new poems.
On the question on why he continues to write, he says to PEN/Opp: "to be silent is to say we are not alive". Earlier this year Romeo Oriogun was awared with the Brunel International African Poetry Prize that each year is given to a promising poet. His poetry has been desribed as beautiful and deeply passionate writing on masculinity and desire in the face of LGBT criminalisation and persecution.
Because Love is What We Knew through Darkness
We sat on a fallen log late at night
& counted the fireflies circling our heads like a crown of light.
The song kept playing
& my fingers & the lines on my palm were wrapped around his center.
He said sing. In the body we all seeking for a way to be loved,
for a road leading to worship in the mouth of a man.
The crickets kept chirping, there's always a way to be alive in the dark
& I want it, I want this man kneeling before me as if I'm a vessel of salvation.
I want everything even the way he couldn't say my name right
& I want his hand traveling along my spine,
the feeling of my back coming into water, the voice of rain
as music on tin roofs. Call it desire. Call it the way a body survives the war
The sun was rising & he ate it, his body shook like little miracles
& I watched him sing the blues, the sound washed over my body like a cleansing,
his body became so hot, my fingers caressing his chest was the earth receiving light.
He said I want to plant this light into you, I don't know how long I can hold on before they find me & tear my body to release the sun.
He said turn. I did. Our bodies shook as the day came alive in my veins.
When My Master Rapes Me
I know there's nothing in those blue eyes of God
& I should have known when they brought me here,
black body, big black body, body heavy with water & history
& the thirst of all my mothers for a house full of songs,
for the moon with its one good eye
& I should have known no God loves a skin different from his own
enough to swallow the fire burning around,
enough to stop the whip with its thousand mouths
smelling of dried flesh & black blood
from writing a new language on my back
& I should be faithful said the Reverend who wears
a black coat & fuck young black girls at the stable
& I don't know how but I see his face full of thorns,
saying boy come home,
saying boy come into pain.
& there's no sheep, only a knife, only a smile,
only a tongue rolling out of a mouth, a special kind of violence
waiting in the body of a slave master in a white cotton shirt
who loves his big black horse, who loves riding at night,
his hands on my back is a white man coming again to kill us
& he is silent, O white God! O God of the three faces!
O God with eyes looking so far, you see through my hurting body
to fields filled with sugar canes
& the miracle of black songs flowing down backs as sweat
& you are silent O big blue eye brute.
Believe me everything is unfinished & I am building a house
out of words, a house for my lover left to sing sad songs
into an ocean that slept while a ship stole the body of his love
& I understand my body is mine & it is his
& it is also yours, bought hanging at a market of black flesh
& you want it reborn & you want it caged
& I say no. Believe me I know my body is growing into freedom
& you will no longer be here & neither God & I will be alone,
standing before a sea that brought the bodies of slave
into a land of whips & blood & piss & chains & burnt flesh
& black bodies dangling from trees
& my song will wake a lover shivering on a bed
that knows the sound of sleep in the bodies of two black boys.
Master, are you done?