Swallow Twice

Given the smallest prompt / Father will describe 

how I skulked just beyond the lamplight’s reach 


watching the ring of men / ripe with beer and laughter 

push thick fingers into the mountain of spiced meat 


roasted with onions / ginger and chillies like an altar 

I fought to worship at / swiping through their arms 


at the chunks / a mouse attempting to feast 

with kings / Frustrated / father stopped their speech 


so I could reach in / greedily choose the choicest piece 

ignore his warnings and tear at the muscle / strain 


against the flesh till its elasticity slipped my fingers 

and the chunk / chillies and all slapped into my eyes. 


Father thumped my back as I coughed on the pepper 

/ swallow twice / he urged / dropping the wailing mess 


of me on Mother’s knees / What Father didn’t know 

is I imagined the key to their impenetrable talk 


lay in the cubed meat and I longed to be like them 


In the circle of friends I have / most of our conversations 

revolve around music / the heft and sway of the changing 


world / the rapid rate of our redundance / how best 

to pretend we know it all and when beer loosens 


what inhibitions are left after shredding meat 

with bare fingers / laughter cloaks our weaknesses 


our inability to provide for those we love / who love us 

we who still know nothing of what our lovers want 


how frightening it is to have nephews growing up 

who want to be like us / who want to be like men 

from The Wire-Headed Heathen (Akashik Books, 2015), © Inua Ellams 2015, used by permission of the author

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Inua Ellams was born in Nigeria and is now based in the UK, where he has become one of the UK’s most recognised cultural icons. He is ...