Things Fall Apart
My birth father lifted his hands above his head
and put the white mask of God on his handsome face.
A born-again man now, gone were the old tribal ways,
the ancestral village – African chiefs’ nonsense, he says.
I could see his eyes behind the hard alabaster.
A father, no more real, still less real – not Wole Soyinka.
Less flesh than dark earth; less blood than red dust.
Less bone than Kano camels; less like me than Chinua Achebe.
Christianity had scrubbed his black face with a hard brush.
‘You are my past sin, let us deliberate on new birth.’
The sun slips and slides and finally drops
into the swimming pool, in Nico hotel, Abuja; lonely pinks.
I knock back my dry spritzer, take in the songs
of African birds. I think he had my hands, my father.
from Life Mask (Bloodaxe, 2005), © Jackie Kay 2005, used by permission of the author and the publisher.