Trust Tonji

The only thing I want to kill

is my dying day

but ijọ́ wo ni *Mákùú òní kú?
when will die-not not eventually die

I devour my decision to dilapidate
into the pocket of the earth

you call me village boy because
I’m used to swimming in rivers

if I dive into this white man’s pool
who knows if I might become
soluble in water

before I meet my crush
I do not want to have dissolved
like grandma’s aunt at her 103rd year

they made an obituary
to the demise of a life well-lived
I am in no mood for arguments
let’s just toast to a lie well-told

we are here at the mortuary
where they waste time preserving wastes

boring how interesting we try to make life
even when it keeps kicking our asses

the sarcasm in embalmment
like, we couldn’t save your life
now let’s save your body

before we continue
permit me to write an elegy
to the forgiveness
of the gravedigger who cracked
a joke during the burial of my mother:

even though my soul is a label to
the shadow of the darkness you dig
it could still hear the song of snares
or what is this life if not a joke
on the joker; a master comedian?

by now young cousin wants to know
what the word crush means

I stammer. I say it’s more
like your dream car?
that dream job, a dream happiness?
a beautiful wish, like love,
a rainbow you can only see
not touch

in my mother’s body
the doctor found a euphemism
a dangerous lump worth removing

what you do not know will
never fall as tears off your eyes

I crush.
on her death bed. I god.
I promise her things that are
not mine

like, say, don’t worry
everything’s gonna be fine


*Mákùú: means Die-not. It is one of the names given in the Yoruba culture, to children perceived to be Abiku (children predestined to die young), in order to pacify them to dissuasion.


The inviting architecture of grief

bearded as you are
you don’t know beans about
how to be a man

all you know is to cry like whatever
you can think of

because the doctor is a businessman
the matron is not your mate
& you’re helpless & you are not rich
& your mother is dying
& the government is nobody’s pallbearer

now every time you want to
see your mother, you see a tomb
but you still do not understand

until 4 years later
when the wounds came fresh. First,
slow, like a concubine sneaking
into an inner chamber,
then hard, like the hammerings of a blacksmith

when gloom is a garb around your heart
& grief is an unlit room
with opened arms, saying:
come, my son, come to daddy


Trust Tonji is the winner of the 2018 edition of the MLK slam competition, organized by the US Embassy in Republic of Benin. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Rattle, Agbowó, Voicemail Poems, Ethel Zine, The Friday Influence, Eunoia Review, Prachya Review, Synchronized Chaos, Kalahari Review, African Writer, Praxis Magazine, and elsewhere. Send him a tweet @TrustTonji.