Poetry Issue #53

Poetry by Ernest O. Ògúnyẹmí

Ernest O. Ògúnyẹmí

Featured Poet

psalm in praise of wanting

& what isn’t propelled by hunger,
the mouth of the beast unhinged inside us
like a broken door, always wanting & wanting?
Lord, fill me up with goodness,
I ask for nothing that you cannot do—
a lover in whose hands I can melt
& not waste, a pair of beautiful eyes,
green, green pools I can fall in & not drown,
& money, money to make magic of my time.
Lord, make of my life a gorgeous song.
& if that be too much to ask for,
like a skillful burglar, carefully empty this house.
lay each of my bloodied bones in the belly
of a raven, so that each, by magic or mercy, will bloom
into a city of wings.


in the eyes of my father, I watch a thousand bright birds,
gentle bodies filled with fire, I watch them all drop—
sick starlings.
I am learning: nothing ruins a man
more than the dirty receipts of all that he tried to be
but failed at, a life imagined but never birthed.
do we all not carry dreams of a better life, a finer
tomorrow—uncluttered, neat like a well-trimmed afro?
you’re so young, my father says, in your head you lay dreams
on dreams like a wonderful lyricist—may you never know
the wretched beast that fills a man up, that wrong spirit, he prays,
& this wild phobia spreads over my chest like a fat spill of longing.
I fear that the rain will fall & the sun will rise & the moon
& the stars will take the stage of the night & my life won’t
change. like you, I do not want to be a catalog of impossibles:
a room heavy with the smell of plucked bones, all rusty,
each a bad flute, littering the floor like wingless prayers.
if all that I carry is eaten by time, what will my life mean? I ask.
my father peels my palm open & plants a wound in the field
of it. he says, may your life be wild & wonderful.


if you break me open, you will find holes,
raw as fresh wound, holes you carved every time the animal
of your hunger has plucked out the light from a bright thing inside me—
what have your wild hands not taken, Lord?
the tiny gift, a polished sea shell,
that my mother pressed into my palm,
the wooly animal of my innocence,
the magnificent mouth in my story—
o Lord of subtractions, of fruits
falling from trees even before they wear ripeness—
look at me with eyes soft as a baby’s babble.
& if your eyes be cruel animals, violent as
the wind that shakes the branches & rustles the curtains—
do not look here.

ode to grief

animal that wrecks a mother’s sleep,
ugly pill that sits on the tongue long after the swallowing.
how raw your touch.
how bright the wound you become in the body.
I have brought you salt,
still the weather in my body is tasteless,
I have brought kola,
yet the egret of my longing does not perch,
& my fingers, they are sour from the libations
I have poured—
orisha ta o le ba binu,
what ritual do you require?
By Ernest Ogunyemi

Ernest O. Ògúnyẹmí is a writer and editor from Nigeria. His works have appeared/ are forthcoming in Joyland, Tinderbox, Journal Nine, the Indianapolis Review, Down River Road, Capsule Stories, No Tokens, the West Review, the Dark Magazine, 20.35 Africa: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry III, Agbowó, Isele, and elsewhere. He is the curator of The Fire That Is Dreamed of: The Young African Poets Anthology. He is the winner of the Miracle Monocle Award for Young Black Writers, second-place winner in the No Tokens Young Poets’ Prize, and a finalist for the 2020 Dan Veach Prize for Younger Poets. He is on the editorial board at Palette Poetry, the Masters Review, and Counterclock Journal.