A Room Full of Shadows by Praise Osawaru

some mornings you wake to a stamp of silence

in the air, swaying in tune with your heartbeat.

 

you are paralyzed in your dreams

& you are a breathless wanderer, in reality,

 

trying to convince yourself that you’re not just

occupying space in the world.

 

you stare into the mirror in your room

& your reflection tells you that you have a condition—

 

that you suffer from the invisible illness.

maybe that’s why your feet leave no prints

 

or maybe the wind erases them as you go.

you compose an affirmation for yourself

 

or maybe it’s a mantra, you do not know.

it goes: i am alive! i am not dead! see me, world!

 

you say the words over and over again

till your mouth registers the verses.

 

yet you feel like a ghost hung up in cobwebs

in a room full of shadows.

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Praise Osawaru is a Nigerian writer, (performance) poet, & wannabe entrepreneur studying at the University of Benin, Nigeria. His works have appeared/forthcoming in African Writer, Kreative Diadem, Ibua Journal, Ngiga Review, Perhappened Magazine, Praxis Magazine & elsewhere. He was longlisted for African Writers Award 2019 and shortlisted in the 2019 Kreative Diadem Creative Writing Contest. He’s openly a film fanatic & overall art enthusiast/lover. Say hello on Instagram/Twitter: @wordsmithpraise

Maybe Tomorrow by Olakitan Aladesuyi

Maybe tomorrow, I will tell you how it feels to carry the sea in my veins

and fight, daily, to not drown.

maybe tomorrow we will discuss over a bottle of beer,

laugh about it like it wasn’t just yesterday I had to

keep the knives to keep me from running my skin with a blade

maybe I will gist about the boy who chased freedom into a bottle of sniper;

I, who had to throw out leftover sniper

because it called me with the promise of freedom

maybe tomorrow my mouth will find the words to paint the thick darkness of my dreams.

maybe my arms will gain the strength to fall, to drop it all and sail away.

my body, floating like a boat at sea.

say a prayer for this lost coffin;

send some flowers to ease the journey.

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Olakitan works as a software developer/data analyst by day and a writer at odd hours. Her works have appeared in Agbowó Art, Watershed Review, Prairie Schooner, Memento and others. Sometimes, she tweets here: @kitanbelles.

Three Poems by Lamont B. Steptoe

(untitled)

 

write

with a broken heart

write

wounded

write

with your tears

write with your fears

write

with your hope

write

with the diamonds

of separation

turn pain into blues

someday

there will be good news…

 

(untitled)

 

do you

know what it’s like

to come under

mortar fire?

do you know

what it’s like

to pray

between the pauses

of the firing and detonations?

do you know

what it’s like

to think this may be your last

day or hour or minute or second?

do you know what it’s like?

do you know what it’s like?

 

Dusk Is A Purple Heart

 

from blueness

above blueness

crossing

jagged foam

to verdant green

tropical water world

where the wind

is a bloody cloth

where songs are sung

by machine guns

where songs are sung

by machine guns

where sun and moon

are ambushed

where dusk

is a purple heart

and Buddha is thrown

from helicopters

uttering haikus…

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Lamont B. Steptoe is a poet / photographer / publisher born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is the winner of an American Book Award and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts. Steptoe is a father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, founder of Whirlwind Press and graduate of Temple University.

 

Good Riddance by Ibrahim Williams

She told me Dan had become distant after he witnessed her psychotic episode. Her voice was tired, and her eyes were ringed in black circles. Toni and Dan were love birds until last week when he saw his girlfriend act up in public. He must have been embarrassed; I quite understand. But wasn’t love an affair of accommodation – in sickness, and mental health?

 

That morning when I pushed open her door, she was tucked inside her favorite pink duvet, awake. It was visible, the dried tears on her sad face. Her hair was mangled into hysterical puffs like each hairline was in revolt. I moved closer. She broke into a weak smile which I returned by sinking into the space by her side.

 

“How are you, sis? Were you able to sleep?” I asked. And though I knew the answer to my question, I stared down at her waiting anyway. She smiled again. Behind her was a gift pack; it was pink, and it revealed a piece of silk fabric peeping out.

 

“Do you want me to call him?”

“No, please!”

“What if he…”

She turned her back at me.

 

All this was before Toni went in search of suicide by jumping off the roof. I’m her twin! Doesn’t she understand that I, too, love her? I thought of all the moments we’ve shared together – the laughs around the house, the cries from our weekend movie nights, and the many silly times we got into trouble together.

 

As the ambulance dashed towards the Lagos traffic, blaring its siren in order to maneuver through the fleet of cars, I looked at Toni for the first time. And somehow, my anger dissipated. The sight of her body, strapped and immobile, sank my heart in a river of fear. I watched helplessly as she held on to life with difficult breaths aided by a dingy oxygen mask. It was hard for me to understand why. Could it be that her love for Dan was so much that the thought of losing him became…? No! It shouldn’t be. A breakup doesn’t mean the end of the world, or…am I being insensitive? Was it triggered by her… I thought it best not to be the judge of my sister.

 

Now that I stand by Toni’s wheelchair at the exit point of the hospital, the breeze blows playfully around us as we hold each other’s gaze with broad smiles. I watch as she reaches into her fancy bag, drawing out a silk pink scarf. She tosses it in the air.

 

“Moni,” she called. “That is Dan, good riddance”.

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Ibrahim Williams, 24, is a Nigerian writer, satirist, and a literary advocate for mental health. He teaches the English language and currently studies it as a postgraduate student at the University of Lagos. Though blessed with the ability to play football, he is caught in a shambolic love affair with Arsenal FC. Find him @purplepicks.wordpress.com/ or @ibn_williams on Instagram.

WANTING AWAY by Jerry Chiemeke

You are lying on the floor, five inches away from the mattress. It’s no cooler down on this rug, but you are not exactly in search of lower temperatures. Curled on the 6 × 4 and breathing slowly is probably all the warmth you need, possibly the one thing that matters now…but maybe you are not out for comfort in these moonless hours.

You want space to mull over, to stare your soul’s emptiness in the eye, to brood over your disillusionment without the distraction of loving arms.

Surfing YouTube puts both your battery and your mobile data under pressure, and googling your favourite musician has long become an unexciting pastime. You don’t entertain the thought of praying either; for one, you can’t help but feel that it’s an easy pathway to sleep, and in any case, you took a shot at that option hours ago, but you felt no better. You can’t blame Him though, He’s a pretty busy Being, deserving of some real slack, even when your tears soak the communion railings, even when your knees sink into the tiles.

It gets to you, looking spoilt for choice one moment and left with nothing the next. It gets to you, being overlooked again and again, no significant additions on the last Google search of your name. It gets to you, populating your blood stream with blue and yellow pills just to boost stubbornly deficient serotonin levels.

You wonder if the tight shutting of eyes and quick gulping of water is even of any use: the disco hall segment of your life ended with your early 20s and the sound of bluesy guitars make up the soundtrack for your hours now.

You’re exhausted; of trying so hard to be funny in person to correct notions of you from people who couldn’t be bothered, of having to explain why communication is a real chore for you, of making her see that when you say nothing it’s not because you’re getting drawn to someone else, of dealing with “why so melancholic?” inquiries and “I just wanted to check on you” platitudes.

You are done with trying to make yourself understood or likeable, and you have come to terms with the fact that nobody’s going to love you right, that a hundred soothing text messages will never be enough, that God himself would have to come down if the pile of broken pieces that is yourself stands any chance of ever being put together.

You’ve run out of tickets to the pity party, and you just want to be away, this version of “away” being more of a feeling than a place, that fever pitch desire to swim across planets and watch your body float from the sidelines. Colourful photos from birthdays of acquaintances on your Instagram page are unable to cancel out the greyscale that is your default hue, and you know for sure that the ceasefire from the wars in your head has run its course.

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Jerry Chiemeke is a columnist, culture critic and lawyer. His works have appeared in The Inlandia Journal, The Johannesburg Review of Books, The Guardian, Honey & Lime, Bone and Ink Press and Agbowo, among others. A lover of long walks and alternative rock music, Jerry lives in Lagos, Nigeria where he is working on a novel. He is the winner of the 2017 Ken Saro Wiwa Prize for Reviews, and he was shortlisted for the 2019 Diana Woods Memorial Award for Creative Nonfiction.

The Cleansing Method by Agbiri-onwu Chinwendu

Close your eyes
Hold your breath
Count your numbers
And when you feel you can’t any longer
I want you to think about your therapy sessions
Remember the woman in White
Who
Like everyone
figured she understood you
Remember the words she used to describe you:
Broken
Lonely
Unhappy
Dark
Now let go
Catch your breath
Exhale all these meaningless adjectives
Say “I am tired”
But breathe and live
Because No one
I repeat
No one
Can take that from you.

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Agbiri-onwu Chinwendu is a student-physiotherapist and a varsity footballer at a Nigerian University. She spends most of her time updating her playlist, idolizing Celine Dion and wondering if she’ll ever graduate.

Let Me Live by Adibe Nnanyelugo

Find a reason to stay
To live
Tell yourself something
Anything
“I stay because I have not seen snow
I do not want to die in this land of rain and dust”
“I stay because me leaving, would hurt the ones I love”
Or
Be stubborn like a bull
Arrogant
Full of pride
Turn the toxicity of that lowest point of depression
Into a fucking exotic weed and get high
Grab the grim reaper by his cloak,
Stare him in the eye and scream:
“I’ll stay because I can
I’ll stay because I fucking can!
And you will let me live
I
Will let me live”

Serotonin

Adibe Nnanyelugo is a Nigerian poet and freelance editor who is usually inspired during bouts of melancholy. He is many things and yet nothing, a wanderer seeking to find balance in life, and can be found on twitter @adibennanyelugo and instagram @adibe_nnanyelugo

BI-TREKKIE by Alice Leah

I’m the roommate that she didn’t get, the girlfriend you never met. I’m the statistic in your Psych 101. The life I was supposed to have is sediment at the bottom of a poorly stored red wine. You are in perpetual motion reaching milestones, making your dreams come true. I’m in suspended animation. Phantoms of the worst me eke out to make a spectacle, but these are just shadows, haunting the girl floating in stasis. I cannot make a real move, a solid contact. I am impeded by the misconstrued silence of my former self. I am trapped. A symphony of screams echo in my head, whether I am manic or suicidal or homicidal. My suspended animation makes my hell my own. To you, I am neutralized. But it is “Kadir beneath Mo Moteh,” – failure to understand. I open my eyes. You meet my gaze. “Picard and Dathon at El-Adrel.”- successful first contact between two alien cultures. Star Trek-TNG is playing softly on the television. I can see it from the kitchen, and I know what they are saying I’ve seen it so many times before.
You came in with Kim. I was making cucumber sandwiches. I had the counter covered with 52 cucumbers. It was in honor of Rosh Shoshanna. I should be at shul, but I could not face the yentas with their well-meaning inquisitions. Where have you been? I have a nice grandson for you. I needed solitude, even on this joyous day. I was trying not to tip the scale.
“What’re you making,” you asked.
“Cucumber sandwiches.”
“For a party?” you asked.
“I’m giving most of them away. I’ll go up and down the hall and leave them outside the doors.”
“Leave them outside?”
“Yes. I don’t really like to get to know people.”
“Okay, I can take a hint.”
“Not you, I’ve, I’ve met you before through Kim.”
“So, what do sanctioned people get, if near-strangers get cucumber sandwiches?
I was my bold self. I gave him a side-long glance. A come fuck me look, despite the fact that Kim had been trying to rein him in for three weeks now. Zach knew Kim was in for a package deal. I just threw signs that meant a good time.
We were young. I was raging sex. It was never enough. You recharged to perform again, again, and again. I’d heard Kim come home, the creak of the front door, drop of the keys in the blue porcelain bowl. That didn’t make me quieter, but louder. I felt so powerful to take away what she had valued. I intended to flaunt you like a new kill. I knew you would stick around. But I was surprised when I wasn’t bored with you. That summer was like a Tornado, I couldn’t place anything in time, but episodes of sex and Star Trek – TNG. Like always, my striking mania crashed. There would not be any sandwiches of any kind. You would be concerned, that’s all you could be but perhaps frightened. What had changed, you wondered? How could you help? You realized you knew nothing about my illness. You sick son of a bitch were drawn deeper into me than before. You seemed all kinds of wrong to me. You were the day, and I was the night. Your surrender was a whirlpool of what you confused to be depth. My horror was in lights at the carnival. I longed to drown in the barrel of bobbing apples. I could not get a bite of knowledge. You held on tight to my hair so I could not drown. I resented you, but I hated me.
I was the roommate that she didn’t get; the girlfriend you started to wish you never met. I was the forgotten statistic in last semester’s Psych 101. The life I was supposed to have was sediment at the bottom of another poorly stored red wine. You were in perpetual motion reaching for unattainable milestones, chasing dreams. I was in suspended animation. Phantoms of the worst me eked out to make a spectacle, but these were just shadows, haunting the girl floating in stasis. I cannot make a real move, a solid contact. I am impeded by the misconstrued silence of my former self. I am trapped. A symphony of screams echo in my head, whether I am manic or suicidal or homicidal. My suspended animation binds me to my own hell. To you, I am neutralized. ” Shaka, when the walls fell,”- failure. I close my eyes. “Darmok on the ocean.”I am isolated, alone.

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Leah Holbrook Sackett is an adjunct lecturer in the English department at the University of Missouri – St. Louis, where she also earned her M.F.A. Leah’s stories explore journeys toward autonomy and the boundaries placed on the individual by society, family, and self. Learn about her published fiction at LeahHolbrookSackett.com

2 Poems by Joshua Morley

The Warm Spandex of Wonder

Before picking your words like peanuts between chopsticks because you worry

that you can never clear the fog, crack the shell that has immured your mind,

your words interned within a ribcage of twine. Before you ever needed to hand 

a shrink your peanuts because they were the offspring of your heart’s kiln and 

before there could be a dying fire, vacillating fire, convolving fire, a vortex, no fire,

held in the cells of your seeds and laid bare by suave attentive shoveling. Deft,

snoopy, unnerving. An inculcated effortlessness in your therapist’s facility, their

muscles of facial expression loyal to the truth of their mechanical motility. Call it

operant conditioning, muscle memory. Call them skilled. Call when you need them.

Before burning life into your nerves void of sensitivity. Before breaking your own

heart to feel something. Before the steps of fibrous tissue on your arms weaved a path

that kissed the first gates of heaven, remembered the metallic tango of blade and blood,

remember the transcendence of your mother’s scream into ultrasonic inaudibility

as you watched her and your soul stretched out to her from an elastic leash bound

around your brainstem and produced through your eye socket. Before you blacked out

even. Before your dark-cloud age. And before you started looking in on the outside

Before you learned to lie that you fell and be believed. Before all these, there was a boy

who loved the stars, unbothered, crooned uncalculated songs and delved into the world

with a transparent polythene bag of wonder hugging his eyes like spandex. He was warm.

 

the half-life of a fast-acting love potion

you fell in love with a boy

       who came alive only at night

        too much of your pills

                               & the receptors amass 

disdain for your panacea,

                temporary

                           the only constant thing

that is not to say //       too much

         wouldn’t kill you // would kill you

                         wouldn’t kill you //           you really don’t know

how to love the same

       person // everyday

                 too much // would kill you // wouldn’t kill you

your boy put all of his love in a bottle

          &         only sees you when he drinks

&         his eyes—

he // & you withdraw // to repress

       your tolerance to love

you fell in love with the boy

who only came online at night

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Joshua Morley, 18, is a Nigerian writer, artist, and undergrad student at the University of Ibadan whose works explore mental illness, identity and queerness. When not observing the motions of things with personal abilities of clairvoyance, Morley can be found making music or visual art. Or sleeping.

I’m scared of fading and Dance as Therapy by Johap Agbo

1.

 

When the inevitable happens

When my mortality fades into nothingness

I always wonder if the evidence of my crime will be found

Will I be declared missing?

How long will everyone look for me before they forget

 

How long does it take to forget someone existed

How long would it take to find the body

Does the memory fade away like mortality

Does it stay like the weight in my chest?

 

2.

 

Shake like a bough of willow trees, you do it naturally… – Hozier

 

I’m dancing at 4am to songs you wouldn’t have been able to stand

My body involuntarily moving to beats

I arch my back, throw my hands in the air and I dance.

Here, I am Beyonce.

My body is fluid, moving in ways I didn’t think were possible.

 

This is how we survive

By dancing

 

I once learnt that some plants stretch and stretch till they find light. They would naturally bend towards the direction of light to survive.

That’s what dancing does to me.

 

I’m bending my body towards light

I’m bending my body towards joy

In whatever direction that is, this body will move.

 

So when I throw my hands in the air and let the music guide me, I hope it guides me towards joy. I hope the music leads me towards light and it always does.

It always does.

 

This is how we survive 

By dancing

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Johap Agbo (she/her), 19, is an igbo girl from Nigeria. She’s currently a law student based in Nigeria and writes as a form of self expression. She can be found on Twitter @johapisgrowing_