Essex Street

on August 13, 2021
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That evening, the prophet singled me out
& asked the church to fervently pray for me

that in a vision, he pulled me out of a room of cobwebs
& that an old woman in my father's house hid my star
in a black pot buried at the base of a baobab tree.

Outside my grandmother's house is
a baobab tree on which an owl hoots.

I asked my grandmother why the owl
hoots & she says the eye of an owl
is as old as the root of the tree

in one dream, a faceless woman serves me
amala & feeds it to me morsel by morsel

I take the feather back into the house
where I wrote my first poem, which is now sea
in my eyes; each letter, a pillar of salt

The day I arrived irvington,
my mother cleared cobwebs out of their front door,

my eyes tear into a button & my body a compound of dust
& as someone gathers me, i wake inside a church.


new jersey

the tree outside my parent’s apartment on essex street
bled rubber syrup

 on the day that i arrived  a person half my age
dragged a bucketful of nicotine the sidestream 
reminded me that i crossed three seas to get here

i carried you for 23 hours, within doha airport 
into chicago where the white officer seared my eyes 
looking for carcasses  through countries
that didn’t know i phased through their borders 

 i am the first son of my father
the second child from a bloodline
that hangs a cross in everyone’s arteries

 i cannot name the graves i have said prayers over
but i know i want to be here
outside in the sun scalding my skin 

 my mother hugged me when she saw me, 
she planted tears on my shoulder, wept bitter leaf

i don’t know if it’s for  the breakthroughs we have sought for in prayers / the loss
we both have strung into our ribcage:

the night she slept beside me in a church
where the messenger wore me a white sultana, asking me to sleep
inside the candle sanctuary where i dreamt of my grandmother
laughing over me as i slept  where i attempted to shout jesus 
but my voice was collected over a bowl of water

my sisters emerged at the door
collected my bags
& we went inside



in the parking lot of 99-cents on springfield avenue,
my father says, nobody charges you for parking at home

we stand outside the mall, beside his black unnumbered wagon,
talking about home; the cold hands it plunges deep
toward the ossicles of dream

in ibadan, there are no buses waiting for you,
& you are not waiting by a lamppost in irvington
at 5am when your throat is thick with fog

you are not wearing three trousers
and a winter coat, you are not heavy
with desire, & you are not trapped here

wrapped inside the fond hope you carried years
before you walked before the consulate, 
before sliding the white paper

beneath the glass barricade.
i wanted to be here, in this country,
to claim triumph over grief

& not worry that there is a shrine in my father’s house
where an old woman is calling my name
into a calabash

Adedayo Agarau’s manuscript, The Morning The Birds Died, was a finalist in the 2020 Sillerman Prize. He was the third-place winner of the Frontier Industry Prize, 2020. His chapbook, Origin of Names, was selected for New Generation African Poet (African Poetry Book Fund), 2020.  He is the author of The Arrival of Rain and For Boys Who Went chapbooks. His works have appeared in Agbowo, Frontier, Barren, Lolwe, Perhappenned, and elsewhere. Adedayo curated and edited Memento: An Anthology of Contemporary Nigerian Poetry. He is a co-editor for New International Voices Series at IceFloe and the Editor-in-Chief at Agbowó.