(after Self Portrait With Skull by Sarah Lucas)

This is how I used to explain the magic of my birth:
One moment, I am a caterpillar binging on amniotic fluid
The next, my mother and I are crying, mourning the apocalypse
Of the world we built together as it dries up down her thighs.
In mocking us, the world raises me, a glass and cheers.

My mother said that story is not exactly true, that my birth began
Before then, before she and my father left fingerprints in bowls
Of eba for the first time, before they were separated by distance and time,
Wrapped in baby clothing, leaving different pieces of me
On the lips of strangers who kissed their foreheads the same way

My bed collects parts of me. However clean I make it every night
I wake up to find s(tr)ands of myself on it. Today I hold a skull
In my hands; with enough time and clay maybe I can mould it
Into my father’s face or my granddaughter’s. I am posing- please
Paint me this way and answer the question: Would you rather acknowledge
My face looks more skull-y now than it did before you started painting
Or teach your grandchildren to wow when they find my skull in their hands?

Scientists speculate that it may take thousands of years
For bones to decompose into fragments too small to be seen.
This slow death of my skull outside my body
Will give it a life of its own long after memories of me
Have shrunken into a belly laugh and a homeless broad nose
Floating freely in space. This dying of everything we know:
Smoke from pipe, the ozone layer, love, memories of love
And of us ourselves
Is living.

Mobolaji Olawale writes from Lagos and has works in New Orleans Review, Best New African Poets 2018 Anthology and elsewhere. He tweets from @theBolaji

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