Before the sea became my journey, it was love,
folktales, it was our origin staring at us,
it was our shadows, then the ships of migration
came, reminding us, that years back, people left
in canoes loaded with hope, with spices, seafarers
who navigated water, holding stars in their bosoms
until the sky became road. We never saw them,
only heard the rumors, only heard they grew wings
at the world’s end, becoming ancestors, becoming
what we hear in the water at night. I am telling
this story to a girl in Accra, sitting before the sea,
watching boats named for souls who grew wings.
She laughs over a beer, saying, I was once the day,
I was once hope, maybe love. I have given up country
to be here, by the seaside, where what looms over me
is uncertain. I have committed no offense except
to love a man, which I know is the world’s fear,
for what burns the world quicker than desire?
There is no rest in exile, there is only the road echoing
in blood, the road echoing in water and we know it,
both of us, even when drunk, home is our breath.
The girl laughs at the sea, saying, our bodies are countries
outside of borders. We watch the night, the return of boats,
the sky above Accra. The horizon beckons, the ship waits
with our journey. What have you given up? I ask her.
Exile is also silence—she says. We walk to the sea,
what story I carry lives in me, what story I cannot tell lives
in me. As the ship departs, I wonder who will tell
my story, will they give me wings, will they make me fly?
Romeo Oriogun is the author of Sacrament of Bodies. A finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry, he has received fellowships and support from the Ebedi International Writers Residency, Harvard University, the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, the Oregon Institute for Creative Research, and the IIE Artist Protection Fund. An alum of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he currently lives in Ames, where he is a postdoctoral research associate at Iowa State University.