King Jaja

                died in 1891 at Tenerife,
                on his way from exile.

When the boats moved away from Opobo, 
we were there, in the broken hands of time, 
watching another King captured for resisting 
the theft of our land. Where do we exist outside 
the genealogy of fear, outside the breach of water?
And Jaja who was once slave, once merchant,
now King, deceived by the British 
toward capture, troubled the air toward ship. 
What is the unspoken part of exile? 
What dream held him in place, waiting,
while they carved up his kingdom? 
I find no refuge in precolonial freedom, my history 
is tied to exile, to the pillage of land, lingering anger 
of former colonies. And in Barbados, 
Jaja must have listened to the sea, running his hand
through water, through wind, watching waves crash 
on hope. I have spent summer afternoons in the heat 
of America, holding the mask of my mother, 
praying for passage through tram cars, through ships
and because I once dreamt of Jaja’s beard, white 
and floating in the waters of Tenerife, I know 
I will die in exile. In the waters of loss, 
I have fallen away, everything I held; I have let go.

Image Credit: Fishing Boats, Collioure, André Derain / The Met.

About the author

Romeo Oriogun was born in Lagos, Nigeria. He is the author of Sacrament of Bodies (University of Nebraska Press, 2020). His poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, American Poetry Review, Harvard Review, McNeese Review, Bayou, and others. He currently is an MFA candidate for poetry at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he received the John Logan Prize for Poetry.

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