Fever Chart for a Bad Case of Melancholy
By JK Anowe
But suicides have a special language.
Like carpenters they want to know which tools.
They never ask why build —Anne Sexton, Wanting to Die
Anything can be your doom if you pray to or come from it.
Here’s a house, & a sky squeezing in through a leak in the roof.
This poem the art of contrition—the clergy through which
I receive my sacrament of the sick. My first commitment
to asylum & no way back. To pills who, hungering to be inside
me, sniff out the warmblooded throbbing of my ennui.
& psychiatrists who double as enablers, who insist if I stood
by the riverbank a little while longer, I’d feel a god pull
at the lure of my fishing line. But patience like all things of luxury
is agonizing. & I must admit only to the importance of being frank.
For there’s nothing more self-absorbed than a pill inside a god
who tenders as my cure & cross. But first my frankness—
In sight of predation, the male of a frog species
I cannot name feeds on his eggs to protect them.
I am thin & soft & male where I’m most tender.
I’ve touched myself just as much as I’ve atoned
for touching at all. Taken to the devil’s craft
of instruments, I practice every other day my spells
of distress. I do not know where this poem, like poison
takes effect. Just how much sky-deep the quicksand’s willing
to suck in. Sometimes halfway through a poem I blank out.
A countryside sky promising rain but devoid of clouds.
I approach something—with a tale where there should be a head-
start. Something just starting out it is as startling as the end.
At the psych ward, man & instrument take inventory of my body.
Dissect my grief & perform autopsies. A nurse beats my forearm
for a vein, drives a needle-point into my thumb & then sucks on it.
Here, I liquefy into a dream, a wetpatch in my underwear.
A stadiometer, of my height, suggests the exact altitude of a grave
unoccupied. The weighing scale, however, could not specify
how worthy an occupant I could be of my own demise.
Mother, what do I know? I’m almost 25 & still sleep
on your couch. Allow me my poetry—
this genre of grief, a heart talkative with faltering.
They are as you claim, compact & too English.
Words, like mice, scattered by what approaches.
The other night at the bar off Cemetery 55
You, a dozen bottles from sober—
Me, a hill about to skid into the highway—
We talked & talked about how we’ll wake the next morning
& leave our lovers. Just like that. How we’ll die,
lowly & proud. Sweet-tooth or the devil rushing us.
& on our way out I gave the bargirl my number.
Her eyes, a dark-wet wildfire. The pubes of my last one-night stand.
People always leave. & I am one of them.
Once under hypnosedative, I died. Peeked one-eyed
into the abyss as one might into a telescope, & a god, by way
of scramble & partition, wrote my will. My head he served
to extroverts, cult followings, & critics. The Baptist’s brain puddled
on a doormat, not a platter. My heart he sent to my mother.
Imagine her surprise when she found my ex-lover still living
there, a grudge. My penis he left where my hands were.
My feet he abandoned to the hunger, the stray dog-teeth, of roads.
I never wanted to be me. All I did
was do what I could hoping it’d be enough
—the saviour with pastry & seafood.
I never wanted to be me, to peak
in my own love story. But a puddle—
that’s how deep a poet can go
in sex & thought.
People always leave. A road crossed out
with brisk footsteps—
Another time, after beheading a bird
I let it chase around its headless self
blood ricocheting here & there
the atmosphere tainted warm & red
like a guilty hand. Sometimes that’s how I want
to startle myself into dance, body-deep in twirling
as my death announces itself faceless.
Mine was a childhood of errands & conspiracies.
Evening sprints to Tomato Market to haggle
vegetables for dinner. That telltale of a ghostwoman who,
drawn to the cries of her undead, roams the living
in search of footwear lost at her deathplace.
As a boy, I could smell her by her loneliness. Spent nights
cartographed in her scent, hoping to one day stumble
into her, maybe share the same hiding place—
Mine was a childhood lavished indoors, where touching
myself first came to me nameless.
I fail at forgiving that faithful night-
mare: a girl over a faulty telephone line
after she’d swallowed the pill.
In that moment, for lack of a better metaphor
she was a hand & I was what it strangled.
I, patron saint of the psych ward & adolescent
wanderlust. I was in the absurdist comedy of falling.
Falling headlong with fury about to leak
from my rectum. & in the hours unspoken-of
hours it took to perfect your discontinuance
I was your father & never knew your father.
Foetal Bullet Star. Everything deserves to carry on.
Even that which was not availed the stink of being
a corpse. Everything deserves the thirst
that binds us to the bestiary of water.
Because grief, like the stars, is venereal, is hereditary
is anything [un]born of a mother.
& we are all going to die. Some of us later than others.
The better of us by our own hands. But if I must
be put in a coffin, there must be put as well a keyhole
from which to eavesdrop on the other side.
Its roof must ready to buck to my furtive screams.
Must not reach beyond my diary of scratching fingers.
This is where, vain, sadness comes to fuss & be fussed about.
At my first commitment to psychoanalysis
I’d found in its prescriptions a known place renewed
for old habits. A funeral home admitting each dead
like it was its first. I’d carried with me only myself, the aftertaste
of a meal I have no memory tasting. What I often see, however,
is a revolving door shaped like my death, pushing my past & future
selves through, my invisibility, that is, all I’ve ever craved, locked
in everyone’s line of sight. Every pill a withdrawal lengthier than the last.
But let’s assume for a moment that Anne Sexton did not
entirely think suicide through. That she forged
my sixth grief thirty years before I, a howl, clawed from
my mother’s hole. Sure, suicides meddle in their own syntax
& instruments, but I’d prefer to think of these tools as water
that mistakes the raised arms of what it drowns for elation,
or a sledgehammer that never asks why destroy.
Meanwhile I look out the window, say to myself:
Someday you’ll seek your country
& find it in your body, its plasticity & motherlessness.
I will say: I’m never leaving this place. This republic
in straitjacket, spread like a landscape half in erasure.
Gather my instruments. Skid some on my skin
to prove sharpness, or dull bluntness. I’m not sure
of the difference.
JK Anowe, Igbo-born poet and teacher, is author of the poetry chapbooks The Ikemefuna Tributaries: a parable for paranoia (Praxis Magazine Online, 2016) and Sky Raining Fists (Madhouse Press, 2019). He’s a recipient of the inaugural Brittle Paper Award for Poetry in 2017, and a finalist for the 2019 Gerard Kraak Award. Recent works appear in Glass Poetry, Kissing Dynamite, The Gerard Kraak Anthology 2019, The Shore, The Muse (University of Nigeria’s literary journal), Agbowo, 20.35 Africa: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, Fresh Air Poetry, and elsewhere. He’s Poetry Chapbooks Editor for Praxis Magazine Online. He lives, teaches, and writes from somewhere in Nigeria.