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Lost Dogs and City Lights

by Chiamaka Okonkwo

Slapping currents and trying times
and bottlenecks are waiting for you
in the river running through.
“Swim it,” they whispered to me.
“Swim it. Don’t you drown out there.
Out there, it’s too deep,” they murmured. “Too deep.
Wade where it’s shallow,” they hissed again to me
“Dip your hand and just grab it already.
Find it quickly!”
They closed their eyes; their mouths followed.
They delivered a piercing silence
to quietly surrender me.

At night, the darkest one of the year,
or that’s how it seemed to me
from under the mask of rushing water
where I was shivering down deep,
they spit and shook their heads,
and cried it was too deep.

They mumbled on in plugged ears
that were blocked by youth’s fat fingers,
and I couldn’t hear them singing
of a storm waiting to greet me.

They didn’t see searching arms and longing arms
that swam past fishing rods and fireflies
and rumbling tractors and campfires
and tattered boots and dying branches
and lost dogs and city lights.

I splashed away from the coffin of knee-deep.
I said, “You can’t be safer than over there under the dirt,
where it’s shallow with no danger in sight
and no wide-open, gaping tomorrow.”

I hear they say I swam away,
moving fiercely and deliberately,
so desperately away
from the coward they painted for me.

Copyright © 2017 by Chiamaka Okonkwo

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