Five Poems by Ugochi Okoli

To The Broken Ones

You were not taught too many things about love

Your father was a drunk who wore his heart on his fist

As he laid his love upon your mother’s brown skin until it turned black

Your mother stayed, there was no going back

She said the black skin was made to withstand pain, tear and crack

She glowed with the healing power of ‘Abuba Eke’

The python’s fat that trickled down her skin

The oil your fingers took to the parts of her body

Where her shaky fingers would not reach


You were not taught too many things about music

But your mother screamed out sad melodies

As she called upon her ancestors

You sang with her as a boy

Sometimes you sang alone into your pillow at night

But you became her ancestor when you were old enough to hold a knife

When your father’s blood trickled down your hands

And the neighbors praised your bravery

They said it was a good thing you look like your mother


You visit your father sometimes in prison

Not to give him a reason to live

But to listen to him sing you some tearful apology

Maybe it will fix your broken

Give you a reason to live

You were not taught the right way to be a man

But you never wanted to be your father

So when your palms traveled across the face of the one you love

You knew you only needed a mirror to see your father

*Abuba Eke (Python’s Fat) is often used in the Eastern part of Nigeria to treat bruises and wounds on the skin.

To The Broken Ones is a Poem about parental bond (Love and hate), domestic violence and the long term effects of a dysfunctional home on a child. It shows how we sometimes, become entangled in a life we never chose for ourselves, but yet, we thrive. It touches on some of the beliefs we have that affect how and why we choose to connect with one another. It is set in the Igbo tribe of Nigeria.


The last time I saw Nkem,

His tongue was in my mouth

It moved in ways that echoed things

Our lips would never make into words

The things we weren’t allowed to do

But we did


We did everything but spoke of nothing

We had conversations with our bodies

Listening to the intensity of our touch

To the beating of our hearts

The depth of our breath

But we hid


He was an unveiling

The discovery of a different kind of chaos

More felt than seen

More peaceful than catastrophic

He was sunshine in the rain, a cliché

But yet, real


He said “I love you” for the first time

In the corridor of my Yaba flat

His arms were wrapped around me

As though we had forever to live in our sin

I wondered what his wife would think

If she heard


Five years have gone by

In a crowded Lekki mall

I can read his body language

Better than my doctor’s prescription

I want every part of his flesh against mine

But should I?


What would he do if he knew?

That I still think of his hands on my skin

At breakfast with my lover, Khalil

What would he do if he knew?

That cancer has given me a few months to live

And I want to mess up our lives with it

*Lekki and Yaba are towns in Lagos, Nigeria

Nkem is a poem about finding love in the wrong places and how we become drawn to people that are not necessarily healthy for our conscience but great for our hearts. How being a mistress is considered socially and morally wrong but who teaches the heart to heed social constructs?


I was given a gift,

It was Kachi’s voice

For the last time before the rift

Before I was left with nothing but noise


I still think of his last word -‘brother’

Begging for his life

From a brother beyond the border

But life left my brother through a brother’s knife


For years we’ve lived through racism,

Drawing strength from our ancestors

We lived the suffering of every black skin

Irrespective of the country, it was about ‘us’


It was in father’s teary eye for Madiba in December

Stories and movies from our childhood about apartheid

Children, Pieterson, Ndlovu, we had to remember

Mother, humming Masekela’s ‘Bring Him Back Home’ at night


Twenty-Five years later, Kachi dies young

Not from hunger, like we’ve always thought

Not from poor healthcare and it didn’t take long

Not from the evils of Boko Haram in the North


It was in the hands of someone he called- brother

For a word, I cannot pronounce- X-e-n-o-p-h-o-b-i-a

Brother is a poem about the current Xenophobia in South Africa, through the eyes of a Nigerian

Bad Drivers and Good Cars

Where would you like to go today?

How would you like to drive through the road that is my body?

The one that breaths and breaks for your kind

Father says my road leads to heaven

It should be driven on by the most elite

Mother wants me to save my path for the right driver

So that they drive through only me and never stop

They were both too absent to notice that mine is the road already taken

Too often in the past, I care very little about today’s traffic

My road is worth nothing without the one driver driving through it

My road is worth nothing if I let too many drivers in

What is the worth of the driver without a road to drive through?

What is the worth of the driver with too many driving time?

The first driver took down my gates before I was ready

He was family, I was a child and access was easy

So he drove through me without my permission

Leaving little potholes on my smooth tracks

He was very fast and furious

He needed to get to heaven without being caught

The second driver came with nice words and good looks

He was slow but he had the most impact

He lost his breaks and crushed deeper into my potholes

He left with all my street lights, leaving me in the dark

I welcomed the third driver

A real tiger at heart but he came with weak tyres

And drove through my dark road with deep potholes

He was never going to be enough light for my darkness

It was too much pressure for any driver

He left with a little darkness from me

I welcomed the fourth, fifth and tenth drivers

There is too much traffic on my bad road now

And I welcome every driver, elite enough to afford my repairs

I’m on the tenth driver fixing the potholes caused by the first driver

Bad Drivers and Good Cars is a poem about rape, patriarchy, child abuse and the long term effects of these problems on the victim.

Rose and Tobacco

It was one of those Saturdays you hate to spend alone at home

We had just finished doing your laundry

I teased you about the fading color of your favorite blue jeans

You jokingly snapped

And said it was the one you had put my heart in its pocket forever

I tapped your ass

Knowing how much you disliked it

So I ran

I ran into your kitchen

Hoping to successfully hide from your wrath of love

But certain you would find me anyway

You found me

You always did

My short legs are nothing compared to your sugar-cane legs

You knew I liked losing myself in your arms

So you held me exactly how I love to be held

And kissed the childish laughter away from my face

You smelled so good

It was like a mixture of Rose and Tobacco

It was a new scent but I loved it

I loved it on you

I love you

“You have my entire heart”

You whispered

And slowly withdrew your lips from mine

Twisted my heart with your eyes a little longer

It was our last kiss

Our last moment in heaven

Before hell knocked on your door

In the form of your wife

The one you never told me about

It was the last time we were together and happy

I want to be able to remember it

Ugochi is a Nigerian writer and an intense lover of books. When she is not reading or writing, she is working as a communications officer for NGOs’ to improve the condition of education in Nigeria. Ugochi hopes to connect with and heal people through writing. She is on Twitter here.

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