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By Chris Abani

The telephone never rings. Still

you pick it up, smile into the static,

the breath of those you’ve loved; long dead.


The leaf you pick from the fall

rises and dips away with every ridge.

Fingers stiff from time, you trace.


Staring off into a distance limned

by cataracts and other collected debris,

you have forgotten none of the long-ago joy

of an ice-cream truck and its summer song.


Between the paving stones;

between tea, a cup, and the sound

of you pouring;

between the time you woke that morning

and the time when the letter came,

a tired sorrow: like an old flagellant

able only to tease with a weak sting.


Riding the elevator all day,

floor after floor after floor,

each stop some small victory whittled

from the hard stone of death, you smile.

They used to write epics about moments like this.


Chris Abani,  “War Widow” from Hands Washing Water. Copyright © 2006 by Chris Abani. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press.

Source: Hands Washing Water (Copper Canyon Press, 2006)

  • Living
  • Social Commentaries

Poet Bio

Chris Abani
Chris Abani was born in Nigeria and published his first novel, Masters of the Board (1985), when he was a teenager. The Nigerian authorities believed the book, a political thriller about a government coup, was a blueprint for an actual coup and imprisoned him. Eventually released, Abani continued to argue for the overthrow of the government and was jailed again, this time in Nigeria’s notorious Kiri Kiri prison. During his year in Kiri Kiri, Abani was tortured and underwent months of solitary confinement. He was freed in 1991 and eventually escaped Nigeria and moved to England. He became a resident of the United States in 1999. Influenced by his traumatic life experiences, Abani’s work deals with the corrosive effects of poverty, crime, and political instability on individuals. See More By This Poet

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