Industry Prize, 3rd Place Winner: Twelve by Olatunde Osinaike

We’re all very excited to share with you the winners of the 2019 Frontier Industry Prize, selected by Jeff Shotts, Sarah Gambito, and Kwame Dawes. Today, we have “Twelve” by Olatunde Osinaike—a lovely poem of sorrow and blades and learning to be a man in the face of god. Stay tuned for our second place poem by ae hee lee next Wednesday, and our winner Elizabeth Oxley’s poetry on the 30th. Thank you to everyone who submitted this year!



The first of my last   best memories end   in my grandma’s living
room   the hushed mercury of a thermostat    the comatose

of week-old carbonated pop   and the caveat of yesterday   all bullets
are sweat   until they’re not   until the sugarcoating of breath

behooves summer   I know what holiday  I’ve taken   residence in
by the era of motown   she blasts on the stereo   if it’s gladys then

autumn if it’s stevie   then jubilant sky gift-wrapped underneath
evergreen bristles   tonight I’m tiptoeing   around the thought of dialysis

while stars strut to temptations   and when wonder chimes in   I’ll stretch
the infinity of my tissues   across the sofa’s plastic  as if fragile  as if satirical

we jettison joy like a refrain rising   from the mossed floorboards up into
the attic   bypassing baby pictures   riddled with rows of teeth   I don’t show

anymore   it didn’t just happen overnight   there’s a thin line between sorrow
and nevermind   nevermind I was born   with two blades in my back


Nevermind nevermind   I was born with   two blades in my back
a fistful of intent    as many arteries as there are    hours in a day
and less than half the cynicism    it takes for a white man to pray
I was born a river of vetoes    yet a river     yet a proxy for confusion

when I ask my mother   what time I came through   the function
she doesn’t say anything   I ought not to know    I was born a trick
question   in budding midnight   it isn’t even technically correct

to give midnight   a suffix   did you know   equidistance is another
name for   joint custody    for the fence    for the ivory one might call
neutral   even after an umbilical cord   is severed   a stump remains

after lunchtime gossip   choices   after natural disaster   disaster
and after that who knows    who’s to say we can spare   the span of
this next second   to settle for rain   and call it bloom   becoming us
who’s to say this world   has a long memory  and forgets anyway


Who’s to say   this world   has a long memory   and forgets   anyway
several times   I’ve been several feet from men   who look like me   with hands
dapping up like mine would    on the same dimlit corners   I have been
stopped on   I’ve walked miles in shoes   a cop might think were theirs   check

my pockets and you’ll find my signature   smudged next to a certification
that says   should the day come   the earth is in dire need   of melody and

there begins a body   ripe for a chorus but ill   a stratosphere of want   a wind
instrument   without the reservoir   lacking what   I don’t lack   my organs
shall not be profiled    the same as my pigment   I’ve been numb   and prepared
to give   my whole life    I want the cop to know    a great deal about this


My whole life     I want the cop to know    a great deal about
this    the benefit of the doubt    notwithstanding

my adrenaline   infused with decades   of sentiment
not unlike preventive care   this too   a sunshine I have spent

conscious of the many     cherubs wandering amongst
the lushness of hoods    like mine   the pearly gates I have

paraded past   the promised lands pastured   by shepherds
I have known despite stereotypes   and prolific hypocrisies

sowed beneath our districts    the statistics of happenstance
that I    so often consider    to be a glimmer of god

in the company of martyrs   marginalized   when in fact
they did not   seek this mess   nor the messiahs   before them


They did not seek this      mess nor the messiahs before them     I can attest that men learn
to play men from men        still learning lord forgive me for     the times I have said give me
a sign when I meant let    the dark of my eyes see light the way    a harbor can pardon even
the most vicious tidals        ushering forth the stench of debris    and ruin and not call it ruined
nor name it irreparable     to the degree that there no longer exist     a good within that body

of water there are over       fifty synonyms for body of water I have    found in thesauri none
of which include heaven      and why is that surely there are enough    bodies that have been turned toward that coast      surely there is more than enough good    I’ve lived long enough to   have seen it be christened       sound or wash or reservoir or mere     or kill or run or draw or
burn without mention of       clouds or gods we are said to have      been made in the image

and likeness of so say   the confessions that have come before me   saying I asymptomatic to
assumptions of the    profession of the water remaining a contrast    when the hereafter meets me ashore I’d delight in    whatever likeness the afterlife ascribes me     to have been I’d pray it less

an erosion of bronze   and more a trail of iridescence more hiraeth   and a matter of wavelength than the splenetics    of blues more what seas see post-storm in    skylines vivid with the stew of berbere and paprika  god as my witness I’d take anything resembling   the warmth of forgiveness


god   as my witness I’d take   anything resembling the warmth of forgiveness
god   as my bereavement   as my sobering   as my blackbird    as my acupuncture
god   as my overhead    as my refund     as my reprieve    as my right-hand
god   as my espionage    as my inoculation    as my winterdark    as my thicket
god   as my dreamcatcher    as my might    as my detriment    as my palindrome
god   as my antioxidant    as my windpipe    as my coalition    as my crutch
god   as my provender   as my endeavor   as my high rise   as my awning
god   as my silk    as my lacquer   as my protea    as my redress    as my hereditary
god   as my ontological    as my audible    as my prodigal    as my first responder
god   as my airbrush    as my amber    as my cosmos    as my candor

Olatunde Osinaike

Originally from the West Side of Chicago, Olatunde Osinaike is a Nigerian-American poet and software developer. He is the author of the chapbooks Speech Therapy, a winner in the Atlas Review’s 2019 Chapbook Series (forthcoming), and The New Knew (Thirty West). A Best of the Net, Bettering American Poetry, and Pushcart Prize nominee, his work has been selected as honorable mention for the Ploughshares Emerging Writer's Award in Poetry, finalist for the Southeast Review Gearhart Poetry Prize and finalist for the RHINO Poetry Editor's Prize. His most recent work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in publications such as Prelude, Puerto del Sol, Winter Tangerine, Cosmonauts Avenue, and the Columbia Poetry Review, as well as in the anthologies Best New Poets, 20.35 Africa, and New Poetry from the Midwest. He has previously served on poetry staff at The Adroit Journal and is currently a master’s candidate at Johns Hopkins University.

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