Essay: Birth by Anthony Okpunor
When we learned that Anthony had an essay waiting for a publisher, we leapt. Anthony’s writing has always stunned us, and his prose is no exception, as full of art and heartbreak as anything else you’ll read today. Please enjoy this poet in a new medium—please enjoy this cosmic glitch.
Imagine you being born, the eleven nurses who were too crowded to fit into a room, who left home without having enough sleep, to watch your mother bleed. Imagine the doctor who kept beckoning on your mother to push. Imagine how much she struggled, how she cried, how everyone in the room called her brave. Imagine you finally popped your head out, all covered in blood and fluid, and no one cared just how naked you were. The rivers that come with moments like this will be remembered long after any sadness. Because you start to imagine , your mother kisses you and names you every way—calls you Olympus, calls you child, but never widow. Because that would suggest or mean even: lost.
In the hallway, your father is pacing a quarter mile, awaiting to see you male or female; his own creation, all of his brand new flaws. We are assuming your father is a coward, or he couldn’t stand the mention of blood. Same difference, to you, to anyone you tell the story to. He is in the hallway, so he witnesses life first. He hears you cry, and another boy is rushed in covered in blood, like you. You see, blood and water will create a scene. They say a truck had run into the car where the boy was not dead in the backseat, that a man who was his father lost himself on the wheel and that every loss will come at a price. All this time you are asleep. And your father looks at the boy—the boy wants to live, he is trying to. Time stops, the boy’s left hand falls off the bed, there is too much blood, your father doesn’t know he’s staring, you begin to cry, someone records the time of your birth, all the nurses are different colors, it takes your father a moment to unfreeze. Time stops for everything to happen at once, time is therefore unseen.
This is the first cosmic glitch, and you missed it.
You did not realize, but how could you have known, were you not too young and covered in blood? Your eyes were closed through no fault of your own when this happened. So no one tells you that eyes don’t last forever, because everyone kisses them, and happy people do not leave all at the same time. So you are born, beautiful in day, and every smile on your face is paid in full with a backwards motion.
Then every day repeats. Sometimes, different events. One day you’re seven and you have ice cream all over your face. Some days are birthdays. Now you’ve lived for more than two decades, haven’t you? Anything more than this makes you feel old, but days are the same. What is moving , really, that isn’t time?
Your father tells you that at age forty you will probably be a preacher. That it is the only way to see. He says you are not old enough to be held down, shaken loose. It is true, you know; because you do not yet understand him, he is probably too old, and needs to spend longer hours asleep, he is tired. You think he is tired.
By fifteen, or twelve if you’re an early riser, you probably have kissed someone or let someone kiss you. All of a sudden someone else tastes good in your mouth. How is it even human to be this way? For someone who is not you? You notice how you crash-land every time you are touched. You told your mother you do not like skin conversations. Somehow, this feels godly. You are surprised, but not worried. Worry will come later. You know how the future is, that your heart has enough space for bleeding. But not now, this moment is for evolution. You do not tell your mother this, or anything in fact. Your mother looks at you and doesn’t catch the arrogance, a baby born at the hospital. She still calls you Olympus. You remind her twice a day that your hair is longer, even has gold in it now, that your nails do not break easy as before. But every mother is the wind. She thinks it is cute how you make your lips move. This is why you shouldn’t tell her of the boy, or the girl. Your mother is the wind.
Maybe you find a boy, and you fall in love. Or love eludes you, maybe. Maybe the first time you ever tell the truth is with someone’s tongue down your throat, maybe you get to climb a mountain on your eighteenth birthday and not die, maybe life finds ways to be fair to you. Still, you haven’t really lived till you have been kidnapped by a taxi driver, have you? So you go on this crazy cruise, and flunk out of school. Math isn’t your thing anyway, art is, you tell yourself. You tell yourself science is for forty-eight-year-old-wannabe-Einsteins who still live with their mothers. You tell yourself algebra causes a lot of hair loss. How did you think this was some sort of joke?
You probably get married, another glitch.
You are there, not knowing. There are eleven nurses, half-zombies every one of them. Your water broke a while ago. Even a doctor is present. This thing you are doing here is brave—one of the nurses says to ease the pain. Her mouth plummets, it is useless. Your husband isn’t even holding your hand like he said he would. This time you hear it, the go-sign, and you know the walls are too small to hold anything your mouth will let go of. You take deep breaths, close your eyes; fists clenched, draw in the whole world into your lungs, then when you let go, blood and water has made a scene. Write this as happiness.
Either that, or you are in the hallway. You promised you would be holding her hand, but you’re not, you’re not even sixty yet. You’re doing nothing important with your feet. You’re a coward. There is a girl who has been in an accident. She’s nineteen, about to not be. The story goes she had been driving a Toyota Corolla while kissing someone—who’s not necessarily a boy, yet anybody who saw before they ran off a bridge could swear it was only for a few blinks—this thing lovers do to live one second in heaven; only five seconds of burn, that death is too much a price anyone should pay for love.
There is a cat in the hallway. Something about you not knowing what to do with your hands is familiar. Why are you a coward? Why has your baby not started crying? Who has gone through all this trouble to keep you motionless, lost?
Anthony Okpunor is an emerging Nigerian writer who discovered poetry and writing in general, as a better form of self expression. He lives and writes from Asaba in Delta State. He is a student of the University of Benin at the time. He was shortlisted for the 2019 Nigerian Student Poetry Prize. He was also shortlisted for the SEVHAGE/Angya Poetry Prize 2019. He emerged as winner of the 2019 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest (poetry category). He was a finalist for the 2020 Palette Spotlight Poetry Award. His works have appeared on online platforms including African Writer, Praxis Magazine and Rattle.