African Diaspora Award, Third Prize Winner
EXIT WOUNDS, poetry collection
Abdulrazaq Salihu, from Niger State, Nigeria, is a member of the Hilltop Creative Arts Foundation and has won poetry contests like the Hilltop Creative Writing Award and Nigerian Prize for Teen Authors. Besides Kinsman Quarterly, Salihu's poetry has been recognized in magazines like the Jupiter Review, Angime, and Grub Street Mag. His powerful collection, "Exit Wounds," demonstrates sophisticated use of imagery, daring exploration of rhythm, and captivating emotional content.
Self Portrait As Exit Wounds
by Abdulrazaq Salihu
Who called your name and put your body
In this wrath of a game?
The day the world justified calling a spade
A spade, did they also agree that your body
Was not worth the beauty?
I know a lot about wounds and scars.
I know how scars are the only certificates
You get for surviving this war between
Yourself and all the dark spots this
Cleanser couldn’t rid off your skin.
I let what I know call me ignorant, then
I carry the wailing of ghosts in my chest.
I run these hallucinations into my skin
Till they’re real, till I can hold their
Hands and spell their bodies into stardust.
I cleanse my body of our sins and watch the nights
Put a “RIP” tag on all the people the universe has
Ripped out of our chests and
Isn’t this the essence of Beauty
To never last forever?
To be a body of pollination today
And collect your withering inside your
Mouth like a butterfly bereft of essence.
Like a corpse, swelling to the rhythm
Of sadness—to be the threshold towards
Light today and watch tomorrow’s darkness
Spot your skin.
You call the ghosts and you’re your graveyard
You carry the scars and your wound;
Fresh; cut clean: You’re tenderness:
A paper-prayer folded into your sick
Mother’s front teeth; her aching forehead;
The long dance of slavery between her feet
And the ground: the sad rowing
Of all the beautiful boats you’ve grown
To know, into oblivion: Love; all the time: love.
I let go of the ghosts; the people in my head
My father, Like a river voyaging garlands,
I let them flow,
Unstoppable in their pursuit for
Beauty and tenderness.
“I know what I’ve seen of blood & death—what the night forgets
to cover in its shadows; what part of paradise a bullet
undresses before the body‚ before stealing light from its eyes.”
—Abu Bkr Saddiq
The leaking of smoke started from my body.
Our home later succumbed to the music
Of the fire, this is how every tale ends—at the climax
Of its beginning. In the quiet of the night, your face
Crepuscular, the stars put a stop to the creaking of birds
Our destiny in the hands of a painter, we’re oil paints.
We’re dark skinned yet someone can still match our
Existence to the precision in the shooting of a deer
By our long gone ancestors. The story goes, we’re
In the middle of the second world war where the
Land opens its aches to delft, the small stones
Rub against each other the way strangers in the
Subway do—arm rubs against another arm and
Nothing human is felt, just urgency—to continue moving
Story goes, the nights unfurls its ruin, all its inflorescence
Making way for revelations and quiet all at once
Our breaths are not supposed to touch, our hands
Are in their own existence, there’s a glitch in time
A folding of a heart into oblivion, into a pause, a coma
A whole different world of endless possibilities.
Dawn begins its own cracking, the first crow to
Mark the beginning of day is shot mistakenly by a hunter.
Some say it’s a bad omen, others are too busy with movement.
I’m cleaning the stain my mothers stain remover couldn’t
Rectify. I’m avoiding all the dark spots on my own skin
Trying to not remember the one thing my mother
Got in a fist fight against the wind—a soft blow beneath the eye.
Call it a cloudage of storms—where my father is the wind.
My first encounter with the police—fear-black-skin against a
White wild social menace, the officer didn’t need to see
My complete credentials to tag me guilty, a criminal lost in
His pursuit for corruption. I got cuffed because I was at the
Wrong place at the wrong time. Recited psalms the best way
I knew how to—by starting with my late father’s name.
There’s what fear does to a man that I must forget.
Let it not be respect, let it not be humility, because
All the things I’ve feared have never really left me.
All the wrongs I’ve done, I , master of my beautiful
Sins, I wear them when I have to.
On December 5th of a certain year before I knew
What I never knew of my body, I mistook the
Scars for home, the spots on my skin for birthrights.
There’s certain news about a lost cyborg in the wind.
Nobody is humane or worried, a cyborg would always
Be a cyborg. I watch how the news unplug my mother’s
Ears from reality. I’m stuck with her today because I sought
A reality TV show, not this seer of bad news; overseer of evil.
I only talk to the wind when men love men. In a strange part of
The world I have started a thread for all the things I’d never forget.
After the war, my name is first on the list. Ya rabb, you have
Given me the light and you have darkened the path.
My people are lost in their own mind games. i’m afraid
Of starting a journey I know nothing about.
There’s a slight cut on my skin, there’s a smoke gathering.
I haven’t begot a thing of my own—only this gas of
Transformation to call my own. I haven’t begot a thing
To call my name and I can’t help but burn what only
Is a part of me, because all the things I fear
Are only growing deadlier now.
SELF PORTRAIT AS THE NIGHT AND MORNING PHASES OF THE WAR
by Abdulrazaq Salihu
THE CITY OF GHOSTS IS THE CITY OF MY PEOPLE
AND IS THE ONLY PLACE I'M CERTAIN OF BEING CALLED AN OUTCAST.
by Abdulrazaq Salihu
All the people I love are the ghosts that hunt at night.
The drive to my people’s home, the silence of nights
Quiets down as the horror fades away. On the roads
You do not meet the drunk, nor do you mistake the
Roads paranormal bending into light—a symbol of
Purity. It’s a thousand hours of walk, your body is
Forced into a gun powder (and your insecurities
Creak into the back of your ear like a broken omen—
Clay plates falling on Christmas Eve). Smoke
Becomes fire. Your body is an explosion of wrath
On all the wrong planets, your mother's body is
The first place to hold unto the warmth on the atlas.
You have never known the music of lost so well.
You open your creased palm to cup your withering.
You have never known the value of your beauty
So you let the air-gas-fist slide. You slit the bottom
Throat. Let the blood run into its suffering. Let the
Body of lifelessness sleep—in heavenly peace, like
Silent nights, like holy nights, like all is calm.
You do not know and would not know
All backs that bow must also dance to the ache of
Frustrations and anger and fear and despair and
The air in the wind grinds your nostril into an
Ammonium confirmed compound of lost.
You do not choke and you do not falter.
A street with ghosts must only gather
A confederation of darkness, your skin
Kind is the first to assemble. Ghosts are whites.
So even in this holy ground, you’re discriminated.
You leave the one place that calls you son. Two
Roads diverge in a yellow wood. You take none.
You take all. You cling to the illusion of righteousness.
You put your hand again, today, against all the odds.
Yet, you cannot count yourself among your people
And you cannot clasp and not shake in silence.
So all the night's music lay quietly before the soft
Lip of the broken town of ghosts and my kinsmen.
SELF PORTRAIT WITH BLOODBATH.
by Abdulrazaq Salihu
The first to be cut is the one
With the thinnest skin or the
One with the slowest dodge skill.
I was cut like saw against the skin of wood
I saw my body on the map slipping into a river
Danced the whole night with my crew, burying
The remains of lost and forgotten night people
While the boys compared the water that drowned
And the one that quenched thirst—told them one
Was needed, while the other was needy.
I’m dying as the first man to be cut, skin
Wide open like my country’s vulnerability.
Skin wide open like my mouth, aching for
Despair. The wound is fresh and the war continues.
I bit my teeth and struggled to cut one man
Before I find my peace with the sands.
The earth says, "if a king falls, ten men must fall."
There’s a slight crack in the calabash,
There’s a slight chance that my cheek may bloom.
My memories would not separate from lost
So the calabash forgets its duty to hold
And pours its anger on us. The flooding
Began. I’m the softness of my limb.
I’m angles with stop-lines. Spot the
Fault lines, a click between their heads and
Blood is the next big thing. Outside the edge
Of the town, at the slow waving music of the river
Mamii heads to swim and the people of anger
Were there. Mamii did not swim. Mamii
Drowned. I was the first to tell. I was the first
To be told. When there’s a cut, the first to feel
The pain is the one cut. I have been learning
To cut my whole life. Give me this bloodbath—
UNTITLED GEN Z POEM
ABOUT ALL THE BEAUTIFUL PLACES GROWING INTO CRACKS.
by Abdulrazaq Salihi
on the day I pushed the sun, by its forelimbs away from my
skin to see how much work it has done to make me melanin god
a part of the night struggled away into oblivion; into the fights
us against our green carpets; us against greenhouse gases
the earth against our mistakes, call it the aftermath of raising what
would not want to see you stand, call it ache, call it the encroaching of
all the hair I’ve managed to watch grow unto my scalp. Say, I’m holding
unto a storm in my left palm to protect my country from this thing we have grown
to blame the sun for—doom. I will blame my sons, tomorrow
for not telling me a storm would always be a storm
the way water would always create slow paths to drown what it hates—earth.
I plant a flower in all the portholes our wrong steps have put on the road.
the roads have grown to home butterflies. My brother is the first to see. My brother
is a body of liquids—sea. My brother is everything bent
the wrong way—C. My brother is a green covering of
the earth—pea. I have learned to live with a plant in my
right palm and a drought in my left palm. Call it adaptation, what must live [leave]
must learn to do it well—must survive [die]. In a small market in Sarkin Pawa
there’s a long term shift in temperatures—and weather pattern. My people are too
backwards to seek a weather forecast. My people are too backwards to believe in rain
I have grown to know that nothing, ever beautiful, lasts forever
my people would wake on some days, the sun atop them foreheads and watch
the clouds fade, watch the nights pull us into darkness. There’s a part of the earth
that is sinking, another is browning. I watch every step I take towards green
pastures crack the earth and make way for skin breaks—like my mothers lips
what remains of tenderness after the skin divides? My fourth grandfather
nurtured an oak tree, my sister wants a beach house, so we take down the tree
we forsake the rules and put pillars in every spot that should home a tree
the beach house stands erect in the absence of trees. One day the earth
would open and swallow its legs. Nothing would dance to the rhythm of the wind
the wind starts a dry song from Kayes, across Cape Town, through Nigeria
across the cracking of India, beyond Togo. The wind takes a lonely path
through my skin, through my people’s homes, across all the quiet places
that used to bed roses, call them graveyards. Every tree the wind
passes, bows and withers its leaves. Isn’t this beauty?
Isn’t this tenderness? Isn’t this the time to gather the green we left behind
put them in my people’s palms, grow chad again, into a beautiful garden?
I sit beneath what used to be a tree—there’s an inferno of beautiful things
in my mouth, I spit them into all the wrong places, the furrow on my accent
is louder than the storm that buried my home. The night is becoming a hot
blanket atop my body, but I have learnt to be cold on hot days, by catching my
breaths every time gases erupt. Like little prayers, in the sanctuary of God.