Abani is a Nigerian war survivor, refugee and human rights activist. His novels are GraceLandand Masters of the Board. His poetry collections include Dog Woman, Daphne’s Lot and Kalakuta Republic. Abani teaches in the MFA Program at Antioch University, Los Angeles and is a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of California, Riverside. A Middleton Fellow at the University of Southern California, he is the recipient of the 2001 PEN USA Freedom-to-Write Award, the 2001 Prince Claus Award and a 2003 Lannan Literary Fellowship.
Through gaps in trees, moonlight
veins night with the remembrance of dawn.
Among ferns stubbling the forest floor
a mother squats, watching the child in
her arms losing its grip on life,
its hacking breath, a suffering hanging on.
Gently she closes her eyes as her fingers
pincer its nose and mouth,
easing the passage across.
What detail can be true of the remembered life;
Place, event, lost like a flower's scent
stolen by a bee leaving only the itch of its sting.
Break A Leg
His foot, torn off at the ankle,
Half wrapped in corrugated iron
Held the promise of a gift.
Jesus smiled sadly from the
Photo taped to his gun’s stock.
Blood, like the rain, soaked everything.
The medic, impotent,
Suspicious, like God, lied.
Questions for Reflection: “Stabat Mater” and “Break a Leg”
The term Stabat Mater comes from a Medieval Latin hymn that speaks of Mary’s sorrows on viewing the crucifixion of her son, Jesus.
- How does this poem speak to the sorrows of the mother as she holds her child? How does this event compare to that of Mary at the site of the crucifixion?
- What importance does “dawn” play in this scene?
- What might be the mother’s feelings as she squats in the forest with her child in her arms?
- How does the mother react to her dying child? What does she do to ease its suffering? What opinion do you have of this act?
- What “details” might the mother be left with at the death of her child?
Of the poem “Break a Leg,” Adani says in his interview for Voices in Wartime: [It] comes from two places and several photographs taken by an American photographer from Life magazine who was murdered…in the Biafran War…. There is a photograph he took of a young soldier, who has no leg, with an AK-47 with Jesus taped to the stalk of his gun barrel. But also I have an older relative who fought in the war who was 12 years old, a soldier, and his whole foot was torn off by a claymore mine. So it was a combination of those kind of moments where you have received a narrative. I have the visual images from books that have been written, analytical books and also family anecdotes and then people you grew up around.
- What is the promise of the gift referred to in this poem?
- Why might Jesus be depicted as smiling sadly?
- What was the state of mind of the medic upon seeing the boy?
- Why is the medic suspicious?
- About what did the medic lie?
- How might you have reacted in this situation?