the author’s mother
(Left) Photo courtesy of Kemi Role; (Right) Photo by Nirav Patel
[ID: (Left) A Black woman is smiling with hands raised above her head and wearing an emerald green turtleneck and blue jeans. She is in an apartment living room. (Right) A Black woman is smiling wearing a metallic orange gele and bright blue top and skirt wrap adorned with gold leaves. She is outside in a backyard surrounded by performers in a Nigerian wedding ceremony.]
the tv is on, endlessly buzzing about the furious snowstorm barreling onto roofs
in this overheated Atlanta apartment you remain mostly on the sofa, swaddled by that hulking heather gray blanket
bones still frail subtly masked by your emerald sweater that hangs a little too loosely across your neck
your frame so small, past near death but the whisper of death still lingering.
it’s the third day of this christmastime visit
three families gather
California, Georgia, Tennessee, but Nigeria binds us.
the togetherness seems to power your limbs or maybe it’s that damn P-Square song that stays on repeat
and then there you are in the midst of a rowdy circle of mostly twenty-somethings
that sweet sly smile as you laugh dropping low to the ground
Momz to the ground tho?
there’s a little bit of victory i see.
you say these neighbors are going to KNOW where I’m from today with a pleased defiance
this backyard of immigrant dreams
speaker blasting Ebenezer Obey Iyanla Lágbájá and on
once again you’re encircled
the alaga, the drummers, friends in bright blue purple aso-ebi
the brightness stamping the backyard walls weaving around your rose bushes.
you dance the decades and decades in this country
dressing your children in an inconspicuous corner of Murtala Muhammed to flee and to arrive
everything remembered as labored breaths swallow your delight.
oh but dear Mum,
you in the most common of rooms
home shopping network humming as backdrop, the warm light overheard peering into the circular glass top of the dining room table
that sony tabletop black CD boombox nearby ready to host this dance party of one
and today it’s PM Dawn and then it’s Janet and then it’s more Janet
then that specific Fela album and then it’s your beloved P-Square.
sometimes i wander into the kitchen, drawn by the echo of your faded pink indoor slippers, glance at the forgotten stew simmering on the stove and look over to you
your eyes closed, wrists swinging extended above your head
shoulders laughing half turn to meet my gaze
beams of sweat resting on your folded upper lip, you point your hands to steal my heart
then turn back to that dancing, to that joy
– Kemi Role
This article appeared in the Spring 2023 issue of In Dance.