Poem of the week: Blowing Smoke by Nii Ayikwei Parkes

Blowing Smoke
for the curve of dismounts


She lifts her head to reward the stars white
smoke and my lips are drawn to the floral
arch of her neck, inching greater, the swirl
her aromatic exhalations make changing into evening:
breath to air, mud to mud – we’re mortals
drenched in a hummingbird sensation of time.


I’ve recognized moments like this; my bare torso
brown as the bark of the mango tree I’ve mounted,
its leaves camouflage whereas I watch my playmates
searching for me, pleasure choking me the similar manner
her shifting fingers make my breath hover. She catches
me in the nook of her eye, my lips tremble on her
pores and skin earlier than the giggle turns into sound; lightning to thunder.


Sometimes I used to be discovered – some woman or boy throwing stones,
breaking the amnios of leaves that protected me – however most
instances I simply received drained of ready and shimmied down. Love
is a little bit like that – the playmates plentiful as pollen grains
but only some bursting past the crimson bubble of lust
to the coronary heart, the after-giggle, the place the smoke-rings go.

This week’s poem is by the Ghanaian-British author Nii Ayikwei Parkes. It’s from the Eros part of his newly revealed assortment, The Geez (“Geez” being pronounced as “gaze”). Here, in a sneak preview of an interview with the Poetry Book Society, who selected The Geez as their winter suggestion, the poet explains his main sources for the assortment. The lengthy, intense act of wanting unites particular, private experiences of “photography and loss” and has sturdy political resonance, introduced dwelling by his first encounter with a photograph sequence by Yagazie Emezi referred to as Consumption of the Black Model, the place she had written in the preamble, “Often times … the black body becomes a canvas to project fetishised narratives.”

Born in the UK, raised in Ghana, working in each international locations in a powerful selection of genres and media, Parkes makes the language of his poems shimmeringly reflective and connective. Blowing Smoke is a love poem, however provides a lot else that the time period turns into reductive, one-dimensional. Love is actually in the air, however so are many complicating emotional narratives, time-frames, sensations. The confluence of highs and lows, the swirl of the ascent and the varied kinds of the “curve of dismounts” the epigraph refers to, comprise lyric multitudes.

A visionary, nearly hallucinatory “she” presides over the first stanza. As she “lifts her head to gift the stars white / smoke” she is flower-like and in upward movement, with “the floral / arch of her neck” suggesting a stalk rising amongst clustered blossoms exhaling perfume. This flower is alive and mutable, and elicits an entranced method from the speaker, however after the pretty “swirl” of that quatrain, sealed by the rhyme of “night” with “white”, the tone drops to a extra meditative stage, “dust to dust” being a very particular acknowledgment of mortality. But the unusual magic of lived expertise isn’t deserted: it reignites in the statement of “mortals / drenched in a hummingbird sensation of time”, an exciting encapsulation of movement and stasis.

A grammatical tense and time shift denotes the coming-down and standing-back of the new stanza. (“I have known moments like this.”) Recollections of a childhood recreation of hide-and-seek infiltrate the erotic narrative. Hiding from his playmates induces a way of metamorphosis for the speaker, whose “naked torso” is “brown as the bark of the mango tree I’ve mounted”. He is disguised and safely contained in a womb of leaves. Later in the similar stanza, the terrific pleasure of ready to be caught conjures an erotic current – “the same way her moving fingers make my breath hover”. The “moving fingers” picture is tactfully tactile, and, once more, sexuality appears to evoke mortality, with a reminder of Omar Khayyam’s “The Moving Finger writes; and having writ, / Moves on”. Eros re-emerges in the delicate and enthralling passage that concludes the stanza and integrates the gasps and giggles of kids’s and adults’ video games.

The stones tossed up at the tree by “some girl or boy” draw the hider from his camouflage. Being discovered is being born; it means the destruction of his amnion (synonym for amnios, the interior membrane sac defending the creating embryo). Does this allegory foreshadow not solely sexual relationships however extra harmful sorts of exile and self-exposure, destruction by extra ferocious and damaging kinds of stone-throwing? The poem retains potentialities open, with out dropping the major focus. In hide-and-seek, the protagonist gained’t all the time be discovered. This is a stage of disappointment to which love additionally might descend. The baby, unfound, will get bored and units himself free. The lover brings a stupendous reconciliation of remorse and acceptance to the failed recreation: “the playmates plentiful as pollen grains / yet only a few bursting beyond the red bubble of lust / to the heart, the after-giggle, where the smoke-rings go.”

The visible machine used to divide the three stanzas suggests accumulating, lingering smoke-rings. It exhibits us that these insubstantialities may be recycled, caught and launched when craft, creativeness, ardour and wit flower on a poem’s web page.

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