here’s how things are named:
a) like they are
b) like we want them to be.

I was born with a name
woven into my intestines.
mother said she hadn’t noticed.
father doesn’t know
because he was never there.

mother once said that I know
how to find things.
she popped me over a chair
and said, you don’t
fall unless you fall.
I said yes, said amen
and kissed the cross on my rosary.

first nothing was nothing.
then something. then everything.

I learned that I could coil
myself into a prayer and watch
the stars rise and fall, shine and dull
into something, into nothing.

I began finding names for myself and
for god, repeating words that meant
nothing until they became something.

I am repeating them, hearing people say:
he is mad. he calls god a duck.
can god live in the sea?
I say nothing to them.
I say something to myself.
I watch my voice
drown into everything,
covered and swallowed
by a sea of nothing, of something,
of everything.

(they say that dead things
come back and I smile,
see myself perch like a bird
on the shoulders of boys
whose eyes sing of love
and whose bodies burn
candles in dark, cold rooms,
still unsure that Mama
would have called me her son
if only she’d noticed:
I was just her girl learning
to live in a different body)

Nwanne Agwu is an Igbo writer and tailor. He lives in Nigeria.

Collage art by Sophia McGovern.