“if you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.”
From here, my childhood is hazy. Troubled. I am shaking in the darkness, over-feeling everything. I seemany dark things in my dreams; my mother is a witch, spewing incantations in union with monstrous women, chewing blood and spitting it into the fire, offering her own body for the sacrifice instead of her family. My father is running mad. An alien is giving birth to me. I am putting broomsticks into the eyes of the people I love. There are monsters pursuing me, forcing my eyes closed even when I want to keep them open.
Wide awake and I was still dreaming. I wanted to be a doctor because I hated to see people in pain. I wanted to be a singer, because I grew up singing in church. I wanted to be a nurse. I wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to be a painter. Be a teacher. Be a dancer. Be an actress. Be everything but a writer. Wide awake and I was still dreaming.
“Whatever You Write, Don’t Write Poetry”
I remember watching a preacher on T.V. He was giving tips on how to be successful. All of those tips I have forgotten, except one: “You can write an inspiring bookand sell, but whatever you write, don’t write poetry, because nobody reads poetry, nobody will buy it.” And I believed him.
I loved to read. One of my most frequent fantasies was inheriting my father’s library. I read everything; newspaper, magazines, novels, the bible, storybooks, billboards, fliers, labels, everything. I read everywhere; classroom, before bed, after bed, toilet, kitchen, playground, shop, everywhere. All my mates were hungry for food, I was hungry for books. My parents fed my hunger. I still love to read.
We Are All Contradictions
My first manuscript was inspired by a boy who hadbleached his skin, wore make-up and walked like a girl. I know his name but I will call him Chizaram. This boy wrote very interesting stories in notebooks,wrapped them with Calendar paper and drew beautifulbook-covers on them. I loved to borrow and read. One day, after ‘begging’ for one of his books, he answered me with a frown and a question:
“When am I going to read your own book, eh?” I was taken aback. If he had said it with a smile playing on the edges of his lips, it would have been a different thing. But he said it as if he was irritated. I did not know when I said,
“I have my own book, jhur. When I finish writing, you will read it.”
Chizaram was constantly bullied by the older boys in our school and he suffered in silence. We all did not understand why he was the way he was, so one day I asked him:
“Why do you behave like a girl?”
“If you treat somebody like a boy, will he not behave like a boy?”
That was when I saw the many questions in his eyes. Itwas deeper than his catwalk, deeper than his high-pitched voice, deeper than the awkwardness of a masculine body twisted into the shape of woman.
Meanwhile, I had a low-cut, bent my back to hide the breasts springing out of my chest until I developed a slight hunch. I detested my womanhood. I have always wanted to be someone else.
I never finished the manuscript, and Chizaram has never read anything I wrote. He was suddenly pulled out of our school into another school. Till today, it is a war to finish any piece of writing I start.
I began to write creatively when I was preparing for the Senior School Certificate (WAEC) examinations. Mr. Henry, my English teacher would edit and make me write the stories again and again. One day, he set me up for an Essay competition with many other schools in Abuja, but I backed out at the last minute. Mr. Henry was disappointed.
“Why didn’t you write?” he asked.
“I am not good enough,” answered the inner voice.
This is the most re-played conversation in my head. A song on loop.
I was looking down on my writing. I did not trust it. I did not love it. Singing was the god my writing worshipped. I became a song-writer.
I woke up into darkness, into self-disgust. I ran for refuge into relationships – with a man who became a curse, with a man who had roving eyes, with a manwho begged his love to kill his demons, but his demons killed his love – that burnt me.
In a room full of people, I’d turn my face to the wall and weep silently. Pain was a constant companion. I made plans to murder him; 1. Get drunk. 2. Have sex. 3. Kill myself.
I wrote many songs to God;
“…you are the source of life in the deepest death…”
My writing is a worshipper.
Chizaram was killed. I imagine that they gathered thecold on his body so that he did not only shiver, he froze. They held his throat tightly, with invincible hands until he vomited blood. I imagined this because I met his sister at the gate of my University. The ache was visible in her eyes. Two times she said to me:
“They killed my brother, who did not do anything tothem.”
Chizaram lives on.
2014 was the middle of the pain. At a prayer meeting, I felt a tingling like oil dripping from my hands. It was confirmed in my spirit and by the person leading the prayers that it was a pouring of the healing anointing.
This anointing did not come with an instruction I expected – “lay hands on the sick and they shall recover”, rather it came with a plan – “there will be a transfer of spirits as you transfer the words your hands have made to the broken, the hurting, the tired, the scared, and they shall recover.” This was how God was teaching my hands to battle, how I learnt to;
“…scribble power upon paper with the ink of spirits…”
The suicidal thoughts kept drowning me. I cried until my tears turned into a battle cry.
I said to myself, “This pain can take me, but I will not let it take someone else,” and then with tremendous fear, I began to lay hands on paper, on Social Media, everywhere, writing. I was getting positive feedback from people that read my poetry. One day, a woman sent me a message telling me about how my poems were holding her back from ending her life. I was shaken to my core. I wrote with the urgency of death. The tears mixed with ink. The pain became paint. I made art with it. My favourite poem from that time is:
“i am a lone wolf
living in my own walls
drowning in my own woes
owning to my own wounds
i am a beast forlorn
the least for long
the very melody
i am true, crude
a poet gone nude.”
I found a huge crowd of people like me, reached out to them and wrote for them the words I wished someone would write for me. People told me my words were healing them.
When I began counting all the people I could kill by killing myself, I realized there is nothing like suicide, only genocide.
This was how writing saved my life.
The Opening of Mouth
2016: I began to recite my poems because there were so many people I needed to reach, who were not reading.
I became a ‘Spoken Word Poet’ with great trepidation, trembling and stumbling all over the stages that welcomed me, learning that my words will always be enough.
2017: I was demolished. Here I found rock-bottom to be the best place for rebuilding faulty foundations. The beauty of a new beginning was springing forth, even though my life was a messy construction site. I searched for new truths to build my life on and conquered the voice of suicide.
As a part of their Chapbook Series, a compilation of my poems and story, ‘The Road Leads Me Home’, was published by Sevhage Publishers. After that, I left mypulpit (social media). At the end of the year, I won an award for a spoken word video. The woman said, “We gave you the award because of your words.”
2018: I found my voice, came back to the pulpit, performed on more stages, made videos, taught workshops and started work on my Spoken word album. In a poem titled ‘Teach them to pronounce your name,’ I wrote,
“iyanuoluwa, your name is the opening of god’s mouth,
audacity to speak without having to squeeze your nose
or panel beat your tongue into alien accent…”
Every day, I am priviledged to experience how being a writer is the closest thing to being God, how it is an opportunity to co-create with the creator, how it is the highest form of living, how it is a way of multiplying and stamping one’s DNA all over the world, how it is a way of breathing.
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/iyanuadebiyi
Social media handle: @iyanuadebiyi