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About this poet

Chris Abani is the author of There Are No Names for Red (Red Hen Press, 2010), illustrated by Percival Everett and Sanctificum (Copper Canyon Press, 2010). He is a Board of Trustees Professor of English at Northwestern University. 

The New Religion

The body is a nation I have never known.
The pure joy of air: the moment between leaping
from a cliff into the wall of blue below. Like that.
Or to feel the rub of tired lungs against skin-
covered bone, like a hand against the rough of bark.
Like that. "The body is a savage," I said.
For years I said that: the body is a savage.
As if this safety of the mind were virtue
not cowardice. For years I have snubbed
the dark rub of it, said, "I am better, Lord,
I am better," but sometimes, in an unguarded
moment of sun, I remember the cowdung-scent
of my childhood skin thick with dirt and sweat
and the screaming grass.
But this distance I keep is not divine,
for what was Christ if not God's desire
to smell his own armpit? And when I
see him, I know he will smile,
fingers glued to his nose, and say, "Next time
I will send you down as a dog
to taste this pure hunger."

Copyright © 2006 by Chris Abani. From Hands Washing Water (Copper Canyon Press, 2006). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

Copyright © 2006 by Chris Abani. From Hands Washing Water (Copper Canyon Press, 2006). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

Chris Abani

Chris Abani

Chris Abani is the author of There Are No Names for Red (Red Hen Press, 2010), illustrated by Percival Everett and Sanctificum (Copper Canyon Press, 2010). He is a Board of Trustees Professor of English at Northwestern University. 

by this poet

poem
I set you free that night, father.
When you came back in that yellow Volkswagen,
in that dream.
I made a boat of honor for you.
Woven of poems and words and not words.
I set it on the ocean.
Father Obuna said to me,
a gift is freely given and a gift
is freely returned.
It has taken me thirty years
to understand
poem

Who hasn’t been tempted by the sharp edge of a knife?
An ordinary knife cutting ordinary tomatoes on
an ordinary slab of wood on an ordinary Wednesday.
The knife nicks, like a bite to the soul. A reminder
that what is contemplated is as real as the blood
sprouting from a finger. As real as