Tailoring Grief

The tailor says you have to get measured
to make sure grief fits right on your body.
If grief fits too tight it will suck movement out of you,
make you as still as the dead you are mourning.
I once wore grief so tight on my body my ribs tangled into a bow.
The tailor also says wearing an oversized grief will turn you
into a tripping hazard. There is only so much a body can take,
even a plane has weight limits.
We lined up at the tailors to get measured
for my grandfather’s funeral. The women for their Aso-oke,
the men for their Agbada. The orange material draped on the table.
It is our culture to celebrate in colour coordination.
I handed the tailor a torn page from Genevieve magazine
and pointed out the style I wanted.
Imagine if Mary wore a Gele for the funeral of Jesus,
tied it so tight she was dizzy
enough to feel absent from her body.
I picked up my cloth from the tailor on the seventh day.
The off-shoulder dress exposed my neck
so my dented collarbones could collect my tears.
At the funeral my grandmother wore a dress
with sleeves puffed like swollen lungs.
I held her, the tassels at the end of my dress dangled
like a rain of breathing tubes.
From afar our orange dresses looked like saliva dripping
from the gaping mouth of the sun.
The whole village watched in holy envy:
envy is only effective from afar, does not see the layers
of blood-stained threads that sew this body together.
Give me a culture that requires grief to be sewn
delicately on the body, I’ll take it any day.

by Theresa Lola

We have a number of exciting Poetry Centre events coming up! They are all free, but please register via these links. Firstly, on Monday 25 March, join us, TORCH, and Paris Lit Up for a discussion about cultural diversity in literature, featuring authors Elleke Boehmer, Karin Amatmoekrim, and Malik Ameer Crumpler. A showcase from Paris Lit Up and an open mic will follow.

On 30 April, we’re at Waterstones to host four Canadian poets (Chad Campbell, James Arthur, Stephanie Warner, and Jim Johnstone) and celebrate the recent publication of an exciting new anthology of Canadian poetry. Sign up to attend here.

And on 20 May we are collaborating with the Oxford Centre for Christianity and Culture to bring the acclaimed poet Gillian Allnutt to Oxford – don’t miss her!

Find out more about these and other upcoming events on our events page, and remember that in addition to this Weekly Poem e-mail, you can also follow our work on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We look forward to seeing you soon!

‘Tailoring Grief’ is copyright © Theresa Lola, 2019. It is reprinted from In Search of Equilibrium (Nine Arches Press, 2019) by permission of Nine Arches Press.

Notes from Nine Arches:

Theresa Lola’s debut poetry collection In Search of Equilibrium is an extraordinary, and exacting study of death and grieving. Where the algorithms of the body and the memory fail, Lola finds the words that will piece together the binary code of family and restart the recovery program. In doing so, these unflinching poems work towards the hard-wired truths of life itself – finding hope in survival, lines of rescue in faith, a stubborn equilibrium in the equations of loss and renewal. You can read more about the collection on the Nine Arches website.

Theresa Lola is a British Nigerian Poet, born in 1994. She was joint-winner of the 2018 Brunel International African Poetry Prize and was shortlisted for the 2017 Bridport Poetry Prize. In 2018 she was invited by the Mayor of London’s Office to read at Parliament Square alongside Sadiq Khan and actress Helen McCory at the unveiling of Millicent Fawcett’s statue. She has appeared on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour, and ASOS Magazine with Octavia Collective among others. She is an alumni of the Barbican Young Poets Programme. Find out more about Theresa’s work on her website and follow her on Twitter.

Since its founding in 2008, Nine Arches Press has published poetry and short story collections (under the Hotwire imprint), as well as Under the Radar magazine. In 2010, two of our pamphlets were shortlisted for the Michael Marks Poetry Pamphlet prize and Mark Goodwin’s book Shod won the 2011 East Midlands Book Award. In 2017, All My Mad Mothers by Jacqueline Saphra was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize. Our titles have also been shortlisted for the Michael Murphy Prize, and in 2016 David Clarke’s debut poems, Arc, was longlisted for the Polari Prize. To date we have now published over seventy poetry publications, and 20 issues of Under the Radar magazine (and counting). Follow Nine Arches on Facebook and Twitter.

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