War Widow

By Chris Abani b. 1967 Chris Abani
The telephone never rings. Still
you pick it up, smile into the static,
the breath of those you’ve loved; long dead.

The leaf you pick from the fall
rises and dips away with every ridge.
Fingers stiff from time, you trace.

Staring off into a distance limned
by cataracts and other collected debris,
you have forgotten none of the long-ago joy
of an ice-cream truck and its summer song.

Between the paving stones;
between tea, a cup, and the sound
of you pouring;
between the time you woke that morning
and the time when the letter came,
a tired sorrow: like an old flagellant
able only to tease with a weak sting.

Riding the elevator all day,
floor after floor after floor,
each stop some small victory whittled
from the hard stone of death, you smile.
They used to write epics about moments like this.

Chris Abani,  “War Widow” from Hands Washing Water. Copyright © 2006 by Chris Abani. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press.

Source: Hands Washing Water (Copper Canyon Press, 2006)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Chris Abani b. 1967

POET’S REGION Africa

Subjects Living, Growing Old, Death, Sorrow & Grieving, Social Commentaries, War & Conflict

 Chris  Abani

Biography

Chris Abani is part of a new generation of Nigerian writers working to convey to an English-speaking audience the experience of those born and raised in that troubled African nation. Abani began writing at a very young age and published his first novel, Masters of the Board, while still a teenager. The plot of the novel, a political thriller, proved uncomfortably close to actual events; it mirrored a coup that was carried out in . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Growing Old, Death, Sorrow & Grieving, Social Commentaries, War & Conflict

POET’S REGION Africa

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.