how much does it cost to set a house of joy on fire? By Njoku Nonso

how much does it cost to set a house of joy on fire?

how much does it cost to set a house of joy on fire,
to pledge allegiance to what’s breasted to its forge

of ash, a child’s laughter buried in sand like a curse?
by god, even the child trapped in the mirror’s bleakest

gaze knows the miracle of hunger the way a flower bud
whimpering in the desert wind knows what kind of

death will befall it, the way a horse begging for water
knows there is no healing left inside the rima oris of

silence. how memory crawls out of the night’s darkest
belly to own the city & the child begging the midnight

moon to sit long in the sky, to sing the monsters breathing
under his pillow to sleep. but, some things, even the most

tenderest, the body cannot forgive. somewhere a road splits
open like a dream: in the garden, the wind a messenger

of ruination, the child’s mother picks red peppers for lunch,
while the child watches like a dumbbell—this, also, is

the beginning of terror, the sad monologue of ghosts.
when something we love calls our names & disappear,

do we search for it or give it a new name? outside, a gallery
of white-winged bats rise from trees & startle the sleeping

child awake. there’s yet no cure for the heart that suffers grief,
but we know, also, by god, some things are meant to kill us,

to teach us how the world is a mouthful of wet dreams.
standing by the window, the child, first, builds a new temple

on his palms, out of the salt of his grief, all of it, & then asks
the moon in prayers: how much does it cost to set a house of joy

on fire? why does every house inhabit a ghost, an inextinguishable
fire? if you must know: the mouth of prayer is the mouth of hunger.

If you must know: the child knows what even god does not
know: what shines through after the moon disappears.

By Njoku Nonso


Njoku Nonso is a Nigerian Igbo-born fiction writer, poet, essayist, and medical student, who lives and writes in/from Ojoto as a tribute to the spirit of Christopher Okigbo. His works are featured or is forthcoming in Bodega, The Shore, Brittle Paper, Animal Heart Press, Palette, Kissing Dynamite, Praxis and elsewhere. He’s currently working on his first poetry chapbook.

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