First Dance Alone

experimental poem in Hausa and English

Malama Gulley, ta koya ne
before a window in a small
room with her own two sons.
Da ina tunanin wannan lokaci,
memories fade and blur, amma
wannan I remember: Malama
ta koya mani the possibility
da zan iya yi rubutu da karatu
kuma, even when kafofi na suna
compressed by takalma. She was,
dai dai, preparing me to go
to board at school in Jos,
where expectation of malami

would be for me to present
myself daily like some fine
horse prepared for durbar
to amsa the emir when yana
kiran sa, adorned in all
manner of contraptions
with takalma upon my feet.
Malama, how do I admit, after
all the lessons you gave me,
that this girl who you taught
school-behavior, how to raise
hannun dama high to question,
how to zauna, zama at my desk

until given leave to go for
recess, break—and that
having rushed outside to play,
how I would also be expected
by the malami to dawo and take
up my place again with willing
interest? Malama, how do I
confess that the one moment
of the next year, hudu, year
for which you so well prepared
me, the moment that remains
most haske in my memory was
in art class, the discovery

of a large biro with felt tip,
a marker that (if not truly
permanent) would at least dade
several weeks upon a young
girl’s skin. I hid it like
some sin behind my back, asked
permission to relieve myself,
snuck it out to the girls’
toilet. There, I removed my
takalma (at that time, sandals
only) with thin straps, baki,
hooked between the toes like
flip-flops, and a thin sole.

Akan kafofi na, I then drew
in those cords of bondage,
filled the paler skin not
quite as browned on the top
of each foot. Kuma na duba
the underside of each with
care, found eight barefoot
years had left them not so
different from the still-new
tan bottoms of my sandals.
Yauwa. I put the shoes back
on my feet, returned to class,
returned the borrowed ink.

Until then, I had not (in my
own assessment) sinned, only
made a loan of an implement,
promptly returned it, and had
also made an exploration, an
experiment, a drawing. Amma,
amma, sannu da rana, I strayed
from the straight path, wrapped
each of my takalmi into an
extra dankwali and hid them
both beneath my bed, gathered
my litafi, set out with intention
to deceive. And for almost two

weeks, my kafofi were free, had
escaped for an extended recess,
stayed on break. When I was
caught — of course, because
the marks began to fade—I
was caned (but briefly) by the
Malam teaching Maths, who
struggled, when he caught me,
not to laugh, who could not
keep himself from showing
juyayi to one small girl
from the jeji who preferred
to wear her own familiar feet.

In response to “What’s Poetry Got to Do with It? Musings by José Angel Araguz, Episode 1: Shoes” at
The Cincinnati Review.

3 Replies to “First Dance Alone”

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