Hello World! Welcome to the newest chapbook in Praxis Magazine Online‘s digital chapbook series, a powerful sequence of poems by Justice Gift Ogochukwu, edited by JK Anowe. Read the introduction below, then download and read broken home 101.
Introduction to broken home 101
by Laura M Kaminski (Halima Ayuba)
broken home 101 is a series of eighteen poems on the theme of domestic abuse. These poems are written from the perspective of a son after the funeral of an abused mother. The chapbook opens with a prelude “how to live in a broken home” and continues with seventeen additional poems exploring different facets of abuse, how it is denied by both abuser and abused, how abusers blame abused to justify their actions and absolve themselves, how the survival behaviors learned by a child are internalized in such a way that even after leaving, the “broken home” is carried inside the child into adulthood.
Layers and layers of silence are woven through these poems until the narrator and reader are suffocating with it – the practical silence of absenting the self to protect it:
silence is better than a broken song
stay near the exit
the silent façade of well-being pasted over the doorway of suffering:
when people asked how she was
she would bail back silence into her eyes
and iron her lips into a Sunday outfit
the speechless silence of extreme vulnerability that doesn’t even know how to begin to speak:
i’m a baby bird
with ashy throat
searching my armpit for how to chirp
The narrative persona in these poems explores the mother’s silence learned and adopted by the young child as a survival trait, the silence as a habitual protection against abuse not only in the broken home but in environments outside the home – until the interior person is so surrounded by it that abuse cannot get in –
people throw rotten names at me
the splatter is paint for the fence around my heart
and the interior person cannot get out, not even in prayer because the silence adds so much weight to everything:
i am afraid to empty my heart of heavy words.
The oppressive silence reaches a climax with the closing poem in the series: “how I became a man.” Here, the narrative persona has evolved from helplessness, from not knowing how to chirp to an adult that is finally able to speak out, to disengage from the abuse and disclaim it. Through the course of these poems, in the depth of all the silence, he has evolved from being a child defined by his broken-home environment –
is home not a pocket
where our fingers always go
to fetch fragments of ourselves
to an adult who has found his own voice. The final poem speaks of more than mere survival: it speaks with assurance, with redemption, with the courageous, dignified self-affirmation of one who has determined to be defined hereafter only by his own choices, not by an abusive father’s actions. Because I cannot in fairness quote the entire closing poem here in the introduction, I recommend this entire powerful sequence of poems to your attention.
Laura M Kaminski (Halima Ayuba)
Laura M Kaminski (Halima Ayuba) is Managing Editor at Praxis Magazine Online.