A mercy puts a thing
on my palm and
it is my childhood
Its tiny endless moth city
Its rind like grace
or tenderness or sorrow

In the red brick room, my father cries.
His cries are small, lonely animals.
I carry them with me
like an inheritance.

Once, I ran out
of a room
because the song
on the radio
was a fist
in the nook of my neck.
I stood
on the street
quietly weeping.

Though when a woman said to me:
“Child, are you well?
I said it was the waters
within me that wanted to
make themselves known.

Some nights are like that. They do not let you go
until they have broken into the secret July in your heart where you hide all things.

All I wanted
was to be home,
so I dipped myself
under the earth.
By which I mean
I entered the subway station.

It was there I heard him.
A man that was also a sound.
He was singing. Tree
branches broke
inside his voice.

There was, in his chorus, the quietude of a thing that was coming to an end.
This song he was singing, he said it was not a dirge.
Though he sang it to a thing that was dying.

Which in a way
was the kind of song
my father sang
as he lay dying.

My father said
his song was not a dirge.
Though he sang it
to a thing that was dying
in himself.
He said son.
my song is a joy.
But a joy with sharp knives.

So, my laughter is a thing with a sharp edge.
And my joy a trembling.

This man I saw,
his locks of hair
which ran down
to his neck
were the
visible borders
of a country
that was inside him.
And the sound he made
was the secret language
of a nation unto which
immigrants were called.

It was as though I had sliced through the ocean and arrived here,
only to run into my childhood.

And I did not want to make myself open. But I was made open
for certain songs do not ask your permission.

I raised my hands
and moved toward him,
naked before the song.
I said:
Dear Music, dear childhood.
Take me.
Take me.

Gbenga Adesina

— 1st Place Winner of the Spotlight Award —

Gbenga Adesina, Nigerian poet and essayist, has won the Palette Poetry Spotlight Award with his poem "Surrender." His poem, “How To Paint A Girl” was selected by Matthew Zapruder for its “clarity of observation and empathetic insight into the suffering of another” for publication in the New York Times, while also jointly winning the 2016 Brunel University, UK poetry prize. He has received scholarships and residencies from the Fine Arts Work Center, Provincetown, Poets House, Callaloo at Oxford and the Norman Mailer Center. His poetry Chapbook, Painter of Water, selected and edited by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani was published in spring 2016 in the New Generation African Poets series by University of Nebraska-lincoln and Akashic books, New York. His poems have been published in the New York TimesPrairie Schooner, Narrative Magazine, Washington Square Review, Ploughshares, Vinyl and elsewhere. This spring, he’ll graduate as a Goldwater Poetry Fellow from the MFA Program at NYU where he is supervised by Yusef Komunyakaa. He also teaches undergraduate Creative Writing there.