Novel Excerpt
Feature Artist: W.D. Chandler Smith
A Good Cause: Grand Rapids Culinary Revolution
TSP Talks to Mariela Griffor
TSP Talks to Linda Merlino
TSP Talks to David Poyer
Kalamazoo & Beyond
Novel Excerpt
Zinta Reviews
Tim Bazzett Reviews
Links & Resources
TSP Talks to Authors: YOU?
Submission Guidelines
The Editors

Houses in Abusir by W.D. Chandler Smith


A Strand of Ice


A Novel Excerpt by Timothy Ogene



At noon, she took a nap in readiness for the night. It was one of the shifts, and she needed all the sleep she could get. I cooked lunch, white rice and chicken stew, and ate in silence, intermittently turning to look at her. Thoughts of her in the arms of other men inundated my head, almost paralyzing and eclipsing every other thought that reared its head. I pictured her in her little black dress, dazzling them with her brilliance, charming them with her knowledge of the world. I imagined a satisfied old man, pulling out his wallet, counting and peeling out crisp notes, while Phillis dressed up, touching up her make-up. She never talked about the pay. I did not ask. It was part of our silent pact.


These thoughts continued to pour in and out, questions without answers. I only contended with the images they drew. But I kept turning, rephrasing and re-asking them. They protuberated and gnarled, like the bark of a coniferous tree.


Why did I move in with Phillis? I forced myself out of her shifts to a more answerable question. But still, there wasn't an answer on the platter. I was attracted to Phillis, but I wasn't sure if the attraction was mutual. Ours was the strange relationship of two drifting souls consoling each other with our body and warmth, an intangible sameness that pulled on both ends, almost different but not. It appeared we were our own gatekeepers.


The first night I moved in with her, I wept like a child. My tears were witnessed by my belongings: a suitcase, four boxes of books, two pairs of leather sandals, and a few essentials. That night dinner was simple: fried yam and tomato sauce. I ate with caution, at which she asked, with her fork heavenward, "What's wrong?"


"Nothing," I answered, still eating slowly. I can't really say if I was shy, nervous, or self-conscious.


"Is this your version of gentlemanliness? Please, eat," she said, the way you would prod a kid to finish his vegetables. "This might be the last time I beg you to eat,” she added. "Well, I'm sure you'll snap out of it after this night."


Indeed, a few days later, like an okra stem, I staggered back to what I would call normal. But at that dinner, I tried to be myself, to hold still and smile, to fork and dip my fried yam in tomato sauce without shivering. The problem was something bigger: I didn't even know if I knew myself.


After dinner, I offered to do the dishes. She looked at me, gave a short but instructive laugh, and said, "Hey poet, don't try to be a gentleman. Be yourself. Don't try to impress me. There will be more dishes to be done. Tonight, you are my guest. But it’s only for this night. So, relax and unpack your stuff."


She did the dishes, I unpacked and sat on the mattress, waiting, confused as the night that would usher me into a new phase of knowing.


Leaning next to the window, she smoked two sticks, quietly, squinting at the darkness. It was a coal-dark night, with stars sagging like ripe mangoes in June. The candle was halfway extinct, erect, unflickering; a sign that the wind was still, and listening.


She came to bed, but wasn't quite ready to sleep.


"I want to get a few things out of the way," she announced. "I guess I should have said them before you moved in, but I know you don't mind." I listened. "First, there will be a lot of nudity in this room, as you may have noticed. I am either scantily clad or naked here. It's just the way it is. And I'm sure you, too, when you've returned to your comfortable self, would do same. Second, as you already know, I smoke, and I'm fully aware of the consequences." I still listened, my legs outstretched, and crossed. "Third, don't try to impress me, please." The candle died. The screened, curtain-less window brought us the twinkles of the night: stars and glow-worms.


An hour later, we shook like adults are wired to shake, sweating and sighing and gasping. She asked to recite me a poem she knew by heart, and Walcott's "Love In The Valley" it was.  I held her tight as she ran through the words. Then, somewhere in that poem, I wept like a punctured bag of water, and slept.


She would return to those tears, and dig to find their source. I would evade her questions, and she wouldn't raise them again. Perhaps I was too embarrassed to tell her the truth that I, too, didn't know why I wept. It could've been the sex, or the poem, or both.  Maybe they, those tears, were also there as witnesses to my new chapter, a new phase that was just there, unclear, unmapped. Or they had just appeared to mourn what I was leaving behind, for I knew what I was escaping from, but the destination was vague, unknown.


When the dots were duly knotted, several years later, I would learn that that state of ambiguity was luck in work clothes; without those ambivalent gaps and unmapped paths, I would have complacently coasted without curiously combing the streets for books that would sire the literary fire in me. I would have flown, like eneke the bird, without perching to bore holes in the Iroko-thick mist that was my life.


But that night, young and unaware, I wept without knowing this truth. How was I to know? These things don't come decoded, but appear as flashes on tablets, waiting for the Daniel in us to decipher them for the confused Belshazzar on our left-brain.



Born and raised in Nigeria, Timothy Ogene currently lives in Wimberley, Texas. His works have appeared in Poetry Quarterly, Blue Rock Review, Underground Voices, The Medulla Review, Mad Swirl, and several other publications. He is completing his first novel and assembling a collection of poems.

ŠAll materials, print, artwork and photography on this site are copyrighted and not to be reprinted without written permission by The Smoking Poet.

Feedback, submissions, ideas? Email