Growing up Misfit

To belong? What’s it mean? Is it creature of tense? Is it active or passive?
Is it cold set in bone, magma oozing to plate ocean floor, or explosive
Crackling reaction, plume clearing to flesh jacked into the massive?

My parents were wartime romance. “There was something in the air that night,
The stars were bright, Fernando…” For liberty indeed, and ten years prior, NOT
Fernando; to ditch the justice of the peace and priest’s decree of might makes names right;

They’d fought the Queen so that Gerald could be Uche, raised on Nigerian playgrounds
But when ancient wounds opened and national grass ran red, they fought for…Biafran greens.
Never thought that they could lose so they stitched their winnings into my ten birthweight pounds.

Dry pod full of jumping seed, my parents burst into staggered menage.
Tied on mother’s back, I soaked in English, Igbo, Umon, Efik,…On to Cairo, badinage
In broken Arabic and shards of Europe; rickety tower for a babbler to manage.

Camoflage tongue can get into trouble on any patch; bored in Cleveland school,
Smart-alec kid fresh from England lights a life-long beef with teachers in snotty fuel,
Acting like: “You chalkboard jockey, I’m too crazy-smart for you to fail.

“My Dad’s a rising superstar engineer and who the hell might you be?”
So they worked the kick-that-badass hustle on my grades, and Dad came by
To mop up. Off to St. Ann’s; nunnery license to ruler-smack if I dared disobey.

Private tuition sits heavy on new immigrants, so when our move to Gainesville
Gave me a clean rap sheet, a Thurgood Marshall bus ride would soon reveal
That this was no Biafran playground: “Uche? Your parents called you that for real?”

“You related to Kunta Kinte? Go steal me a bird from Chicken George
I ain’t got no money for KFC.” Didn’t take much chameleon sense to judge
That I had about no time flat to crack the social code; find a signature to forge.

My best friend and neighbor, bright, Jewish fellow-misfit struggling to conform
Tempted me to cruelty, showed me enough of the outline for me to frame,
To serve him, quick vic for sly betrayal when it came time to step up my game.

I’d learned too smart was mistake, so: “Dad, do I have to go to gifted class?
Two times a week right before recess? That shit’s going to mend my ass!”
But I knew deep down that was straight up bitch. I had my could-be-worse case…

Hussein’s family had fled Iran in retreat from the Ayatollah muhajideen
But became the yard’s only-good-one-is-a-dead-one once the hostage crisis went down.
Hussein had seen worse than punk clique kids. He was like: “Bring that shit on!”

Tetherball terrorist, he ruled any game, throwing down on even eighth grade fools.
I wanted some of that juice, but I dared not cross the line—I knew the rules.
Even from across the yard, Hussein taught me the kind of misfit that keeps it real.

My instinct turned to Hussein, but wasn’t ready; I’d become part of the colony.
Any chameleon can color redneck. I cranked Charlie Daniels and AC/DC with the boys,
Bumped Sugar Hill Gang and Jackson 5 when there was no one to report the felony.

Shot BB guns and wrist rockets, learned karate, skateboarding, whatever fit the bill,
Decorated the float when the Hurricanes came to town (Gator pride, y’all.)
Explored sewers by Hogtown Creek; pretended them Cowboys were kings of football.

“Bam!” I don’t even remember the goodbyes, the flight, just a blue-green streak
Then Jimmy Cliff singing “this is the land of my birth” on the car radio speakers
As we crossed the river Niger into the halved yellow sun, and I mixed back into my stock.

But not quite. Hope, pride and industry crackled from every radio, TV and politricks bullhorn;
Attitude to match from every soul I met: “USA? That’s where you’ve been?
Watch and learn. In a few years you’ll find God’s country right where you were born”

“Ajebutta” was the pidgin for someone returned from where common sense and life skills
Run in short supply. I was Ajebutta supreme. All that work to tip the social scales
In Gainesville. Now this. I was tired. I gave up, played it Hussein, and straight off the rails.

Even this was not Biafra. The enthusiasm and intensity told in my parents’ proud exile
Were ruthlessly watered down into “One Nigeria”. We’d waited, but we couldn’t exhale.
Uche was a common name, but I couldn’t pinch myself into the common style.

Seniors beat me up for insolence; prefects gave me hours of menial fag
I brushed it off and stood hard! B-boy! no matter how often flogged;
Lied, stole and skyved, hunchbacked, lugging my removed self in a dirty bag.

A bag that became my bastion, piled high with books beyond curriculum.
Nothing more important than craft of self expression, writing a column
To future brethren of taste and trait, distant twin souls of raffia and vellum.

When your eyes learn to look beyond state, to peers beyond infinity,
Okigbo, Villon, Pound, Plath, sometimes you forget that misfit can grow to vanity.
I’ve come to grow into readiness for company, the scent and crinkled space of shared humanity.

Collage is completion from gestalt-spackled gaps, pieces that never fit, that itch.
These rub away their corners into the circle of the whole. They don’t match,
They mate; their seed elaborates the daisy chain, fit and unfit bait and switch.

So I’ve grown to spread peacock tail. I choose you—not to match, but to mate.
I’m your Gregor Mendel muse, your chameleon genome hot date.
Witness the fitness. Witness the sticky space where misfits meet.

© Uche Ogbuji 2010

[First appeared in The Nervous breakdown, 2010]