Poems > Nigerian British > Lola
Portrait Of Us As Snow White
By Theresa Lola
We inherited black holes for eyes,
so light was the benchmark we measured the beauty of skin against.
We sat in our dorm room
and discussed who the fairest of all was.
The Igbo girls claimed they could be cast as foreign
as long as the sun didn’t betray them.
The girls with skin the shade of the bronze masks
our ancestors carved directed the conversation.
The myth was that backstage curtains are dark colours
so that dark girls can camouflage into them.
We never said the word ‘race’, substituted ‘yellow pawpaw’ for ‘white’
as if we knew the word ‘white’ would peel our tongues down to a seed of guilt.
My bow legs hung from my bunk bed like question marks.
I was unsure of which shade my skin will grow into,
so I could not be the lead role in this fairy tale.
Now I know our ignorance is a kind of bacteria
bleach multiplies instead of killing.
One of my dorm mates used ‘Papaya Skin Lightening Soap’,
the scent was like every other soap,
she rubbed it on her skin until
she was cast as Snow White in the school play.
The myth is that despite all the light on her skin,
her soul remains a backstage curtain.
By Theresa Lola
There was no umbilical cord tying us together,
it was no surprise that a telephone cord
was not sure what do to with my father and I’s bodies.
My father grew into a voicemail,
a permanent “sorry the caller cannot be reached
at this moment”.
The matron in boarding school said no phones were allowed,
but I never tried to smuggle one,
you do not need a phone to listen to your father’s silence.
He spoke on the phone
to his friends for hours about Nigeria.
He complained the country’s interest rates were rising,
My father said we need less corruption
and more attention on home affairs.
I was unsure if he was referring to the country or us.
She is a Nigerian British poet born in 1994.
What Judges had to say about her poetry: "Lola seeks to articulate the frailties, complications and brutalities inflicted by the body through microscopic imagery that is grotesque and distorted yet surprisingly tender. Hers is a poetic where peeling is the recurring motif – we witness peeling of black skins and peeling of tongues. The poetry is also unflinchingly composed, whether she is portraying a daughter cutting her father’s spine or the ravages of a father’s illness where cancer has kissed death unto his kidneys."
Theresa Lola is a poet of considerable achievement. A few months ago, she became a joint winner of the 2018 Brunel International African Poetry Prize. Her writing seeks out intimate spaces where pain but also beauty lies. On June 30th, she will perform at the 2018 Africa Writes Festival with the Octavia Poetry Collective.