You must learn to walk on water, if you want
to live in a place that does not flood.
You raise your eyebrows levée-like and I nod

thinking of how beneath the highs of cities
like Paris and New York, beyond the accessible depths
of Metro and Subway, the mapped grids where

you can pay to travel to hearth or heartbreak,
there are conduits for liquid: tunnels, storm
drains large enough to harbour a parade of liars.



When my uncle Freddie dies
you hold my hand in a damp grip,
which reminds me of our first sweat-
heavy coupling in Accra under a fan,

while I tell you stories my father told
me about Freddie's incredible prowess
at sport, how he later escaped
a kidnap plot by a corrupt government
by hiding in the boot of a Welsh
lecturer's car as she drove to Abidjan

for a weekend tryst. But we are
both stunned at his funeral as three
previously unknown children of his
emerge from beneath the high pitch
of the voice reading his obituary,
their eyes damp with love that belies

distance. They will later reveal
that one weekend a month he collected
each of them from their mothers,
took them to a quiet beach house

with a view of the stars. He fed them
breakfasts of fresh fish, grilled
on the shore, taught them sprinting
and salsa, talked about physics

and politics. Strange but wonderful
father, they say, after you have
wiped my tears with your pinky.



One day, when we are no longer together
I find myself under a fan in Singapore

thinking about the sheen of sweat that brewed
on your skin when we made love, the glow

fired from the blood vessels beneath it—
all ten thousand kilometres of them alive

to the transition we were making from steady
to ecstatic; how you tried to hold in your screams

and dissolved into manic giggles—your thighs clamps,
my body iron. I reflect on those moments anew

because the woman resting on my bare back
in the humid Straits afternoon has sweat
far less salty than yours and it set me

thinking about storm drains and what secrets
lie in the water they carry, the seas they empty
into, how you can never tell how much

salt hides in a tear
                        or a drop of sweat
without letting it ride
the ridges of your tongue.

And if the heart pumps blood
and blood is ninety-two percent water,
how much salt

will sour a heart?
Whose water gets walked on?

First Cry

One day my daughter will remember,
as I did when she was born, a long-buried song
that emerges in snippets, swaddled in memory
                                                if you ask me
I could write a book…
                                                nkɛ bo baa ya
nkɛ bo baa ya da daa…
then a melody too
she has forgotten the words for, but flowers still
beneath her lips.

                        A baby cries, its mouth
a dark, dried fruit, and from somewhere
your entire inheritance of comfort comes
tumbling forth: heartbeat, caress, the first
words that stilled the waters
            when you entered the world:
                                                           kaa fo.



City planners love thoroughfares, bridges,
dream of controlled streams, ordered footfalls;
humans moving from point to point unhindered.
Traders—the street kind—see human traffic

as opportunity. The sides of thoroughfares, virgin
ground for setting up stalls; traps to harvest
the shift of eyes, walls of goods to dam the flow
of the fevered. Paths contract like cooked greens,

hotspots spreading along lanes beneath the cool
skies of the imagined metropolis. This is the story
of pilgrims stopping to worship totems of commerce,
running late to the assembly of perfect souls; this

dance of movers and dawdlers is what holds cities
in gridlock. In the tension, lovers stop to admire baubles,
hold up the loveless, the working, the rushing hordes: us
in the grip of passion, delaying what we might become.

NII AYIKWEI PARKES is the winner of multiple international awards including Ghana’s ACRAG award and France's Prix Laure Bataillon. Parkes is the author of Tail of the Blue Bird (novel), The Makings of You (poetry) and, under, the name K.P. Kojo, Tales from Africa (children). He is the Producer of Literature and Talks at the Brighton Festival and is currently working on a crowd-funded collection of short stories, The City Will Love You (Unbound).