Author Interview: Iretomiwa Xaron
Iretomiwa Xaron was published in The Mark in January of 2020. They are a non-binary queer writer from Nigeria. They are fascinated with the concepts of liminality and reality, and express this fondness in their poetry and short fiction. Their poems, "A Child Remembers Death" and "This is Memory, Drink" can be found below and in the "January 2020" page found under the archives button.
A Child Remembers Death
Two souls danced in the sea
translating waves into screams till their bodies went stiff / floating.
A fire was burning in me when the sea transmuted into rain
so that I became a masquerade
and danced till the sun shone.
It is fatal to invoke the sun on a stormy day.
A girl made her body a reservoir of sleeping pills then her heart slowed / and stopped. I read all the Letters in my Bible then wrote my prayers in a piece of paper
before storing it in a shallow pit I had dug
as a child.
My childhood is full of graves
not sand castles.
This is Memory, Drink
"O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me" —Matthew 26:39
Because, sometimes, memory ferments with time. Becomes new
& smelly. Overripe in the gardens of the past. Dripping
foul. Melting putrid. Falling from the lips of moaning boys. Lovers.
One, pulling out of the other. And crashing into a bed
of family members. Staring at the shame that has become
their sons. A man is not a man. If it is another man he pulls out
from. Sewage words that become streets in the ears. Love
reducing to waste. To dunghills and peopled noise
echoing across the lagoon till daylight comes. With two bleeding
bodies. Begging to be saved. From a market of voices
breaking the silence of their bones and skin. This is what happens
to taboos. Such as myself.
You too, drink. Remember now.
How did you hear about The Mark and why did you submit your work to us?
I heard through a friend and mutual, Joshua Morley. He sent in his poems, and one of them got accepted, so he told a bunch of us the good news. Now, I know and understand Morley's style of writing, so I just had this weird feeling that whoever the editor was, he or she would probably also understand my work as well. So I gave it a try.
What prompted you to write "A Child Remembers Death" and "This is Memory, Drink"? Are there some personal experiences that led to these poems?
In these two poems, I channel the stories of my friends and stories I'd heard elsewhere, in describing the space I was born into. In "This is Memory, Drink," I describe the violence that meets queer bodies. And in "A Child Remembers Death," I recall separation, how it happens, and the impression it leaves on the mind. It was important that I do this, even though they were not personal experiences. They however came from a point of understanding—I could see versions of my own story in these stories of others.
You said you didn't write your two poems from personal experience and they were inspired by the stories you've heard or been told by your friends. How do you go about channeling their stories in a way that's authentic to their reality but told through your words?
In short, what it takes is to be human—to express humanity. It's all about connecting with the experiences of others as though they were mine. Because they are, they are all our experiences, all of us human beings.
Your poems have some biblical references in them. As a non-binary queer person, how do you balance religion and your identity, if at all?
First, I am from a very religious home. My parents are both pastors, and so Christianity was of a very strong influence in my formative years. It wasn't until about six years ago that I left religion. But the Bible, beyond being religious, is still a book. And Jesus, beyond being the 'Son of God,' is also a pop icon. And sometimes, I like to relate things that from a distance seem unrelated, like I did in "This is Memory, Drink." So, in answering your question, no, I don't balance religion and my identity as a non-binary queer person. Because there's no need to.
As an American, I wonder how being queer in Nigeria differs from being queer in America. Obviously, you don't know what it's like to be a queer person in America, but can you speak to your experience of being a queer person in Nigeria? I don't want to tokenize you, and I understand that your experience does not speak to a whole group. However, in America, LGBTQ+ people are being increasingly open about their truths and themselves. Being LGBTQ+ is not so scandalous as it was a couple decades ago. Is it the same in Nigeria?
I can say that being queer in Nigeria is not like it was decades ago, too. I can’t exactly give a progress report though. I can only speak from my own point of view, which in many ways is not adequate to speak for subgroups in the LGBTQ+ community. What I can say categorically is that, being queer in Nigeria is still a “sin." Mainstream media, the law, the government, public institutions, and many many people frown at it. Not to talk of religious bodies that demonize queer people, and queer culture. Really, it's still very dangerous to be queer here, but we queer people are really resisting, trying to exist in this extremely hostile environment. That's what I can say, really.
What literature/authors inspire you? Who/what do you like to read?
The works of Ben Okri, Akwaeke Emezi, Nnedi Okoroafor, Octavia Butler and especially, Philip K. Dick. I love to read anything with a air of surrealism, but especially works that interrogate the very nature of reality. Science fiction in general, and what’s called paranoid fiction stand out for me though.
You write about very heavy emotional content. Do you ever find yourself facing any craft challenges when writing?
Honestly, I’m really new to all these, writing at this level. So, I’ll say that my style is still a work in progress. There are many challenges obviously then, but I always try to learn so much about the world. That helps me in navigating the craft. The whole world is language, like a friend of mine once said. And I guess everything in the world, helps me in better relating my own experiences and realities. It’s a daunting task, but it works.
Photo Credit: Lade Falobi