The Name Behind the Jersey (Mikel John Obi)

by Lydia Wei

When your father gave you your name,
Nchekwube for hope and Obi for his heart,
he tucked away the dreams he had for you in words
that would call you to dinner, in words said over
staticky long-distance telephone calls, in words
breathed into the night air like the draw from
a cigarette. He spoke your name like watching
an old movie, every syllable pregnant with memory,
his cupped hands over your mother’s stomach
so that even the shadowy wombs had had faith
in your victories. All the while your name hung over
you like a talisman, like the harbinger of luck that
lottery players watch out for on the day of the numbers—
appearing on the back of your jerseys, in newspaper
headings, in television sportscasts. Your name where
yam roots bury themselves deep in velar consonants and
where ekwe drums throb against the walls of bilabial sounds,
and in its unbroken undulations the ball
comes toward you, hard path crushing over the grass
as the ricochet of your cleats against the leathery
skin passes and the football pivots into the goal,

—the crowd cheers your name, your father’s words
appearing almost corporeal in the shouts rising from their
taut throats, his dreams already slipping from
under his fingers and rising above the open bleachers
like the blooming shape of the cranes’ flight—

Nchekwube for hope and Obi for his heart,
the promise he had chosen for you so many
years ago.