Poetry

NEON POEM by TJ Dema with Studio Revolt

Tatās

By Matthew Shenoda

Our grandmothers walked the banks of the River Nile

Balancing on their heads alabaster jars.

Our tātās beat clothing on the banks of the River Nile

Ringing and rolling the precious drops against limestone rock.

They dried the dates of palm on the banks of the River Nile

Adding to their sweetness a kiss of peace.

They carried the weight of the River Nile

The weight of us all, on their backs, all the while bracing earth with

their toughened feet.

Song of Name

By Matthew Shenoda

Inside the illuminated song

floats a note

that only the ancient can hear

three scales above the rest

it rides through the ear

deep past the bone

driven by the engines of memory

the ancient transforms

to living

and the song of Name rings clear

sounding:

agios

Standing on the Corner

By Matthew Shenoda

This poem was inspired by a true story, as Shenoda tells us – a real incident of Islamic hostility that affected a friend of his family. He says it represents a small example of that fanaticism that plagued Egypt all the time.

Waiting for a cab on Cairo’s streets
scrunched in the crowd

where millions gather daily

her Coptic cross hangs by her neck

a taxi swings toward the street’s edge

hand reaches out the window

to rip the symbol of Egypt

from her neck

Annunciate

Annunciating the struggle

knees sunk deep

on the banks of the Nile

on fire

hippopotamus beats and papyrus realities

remember how they skinned our brothers thin

sewed the flesh of the dead to our tongues

gifting us the evaporating taste of stealth

the language of another brother’s skin

Annunciate

like the campesinos cultivate

Annunciate

in the tradition of your people’s fate

Annunciation

breaks silence & starvation

Keep it real

ṣaḥῑḥ*

ṣaḥῑḥ

with that hectic eclectic

Cairo-style Copticism

* ṣaḥῑḥ is the Arabic word for “real”.

Coffee Break Related Poem Content Details
BY KWAME DAWES

It was Christmastime,
the balloons needed blowing,
and so in the evening
we sat together to blow
balloons and tell jokes,
and the cool air off the hills
made me think of coffee,
so I said, “Coffee would be nice,”
and he said, “Yes, coffee
would be nice,” and smiled
as his thin fingers pulled
the balloons from the plastic bags;
so I went for coffee,
and it takes a few minutes
to make the coffee
and I did not know
if he wanted cow’s milk
or condensed milk,
and when I came out
to ask him, he was gone,
just like that, in the time
it took me to think,
cow’s milk or condensed;
the balloons sat lightly
on his still lap.

Poem copyright ©2013 by Kwame Dawes, “Coffee Break,” from Duppy Conqueror: New and Selected Poems, (Copper Canyon Press, 2013). Poem reprinted by permission of Kwame Dawes and the publisher.

Tornado Child Related Poem Content Details
BY KWAME DAWES

For Rosalie Richardson
I am a tornado child.
I come like a swirl of black and darken up your day;
I whip it all into my womb, lift you and your things,
carry you to where you’ve never been, and maybe,
if I feel good, I might bring you back, all warm and scared,
heart humming wild like a bird after early sudden flight.

I am a tornado child.
I tremble at the elements. When thunder rolls my womb
trembles, remembering the tweak of contractions
that tightened to a wail when my mother pushed me out
into the black of a tornado night.

I am a tornado child,
you can tell us from far, by the crazy of our hair;
couldn’t tame it if we tried. Even now I tie a bandanna
to silence the din of anarchy in these coir-thick plaits.

I am a tornado child
born in the whirl of clouds; the center crumbled,
then I came. My lovers know the blast of my chaotic giving;
they tremble at the whip of my supple thighs;
you cross me at your peril, I swallow light
when the warm of anger lashes me into a spin,
the pine trees bend to me swept in my gyrations.

I am a tornado child.
When the spirit takes my head, I hurtle into the vacuum
of white sheets billowing and paint a swirl of color,
streaked with my many songs.
“Tornado Child” by Kwame Dawes, from Midland (Ohio University Press). Copyright © 2001 by Kwame Dawes. Used with permission.
Source: Midland (Ohio University Press, 2001)

 

Abiku

In vain your bangles cast

Charmed circles at my feet;

I am Abiku, calling for the first

And the repeated time.

Must I weep for goats and cowries

For palm oil and the sprinkled ash?

Yams do not sprout in amulets

To earth Abiku’s limbs.

So when the snail is burnt in his shell

Whet the heated fragments, brand me

Deeply on the breast. You must know him

When Abiku calls again.

I am the squirrel teeth, cracked

The riddle of the palm. Remember

This, and dig me deeper still into

The god’s swollen foot.

Once and the repeated time, ageless

Though I puke. And when you pour

Libations, each finger points me near

The way I came, where

The ground is wet with mourning

White dew suckles flesh-birds

Evening befriends the spider, trapping

Flies in wind-froth;

Night, and Abiku sucks the oil

From lamps. Mother! I’ll be the

Supplicant snake coiled on the doorstep

Yours the killing cry.

The ripes fruit was saddest;

Where I crept, the warmth was cloying.

In the silence of webs, Abiku moans, shaping

Mounds from the yolk.

By: Wole Soyinka

Season

Rust is ripeness, rust.

And the wilted corn-plume.

Pollen is mating-time when swallows

weave a dance.

Of feathered arrows

Thread corn-stalks in winged

Streaks of light. And we loved to hear

Spliced phrases of the wind, to hear

Rasps in the field, where corn-leaves

pierce like bamboo slivers.

Now, garnerers we,

Awaiting rust on tassels, draw

Long shadows from the dusk, wreathe

The thatch in wood-smoke. Laden stalks

Ride the germ’s decay-we await

The promise of the rust.

By: WOLE SOYINKA

Matthew Shenoda and John Carlos Perea

 

The Call of the River Nun

I hear your call!
I hear it far away;
I hear it break the circle of these crouching hills.

I want to view your face again and feel your cold embrace; or at your brim to set myself and inhale your breath;
or like the trees,
to watch my mirrored self unfold and span my days with song from the lips of dawn.

I hear your lapping call!
I hear it coming through;
invoking the ghost of a child
listening, where river birds hail your silver-surfaced flow.

My river’s calling too!
Its ceaseless flow impels
my found’ring canoe down
its inevitable course.
And each dying year
brings near the sea-bird call,
the final call that
stills the crested waves
and breaks in two the curtain
of silence of my upturned canoe.

O incomprehensible God!
Shall my pilot be
my inborn stars to that
final call to Thee.
O my river’s complex course?
By Gabriel Okara

The Mesh

We have come to the cross-roads
And I must either leave or come with you.
I lingered over the choice
But in the darkness of my doubts
You lifted the lamp of love
And I saw in your face
The road that I should take.

By: Kwesi Brew

 

We Have Come Home

We have come home
From the bloodless wars
With sunken hearts
Our booths full of pride-
From the true massacre of the soul
When we have asked
‘What does it cost
To be loved and left alone’

We have come home
Bringing the pledge
Which is written in rainbow colours
Across the sky-for burial
But is not the time
To lay wreaths
For yesterday’s crimes,
Night threatens
Time dissolves
And there is no acquaintance
With tomorrow

The gurgling drums
Echo the stars
The forest howls
And between the trees
The dark sun appears.

We have come home
When the dawn falters
Singing songs of other lands
The death march
Violating our ears
Knowing all our loves and tears
Determined by the spinning coin

We have come home
To the green foothills
To drink from the cup
Of warm and mellow birdsong
‘To the hot beaches
Where the boats go out to sea
Threshing the ocean’s harvest
And the hovering, plunging
Gliding gulls shower kisses on the waves

We have come home
Where through the lighting flash
And the thundering rain
The famine the drought,
The sudden spirit
Lingers on the road
Supporting the tortured remnants
of the flesh
That spirit which asks no favour
of the world
But to have dignity.

By: Lenrie Peters

The Renegade

My brother you flash your teeth in response to every
hyprocrisy
My brother with gold-rimmed glasses
You give your master a blue-eyed faithful look
My poor brother in immaculate evening dress
Screaming and whispering and pleading in the parlours
of condescension
We pity you
Your country’s burning sun is nothing but a shadow
On your serene ‘civilized’ brow
And the thought of your grandmother’s hut
Brings blushes to your face that is bleached
By years of humiliation and bad conscience
And while you trample on the bitter red soil of Africa
Let these words of anguish keep time with your restless
Step –
Oh I am lonely so lonely here.

By: David Diop

Waiting

Long-
er
than
the
y
a
w
n
of
the
moon
in
a
sky
so
brown
with
heels
of
fleeting
fancies
a
diamond
tear
waits,
tremulous,
in
the
eye
of
the
cloud,
dropping
By Niyi Osundare

 

Our History to precolonial Africa

And the waves arrived.
Swimming in like hump-backed divers
With their finds from far-away seas.

Their lustre gave the illusion pearls
As shorewards they shoved up mighty canoes
And looked like the carcass of drifting whales.

And our sight misled us
When the sun’s glint on the spear’s blade
Passed for lightning
And the gun-fire of conquest
The thunderbolt that razed the forest.

So did our days change their garb
From hides of leopard skin
To prints of false lions
That fall in tatters
Like the wings of whipped butterflies.

By: Mbella Sonne Dipoko

Song of Praise

A Song of Praise

An oriki is a praise song or an attribution to a person. Praise songs are an important part of Yoruba oral traditions.

The following oriki was sung by one of Olowe’s wives and reveals the extent of his fame.

I am…Oloju-ifun Olowe
Olowe, my excellent husband.
Outstanding leader in war.
Elemoso. [Emissary of the king.]
One with a mighty sword.
Handsome among his friends.
Outstanding among his peers.
One who carves the hard wood of the iroko tree as though it were as soft as a calabash.
One who achieves fame with the proceeds of his carving.
The frightening Esu his forbids being burnt.
The frightening Esu his forbids being hurt.
Whoever burns him [Olowe] invites trouble.
Whoever hurts him [Olowe] incurs the wrath of Esu,
[Esu] forbids that [Olowe] be publicly disgraced.
Olowe, you are great!
You walk majestically
And with grace.
A great man, who, like a mighty river, flows beneath rocks,
Forming tributaries
Killing the fish as it flows.

A river has no slaves,
His father had slaves
The unworthy dead are his father’s slaves.

But, Olowe is honorable.
The son of one who dines with masquerades.
The son of the great elephant killer in the forest.
Even though he slaughters a dog at home
And a slave behind the house
He is only interested in joining them in consuming the dog.
He does not join them to eat Elekole’s slave.
Although Elekole has a good name, his oriki spoils it.

The son of Elekole, who has an overabundance of clothes
And uses them to wrap the Ose tree.
His cloth is so plentiful that there is enough to throw away.
The one whose house is painted white [with lime chalk] right up to the gate.
Rather than being ugly, the lime chalk makes it attractive.
It is against Olowe’s custom,
And so we do not use ego to drink water in his house.

My lord, I bow down to you,
Leader [senior head] of all carvers.
He is a great dancer,
Whose dancing entertains.
I adore you!
You have done well.
You have brethren who are not uninitiated.
The ignorant person who does not know his mother today will never know her.
You, the brethren of Ejige, where rituals are performed.
I shall always adore you,my lord.
He [Olowe] spends iroko money to achieve great things,
Who carves the iroko tree with the ease of carving a calabash.
Whoever meets you unawares risks
Becoming a sacrificial victim.
Whoever meets you unawares
Sees trouble.
I shall always adore you, Olowe!
Olowe, who carves iroko wood.
The master carver.
He went to the palace of Ogoga
And spent four years there.
He was carving there.
If you visit Ogoga’s place
And the one at Owo,
The work of my husband is there.
If you go to Ikare,
The work of my husband is there.
Pay a visit to Igede,
You will find my husband’s work there.
The same thing at Ukiti.
His work is there.
Mention Olowe’s name at Ogbagi
In Use too,
My husband’s work can be found.
In Deji’s palace,
My husband worked at Akure.
Olowe also worked at Ogotun.
There was a carved lion
That was taken to England.
With his hands he made it.

From: The Yoruba Artist: New Theoretical Perspectives on African Arts. Edited by Rowland Abiodun, Henry J. Drewal, and John Pemberton III. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994; pp 100-102. Recorded by John Pemberton III, 12 June 1988, at Olowe’s house at Ise Ekiti. Sanmi Adu-Fatoba transcribed the oriki and Rowland Abiodun assisted in the translation.

 

 

Outsider

Between the oyster-beach and the greens…

Sea and barren coast.

Between tresses of dark silver and reels of danger…

lonesome bird of the wilds!
I spat on the world from between my gums,

Shouted at the moon from between my lungs,

Hooted at the chirrupy mermaid of the dusk…

clever lad of goddam tribe!
Then came the winds, flushing hearts,

The rains came, drenching all their mirth,

Came thunder scattering all irrelevance..

happy child of the new testament!
There were tears, then, when I was born,

There were aches, too, when I was born

Tears to drop, and hearts to ache,

No brains to pry, no minds to try

Where, when I was born.

So take, take me away!

Send, send me away!

Let the gold I loved which never was

Delude its glory-minded prodigy.

Send, O send me away!

By: Micheal Echeruo

Native

Your eyes toe-set

thumb my nerves

as you weave

your being into frenzy;

and your tongue,

weaving a song,

painting the scenes

as I sit toe-dancing

Then you pull

those eyelids over

as you bend

downwards to dance

yourself into goddess;

And your waist,

swinging to rhythm,

answering the drum

as I look, headshaking.

Then light fades,

those scenes fly

as you stretch

your being, panting,

and your mouth,

muttering my name,

stifling my nerves

as I end my verse!

By: Okogbule Wonodi

(Dedicated to Miss Eunice Akaninwa and the village girls who do the dance I know well. 21:1:63)

 

 

Noliwe

The weakness of the heart is holly…

Ah! You think that I never loved her

My Negress fair with palmoil, slender as a plume

Thighs of a starlet otter, of Kilimanjaro snow

Breasts of mellow rice-fields, hills of acacias under the

East Wind.

Noliwe with her arms of boas, lips of the adder

Noliwe, her eyes were constellations there is no

need of moon or drum

But her voice in my head and the feverous pulse of the

night…

Ah! You think that I never loved her!

But these long years, this breaking on the wheel of the years, this carcan strangling every act

This long night without sleep I wandered like a

mare from the Zambezi, running and rushing at the

stars

Gnawed by a nameless suffering, like the leopards in the

trap.

I would not have killed her if I had loved her less.

I had to escape from doubt

From the intoxication of the milk of her mouth, from

the throbbing drum of the night of my blood

From my bowels of fervent lava, from the uranium

mines of my heart in the depths of my Blackness

From love of Noliwe

From the love of my black skinned People.

By: Leopold Sedar Senghor

Songs of Sorrow

Dzoghese Lisa has treated me thus

It has led me among the sharps of the forest

Returning is not possible

And going forward is a great difficulty

The affairs of this world are like the chameleon faeces

Into which I have stepped

When I clean it cannot go.

I am on the world’s extreme corner,

I am not sitting in the row with the eminent

But those who are lucky

Sit in the middle and forget

I am on the world’s extreme corner

I can only go beyond and forget.

My people, I have been somewhere

If I turn here, the rain beats me

If I turn there the sun burns me

The firewood of this world

Is for only those who can take heart

That is why not all can gather it.

The world is not good for anybody

But you are so happy with your fate;

Alas! The travelers are back

All covered with debt.

II

Something has happened to me

The things so great that I cannot weep;

I have no sons to fire the gun when I die

And no daughters to wail when I close my mouth

I have wandered on the wilderness

The great wilderness men call life

The rain has beaten me,

And the sharp stumps cut as keen as knives

I shall go beyond and rest.

I have no kin and no brother,

Death has made war upon our house;

And Kpet’s great household is no more,

Only the broken fence stands;

And those who dared not look in his face

Have come out as men.

How well their pride is with them.

Let those gone before take not

They have treated their offspring badly.

What is the wailing for?

Somebody is dead. Agosu himself

Alas! A snake has bitten me

My right arm is broken,

And the tree on which I lean is fallen

Agosu if you go tell them,

Tell Nyidevu, Kpeti and Kove

That they have done us evil;

Tell them their house is falling

And the trees in the fence

Have been eaten by termites:

That the martels curse them.

Ask them why they idle there

While we suffer, and eat sand,

And the crow and the vulture

Hover always above our broken fences

And strangers walk over our portion.

By: Kofi Awoonor

‘This is a poem that catches most pleasantly the tone and content of traditional lament…piling up images of sorrow’ Nwoga.

 

Ibadan

Ibadan,

running splash of rust

and gold-flung and scattered

among seven hills like broken

china in the sun.

J.P. Clark

Olokun

I love to pass my fingers

(As tide thro’ weeds of the sea

And wind the tall fern-fronds)

Thro’ the strands of your hair

Dark as night that screens the naked moon:

I am jealous and passionate

Like Jehovah, God of the Jews,

And I would that you realise

No greater love had woman

From man than the one I have for you!

But what wakeful eyes of man,

Made of the mud of this earth,

Can stare at the touch of sleep

The sable vehicle of dream

Which indeed is the look of your eyes!

So drunken, like ancient walls

We crumble in heaps at your feet;

And as the good maid of the sea,

Full of rich bounties for men,

You lift us all beggars to your breast.

By: J. P. Clark

Love Apart

The moon has ascended between us,
Between two pines
That bow to each other;

Love with the moon has ascended,
Has fed on our solitary stems;

And we are now shadows
That cling to each other,
But kiss the air only.

By: Christopher Okigbo

NewComer iii (for Goergette)

In the chill breath

of the day’s waking

comes the newcomer

when the draper of May

has sold out fine green

garments, and the hillsides

have made up their faces

and the gardens

on their faces

a painted smile:

such synthetic welcome

at the cock’s third siren

when from behind bulrushes

waking

in the teeth of the chill Maymorn

comes the newcomer.

By Christopher Okigbo

 

The Stars Have Departed

The Stars have departed,

the sky in monocle

surveys the worldunder

The stars have departed,

and I-where am I?

Stretch, stretch, O antennae,

to clutch at this hour,

fulfilling each moment in a

broken monody.

By Christopher Okigbo

For He was a Shrub among the Poplars

For he was a shrub among the poplars

Needing more roots

More sap to grow to sunlight

Thirsting for sunlight

A low growth among the forest.

Into the soul

The selves extended their branches

Into the moments of each living hour

Feeling for audience

Straining thin among the echoes;

And out for the solitude

Voice and soul with selves unite

Riding the echoes

Horsemen of the apocalypse

And crowned with one self

The name displays its foliage,

Hanging low

A green cloud above the forest.

By Christopher Okigbo

 

Olayimika

Song of a first born daughter to the beats of gangan.

I am the first fruit of your loins.
Seasoned with grace.
Seasoned with salt.
I stride to drumbeats.
Flywhisks attend my hands.
Like anklets of brass, joy encircles.

I am the consolation,
born for the day of affliction.
I am the vigour,
the virgin seed,
roosting under coverlets of aso-oke.

Down the winding road, I nurture the handkerchiefs
for champions who cry…
Behold the daughter,
your blessed harvest.
Your basket of plump yams.
Your scented one.

By: TOYIN ADEWALE

Abiku

Coming and going these several seasons,
Do stay out on the baobab tree,
Follow where you please your kindred spirits
If indoors is not enough for you.
True, it leaks through the thatch
When flood brim the banks,
And the bats and the owls
Often tear in at night through the eaves,
And at harmattan, the bamboo walls
Are ready tinder for the fire
That dries the fresh fish up on the rack.
Still, it’s been the healthy stock
To several fingers, to many more will be
Who reach to the sun.
No longer then bestride the threshold
But step in and stay
For good. We know the knife scars
Serrating down your back and front
Like beak of the sword-fish,
And both your ears, notched
As a bondsman to this house,
Are all relics of your first comings.
Then step in, step in and stay
For her body is tired,
Tired, her milk going sour
Where many more mouths gladden the heart.
By J.P. Clark

Black Woman

Naked woman, black woman

Clothed with your colour which is life, with your form which is beauty!

In your shadow I have grown up; the gentleness of your hands was laid over my eyes.

And now, high up on the sun-baked pass, at the heart of summer, at the heart of noon, I come upon you, my Promised Land,

And your beauty strikes me to the heart like the flash of an eagle.

Naked woman, dark woman

Firm-fleshed ripe fruit, sombre raptures of black wine, mouth making lyrical my mouth

Savannah stretching to clear horizons, savannah shuddering beneath the East Wind’s eager caresses

Carved tom-tom, taut tom-tom, muttering under the Conqueror’s fingers

Your solemn contralto voice is the spiritual song of the Beloved.

Naked woman, dark woman

Oil that no breath ruffles, calm oil on the athlete’s flanks, on the flanks of the Princes of Mali
Gazelle limbed in Paradise, pearls are stars on the night of your skin

Delights of the mind, the glinting of red gold against your watered skin

Under the shadow of your hair, my care is lightened by the neighbouring suns of your eyes.

Naked woman, black woman,

I sing your beauty that passes, the form that I fix in the Eternal,

Before jealous fate turn you to ashes to feed the roots of life.

By Leopold Sedar Senghor

Requiem: 5

I shall sit often on the knoll

And watch the grafting.

This dismembered limb must come

Some day

To sad fruition.

I shall weep dryly on the stone

That marks the gravehead silence of

A tamed resolve.

I shall sit often on the knoll

Till longings crumble too.

O I have felt the termite nuzzle

White entrail

And fine ants wither

In the mind’s unthreaded maze.

Then may you frolic where the head

Lies shaven, inherit all,

Death-watches, cut your beetled capers

On loam-matted hairs. I know this

Weed-usurped knoll.

The graveyard now

Was nursery to her fears.

By: Wole Soyinka

Who Buys My Thoughts

Who buys my thoughts

Buys not a cup of honey

That sweetens every taste;

He buys the throb,

Of Young Africa’s soul,

The soul of teeming millions,

Hungry, naked, sick,

Yearning, pleading, waiting.

Who buys my thoughts

Buys not some false pretence

Of oracles and tin gods;

He buys the thoughts

Projected by the mass

Of restless youths who are born

Into deep and clashing cultures,

Sorting, questioning, watching.

Who buys my thoughts

Buys the spirit of the age,

The unquenching fire that smoulders

And smoulders in every living heart

That’s true and noble or suffering;

It burns all o’er the earth,

Destroying, chastening, cleansing.

By: Dennis Osadebay

A Call

She did not call me by name
Not by the name my mother gave me
She called me by another name
A word
I have not heard it before
Yet I knew it was me.
Will you come under the cashew tree beside the cemetery? I know no cashew tree beside the cemetery
No, I don’t.
Yet I will go.
Perhaps a revelation awaits me
Have they discovered the coloured cowrie?
Or the specific herbs that will conjure
They perhaps have found the lost wanderer
I went after her.
She stood still beneath the cashew
And spoke not a word.
By George Awoonor-Williams

Meeting

When I arrive in Nairobi
I will be wearing a face
Not so different from
The one you saw some seasons ago.

My spectacles, now bifocal,
Their frames round-rimmed with the years,
Still sit on the humble bridge
Of my nose. I peep through them

Like a sage stitching the rags
Of a broken age.
You will find a moustache
Blooming patiently on the cliff
Of my upper lip.
And a mane, now low-cropped,
triumphantly salt-and-pepper
Delectably groomed.

By Niyi Osundare

 

 

When You See Me, What Do You See?

When you see me, what do you see?
Do your instincts tell you to clutch your purse?.
Or were you brought up that way and this is no longer a wasted verse.
Do you imagine a video girl or a rap star?.
Not knowing my achievements have taken me so far.
Do you think my conversations consist of cursing and Ebonics?.
Not knowing I tutored kids so they don’t need hooked on phonics.
Do you see me as someone who uses the system?.
Not knowing the system keeps my people from true wisdom.
Do you think I cannot achieve in this life?.
Not knowing my rights.
Have been denied since light.
I am Buchi Emecheta, I am Langston Hughes.
I am bell hooks, I am Sojourner Truth.
I am Alice Walker.
I am a daughter.
A mother.
A sister.
A listener.
Innovator.
And Creator.
Toni Morrison.
I know I can.
I am Nigerian American.
So please grasp that ma’am.
When your purse is in your hand.

By Valerie, May 26, 2003

Dear Africa

Awake, thou sleeping heart!
Awake, and kiss
The love-lorn brow
Of this ebon lass,
Dear Africa.
Whose virgin charms
Ensnare the love-lit hearts
Of venturing youth
From other lands.

Awake, sweet Africa
Demands thy love.
Thou sleeping heart!

When the all-summer sun
Paints the leafy boughs
With golden rays,
Know then, thou sleeping heart,
Dear Africa stands
Knocking at thy door.
By Micheal Deo-Anang

Servant-Kings

Leave them alone,

Leave them to be

Men lost to shame,

To honour lost!

Servant kinglets,

Riding to war

Against their own,

Watched by their foes

Who urge them on,

And laugh at them!

Leave them alone,

Men lost to shame,

To honour lost.

By: R.E.G. Armattoe

Art Sanctuary

I would always choose to be the person running
rather than the mob chasing
I would prefer to be the person laughed at
rather than the teenagers laughing
I always admired the men and women who sat down
for their rights
And held in disdain the men and women who spat
on them
Everyone deserves Sanctuary a place to go where you are safe
Art offers Sanctuary to everyone willing
to open their hearts as well as their eyes.
By: NIKKI GIOVANNI

Revolution

Great mob that knows no fear-
Come here!
And raise your hand
Against this man
Of iron and steel and gold
Who’s bought and sold
You-
Each one-
For the last thousand years.
Come here,
Great mob that knows no fear,
And tear him limb from limb,
Split his golden throat
Ear to ear,
And end his time forever,
Now-
This year-
Great mob that knows no fear.
By: LANGSTON HUGHES

Idoto

Before you, mother Idoto,

naked I stand,

before your watery presence,

a prodigal,

leaning on an oilbean;

lost in your legend…

Under your power wait I on barefoot,

Watchman for the watchword at

HEAVENSGATE;

out of the depths my cry

give ear and hearken.

By Christopher Okigbo

Watermaid II

Bright
with armpit-dazzle of a lioness,
she answers,

wearing white light about her;

and the waves escort her,
my lioness,
crowned with moolight.

So brief her presence-,
match-flare in wind’s breath-
so brief with mirrors around me.

Downward…
the waves distil her:
gold crop
sinking ungathered.

Watermaid of the salt emptiness,
grown are the ears of the secret.
By Christopher Okigbo.

Streamside Exchange

Child: River bird, river bird,

Sitting all day long

On hook over grass,

River bird, river bird,

Sing to me a song

Of all that pass

And say,

will mother come back today?

Bird: You cannot know

And should not bother;

Tide and market come and go

And so shall your mother,

By: J.P. Clark

Night Rain

What time of night it is
I do not know
Except that like some fish
Doped out of the deep
I have bobbed up bellywise
From stream of sleep
And no cocks crow.
It is drumming hard here
And I suppose everywhere
Droning with insistent ardour upon
Our roof thatch and shed
And thro’ sheaves slit open
To lightning and rafters
I cannot quite make out overhead
Great water drops are dribbling
Falling like orange or mango
Fruits showered forth in the wind
Or perhaps I should say so
Much like beads I could in prayer tell
Them on string as they break
In wooden bowls and earthenware
Mother is busy now deploying
About our roomlet and floor.
Although it is so dark
I know her practiced step as
She moves her bins, bags and vats
Out of the run of water
That like ants gain possession
Of the floor. Do not tremble then
But turns, brothers, turn upon your side
Of the loosening mats
To where the others lie.
We have drunk tonight of a spell
Deeper than the owl’s or hat’s
That wet of wings may not fly
Bedraggled up on the iroko, they stand
Emptied of hearts, and
Therefore will not stir, no, not
Even at dawn for then
They must scurry in to hide.
So let us roll over on our back
And again roll to the beat
Of drumming all over the land
And under its ample soothing hand
Joined to that of the sea
We will settle to sleep of the innocent and free.

By: J.P. Clark

Young Africa’s Plea

Don’t preserve my customs
As some fine curious
To suit some white historian’s tastes.
There’s nothing artificial
That beats the natural way
In culture and ideals of life.
Let me play with the whiteman’s ways
Let me work with the blackman’s brains
Let my affairs themselves sort out.
Then in sweet rebirth
I’ll rise a better man
Not ashamed to face the world.
Those who doubt my talents
In secret fear my strength
They know I am no less a man.
Let them bury their prejudice,
Let them show their noble sides,
Let me have untrammelled growth,
My friends will never know regret
And I, I never once forget

By: Dennis Osadebay

African Easter

III Easter Morning

THE AFRICAN INTELLECTUAL:

Ding dong bell
Pussy’s in the well.

Another day….

Sleep leaves my opening eyes slowly
Unwillingly like a true lover.

But this day is different.
The lonely matin bells
Cut across the thin morning mist,
The glinting dew on the green grass,
The cool pink light before the heat of day,
The sudden punctual dawn of tropic skies,
Before the muezzin begins to cry,
Before the pagan drums begin to beat.

Easter morning.

But still for me
The great rock remains unrolled.
Within my wet dark tomb
Wounded peace remains embalmed,
The pricking thorns still yet my crown.

Easter morning.
Where are my ancestral spirits now?
I have forgotten for many harvests
To moisten the warm earth
With poured libations.
Where are you now, O Shango?
Two headed, powerful
Man and woman, hermaphrodite
Holding your quivering thunderbolts
With quiet savage malice;
Brooding over your domain,
Africa, Cuba, Haiti, Brazil,
Slavery of mind is unabolished.
Always wanting to punish, never to love.

I have turned away from you
To One who stands
Watching His dying dispossessed Son
Shouting in Aramaic agony
Watching the white Picasso dove
Hovering above the Palestinian stream
Watching and waiting, sometimes
To punish, always to love.

Sleep confuses my tired mind
Still the bell rings
I must up and away.
I am a good Churchman, now.
Broadminded, which means past caring
Whether High or Low.
The priest may hold the chalice,
Or give it to me. It depends
On where he trained. I only mind
That he wipes the wet rim
Not to spread dental germs.
A tenth of my goods
I give to the poor
Through income tax.

Easter morning.

Yet you Christ are always there.
You are the many-faceted crystal
Of our desires and hopes,
Behind the smoke-screen of incense,
Concealed in mumbled European tongues
Of worship and of praise.
In the thick dusty verbiage
Of centuries of committees
Of ecumenical councils.
You yet remain revealed.
To those who seek you.
It is I, you say.
You remain the sepulcher
Of my brown body.

Christ is risen, Christ is risen!

You were not dead.
It was just that we
Could not see clearly enough.
We can push out the rock from the inside.
You can come out now.
You see we want to share you
With our masters, because
You really are unique.

The great muddy river Niger,
Picks up the rising equatorial sun,
Changing itself by slow degrees
Into thick flowing molten gold.

By: Abioseh Nicol

Apocalypse

In the last days,
Strange sights shall visit the earth.
Sights that may turn to blood the moon,
This sun to midnight-in the last days.

But now, when swords are not yet ploughshares,
And spears still spears,
Hearken you, my little ones.

If walking, shaded by the mango tree,
Or running naked, scorched by this blazing sun,
You aught perceive
Now, while the arrow remains arrow,
And the miracle of spears and pruning hooks
Still remains an unseen miracle
Remember, my little ones
If perchance your infant feet do slide
And you find yourselves in some mysterious dungeon
Of black vengeful Sasabonsam,
In realms where dogs make speech,
And horns adorn the human front;
Where mermaids in their skirts of silvery scales
And chattering sea beasts flout mankind-
If in this strange sub-human realm
Your eyes fall on a stone, a hard black stone,
Lifeless and muddy, that has grown a beard,
Pray children, pass silently by.
Ask no questions.
For you are face to face with the first days
And the beginning and the end are one.

And in the end shall strange sights visit earth,
Stones shall be turned to men
And men to stones;
Sparrows beget eagles
And sand become good grain.

So children,
If perchance you see a hare that roars
Or an ape perched in a palanquin,
Look on in silence. Quickly pass by.
Quickly.

By: Frank Parkes

Be Nobody’s Darling

Be nobody’s darling;
Be an outcast.
Take the contradictions
Of your life
And wrap around
You like a shawl,
To parry stones
To keep you warm.

Watch the people succumb
To madness
With ample cheer;
Let them look askance at you
And you askance reply.

Be an outcast;
Be pleased to walk alone
(Uncool)
Or line the crowded
River beds
With other impetuous
Fools.

Make a merry gathering
On the bank
Where thousands perished
For brave hurt words
They said.

Be nobody’s darling;
Be an outcast.
Qualified to live
Among your dead.

By: Alice Walker

Letter Home

in the fourteenth year

Where the largeness of the dream
is touched by the smallness of one’s England
there are travel guilts a wayfarer sheds
like loose feathers or discarded skin.
The flight so far is full of fret.
This island is a perch to many birds,
home of sorts to the travel worn,
lost in transit, storied swallows
and things out of touch with their beginnings,
harried between exclusions and inclusions,
tortured by absence,
as spoiled for options but without choice.

One day grown is soon a decade.
What was closest becomes farthest,
what was precious, rooted, loving,
what assumes presence because always absent.
The longing glows for
the woman who was my beginning,
and her man my familiar flesh.
I list losses, claim my gains,
in places where memory is always loud,
between the furies caged in silence,
between the present and past elsewhere.

England is not unloved.
To kiss the nipple of an English dawn
is betrothal not betrayal, is memorial,
is the heart content, disarmed by birdsong.
One thinks mostly of smells and touch,
of Spring on treetops,
broadcast voices with memorial roots
in a childhood of wonder and dream –
the certainty then through the uncivil war
that life was English, peace English,
the future Cotswolds, English
as the rhymes one clung to for life,
dreaming beyond the uncivil war,
practising English for an English day.

England is not unlived.
Cakes, ales, but also carnival,
England is not only the English.
Think of Summer blown across the seas
bringing the sounds of other climes,
not just birds but tales of loss.
Much sacrifice in the histories
from which some come,
bearing their grief and many gifts,
a vision of London distant from Trafalgar
as the Trafalgar Square.

Pub life, punt life, “inn-keeping with tradition.”
Alone with dumplings, I announce my face.
I am a separate table, I know I am.
Humour is the unseen enemy,
pointing, probing, defining traditions,
ruling the tongues of engagement.
Suddenly shrunk by laughter,
the others to whom I am not present,
a mirror one sees into without seeing,
lab rat, cuddly toy, a Christie mystery,
something exotic as elsewhere.
They are laughing in English,
sharing a refuge in language.
Me too – I think in English.
My laughter is the alien dumpling.

“En-ger-laand! En-ger-laand! …”
This sense of being owned and not owning,
not being English in England,
some kind of circus watched every turn,
the transitory sun in its setting,
waking as from a dream with sounds of absence,
that vacant road travelled on promise
and Earl Grey tea,
discounting day trips to the regatta,
and castles, races, football at the terraces
– En-ger-laand! En-ger-laand! –
dressed English by a dream of England
the counties never dream of their greens.

Interpretations, interpretations…
Of knowing and not knowing
what is preferred or denied,
a word out of rank a call to arms,
that common refuge in weather talk,
the secret codes of natives in conversation.
And so, to the weather those who care,
to lightning flashes and storms over Dover,
skies with burst bladders
on mornings of graft and cappuccino,
to the safety of rains and heavy coats,
to muffins, gardens and estrangement.
This sense of having and not having,
knowing and not knowing England.

So one dreams of home and sunshine,
familiar odours, common folk
and their common talk, the lingering lust
for days of colour and vocal chords,
children playing, mothers calling,
streets loud-speaking their wares.
Then travellers and revellers,
a carnival one grows an ear for,
this dream unspoiled
until waking to familiar reports.
Then broken people, lost causes,
death, despair, the stories one mulls over
tea and croissants and tears.

Let it be told of this moment in our story
how the gecko, finding no life
among its kind, sensing
the warmth behind other doors,
forsook the wild and fled its own,
seeking refuge in a distant compassion,
living at the border of a new life.
Let no one detest its choice.
Pain is the chief guide,
the road out of death primal choice.

That road also the first lie.
Life without death, without dirt.
Infants suck at it.
Manic monkeys swing for it.
In Summer light, Bonn Square,
Oxford drunks disputing like dons
thread their vision of a world without law.
But the living is the dying,
one day emptied into another,
that rolling of shifts also in England
as in that distant familiar
one imagines now
as a dream, another dream.

And sometimes you think you know,
sometimes you know you don’t.
The familiar is not long familiar.
What is not soon becomes, then is not again,
Home is not only hearth but also heart,
where the breath is and where the wreathe is laid,
spaces with remembered voices, tales untold,
times without record… home is finally only place
and place has the stories of all in it.

Oxford bells its people to lunch.
They queue for sushi and sundry fries,
sandwiched lives bridging the distance
between the pie and the burger.
They come from everywhere
with laundered lives, and laughters
echoing the differences of silence.
Many are lunchtime lovers, friends,
substitute families for the hugs frozen
in postcards and remembered pasts.
In rain or snow, out for sandwiches and more,
adopted by a city that cannot feel them,
they are home in generous Oxford
and also travellers, in harmony but also not.
Always the distant country,
home is a hunger beyond lunch.

By Afam Akeh

Letter to Soyinka

The children of this land are old
Their eyes are fixed on maps in place of land
Their feet must learn to follow
Distant contours traced by alien minds
Their present sense has faded into past.

(Wole Soyinka Samarkand and Other Markets I Have Known, 2002)

I am that brood of brats you haunt in verse.
Some feet I know may never walk home.

They are alien to any land.
Memory is not their friend.

They have lived many lives,
are too many lies from childhood.

I am with my fellows less convinced.
I have shit. And I dump.

I dump in poems. I dump on people.
I dream of home and dump.

The world I walk is not your world.
It has neither clarity nor empathy.

I don’t attach. I detach. I am old at faking love.
Not good to be this dry, without oil,

moisture, the old validations, lost in loss
and its foggy sense of years.

Born to a land at war with its young
I fled and still flee.

Not that I quit: I reclaim my stolen life.
Not that I fall, but I wrestle with history.

And you know, you already do.
You too have lived this dark.

Your faithfulness unsettles me,
this sacred trust, your love of land,

all your roads leading home, the homecomings
never far from the departures.

What potion has your name on it?
Is it the weather or women,

the gods that failed,
Ogun the capricious, your avatar?

Is there divorce from a love
that would make and also break?

What talent in your beard is counsel
for my fellows this day of doubt?

For this much is our “present sense”:
Love changed and we changed with it.

We who were never suckled,
we play possum, play chameleon,

play dirty, and dump: refuge hunters,
parallel lives with undead pasts,

breeding abroad unsettled by home.
Distant. Defiant. Divided.

If we end as we have lived
we will be buried away from you.

Rust

(For Nathalie Desverschere)
since you left
silence has invaded my heart
a stillness sits upon my bones

rust has set in where the joints
were nimble and free

those motes flying around the electric bulb
now crowd around my mocked head
like christ’s sad bitter crown
your departure has exacted a penalty
the rabbits in my garden
do not nibble and play
crouched in grave-like mounds
they mourn the setting september sun
grey patches of grief

dotting the happy green on a darkening day
knowing that the rust of a cold cold winter
is spreading etched already into this bed of grass

your going has exacted a riot
the clock has stopped
between my legs

it can no more mark the seconds and minutes
of the breathing-in and the breathing-out of your thighs!

knowing that the winter shall be an unbearable weight

come back or I ‘ll desverschere!

By Amatoritsero Ede

Anike

(for Rose Williams)

her gentle halting voice
-the broodings of a
quiet volcano

quiet lava pressed down
with ready smile splitting her lips,
pressed down
the heat by some inner mechanism
turning on the cooling valve of a languid walk

in the morning

in the afternoons frenetic gestures betray
restless lava inside her navel

and at night
when she finally explodes
you shall have ashes in your mouth
fire on your tail
earth shall tremble
as the volcano coughs.

By Amatoritsero Ede

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