The Call of the River Nun

Gabriel Okara
Nigerian
1921 – 2019

 

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?

Tendril Love of Africa

Molara Ogundipe
Nigerian
1940 – 2019

 

I see again and again in my eyes
the smile flit over your cheekbones
Reach like a tendril to caress your face
in those lean days that startled
do you rejoice
that life does not slaughter our dreams
our secret thoughts on its butcher bench of time
that we gather to ourselves
the scraps and bones our dismembered being
hoard to nurse them
that death may not out-stare us?

Soundless Berry

Ayo Ayoola-Amale
Nigerian
b. 1970

 

Before she pressed her wild dusky eyes
the heightened sliced dust inside got out
stroked her brows unadorned, unarmed naked face
stripped to living ecstasy, her wisdoms open again and again
wakening and awakening, penetrating the ears
like gentle very fresh, cool sea water
before she hugged the light of the unreal
displayed like a freshly sharpened knife,
piercing, loud
truly, then the deep like a blade tore open her eyes,
wild, yawning monsters:
came out, raw, below hell, from the cluttered
further down debility of the decay
the first time, replanting her eyes
she saw a little ornament between her limbs, ripening
here the gentle unblemished shelter sat fresh
faraway,
deep at the open, new and green
folding back her quiet door, wakes the
relaxed tree, sparkling with eternal warmth
passing on worlds,
Passing on worlds on the world
where worlds breathe
not perishing self, not worldly worth
not dry leaves,
painted with mud
Low down
Unbending, engendered soundless berry
flood with fog.

The Authentic Sunnah

We present this work in honor of the 205th anniversary of the poet’s death.

04-20 Usman
Usman dan Fodio
Nigerian
1754 – 1817

 

Leave us alone with recalling what
Father used to do…
Leave us alone with relying on what
Is practised in the east;
These are grounds for those who
Stayed astray from Sunnah
Leave us with the idea that it is
Practised at Medina
Both Mecca and Medina are inferior to the Sunnah.

An African Elegy

02-12 Okri
Ben Okri
Nigerian
b. 1959

We are the miracles that God made
To taste the bitter fruit of Time.
We are precious.
And one day our suffering
Will turn into the wonders of the earth.

There are things that burn me now
Which turn golden when I am happy.
Do you see the mystery of our pain?
That we bear poverty
And are able to sing and dream sweet things

And that we never curse the air when it is warm
Or the fruit when it tastes so good
Or the lights that bounce gently on the waters?
We bless things even in our pain.
We bless them in silence.

That is why our music is so sweet.
It makes the air remember.
There are secret miracles at work
That only Time will bring forth.
I too have heard the dead singing.

And they tell me that
This life is good
They tell me to live it gently
With fire, and always with hope.
There is wonder here

And there is surprise
In everything the unseen moves.
The ocean is full of songs.
The sky is not an enemy.
Destiny is our friend.

The Pigeon-Hole

Mabel Segun
Nigerian
b. 1930

 

How I wish I could pigeon-hole myself
and neatly fix a label on!
But self-knowledge comes too late
And by the time I’ve known myself
I am no longer what I was.

I knew a woman once
who had a delinquent child.
She never had a moment’s peace of mind
waiting in constant fear,
listening for the dreaded knock
and the cold tones of policeman:
“Madam, you’re wanted at the station”
I don’t know if the knock ever came
but she feared on right till
we moved away from the street.
She used to say
“It’s the uncertainty that worries me –
if only I knew for certain…”

If I only knew for certain
What my delinquent self would do…
But I never know until the deed is done
And I live on fearing,
wondering which part of me will be supreme –
the old and tested one, the present
or the future unknown.
Sometimes all three have equal power
and then
how I long for a pigeon-hole.

Elegy for Alto

11-13 Okigbo
Christopher Okigbo
Nigerian
1932 – 1967

 

And the horn may now paw the air howling goodbye…
For the Eagles are now in sight:
Shadows in the horizon—
The robbers are here in black sudden steps of showers, of caterpillars—
The eagles have come again,
The eagles rain down on us—
Politicians are back in giant hidden steps of howitzers, of detonators—
The eagles descend on us,
Bayonets and cannons—
The robbers descend on us to strip us of our laughter, of our thunder—
The eagles have chosen their game,
Taken our concubines—
Politicians are here in this iron dance of mortars, of generators—

The eagles are suddenly there,
New stars of iron dawn;
So let the horn paw the air howling goodbye…
O mother mother Earth, unbind me; let this be my last testament; let this be
The ram’s hidden wish to the sword the sword’s secret prayer to the scabbard—

The robbers are back in black hidden steps of detonators—
For beyond the blare of sirened afternoons, beyond the motorcades;
Beyond the voices and days, the echoing highways; beyond the latescence
Of our dissonant airs; through our curtained eyeballs, through our shuttered sleep,
Onto our forgotten selves, onto our broken images; beyond the barricades
Commandments and edicts, beyond the iron tables, beyond the elephant’s
Legendary patience, beyond his inviolable bronze bust; beyond our crumbling towers—
Beyond the iron path careering along the same beaten track—
The glimpse of a dream lies smouldering in a cave, together with the mortally wounded birds.
Earth, unbind me; let me be the prodigal; let this be the ram’s ultimate prayer to the tether…

An old star departs, leaves us here on the shore
Gazing heavenward for a new star approaching;
The new star appears, foreshadows its going
Before a going and coming that goes on forever…

Going Home

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 70th birthday.

10-26 Acholonu
Catherine Obianuju Acholonu
Nigerian
1951 – 2013

 

I

Our hands grope in vain
the springs have dried up
leaving us with
salt water
and we remember
the days
when the hooting of the owl
sanctified our mortality

we stand paralyzed
like skeletons
mounted
on the sandy soil
struggling against
the dry wind
blowing sand into our eyes
which have since ceased to see

footprints of blessed ages past
deeply backed on to the soil
show the way to the horizon
and beyond
but we cannot reach it
you and I

our kisses bite
like grains of sand in the eye
then our bodies touch
like two scaly fish
we stand paralyzed
like two accursed.

II

We plunge ourselves
into the abyss
mindless of the outcome
our blind eyes
surveying the darkness
and in the labyrinths
we grope and sniff
for signs of our
brothers
in the catacombs
at the gate
we present our printed
tickets
decaying lips
toothless gums
cracking laughter

shameless folk
that seek entrance
into the land of their fathers
you cannot partake
of the coummunion
without you ofo
without your chi

and we are back
at the cross-roads
dreading once more
to cross the horizon
having she our outer shell.

III

Contact telegraphic
our sons speak
a foreign language
devoid of feeling
devoid of meaning

what choice have we
but to take refuge
in obganje
passing excrement
into the mouths
of our daughters
our ever mourning mothers

home again and yet
homeless
a dreary failure
for a nameless folk.

The Leader and the Led

09-14 Osundare
Niyi Osundare
Nigerian
b. 1947

 

The Lion stakes his claim
To the leadership of the pack

But the Antelopes remember
The ferocious pounce of his paws

The hyena says the crown is made for him
But the Impalas shudder at his lethal appetite

The Giraffe craves a place in the front
But his eyes are too far from the ground

When the Zebra says it’s his right to lead
The pack points to the duplicity of his stripes

The Elephant trudges into the power tussle
But its colleagues dread his trampling feet

The warthog is too ugly
The rhino too riotous

And the pack thrashes around
Like a snake without a head

“Our need calls for a hybrid of habits”,
Proclaims the Forest Sage,

“A little bit of a Lion
A little bit of a Lamb

Tough like a tiger, compassionate like a doe
Transparent like a river, mysterious like a lake

A leader who knows how to follow
Followers mindful of their right to lead”