Telephone Conversation

Wole Soyinka
b. 1934


The price seemed reasonable, location
Indifferent. The landlady swore she lived
Off premises. Nothing remained
But self-confession. “Madam”, I warned,
“I hate a wasted journey – I am African.”
Silence. Silenced transmission of pressurized good-breeding. Voice, when it came,
Lipstick coated, long gold-rolled
Cigarette-holder pipped. Caught I was, foully.
“HOW DARK?”…I had not misheard…“ARE YOU LIGHT OR VERY DARK?” Button B. Button A. Stench
Of rancid breath of public hide-and-speak.
Red booth. Red pillar-box. Red double-tiered
Omnibus squelching tar.
It was real! Shamed
By ill-mannered silence, surrender
Pushed dumbfoundment to beg simplification.
Considerate she was, varying the emphasis—
“ARE YOU DARK? OR VERY LIGHT” Revelation came
“You mean – like plain or milk chocolate?”
Her accent was clinical, crushing in its light
Impersonality. Rapidly, wave-length adjusted
I chose. “West African sepia” — and as afterthought.
“Down in my passport.” Silence for spectroscopic
Flight of fancy, till truthfulness chaged her accent
Hard on the mouthpiece “WHAT’S THAT?” conceding “DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT IS.” “Like brunette.”
“Not altogether.
Facially, I am brunette, but madam you should see the rest of me. Palm of my hand, soles of my feet.
Are a peroxide blonde. Friction, caused –
Foolishly madam – by sitting down, has turned
My bottom raven black- One moment madam! – sensing
Her receiver rearing on the thunderclap
About my ears—“Madam,” I pleaded, “wouldn’t you rather
See for yourself?”

The Spring’s Last Drop

We present this work in honor of the 10th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Catherine Obianuju Acholonu
1951 – 2013


I can still recall their laughter
As they spoke of ‘lost virtue’.
I, Obiajunu
I have learned to live in scarcity.

So, cautiously,
i choose my steps
labouring up the steep hill
bearing on my head
in a clay pot
the spring’s very last drop

but from the bushes
a sweet melody
streams forth
and fills my ears

and the body
is tempted to sway
leading the feet
off the straight path

and the eyes
are tempted to stray
to find the source
the giver of temporal joy

but i must hold fast
my pot of spring water

Though the seller of clay pot
never makes the ‘customer’
though the carrier of clay pot
be the mother of an only son
and though this tune
vibrating in my ears
tempts me to dance
to sway my hips
in unison
with it

yet i cannot lose it
this stem
this prop

i have laboured up this hill
through toil and sweat
and i cannot spill it
this water so pure
so clear and sweet
the dying spring’s last drop

i obianuju
i shall provide my children
with plenty
i shall multiply this drop
they will never taste
of the wasted fluid
of the sea


Ifi Amadiume
b. 1947


For when we were
Young and playful,
Our joyous laughter
Rang out echoes through
Every street,
Enlivened by our boundless

For when we were
Young and playful,
We would jump buses
Standing or moving,
Ticketless to nowhere
And everywhere,
Knowing no limits,
Knowing no particular
Place to get off.

For when we were
Young and playful,
I met a stranger then,
Caring little about
His looks,
Just being young
Curious and fearless
On a moving empty
London bus,
But for us restless
Young and playful ones,
Filling up, No,
Taking over an
Empty London bus
To make life anew,
Posing, loving us
And strangers in
Boundless youthfulness,
Knowing not,
Caring little
What we were,
What we are
Going to become.

Who Buys My Thoughts

Dennis Osadebay
1911 – 1994


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.

Buys not 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.

Two Photographs

Theresa Lola
b. 1994


In the older photograph
my eyes are two frowning pockets,
and my chest only housed knots and clauses.
I used fast shutter speeds to capture photographs
before sadness spilled into the frame.
I was never one to track progress, but today I did.

Before taking that selfie, I bent the sun
toward my face and poured it into my void
like cement filling the cracks of a wall.
My troubled teenage years lingered in my throat
like a shoplifter in a supermarket aisle.

What a difference 5 years makes, today
my skin is no longer a carousel of masks.
Praises be to a thick syrup of therapy,
a puree of prayer, peelings of coping mechanisms,
a cup of my mother’s honeyed voice.

In the second photograph
the white space is filled with a safe noise.
My shoulders are firm and upward,
my eyes are two glowing pebbles.
Not even an edit can smudge this moment.

The Call of the River Nun

Gabriel Okara
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
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
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
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.

Diviner’s Hand

05-31 Shoneyin
Lola Shoneyin
b. 1974

Sometimes I wonder
how much longer I shall be here
to bite your hair
with my wooden toothcomb.

I am not afraid
of the freeze of frail fingers;
there is something
romantic about loss.

But I worry about the uneven rhythm
of the diviner’s hand,
the widening waist
that filters sand.

I worry that time
rests its hand on doorknob
and taps the floor
with its iron toe tip.

I must show you
the tricks my mother didn’t teach me;
tell you the tales that never reached me.

But if time will spurn
a mother’s wish
or turn its face away
from a daughter’s need,

remember this, little one:
a life lived well is a wave in flight;
discarded dreams
draw out painful night.

The Authentic Sunnah

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

04-20 Usman
Usman dan Fodio
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.