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”

Once Upon a Time

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 100th birthday.

Gabriel Okara
Nigerian
1921 – 2019

 

Once upon a time, son,
they used to laugh with their hearts
and laugh with their eyes:
but now they only laugh with their teeth,
while their ice-block-cold eyes
search behind my shadow.

There was a time indeed
they used to shake hands with their hearts:
but that’s gone, son.
Now they shake hands without hearts
while their left hands search
my empty pockets.

‘Feel at home!’ ‘Come again’:
they say, and when I come
again and feel
at home, once, twice,
there will be no thrice-
for then I find doors shut on me.

So I have learned many things, son.
I have learned to wear many faces
like dresses – homeface,
officeface, streetface, hostface,
cocktailface, with all their conforming smiles
like a fixed portrait smile.

And I have learned too
to laugh with only my teeth
and shake hands without my heart.
I have also learned to say,’Goodbye’,
when I mean ‘Good-riddance’:
to say ‘Glad to meet you’,
without being glad; and to say ‘It’s been
nice talking to you’, after being bored.

But believe me, son.
I want to be what I used to be
when I was like you. I want
to unlearn all these muting things.
Most of all, I want to relearn
how to laugh, for my laugh in the mirror
shows only my teeth like a snake’s bare fangs!

So show me, son,
how to laugh; show me how
I used to laugh and smile
once upon a time when I was like you.

from The Path of Truth

Nana Asma’u
Nigerian
1793 – 1864

 

The usurers will see their bellies swell bigger than gourds
In size and exposed to Ahmada.
They will rise on the Last Day as if possessed of the Devil
The Qur’an told their fate, Ahmada.
The stink of the adulterer is worse than the stench of carrion:
He will be driven away, so that he is far from Ahmada.
The slanderer, the hypocrite
And he who gives false witness will not see Ahmada.
With their tongues hanging down to their chests, they will be exposed
For they will not get salvation from Ahmada.

Refugee Mother and Child

Chinua Achebe
Nigerian
1930 – 2013

 

No Madonna and Child could touch
that picture of a mother’s tenderness
for a son she soon would have to forget.
The air was heavy with odours

of diarrhoea of unwashed children
with washed-out ribs and dried-up
bottoms struggling in laboured
steps behind blown empty bellies. Most

mothers there had long ceased
to care but not this one; she held
a ghost smile between her teeth
and in her eyes the ghost of a mother’s
pride as she combed the rust-coloured
hair left on his skull and then –

singing in her eyes – began carefully
to part it… In another life this
would have been a little daily
act of no consequence before his
breakfast and school; now she

did it like putting flowers
on a tiny grave.