Sunday, June 6, 2010

Poem for Sunday I

Ogaga Ifowodo is probably one of Nigeria's best-kept secrets. He doesn't get as much press as, say, Chris Abani, but his poems are beautiful, measured, and well-observed, with a wistfulness that's never affected. Check these out, from his collection ":

God Punish You, Lord Lugard

The traffic warden's white-and-yellow sleeve
stopped our transport, a Lagos mini-bus
bought from one of the rust heaps of Europe
part of the great scheme to gain reprieve

for the city's long-suffering commuters.
A horde of beggars swarmed the bus; he beat
all to the vantage position in front
of the open door. He had good manners,

and what he lacked, such as the Queen's english,
he faced with uncommon calm and courage;
blind and battered, with a withered left arm,
not for him the plain and unlearned

"Help me for chop, I beg. God go bless you."
Some flourish, or polish, he thought
would persuade far more than suffering's worst gown.
And so he: "Good day, brodas and sistas.

Half massy on me, please half sampaty.
Allah's piss for you." In the bus now, silence
and private wars between purse and charity.
"Half ya broda, half sampaty on me."

The conductor, scorning all etiquette
laughed loud, pitying country, not beggar
and swore: "God punish you, Lord Lugard,
na you bring this english come Nigeria!"

The white-and-yellow arm beckoned the bus,
a wild fury of horns startled it past
ferrying us beyond claims of charity
and of Lugard's shadow in the black smoke.

Ogaga Ifowodo

3 May 1997

And from "Homeland, and Other Poems":


What are the things that grow here?
Those that grow from stone, lacking
life and root, flesh and water
things cut as caps
for the baldness of stone.

What are the things that flourish here?
Those that rise from dust, without
teeth for the nourishment of sand
things frail and fallen, that fly
with the winds in sweat and sadness.

And what are the harvests here?
Of corn crippled before teething
Of tubers poorer than the planted head
Of tomatoes rotted before ripening
Of sand and gravel, burntbush and anthills.

What are the dwelling places?
Houses bitter like a weeping face
homes grievous like smoke-pipes
walls held up by pillars of anguish,
where lament makes bed and roof.

And how do children grow here?
Out of wombs whipped with want
and desire, the burst forth, to be
tough like street leather, sweet and hardy
like sugarcane, to learn love in safe time.

Here, we will walk the streets
where laughter is hidden in deep places
and stores cannot shut their doors
choked with hearts that bleed from gathered wounds
and you will see nothing can grow here but agony.

Ogaga Ifowodo

3 October 1992

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