Some Memory & Other Poems
The sun draws for itself life – away from the chapel
of the British, away from dialects of my forebears,
away from the surrender of the beauty of Benin
I have created a home in the creeks, outside all borders.
The mangrove roots keep out the boats,
no stranger, nor family is allowed in.
Born to two tribes, I am displaced,
orphaned to the language of colony
that is now motherland.
There will be no sympathy,
for I have fashioned
a history out of forgotten places.
The birds, new and compassionate, are coming home.
The rats with their smell of decay
know the history of plunder and replenish.
I see them scurrying around the land.
There is no flag here, no anthem,
only the promise of rain, lushness of grasses,
winds rushing through leaves, a warning bell
tied to tree branch.
Now it tolls, blessed with no knowledge
of what is to come, I must listen.
I sit at crossroads,
nights. The world arrives, the train
have no mercy, it runs on what it knows.
What have found me?
A face! Where is the man? There,
beside empty fields, a praying mantis
hops on dried grasses, I ran
after it. Sky, beauty survives cruelty,
And there, in a red faded timberland,
the man, his eyes, the soreness
of places in them. In his hand
the gun. Kill, he says.
The sun a billion years away,
night our kin, yet they knew
I watched him leave,
the world untouched
by my cruelty. I fell
to tender amazement,
afraid of what I may become,
afraid of what didn’t bleed.
What spared me?
Whose savior died
beneath night’s feet?
I do not know, I wonder, what love
is here, in blackness of time,
what tenderness does a dying field
owe the praying mantis?
When snow falls
in unfamiliar flake shape, I sit
by my desk, alone, island of obeche.
What does it matter
that the wood is far from home?
At the end, the short day, the sky darkens
my eyes staring out window.
I wonder how well I know my desk;
smell of wood dust at dusk, memories
of harmattan parched lips
Beside my bed,
lamp light cast a shadow
on walls, a village. I recognize
the woman hurrying home,
a dying lantern dangling
from her wrist, a boy whistling
down my path.
To you who is behind me, the day is yours.
Your music, unwounded by exile, sings pure.
From you, the cold sun is far, the early moon empty.
The woman, dead lantern knocks,
I open. Matches, please, she says.
I do not see her face, only the cold winter,
darkness staring at me.
Romeo Oriogun is a Nigerian poet.