Writings / Poetry

Ogaga Ifowodo

Sixty Lines by the Lagoon

(for Odia Ofeimun)

I

Bending over dog-eared books, heaped
indifferently on plastic sheet
over the rough pavement at CMS,
an image—not out of the sun-browned
pages of the volume that’s caught
your eye—floats by in the harbour.

Still visible is the well-fed face
of the head-of-state drowned by a dockworker
retrenched an hour ago, his rage pulped
in the drifting newspaper. Across the bridge
in the heart of Ebute-Metta
minarets and pulpits proclaim the holy hour,

seize the minds of the hungry and homeless
with the enchantment of prayer, paradise
desired here and now, till the last
salaam recalls them to the streets, rude
as before, strung like a vicious bow,
where neither love nor piety runs in the gutters.

Going home with bargain books under your arm
you search for words to avenge those damned by hope.

II

And you mumble aloud: but we
were not born to eternal weeping-to burn
the wick of dignity in the fire of our rage.

Ah, dear land! for a young country
your people have grown so old
gnarled and wrinkled under the red sun

of their suffering—same people whose skin
fifty years ago glistened in the dew!
Under your sky arched with grief

sad flutes call to silent drums, straining
for song. And the dancer’s raised foot
hangs mid-step above the abyss, dancing

to the fixed rhythm of terror where they make
a jungle of living—of the simple fact of food
shelter and clothing. Awakening the beast

nestled in every breast, they make him sentry
of the road to life on one’s own terms.
With a mere roar or promise of safe passage,

he thwarts all but the lion-hearted few
who, like you, possess the loudest utterance
to tame monsters of the self and free the road.

III

Our wounded land requires of us a song true
to its torments, but how can we sing
with battered tongues? Under a sky once blue,

grown charcoal-dark—fearful clue
to the last thunder gathering strength—
the grass bows to the wind, begs a song true

to the anguish of famished crops. You
can stand at the door or the curb
and cry your heart out under our once blue

sky. Or, stung by myriad voices that rue
the long reign of thieving kings,
stay glued to your desk till you hear the true

song, its plaintive note that slew
the unseemly peace of the night
a child starved to death under a sky once blue.

To ask a poet for songs is to do
him priceless honour, stir his sad flute
with the perfect air—keeping him true
to the pulse of his land under a sky once blue.

About The Author

Author

Ogaga Ifowodo has an MFA and PhD from Cornell University. He has published three collections of poems, The Oil Lamp (New Jersey: Africa World Press, 2005), Madiba (New Jersey: Africa World Press, 2003), Homeland and Other Poems (Ibadan, Nigeria: Kraft Books, 1998). He has won several international awards for his poetry. He is a professor of Creative Writing at Texas State University.

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