Writings / Poetry

The Greying of Ikheloa

Afam Akeh

The heart like a bird in flight, wings spread
to every wind. Every flight, in its search
finds a perch, some place of rest or lasting help,
sometimes caravan, sometimes nest, sometimes
a grave in the open earth. Somewhere in time
someone is digging in or moving on, between
home and the call of elsewhere.

To change and how to change. He is between
the reset and delete buttons. Bares himself
to the mirror, thoughts spewing comment
like a billboard. Owns his losses, names them
scar by scar, glass man at a confessional.
Has to choose a black or white tie.
Dinner code formal. Black seems right.
Fifty years of independence. Ahead are hours
of survival toasts, and regrets for the paths
not taken. He has lived all that before.
The remains of a drink go down
his gullet – Original Malbec, ‘fire water’
and comfort juice to his bones.

Fifty years is a long day of travel.
The back aches and bones cry out. Life goes
from being bold to being bald. Eyes have seen
and gone dim on light, not counting the idols
left in the dust, so much sloughed off
as skin. He has travelled far but
never left home, like a tortoise
slowed by its shell home and prison.
He would travel light with Malbec as guide,
writing blogs of experience, sharing
laughter. He’d ski the snow places North
and South, embrace the East, see why Tokyo
is generous at night. A world of ‘fire water’, yes,
and woman as muse. Mirror man, glass man,
grey man in an umbilical moment,
hemmed in by history, and echoes,
things that howl and will not be silenced.

Shaven with white stubble. Eyes wide open.
Forgotten laughters line his face. There were
good times too. Moments of grace, grainy images
he has of peers in silly clothes. It was tough
but not all bad. He lets a smile arrive his face.
You make the world laugh, it thinks you never cry.
A humorist is also mortal, with on and off days,
gravity like a spy stalking every step. He wants
to be tickled more. Whatever pumps
the world of teens, he wants some of that.
He needs closure, something new. Normal is
babysitting a homeland still teething at fifty.

For the long travelled there are trails of smoke
and unsettled dust, memory tugging, always
nagging, enough life to plot a saga. He wants
to take that past to some bar and get it drunk.
Again to the Malbec, pours a first, resists
the second. Rage is not forever.
How much of a man should his children bear?
They wear his tribal names, the taste for foods
he imported into their lives, scouring
temperate America for tropical tubers.
They are home away from home. Do they
know home as he knows it, or imagine
Disneyland, some magic place children
tour with parents as guides? Do they hug
the news, dream after dream, hounded
by loss, counting the days of absence?

To the mirror, because he felt unseen eyes
sneer in judgement: America is also home.
He feels memory like a jealous lover
warm to the moment, clinging, wanting to hold
and be held, but knows his arms will reach
for the children America gave and is looking after.
They stare at him, from photos taped to the mirror.
He is not deceived. The times they’re changin’.
He heard the call of a buoyant America,
all that jazz, glitter and neon. God’s own country,
bull mornings in Wall Street, the magic of
Motown, Ali! Ali! Ali! Blue jeans and Cadillac.
Cheerleaders raising temperatures with pom poms
and short skirts, space travel, spaghetti westerns.
That simple world of black and white. Important to
remember these, now dollar bills are colourful
like monopoly money, America a lion in distress.
Hyenas circle it and dream of conquest.

What if in such times, another pharaoh rise in
Washington who does not know ‘Joseph’, saying
America for ‘Americans’, and with rumours of war
and unknown plagues, as at the end of empire,
some natives fearing their neighbours, judge them
traitors, carriers of bugs, scroungers, rebels, bearers of
false faiths –  echoes of Hoover and McCarthy?
Will there be exodus in the land, some great Atlantic
flight, people hounded out of homes? What will
happen to these photos on his mirror, his beloved?
Will they fight or take flight? Will he stay?

America in pain is the Garden after the Fall.
God is not amused. There is rage even among
odours, each smell to its kind, own tents
and tongues. The serpent revealed, dirty as
the linen washed daily from the Capitol
into the Potomac. In the ripe, slanderous air,
treachery and mutiny. Greed is ill at ease. 
So much changed yet seem unchanged,
even familiar – that frontiers faith in all
or nothing enduring like the psychic rage
between Cowboys and Indians. In Hollywood
and every ‘hood, people getting up to go
as if their earth never shifted.

He is not alone greying abroad, his fellows
in their choices switching off, some in red light
mode, standing by, not disconnected, but harder
each going day to turn them on. Fragile as glass,
trading talent or training, they go with market forces.
You live where your life is, within dollar distance
of your market, most times not where your heart is.
For some there is no way back through all that rage,
trails they left behind of brokenness and loud
memory, things that frown and point fingers.
The brave returnees retrace their steps, tracking
the old landmarks, laying bricks and also wreathes.

In such a scarred moment of past, present and
future, naked to his mirror, as if before some
priestly audit, he must choose between
two loves – his children and childhood. He would
have both but only one can have him. He may have
many homes but one life. For love of the children,
to keep them planted on sure ground, forging
ahead not holding back, or backing into life,
with necks that ache from much turning,
he’ll hold on to his dream. America may brown
or rebrand, love like a mighty wind sweep
together the hip hop streets and country roads,
the swagger returned to Wall Street.

A land is all its stories, and there are
many stories but one miracle of pollen. Who are
the planted of America? How did they grow there?
Were they sown by wind or seeded by bird?
America the Beautiful. Desire of all nations.
Land of the many-flavoured ice cream.
If some going west across the seas,
pulled down totems to build new homes,
he thinks he can. And they had a hard time
of it, taming horses and cacti, pulling
forward through hostile land. He lets the thought
mature. He thinks he can, but not by rage.
Better by age like his beloved Malbec, the fuller taste
from the older bottles. Home is the promise
love wants from life but a house is what it gets.
Living is housekeeping and homemaking.

About The Author


Afam Akeh, currently at Oxford Brookes University, in Oxford, UK, is a poet-journalist and former pastor. He is the Founding Editor of African Writing and author of Stolen Moments. A second collection of poems, Letter Home and Other Poems is forthcoming.

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