At the Kaiama Bridge
I see them retreat, flotillas of river spirits
that for centuries brought their spectacle to town
in yearly masquerades—they retreat seaward.
What becomes of us without their presence?
Along in the southward flow, all other water-
born names, once guests on land, return—
they are no longer safe in the drilling wetlands
that from beginning hosted the congress of life.
All with the property of land gone into water
to relieve themselves of the scathing noise above
return to the hard soil posthaste because now
the waters have turned into a poisonous brew.
We have organized a resistance army,
declared sovereignty over our resources;
but have not pushed back the poachers.
Outside forces pillage the inheritance.
I see the oil-blackened current suffocating
Mami Wata and her retinue of water-maids;
they leave fast the inhospitable dominion
for the freedom and health of the open sea.
I have not seen a regatta in three decades.
Nor have I seen the island’s boat of songs
raise its ritual paddle in salute to high gods
that astronauts now suffocate with satellites.
Oil spillage has fuelled water hyacinths
to multiply astronomically across rivers.
Refugee gods are taking the last route
before the entire waterway is clogged.
Neighbours are surrendering their homes
to destruction by the fires from above.
Others have the soil burning underfoot,
their shield of green gone; mere ashes.
The refugees are removed from the fields
in company buses, a humanitarian gesture;
then in diarrhoea-infected camps force-fed
genetically modified corn meant for cows.
Do I want to shed blood defending the wealth
that the gods themselves have given up
because they know in their serene silence
the barbaric charge of godless ones after them?
Is revolution dead and must the Egbesu Boys
surrender rights of ownership and humanity
to the brigand lord and his fierce livery of
insatiable appetites raising a flaming flag?
At the wobbling Kaiama Bridge that holds the Delta
together, I see a procession of oil-soaked water spirits
wailing their way out. No boats of fishermen plying
the waterways; no regatta and no swimmers in sight!
(for Ezekiel Okpan)
The day the farmer lost all his harvest to locusts
the day the herdsman lost all his cows to rinderpest
the day the fisherman lost his boat and nets to a storm
the day there was a total eclipse of the sun
the day fire left dry leaves to burn out green ones
the day water failed to quench the burning thirst
the day the wind refused to blow away smothering fumes
the day the earth opened up a bottomless pit to another world
the day the muse thrashed the minstrel
the day the minstrel was struck dumb
the day the goat refused to eat yam leaves
the day the parrot refused to eat corn
the day the drums refused to beat for the dancer
the day the iroko was struck down by lightning
the day erased from the memory of celebrations
the day gone down without a record of its hours
the day all the gates closed to the fugitive
the day the crossroads refused its sacrifice
the day all the alarms refused to go off
the day the clear-eyed guide lost his vision
the day the boneless beast opened its mouth
to swallow an entire man like sauteed crayfish
that was the day of the summer solstice when in
Jerusalem and my best friend died in Sapele.
The muse sends me to the market
I ask no questions of the divine command
and off I go to Igbudu Market across the main road.
I take along the cast-iron bell that completes my costume—
the messenger must deliver his message with a clear ring.
Above haggling murmurs of milling marketers
I come to mingle with sellers, buyers, and others.
The market is a vast theatre of fortune where
fate tags its caste with myriad sizes of purses:
those come with only a penny to buy all their needs
and a few with tons of cash to buy what is not for sale—
it is clear the divides elsewhere that remain covered
the market surely exposes in abysmal barriers.
Forbidden love exercises freedom here; nobody denied entry
where the living and the dead consort and exchange pleasantries
under the shade of thronged murmurs and spectacle of spices
and stalking robbers display the tortoise’s craft they learned.
I have not come to the market on my own volition
to barter songs for palm oil, fresh fish, and salt—
the songs that come free to the minstrel will not
outbid the oil worker’s wife overflowing with cash.
I come to poeticize the arithmetic of prices,
denials of poverty and delusions of wealth.
I ring the bell at tilted scales and other measures;
I sing loud against the hat tricks of usurers. . .
The muse sends me to the market
& I ask no questions of the divine command.
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