(For Jeannine Green and David Gay)
Chaucer didn’t look happy when we visited.
He sat on a horse hemmed in between
musty Ellesmere’s covers, a tired pilgrim
who had lost his honour.
He didn’t know where he was either—
inside the special collections section
of Rutherford library, calm as a cemetery.
But he kept sparkling company, fellow
Talebearers from the United Kingdom,
All, part of a colonial bequest.
There was John Bunyan, lost in his pilgrim’s progress.
Milton was there too, rediscovering his paradise lost.
Jane Austen glowed with feminist pride and prejudice,
not persuaded by Emma and concerns for memory and
time, nor by the temperaments of sense and sensibility.
She didn’t seem to care about Cupid any more
and all the hurt that wraps love.
Oh, and there was William Wordsworth, romanticist
trying to recollect emotions in tranquillity.
“This is from Jonathan Wordsworth, the
literary executioner of Wordsworth’s estate,”
says the librarian, passionate guardian of the archive.
Her eyes are like apertures to the writers’ lives.
Forever smiling, she maps the treasured walls
between the pages like reels rolling.
Enter Shakespeare, so content with his stature
as a playwright he doesn’t mind being called W.S.
So great he left poetry and name to honour Wordsworth.
King of the stage, he’s magnificent in a fourth edition folio.
And the visitor’s eyes widened with great expectations,
smothered by a smouldering reputation
shouldered by time, art and fame.
Finally, there was Charles Dickens, vagrant of the city,
Master of romantic side of familiar things, staggering
with nineteen pamphlets of David Copperfield,
but with our mutual friend, Oliver Twist, nowhere in sight.
“Dickens was so fussy about his illustrations,” says
the librarian, as if in an old curiosity shop.
In two months it will be Christmas. But there
was no time to contemplate a Christmas carol
as we rose to leave our enchanting new buddy,
bodies tempered by a new archive fever.
And someone remained to converse with Chaucer,
to confirm whether his name really meant ‘shoemaker.’
Rooms We Live In
We walk from streetlight to streetlight
silence to silence
how to speak about human heart and memory
how to speak about all the rooms we live in
—“Anna,” Patrick Friesen
As from shadow to dream, so from
Birth to death we live from room to room.
Conceived in a room inside woman,
We swim in forever-warm amniotic waters
Until nature evicts us, debtors with unpaid
Boarding and lodging bills out of sight.
So what is man that I am mindful of him?
Forever a child searching for teats, from
Mother to wife, like a butterfly in flight,
We walk from streetlight to streetlight.
How do I begin to sing about mother?
Tireless creditor to errant children,
Always welcoming all to her room.
Only yesterday, I saw her in a dream,
Rosary in one hand, in the other olive oil
To anoint a son constantly travelling in silence
When the road is spread-eagled, famished
Like grandma’s pipe yearning for tobacco--
Inside her room, smoke and ashes become incense,
And the air is still, blowing from silence to silence.
Some rooms come as rights of passage—Classrooms,
Offices, bars or one I was given at adolescence,
Where I learnt to sing songs of experience,
The fire of pubescence burning in my loins.
Each day was riddled with escapades and then
Returning from one friend’s room with a story
Or another after sharing unspent cigarette stubs,
And remnants in elders’ palmwine kegs—
How do I remember all the rooms with my history?
How to speak about human heart and memory?
How do I speak about that eternal, lonely room
Into which I’ll retire, unaware of its location or for
How long I’ll live there before the last Judgement?
How do I know what happens amongst the dead?
“Death makes us all look ridiculous,” a poet said.
Between casket and grave which is the last room?
There, we’ll return, sand house and bones, uninvited
Tenants with unpaid boarding and lodging bills.
Between the womb and tomb where’s peace within?
How else to speak about all the rooms we live in?
Band of Worshippers
At Mama Bomboy’s street corner shack,
They call every evening,
Proverbial wayfarers so heavily burdened
But with no one to give them rest.
First to call this evening is Awalu,
Tall, dark Fulani man with hazel eyes
Telling muted stories of a pilgrim,
Tenant of memories of miseries.
Next is Samanja, so named after his
Legendary walrus moustache curved
Upwards at the corners as if pointing heavenwards
And accusing God of complicity in his painful fate.
And then there are half a dozen others—
Slaves of paraga, herbal alcoholic brew
Advertised by Mama Bomboy
As gbogboshe, a cure for all ailments.
Before every gulp they pour libations
In salutation to the guts
And for each gulp they hope for renewal
After a backbreaking day at the construction site.
Every shot is for the famished road
But “the last is for missus,” a potent
Mix of gburantashi, an aphrodisiac,
Taken to make war, not love.
Then once upon a cold harmattan evening,
The band of paraga worshippers arrived at their haunt
And found the site razed by the General’s bulldozers
Paving the ground for an Officers’ Mess to sprout...
Sentinel Poetry (Online) #50. January 2007 ISSN 1479-425X
THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF POETRY & GRAPHICS...since December 2002
Editor-in-Chief: Amatoritsero Ede