Sentinel Poetry (Online) #56 ISSN 1479-425X

THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF POETRY & GRAPHICS...since December 2002

Editor-in-Chief: Amatoritsero Ede

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Afam Akeh is the Editor of African Writing. In 1988 he published his first collection of poems; Stolen Moments, and his second collection Letter Home is scheduled for publication in the last quarter of 2007. I realised in the course of putting together this issue of Sentinel Poetry that some of the many people writing poetry, in Nigeria today especially, have never had access to Akeh's earlier works of poetry. Personally, I have only just, in this past week, encountered some pages of Stolen Moments. There are some stirring poems in it. I am particularly likely to be caught going back to read lines like these: "After the faces are forgotten, and the names / are buried in time / with the private smells and preferences, / only the feeling lives, / preserved beneath the dust of passing days / like timeless fossils." from 'To the Women I have loved' and "Poetry rings like wedding bells / in the silence of these antiseptic moments:/ a tentative caress, then / loud meaningful peals of laughter. / I think it has something to do with living,/ its poisoned moments, pungent / as perfumed armpits." from 'Words'. The pleasure is all mine as I share in full the title poem from Stolen Moments with you. NA.

 

 

AFAM AKEH

 

STOLEN MOMENTS

 

1

 

I hear the caged birds

lament the loneliness of their prisons,

 

surrounded by eyes too rushed by needs

 

to know there’s a world

that breathes in great rocks,

 

in green infinitudes of valleys

populous with rare species.

 

I am standing at the summit of a world,

 

an ocean of green silence

rolling in waves of rock and coal.

 

All the marks of the ages, cracks on the slopes,

open as the content page of a book.

 

I am stunned here with life,

 

and stand on trembling feet

that bear witness of their prodigal past.

 

A rush of empathy flows with the blood,

but a formidable store of memories

 

will yield no permanent space

to this green life I see.

 

I am standing at the summit of a world, pilgrim

alone with the laughter of unseen things,

 

with a mind split as the world,

into fluid camps of almost everything.

                                         Awgu, 1986

 

2

 

Noon: the threat of rain hangs solid

in an ugly Nimbus

 

but the bargains keep tumbling where I stand

among the stalls

 

willing sanity

in a moment that belongs to money.

 

A sense of urgency pervades,

 

and beside a stall

a cock is urgent in his demands on his hen.

 

Noon, the perfect riot,

when all is free for those with muscles

 

and a loser drifts by unnoticed

like the gentle noon breeze.

 

And I am the loser here among the stalls

where money makes the man,

 

my pockets loaded with their emptiness.

 

 

3

 

Clouds, grouped and gloomy, inconstant,

peopling the noon sky in herds of three,

 

painted in the depressing colour of death.

 

Clouds like dreams, feigning solid,

as grease or gelatine.

 

I watch them roll over, multiply, or disengage

like images blurred by night.

 

Clouds grey as death and twice as threatening,

grey with every hint of storm.

 

I watch the street scurry indoors, pursued

by missiles of dust, twigs and leaves.

 

Clouds, rain clouds,

great clouds that hang like rocks on thin thread.

 

I watch them roll over my shrunken, tremulous world

like implacable avengers.

 

4

 

A crippling spasm of loneliness here

in the raucous company of friends.

 

Birthdays are hostile times to think about death,

 

the fleeting life of moments,

death of dreams and all that flower.

 

Birthdays are for celebrations:

 

One should seize such moments

with practiced hands,

 

become drunk on happiness, or

the sheer gratitude for living.

 

Here, under the dim party lights,

even ugliness assumes unexpected grace,

 

irrepressible youth

overfills each heaving moment.

 

And I have drunk my share of the wine,

and have laughed and laughed and laughed,

 

and still I am brooding about death.

 

I am suddenly out of step, too sobered by books,

shared into portions by the multitudes in me.

 

 

5

 

Out of the dense night an object homed to earth,

out of the orchards of the sky, a ripened fruit.

 

Its smallness blazed through the night,

losing lustre to the city skyline.

 

dying off alone in a moment unmarked.

 

It could have been a meteor plunging to its fiery end,

flaming slough of some aging planet.

 

Or a god:

Seen through ardent eyes, certainly a god.

 

And it could have been me:

flesh, bones, blood and waste,

 

hurtling down without a hope,

unimportantly, in a moment unmarked.

 

 

6

 

Some place at last

where we may not rush.

 

Here, lulled by melodies,

the busy mind goes on break.

 

Incense, perfumes and polish,

fragrant baits for cynical nostrils.

 

The eyes are wooed from sin

by barriers to ugliness,

 

these stained glasses, sculptures

and carvings that ennoble.

 

Abolitionist before an icon, I confess:

 

‘For the warmth of this moment,

I spare the, Lord.’

 

 

7

 

And underneath this almond tree,

the world is the tutored tenderness of a lover.

 

I am the owner of my moments.

 

Of the greens, there is the fecund feel

only the rains can bring.

 

Whispers of immortality,

horizons, birthdays and people.

 

The world is

a stolen moment of rustling leaves.

 

Still I am arid,

cannot write the poem of my dreams.

 

Review this poem for Sentinel Poetry

 

 

 

African Writing is the new magazine launched in July 2007 and edited by Afam Akeh.

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