Sentinel Poetry (Online) #59 ISSN 1479-425X


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November 2007 l POETRY


Nduka Otiono


*(Four Water Poems)



1. Thinking of Iyi Oda


Where is the road that leads to Iyi Oda,

village stream that watered my being,

where the water clings to your feet,

a child in need of loving-kindness.


I shall return to you, Iyi Oda, peaceful brook

where every morning was a conference

of boys and girls lost in their innocence

unmindful of their birthday suits.


I shall return to you, watermaid,

to read my book of life to your silent rhythm

unbroken by years of desertion.


I think of you in an alien land,

recalling every dive with mists

spreading like halos above my head.


I think of you, Iyi Oda…

How I wondered how you came

Through thickets smelling like damp armpits.


There were times you played windsongs, rustling like

a kettle hissing with boiling water and sowing desire in my loins.

Then, I longed to drop into your watery bosom

and blossom from your fetishes of love.


Iyi Oda, wish you could stretch your warm arms to me here,

curl around me, lost in a shrinking and sinking planet in peril,

where each day the sun bakes a climate of fear

and lumberjacks shun the sweet scents of the forest.


Where is the road that leads to Iyi Oda,

where the fishes are shy, flashing like my eyelids

and swimming in a hide-and-seek style.


Village stream that watered my childhood,

I will return to you, penitent, for my final cleansing.



2. Teardrops


The cleansing begins with a teardrop -

Nature’s watery pearls drop

Springing from his eyes before they pop

In salutation to grief.


She’s been long gone

To where she belongs.

Watermaid with a heart of rock,

He’ll write you into his bleeding book.


“When was the last time you cried?”

His little girl asked. “Daddy, you make me want to cry too.”

Her eyes are a dripping tap

Each droplet landing like a full-stop.


There are no commas in grief

And tears know no punctuation

They are like July rains

That fall in Lagos at random.


“Misfortunes never come singly,” he quotes,

His life a stammer of squashed hopes

In search of happiness he found the sea

And Mammywota, the deep river woman.


And the cleansing begins with a teardrop

And riders to the sea know the value of water.



3. Meeting the Pacific at Point Reyes

     (For Lee Swenson, tour guide and marvelous host)


Sitting by the Pacific at Point Reyes

the mind rummages its two-and-a-half miles depth

as the sea spreads its wide mysteries

through one-third of the earth’s surface.


In the horizon, earth and water in combat

invoke the fate of Ferdinand Magellan

on that day when filled with sea sickness,

the famed explorer blurted: “Mare Pacificum.”


At Point Reyes, I see the sea is truly ‘peaceful,’

today, the water ripples as if caressed by a lazy wind,

and the grasses kissing the borders of the beach

Sway and hiss respectfully to Nature’s songs.


Maryana, the Ukrainian, picks California blackberries

as Lee locates Point Reyes Lighthouse in the fog,

a 37-foot testimony to human challenge of nature.

Queyn, thinking of Vietnam, writes his

daughter’s name on the beach sands:


And I, troubadour of many colours,

think of Lagos Bar Beach where every

holiday, Olookun takes a swimmer for sacrifice

and the Atlantic, ever hungry, eats our land.


But at Point Reyes, there are no

signs of the shrinking ocean; no

sounds of any plate tectonics below

only Nature in its aquatic splendour.


I will return to your watery Majesty, Pacific,

A vagrant in search of oceanic secrets,

and like Pablo Neruda, “I yearn only

to become the incarnation of marine stone.”



4. The Sea Bears Many Secrets

    (For Nneka, murdered and dumped into the Atlantic)


No one knew when the butcher called,

hireling from a budding secret cult


who by day is human and friend,

but at night, a bloodthirsty fiend.


You listened, following fate like the wind,

sowing friendship and reaping no pity


Then you walked into a hideous bind

where beasts reign over a garden city.


You didn’t prepare for the mortal embrace

and so you departed your room with grace,


beauty, with a head loaded with knowledge

but not smart enough to know he wouldn’t budge.


And so like John, you walked in evil hour

into the nest of a lovesick slaughterer


who with just one poisoned kiss of death

sucked your naive blood and sought


the sea to wash you down and wash him clean

knowing the sea bears many secrets like rain.

                *      *      *

There are secrets buried in the vaults of seas -

treasures from sunken ships, treasures from

cities buried by cyclones and earthquakes


There are bones of drowned swimmers,

sailors, passengers and homicide victims…


There are amphibians, plants, plankton, and skeletons,

not even underwater archaeologists can hunt them all.


On their banks, too, are more secrets,

Like the huge graveyard for five million victims

Left on the Congo by Leopold II of Belgium.


You could have been one, Nneka,

disappearing without a farewell or a scar


but the sea is no resting-ground for you

and so the sea rejected you,

even with the stone strung on your waste


you floated without a lifebuoy

to give testimony at  nineteen,

just a term to graduation.


You floated like the seaweed,

seeking justice even in death

with nothing but a skewered heart.


The mourning time is not over yet

Every morning we think of you, and

Every water body recalls your sordid exit.


The sea may bear many secrets

But there are some it spews forth.



*Poems excerpted from a forth-coming collection, Love in a Time of Nightmare





Nduka Otiono

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