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Welcome to SENTINEL LITERARY QUARTERLY

Vol.3. No. 4. July - September 2010

 


CONTRIBUTORS

IROBI IN SENTINEL

SECTIONS

Afam Akeh
Andy Willoughby
Claire Girvan
Christian Ward
Derek Adams
Esiaba Irobi
Hannah Lowe
Hunter Liguore
Ikechukwu Obialo Azuonye
Karunamay Sinha
Kate Horsley
Laura Solomon
Lookman Sanusi
Malcolm Bray
Mark Lewis
Moa-Aaricia Lindunger
N Quentin Woolf
Nina Romano
Nnorom Azuonye
Norbert O. Eze
Olu Oguibe
Pius Adesanmi
Robert Lee Frazier
Toyin Adepoju
Uche Nduka
Wayne Scheer
Zino Asalor
 

 

 

This issue of SLQ is dedicated to the memory of

ESIABA IROBI (1960 - 2010)

 

ESIABA IROBI

 

The Kingdom of the Mad
    (for B.J. alias Biodun Jeyifo)

I

B. J., as you know,  poetry,
        for all exiles,
     begins in Flight.

The British Airways plane hovered over Lagos,
like a wounded albatross, then, headed North, towards
Ibadan, emitting its jets of smoke over smaller cities:

Ife, Ondo, Abeokuta, Ekiti, and the green forests,
the markets, rivers, lakes, valleys, plains, mountains
and the smouldering savannahs of the hunch-backed 

landscape we once called our country;

over the kingdom of the mad, and its greedy,
corrupt populace grinning gangrenously, below,
like wounds on a punctured, suppurating heart;

over Nigeria, a fiction on the edge of extinction.

It jetted round the neck of Olumo Rocks
like a curse, straightened its neck, blessed the skull
of the earth with its urine-streaked droppings,

then, banked westwards, its iron wings
scizzoring the wind and the clouds and the light with fury
like a hurricane nicknamed the tail of the devil.

Airborne, now,  I look down.  How secure
and powerful it makes one feel to look down,
from these heights, and see one's own country
and people as damned,  see them as toothed vulvas
waiting to bite off  and chew into pieces whatever
you put like a bone between their gaping, yapping,
flapping, oversized, omnivorous lips: food, foolishness,
manifestoes, your penis,  even urine from an aeroplane,
raining down their open-ended throats like a sad,
lugubrious poetry ; the poetry of power…
And suddenly, it dawns on me that this must be
what it feels like, I mean the ecstasy of  power. This is what
seduces us all. This feeling that one can soar above it all,

and feed on it, alone, like a gifted vulture,
like our late president who, it has now been confirmed, 
died from an overdose of viagra pills.

Had esoteric tastes in women. Every hue and colour. Every shade
and shape. Every style. Every position. Including `The wheelbarrow'
which dumped him into his shallow worm-cushioned grave.

And so , B.J., from the comfort of this seat,

empowered by the cheap red wine,
the distance, the height, the British Council fellowship,
and, the dazzling, blinding light,

the country spreads out below like the carcass
of a gigantic cow rotting in the sun, its future, a capsized canoe
on the ox-bow loops of the river Niger crawling below.

I survey all, like Ozymandias, and smile.

One day, this country will explode,
with a terrifying  force,
the force with which the engines,
like the imagination, rage
against the fuselage's and the wings'
craving for the earth and gravity.
It will explode! In the hands and faces
of its makers. It will explode! Like a crude Biafran bomb!

  II

And now, as the plane begins its cruise, in high altitude,
across the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert, towards the tropic
of cancer, towards England, on a clear September day
I take a final glance at what was once my country,
and sigh, as all exiles always do, and begin to sing, inwardly,
without words, in all the colours of sorrow, about the destiny 

of my country and of all exiles like me, who leave never to return: 


I spit upon the laws that thieves have made
To give the crooked the strength to rob the straight.
I spit upon a country so full of wealth
Yet millions wallow in squalor and in want.
I spit upon the flag that flaps like a rag
On an iron pole  planted on the vision of pregnant generals.
I spit upon rabid religions that defend a hell on earth
and preach a heaven beyond this  mire
I spit upon the education that turns into stenographers
A generation that could have been philosophers
visionaries and revolutionaries. Upon this whole damned
nation  of mine do I spit. And while I spit, I weep.

III

Join me, B. J.  in this epic of a cynic,
our nation's nunc dimitis, my ballad
for her rigor mortis, which I  sing
on my way into exile, and while I sing I weep.

Join me, with your baritone, brandy-mellowed voice,
even from across the Atlantic, from the other shore littered
with exiles, like  beautiful seashells on a tourist beach.

Join me. I didn't know you too had fled.
Some omniscient African-American egghead at Harvard told me.
B.J. I can hear you from here.  My sorrow is oceanic.

Join me from Cornell! Nothing will stand between
You and me and the pain of history this song contains:
The cruelties of history. The fangs of our history,

As sharp as the jaws of the desert
and vast as the Sahara. As deep as the Atlantic
which, now, cannot stand between us

and our demon song! So, B.J., join me
in this Booger Dance before the cortege arrives
and we become  another shard amidst a pile

of shattered shards in an exploding continent.

And do you notice, B.J., how, as one escapes
further away from the boundaries of our nation,
the surreal reel of the iniquities of our history
begin to unfold faster and faster in the memory 
like slides from Shoah? B.J. do you realize as you read,
that I am what I have always been: a student of holocausts,
a scholar of genocides, a professor of pogroms;
a research assistant of exterminations,  ethnic cleansing
and all other exciting atrocities of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries…

IV

Ah,  my compatriot, B.J., do you remember the beauties 
of nineteen sixty-six exhibited as  the masterpieces of our history
in the galleries of the North? Do you or do you not?

The human heads baked in an oven before they were fed to dogs.
The female breasts sliced off with axes and scimitars.
The vaginas and male genitals scalped with rusty scizzors;

The spoils of an incestuous war. * Skulls trepanned
with swinging axes. Necks chopped off on auction blocks.
Eyes roasted  like groundnuts before they were fed to vultures

and other fowls of the air. * The human brains
used to repaint the dirty asphalt of the one road
we have traveled since nineteen sixty-six.*

Corpses tipped into mass graves, some left to the caress
of hyenas, the delight of vultures and the phalanges of the wind.
The valley growing with bones and rotting flesh.*

The bodies of little children floating down the river,
clutching , like tiny green-white-green flags, the fragments
of our future. * Do you recall the memory of the Igbo woman

who brought home, like a trophy, in a suitcase,
across River Benue, across the river Niger, by donkey
and by  bicycle, by head and by train,

the quartered pieces of her husband's body. *
It is happening again, B.J., it is happening again.

At the turn of a new and doubtful century,
it is happening again and of course, you sef can see
how we have been standing here for half a century ,

knee-deep in ashes, like embalmed sentinels,
waiting  for the sign of a new life, any green thing
that can sprout from this valley blooming with bones,

blooming, like Malagatanas paintings,  with its harvest of skulls

V

Yes, B.J., the iniquities of our history will shame Mosseley,
shame Mussolini, shame Hitler, shame Enoch Powell, shame the Roman Arena, shame Carthage, shame  Rwanda, shame even History herself.

I spit upon the laws that thieves have made
To give the crooked the strength to rob the straight.
I spit upon a country so full of wealth
Yet millions wallow in squalor and in want.
I spit upon the flag that flaps like a rag
Above an excrement  of pregnant generals
And the new monkeys with the conductor's stick.
Upon this whole damned nation of mine
do I spit. And while I spit, I weep.

Look at them, B.J.: The whirling dervishes of our history, politicians
of the third and final republic, with their spin doctors
and dream makers, sorcerers and shrinks all spinning round
and round like the possessed prophets of Baal,
stabbing themselves, cutting up their bodies, out of whose holes
nothing flows, neither blood nor water, nor any juices
of the spirit, since these animals are meat, mere meat,
fit only to be barbecued  or roasted or baked or even cremated.
I mean the leaders. Since they are by their nature, toxins,
inedible, and for the sake of their immediate humanity,
should be handcuffed, shaved, upstairs and downstairs,
put in a leaking boat and pushed into the Atlantic Ocean,
where they will find, among the monsters of the deep,

the bones and relics of their ilk,

snorkeling among the ocean floor, among
the polyps and corals , the skeletons of a drowning history!
Here they come again. Here they come! Look at them. B.J.,
International Thief Thiefs. See their eyes? And their stinking arses,
their balding patches and trembling eyelids, (See, they are making
juju with their eyes  now) puckered faces and leprous hands cradling
their crystal balls,  their luminescent balls. Hear their grand epics,
their chants and great incantations…The prisons have been emptied,
the parliaments are full…The donkeys are neighing, the horses braying,
the bulldogs roaring,  the hyenas throwing up…Meanwhile the hen
returns to roost  without her brood of chicks because a python  lies
at the threshold,  his stomach bulging with eggs and the bones
of the only cockerel left. The compound walls are falling.
Creepers crawl over  our homestead.

But I continue to sing,
B.J., because, as you know so well,  it is only the homing pigeon
who has left the loft  and journeyed forth, and returned, bloodied
and brained  in the skull,  pebbled in wing and beak,
who recites anew the myth of the land.

VI
Join me Odia Ofeimun, you who were once a poet,
a fine poet, whose favourite poet  is himself .
You promised us , at the Anthill,  to write us an epic titled:
Go Tell the Generals. Where is that great epic?

Who are the publishers? Why do I not have it in my hands?
Reciting it like a mantra  with a rage and an energy
close to violence could have saved me this labour,
this despair, since I know the power of your gifted hand.

Odia, where is that great epic? Or have you  published
and launched it between the thighs of a thousand white women
across whose smiling thighs, thumping groins and
applauding pelvises we all seem only able  to writhe these days?

Join me Benjamin Okri, you who refused to send me a little money
out of the Booker prize to pay my rent in Liverpool.
Ah, the brotherhood of man. My bank manager was looking
for me all over Liverpool with a shot gun and two men
wielding lead pipes at the time I sent that SOS.
So join me in this incantation that wards off evil spirits at home
or in exile: In London or at Cambridge. The flames of the torches
we once carried in our hands are now succulent scallops
in which the wind dips his magic tongue again and again
and smiles and smacks  his lips  so redolent with sweet pussyjuice.

Join me Femi Osofisan, from your office in Ibadan.
As I told you at Leeds, the Monsters of the Deep
are still feeding on my soul like the teeth of a thousand
piranhas. Femi, I hope when I die,  someone will stand
at my graveside and recite  with a tremulous voice,
this  epitaph: We have gathered here today, in Aba
to mourn a stubborn poet called Esiaba, who deeply believed
that there comes a time in every poet's career when he or she must
have the guts to call a cunt a cunt even if it is his own fucked-up cuntry.

I spit upon a country so full of wealth. Yet millions wallow
in squalor and in want. I spit upon the flag that flaps like a rag
above the kingdoms of the mad. And while I spit, Femi,  I weep….

Kole , I hear you are now in South Africa.
Doing great adverts for mobile phones from the USA.
How will Karl Marx feel in his grave now that you appear
On billboards for conglomerates, how will Trotsky feel?
Lenin, Stalin, and Chairman Mao, how will they feel?
Have we betrayed them, compesino and comrade, have we ?
"But what else could we do? Afterall the Berlin wall had fallen
and we had been hoovered out of our country like crayfish
in a trawler's net sweeping the ocean floor. Uprooted
like tender cotyledons by a whirlwind,  the tenants of the desert."
Kole, I too have joined the rat race , running my own race
through the academic track. Reading  and writing and teaching
by day, playing the lottery at night in crowded malls.  Dreaming
like Sampson and Salubi, about becoming a millionaire!!! Waiting
for my first million. To build a library in Aba.  The second ?  To marry
seven wives. Father seventy children. Form a new Marxist party!
Overthrow the government.  Bring you all home. Make you ministers!
Ministers of culture! Ministers of the Future!!! Future Prime Ministers!

Join me, Afam Akeh, you who chose the path of a different truth
The road to the cross, on our way to Golgotha.
Join me, as I exorcise, in words and songs,
the terror at the heart of this epic, the eternal  fear
gnawing at the sinews of my soul. Join me as I begin
to dirge and redream for the future of our children
who may return to a no man's land, a home happy with
the laughter of gunfire whose national anthem is a twenty-one
gun salute and spurts of human blood jackson-pollocked
on that rag, that everlasting rag:  that green white green rag.

VII

Join me, all you who are the remains of what remains
Of my generation.  We are those the future forgot.
Beleaguered and despised, banished and dispossessed.
We who were blinded  before we were born. And branded
thereafter.  Friends, you who were once alive and happy
and writing,  I just want you to know that before we return
from this interminable exile our country may no longer
be on the map of the world. It  may have been erased,
its dross, the ashes  and the dust a military priest flings
into the graves of  pregnant generals who died fucking up their country

So, join me, Ossie Melody, you who thought you had
found the final metaphor for our country, broken pots.
Crouched in that industry you believed would make you
immortal, how could you have known that we would
all become, in the end, the pieces of the pitcher at the riverside,
fragments from that singular fall! Shattered, we cannot go home
with the water neither can we return to the stream with the waterpot!

Laa n'udo; laaa n'udo, nwannem nkem huru n'anya…

B.J. I dreamt, last night, that I was journeying
through North America (I have already urinated
all over Europe) And somewhere near Cornell,
at John F Kennedy airport, some monkey-faced,
caucasian  immigration officer said to me, staring
at my green passport, Republic of Maicuntri?
This country no longer exists. Like Biafra, it has
been wiped off the surface of the earth by the Beasts
of Sandhurst and the Demons of Democracy.
What remains are the marks of their paws.
The milestones smell of blood. And the children learn
to count 123 as in Uganda and Rwanda, with their fathers
bones and skulls. Stringing them like numbers on an abacus. 

Join me Professor Emmanuel Obiechina, you who
taught me how to tell poetry from prose, the essential
difference between ethical morality and literary morality,
who also showed me how to shape and sharpen a lance
and plant it like a flagpole between the ribs of your nation,
hurl it into its distended belly like an Olympic javelin
and watch from a safe distance, the pus oozing out
like jets of crude oil from its contused abscesses,
The horror O the horror. Join me, my beloved Prof.
The baton you wanted to keep on the floor of scholarship,
I have taken up and I vow the relay will continue forever.

And tell Chinua Achebe, whose own song ends this book,
That I want you, my fathers, to know and remember and recall,
that at this point in my life and career, that I despaired.
That as I write, something more profound than pain, more
primordial than mud, more destructive than rage or angst,
more orgasmic than sex, something beyond words, some deep
seismic force, beyond the subtle serenades of the wounded heart,
and the thousand agonies of exile, propelled this hand
and heart to the dirges and funeral  songs emitting  like  sparks
from a flint, a whetstone worn out by the knife's persistence
on  stone, some primal power beyond my intellectual pretensions,
something some poets claim is the well-spring of verse, masters,
let me call whatever it is that fuels this feeling of anarchy
and bitterness, and despondency about everything we left behind,
everything we lost, the decimal humiliations that sweeten our exile,
the memory of our dear dear ones, all those we left at home,
on this journey of damned and damaged souls,
let me call this elusive thing, this feeling: Love.

Kingdom of the Mad was first published in Sentinel Poetry Online in July 2003 

 

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JULY-SEPTEMBER INDEX
COMPETITIONS
DRAMA
ESSAYS & REVIEWS
FICTION
IROBI IN SENTINEL
IROBI, TRIBUTES
POETRY

 

Esiaba Irobi - a poet, playwright, actor and scholar was born in the Republic of Biafra on October 1, 1960, and lived in in exile in Nigeria, Britain, United States and Germany where he passed away on May 3, 2010. He studied at the Universities of Nigeria, Sheffield and Leeds, and held a B.A. in English/Drama, M.A. Comparative Literature, M.A. Film/Theatre, and PhD in Theatre Studies. In 1992 his play, Cemetery Road won the prestigious World Drama Trust Award. His books include Nwokedi, The Colour of Rusting Gold, Cotyledons, Hangmen Also Die, and Why I don't Like Philip Larkin and Other Poems. He leaves behind a wife, Uloaku and a son, Nnamdi.

 

 

 

JULY-SEPTEMBER INDEX | COMPETITIONS | DRAMA | ESSAYS & REVIEWS | FICTION | IROBI IN SENTINEL | IROBI, TRIBUTES | POETRY

 

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