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afam akeh

Afam Akeh



Letter Home

About Afam Akeh








ISBN 978-0-9568101-5-1



There is the sense in this work of an involved and inclusive poetry, revelling in the humour, play and beauty of experience but also revealing moments of heart-rending loss and unfulfilment…  a sense of poetry as story, constructing meaning and plot from the connected roles and all-significant affairs of its staged players. The poems go beyond their detailed representations of dislocation, personal and collective conflicts, to point a determined finger at the fragile moments and relationships which enact them. There is here not so much faith in the untainted breath as assurance in the possibility of recovery. In the cast of vulnerable human – and occasional animal – characters we soon recognise the dog across our street or someone we know. We catch glimpses of our own dramatic and unsettled lives.




And you the child saw that change had come,

the adults like children bouncy with wellness,

hugging and shouting ‘Happy survival!

Happy survival!’ Folk, singing all the time.

What else could it be but that bread was back.

Life could eat without guilt, school as before

the convoys passed and everything changed.

Boom! Bang! Hunters saying it with guns,

saying yes to hope, but nothing fired

in anger, no one bleeding.


Families festive with homecoming, life retold

as fable. A time of journeys and reunion.

You heard... So-and-so has been found.

So-and-so is coming home. My son! My love!

Feed him. Clothe her. He needs a shave.

She’s got lice. It’s the tapeworm eating his food!

Give them time, people, give them space…

Markets alive, the first fishes swollen

with history. People fearful of fat fishes,

wondering which fallen soldier

they ate to grow so large.

And all that before the season of rains.


Then the laughter went. And you the child

saw that change had come again, people

keeping to themselves, not telling.

Even the children were no longer children.

Too much memory, some said, the dead returned

to steal voices and minds from the living.

But the sun was up. People farming their soil.

And you the child, with a catapult, risking snakes,

setting traps, separating herb from poison, hiding

under leafy boughs, aiming at the odd bird.

In all that green loveliness focused on food.   



Role Play


As in a cluttered shop or teenage lair,

posters on wall, stuff every space, and

in that muddle her confectioner’s smile.

We came to hear this report

she reads like a list. About a boy

who knows he is not a chimp.


He does have a way with words, and

is a flash with Minute Maths, but

will not croak or hop like a frog, or

let his inner monkey show. He hates

to spread his wings, flap his fins.

‘I am not a scaly fish,’ he says,

‘not a car or choo choo train.’


We know a role he plays

but won’t say. The boy at home

is his teacher at school – the voice,

the face, her confectioner’s smile.

It is always encore when he says

Sit still everyone. No noise.

Now, let’s pretend we are crocodiles!



Letter Home

a life in four journeys




Where the largeness of the dream

is touched by the smallness

of one’s footsteps

there is travel guilt shed

like loose feathers

or discarded skin.


The flight so far

is full of fret, this island

a perch for many birds,

home of sorts to

the travel worn, storied swallows

in transit, between

inclusion and exclusion,

as spoiled for options

but without choice.


I list losses, claim gains,

in places where memory

is always loud,

between the present

and past elsewhere.

One day grown is soon

a decade, what was closest

becoming distant,

what assumes presence

by its absence.

The longing glows

for the woman who was

my beginning, and her man

my familiar flesh.

One thinks mostly

of smells and touch,

Spring on treetops,

radio voices from

a childhood of dream –

their broadcasts

through an uncivil war

assurance that peace

was English, life

English as the rhymes

one clung to, beyond

the carnage hugging

the promise

of an English day.


And England

is not unloved.

To kiss the nipple

of an English dawn

is betrothal not betrayal,

is memorial, the heart

romanced, disarmed

by birdsong.


Pies, ale, but also carnival.

England is not only the English.

Think of Summer

blown across the seas,

bringing the sounds

of other climes, not only birds

but also loss, the routes

from which some come,

bearing their gifts

and so much grief,

a vision of London

distant from Trafalgar

as the Trafalgar Square.

Punt life, pub life,

“inn-keeping with tradition”.

Living on promise

and Earl Grey tea,


day trips to the regatta,

castles, races,

football at the terraces…

En-ger-laand! En-ger-laand!

That fabled land

and the other Englands.


Tropical feelings


in winter wool,

perfecting manner,

decoding conversation,

language milked

to the bare teat

for meaning,


in all its vices,

what is not said

saying all.


To the weather then

those who care, to safety

in rains and heavy coats,

lightning flashes

over Dover

muffins in mornings

of cappuccino,

that common refuge

in weather talk.


But always an ear

to distant voices, desire

for primary colours,

children playing, mothers

calling, whole streets


their wares, a carnival

one grows an ear for.

This dream unspoiled

until waking to reports.

Then broken people,

lost causes, the stories

one mulls over tea

and croissant and tears.


Let it be told how the gecko

seeking warmth

behind shut doors,


to its new perch,

dreaming of home

in another life.

That familiar dream

a constant lure,

many roads after

still distant

as at the beginning.


So sometimes

you think you know,


you know you don’t.

That rhythm of journeys

and beaten tracks,

its plot of entrances

and exits,

the old woven tale

and its sandwich lives

bridging the distance

between the pie

and the burger,


history on the road

wild at heart 

like travel piss,

or leftovers

in a transit camp,

belonging to all

and no one,

the spit of all in it.




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Letter Home & Biafran Nights has been longlisted for the $100,000 NLNG Nigeria Literature Prize 2013.







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