Poetry

Ballad of the Peace-Keeper: Poems by Maik Nwosu

PASSAGES

i Princess
listen, maya, listen to the echoes of midnight stills
this song is for yesterday

out of phosphorescent wells in this darkness
I see in bold relief the footpaths we never walked
and i sing wistfully the song of your eyes:
rainbows of arcades and circles
that will linger with the dews of our morning
sad melodies of a chosen sacrifice
what blockade else could have buffered
the centripetal nudge of our hearts?
what gulf else eternally separated
the tentative outreach of our hands?
but look in tomorrow’s mirror
and i see a kaleidoscope of futures

listen, maya, listen to the orgasm of the evening breeze
this song is for this day

now, no need for striving telegraphs
hand in hand we stand in the presence of the sun
on a wind-swept morning
with uplifted hands and uplifted hearts

those rain-chants and these wind-songs
will sing in our hearts forever, my darling
i know they will

listen, maya, listen to the anointation of festival
this song is for always

ii Jacinta of Bayangari
your acrobatic buttocks prod me
like circus prodigies
these dove-tail hillocks you’ve turned west
from the roofs of agbor
so oval now is your wry face
at the wisdom of those sate-grey roofs
we once pondered from a window-seat
hair shampooed with varnished semen
ears pasted to all the channels
your cackles cease but never commence

once so close I could read your fragrance
in weary envelopes
now so far away i can smell your ash-pits
across the challenge

that dwarf: your mother with defeated nipples
she used to placate the lulls
with kolanuts at the mammy-market
now it is tabasco for you
in the curdling embrace of reversible emporium:
the ostrich deludes itself
with grains of sand, jacinta
the sun takes no notice
nuggets are poor kerotakises
no sirers of princesses.

iii Aisha of the Midnight Presence
remember midnight in that claustrophobic apartment
and the little things that meant worlds then

woman, was it for nothing we danced together
and rubbed ourselves breast to breast
or did the hands of the clock
so de-freeze after midnight?

“song and dance of a season is not for all time
confluences arise
then a dancepast of ghosts begins
corporeal at midnight, without substance forever”

is that then your mid-morning testament, aisha?
water-maid of the one-night lifespan
these then vistas of the possible improbable?

———————————

BALLAD OF THE PEACE-KEEPER

i
shantali, the seasons of man
revolve like the hinges of forever
sometimes recoil and thrust
like the heaves of the mamba
and even when the tablets of omens
have midwifed clouds of calm
and the guns lie smoking but stilled
where is the peace?
when they trussed you up in mogadishu
and the dungeons clenched your silences
how did it feel?
but to ask that maybe is to query
the perimeters of silence
engulfing the regions of death

to count the diameters of canine bites
as squelching spirits
what reels then shall be left
the statistician?
in our marketplaces  we have known also
the seasonal reclamations of the mute
the huge crackles of little tinders
– like ashikodi the head-walker
tending his caravan of fowls
but wherein the eruptions of seasoned wisdom?
now you too know, shantali
that slavery also spans the battle-field
and what answers can slavery
tender to liberation?.

ii
“the stentorian enforcement
was the first shudder
they took us away
from the parade-ground
they took us away
from its serene familiarities
pronounced the sentence of the blue helmets
and despatched us to our fate
soldiers of the new agenda for peace
i awoke anew
in the killing fields of mogadishu
brother against brother
clan against clan
squabbles dimmed in ancestral blood
and fled was the patriach of the apocalypse
fled from the slime and blood
of his convolutions
fled into the furtive refuge
of his brother hunchback
where is the peace we have come to keep?
to enumerate the limbs and shrapnel
of twilight massacres
to ponder the ghosts and skeletons
of mid-noon carnage
to beat the bush for red-cross syrups
are these then the agenda for peace?
every helmet, therefore, his own agenda
now I half-know why the veterans
whistle ‘sarajevo, my love’
with all the immense gravity of nostalgia
they frighten me:
these staccatos from doomed tabernacles
these fatal sacraments promising no absolution
but will i someday also whistle
‘o mogadishu1 my love’
like the veterans?

iii
“home at last was where the shadows
overtook my flight
at first in the weighty absence
among the welcoming throng
and finally in the confirmation:
‘private umoru shantali, bereaved
in the cause of peace’
b-e-r-e-a-v-e-d?
suffocations upon phantom footsteps
anticipations upon vanishing promises
so when does my heart cease to beat?
malumfashi, where is mallama?
where the life i left behind
in your slittery marrows?
death is a treachery, mairo
it has deposed you from me
but you are the great death
greater to me than all the grim litanies
of sarajevo and mogadishu
yet shall you be the greater resurrection
when, someday, the requiems have dried up
the tears of my mosques
malumfashi, where is mairo?
i have combed the inner regions
of the north
hooted through the dense zones
of the south
an echo voiceless with loss
a howl pitchless with sorrow
now i hear your voice also
in the shudders of the corn-woman
see your dimples in the bosom
of the milkmaid
hear your injunctions in the desideratum
of the mullah
and at last it has come home to me
– the lesson of mogadishu:
the brotherhood of man
the affinities of anguish
for these we must keep the peace
o mogadishu, my love”

iv
and you shall
make the next mission, shantali
johannesburg. gaza. monrovia. kigali
the world is up in flames
a great feeder factory for headline ruins
it is the bleak new age
for soldiers sans frontiers
shrunk, the globe, to a tortoise shell
salvation no longer is personal
and even if great sometimes
are the errors in the cause of peace
greater even is the sin of inertia
even i can tell that the baftle-field
knows no terms of reference
but it is only the roles that blur
not the spirit
the spirit: that latitude to be
therein lies the peace that must be kept
it is also a great new age, shantali
when the cries of sarajevo
can possess the world
and the spurts of mogadishu
shiver down the spine of the globe
there is politics in its innards
yes, there is politics
but there is compassion too
and that which is greater
is the soul of the brave new world.

———————————

SEA DIRGE
(for Abeo and Gwen, daughters of two rivers:
Philadelphia and Osogbo)

ogbanje nwa olokun
elegede
nwa wa Si n’otulu ime onaa
elegede
*

it is not the buried beaches of osogbo
that still compel me
nor the pond-skater radiance
of the triumphal arterial
in the season of osun
but the spirits of those confluences
when our echoes revved
through the shuddering cross-roads
and rejuvenated nights
as dead as reticent epitaphs
and lo the east and the west
lost their distinctions
so we breathed into the ticking diameters
of our contingency
but when the votary maid
the fertile carrier of the nubile calabash
of her parallax tribe
passed by our pondering windows
down the eastern sesame of the sacred grove
were the visions enkindled
not those of alternating traditions?
of the burial at sea –

with the sad faces of fatigued
sailors singing of wondrous yonders
in trussed voices
each hand a pentad on an opposite breast
flanking a conclusion awaiting
the return of the ferryman
out steps the captain
the reclaimed ambassador of isis
his pronouncements the end-notes
to a foreshadowed jubilee
“home is the sailor, home to the seas”
over the stern the sailor is reconciled to his cords
and the paddlers of fortune return
to the tunnels of the mind
with hoarse throats
but brimming treasure chests
visions also of resurgence-
with castellated peaks illuminating
the paths of ascension
and the smoke of nativity inciting
the mists of time:
am i the salvation army woman who looked
to jesus to wash her sins away?
the pillar of the suns of kush
who chanted in christmas grottos:
“santa, santa, i want it all”?
or the hearty boom of the steam ship:
“let us make up in the bar
the time we have wasted in the mosque
“?
but the great beard withholds
the keys of the unravelling
no foreclosing milestones hinder
the routes of return
those who travelled on the talons of  vultures
can they return on the feathers of horn-bills?
and when is the appointed
elucidation of returnees
?
“listen then, offspring of the second genesis
season after season
when the upland naiads come home
after they have lived their worlds
and the lore of wayfarers
replenish the cult of the sea
the biographies of revolutions will ever be
replete with unanswered questions
for where the catacombs
are renewed by the philosopher’s stone
there are no previews no denouement
save emerald tablets”

and when from the height of the olumo rock
we garnered the dense sprawl of abeokuta
was yours not the studied unravelling
of the rusty foliages beyond the ogun river
– the erudition
of well-nourished resource centres
and mine the anaphalbetic sagas
harvested from ancient fire-sides?

ogbanje nwa olokun
kwu-o onu  yi-o
ego nwa olokun
kwu-o onu yi-o
obu  n’ibu ogbanje
kwu-o onu yi-o
ego nwa olokun
kwu-o onu yi-o
**

yemoja, my feet are yet to plumb
the streets of philadelphia
or to stand afore the springs of florida
and hearken to the solfatara
of fortune-priests
catapaulted from chinatown
and red-indian settlements
to the centre-stage of a season-long history
but have you, pilgrim, witnessed
the stark truths of the primal confrontation
or the chequered race of the second parallel
terminate at the base of the sycamore
and the totems of the river transmogrified
in the museums of the earth?
where the sea embraces the shore-line
the surf is in ascent
as the bonds of voyaging
are in recession
in the charmed ring of the tribe
where the bearer of destiny
consecrates the fore of the spirit-child
with pellets of mortality
then, it is not the wrench
of foster drums alone
that bar the winding path
of the emptying cycle
but the trinity of the lacquered mirror too
and the homoepathy of the suffurating pot
wherein the olokun river fingers
the pregnancies of aborted missions
first, the sematic staccatos
of the queen of the coast:

“the cradles of the river basin
are older than the graveyards
of your earth
and neither your incantations
nor your pellets can re-chart
the course of the fleet
for I am the marquess of the sea
bound only to the rituals
of the subliminal flux
when the sages of your tribe
were confounded by a glimpse
of the smoke-filled depths
did they not lose their language
and all their rehearsed subpoenas
become chants of reverence:
‘live forever, great beard
of the inner frontier’?
who then amongst you can bid
the womb of the niger to cease?
wherever my kindred spirits gather
there am i to be counted
illuminating the measure between
your coast-line and the ocean depths
for the knots of olokun
are forever”

round and round swirled the song and dance
of the drawn circle
before the eruption of the noon priest
in rattling expositions
of red bands and white shawls:

“the earth does not vanish
before the advance of the sea
both have multiple dimensions
the mist is earth
so all your fluid presences
the font of the road
but ours is not to stand akimbo
and bellow that the sea is myth
and has no breast no milk
or that those sirens
that whistle through the night
are else but sub-marine convoys
ours is to follow the trail of the red oil
and to charge at your frozen idioms:
‘cease, raiders of the gasping kitchen pot
cease, wreckers of the wailing womb’
whole lives rest
on the palm of the road
– the scout of the earth
the great balancer of the universe
tarry then, o marquess
your dues are become those of the tribe”

ashikodi was there, he of the famous head-walks
and in his moment of foaming consciousness
spoke again the contiguous paradigm
of the soda fountain:
“what will libation be without wine?”
so, yemoja, does the leaps of vision
close on the lee-ways of denial
when the tribe encircles to reclaim
the ineffable vowels of its nativity
for the tourist no terminal punctuations
are possible, only cautious annotations

*ogbanje-o, ebili
nwa olokun-o, ebili
inye m mmanya m’alaa, ebili
Inye m oji m’ataa, ebili
ogbanje-o, ebili
nwa olokun-o, ebili
***

the sea is in my blood too
its heights and depths call my heel-prints
I am a child of the initial nexus
and have sifted with
the bottomless basket of the delta
the monodies of footnote-hunters:

“deep in the navel of the forest
in the dead of night
behind a tree of their fathers’ time
we lurk, waiting for mermaids to rise
from the bowels of an ageless river
all around us life begins and ends noisily
but we have not come so far
for such dry testimonies
our dissertations await
the footnotes from this expedition
a figure moves on the river-banks
a hunter’s gun roars
the furore of passage and the signal of blood
seize our ears and our nostrils
still we lurk
oracles carved from mountain-high bookshelves
our time and our place are well-chosen
if those palmwine stories
we heard in the village
have any heads at all
so we shall stay here and wait awhile
until we can no more
then we shall return to our desks
and punctuate the chapters
of our dissertations
with a quod erad demonstratum

– monodies for which the panacea
of the water-tight basket is a cryptic salvagetion:
the child who dances the usurugede
does he not know that usurugede
is a spirit dance?
between the footnote-hunter
and the pilgrim, yemoja
there are arched convergences
like the paparazzi from archeological laboratories
who comprehend not
that the navel of the earth
is not history in stasis
nor mere lines and dots
on the atlas of the posterior
there is history here
but both in the carbon dates of ancient shrines
and the innocence of blank parchments
both in the snatched language of the chameleon
– the messenger of osanobua****
and the day-old tragedy of priestesses
who know much little
of the halos of the pantheon
in a thousand rings of the larger tribe
I have seen stilettos veer off the dance-floor
and point the diagonal way
homeward to the stream
seen the village pond bare its chest
and increase the tattoo of the graveyard
and handwritings on the wall
dripping with the blood of mackerels
they glitter:
the aquifers with which returnee fishermen
fresh from the megapolis of oceania
cast their certain nets for prize catches
the sea-shells and the corals
of the tri-colour boat dance
and the flagpoles of dream ships
in to dock on the shores of the moon
but the cadence of the sea
is the requiemnal of the dirge
for they that clutch at roots
from marbled elevations
or match even mediate volcanoes
with tea-cup thunders

yes, they that travelled on the talons of vultures
to the slave farms of the great junkyard
can come home on the feathers  of hornbills
to the very reaches of their chosen seas
but through the narrow path
of the inner tribe
past the cenotaphs of nomads
not in the jacuzzi depths of salle portugal
or via the papered voids
of bacchanal revivals
so come home, dear soul, come home
from the bubbles into the deep
the core is communion.

———————————

Poems (c) Maik Nwosu

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3 Comments

  • The beauty of this work lies in its ability to tap into the vast fountain of our oral heritage and elucidate the sublimal splendour of the traditional African bard.I can’t just have enough of this song.BRAVO,MAIK!

  • ive no doubt in my mind that you are in the group of our country first-rate poets.in the last poem you stretched yourself into that realm of great poetry.