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Èṣù Is Not Satan: Poetry by Kayode Afolabi


When men err and the air they breathe is evil
When women are wound in woeful wonts
They say it’s you. They say it’s Satan.
They say it’s Èṣù. They say it’s the devil.
But you, strong one, are not Satan.

Yes, you are the commander-in-chief of the eight warlords
Curse is key, Death is dean, Paralysis, provost and Detention, the host
Trouble comes a-double, Sickness and Sin draw swords and Loss is gross.
Yet, you are the one who fingers fate to the favour of man
You, Láàlú, are the scrotum of knowledge and fortune
You packaged these in sixteen palm nuts then passed it to man
Bokono, what benevolence surpasses this?

These men chose woes that chose to disparage you
The duo that dared you today, you leaked their love yesterday
They fell off, the unthankful men crossing your penile bridge
The tree that snubs you becomes a stump
The stump that pays tributes sprouts again

There are two hundred gods to both sides – good and bad
Èṣù stays amidst, Èṣù stays unique, aloof yet nearby
Legba, handsome god of premonitions and prophesies
May I never disrespect you messenger of the gods
You are the epitome of punchlines and paradoxes
The heart of my art, the back of my knack
Èṣù má ṣe mí o!



Botha and I were punished
severally for speaking vernacular
during school hours
I was ten and had learnt
more Sotho than Yoruba
grandmamma was the only girl
calling me oko iya mi
she said we might have to leave
when the white king is mated
the black knights will plot
the fate of black pawns…
I see
Botha in the reflections of my tears
I weep
they had burnt all I’d gathered for years
they sip
our tears to douse their antipathetic fears
no one considers
that we all are first chess pieces
before we are black or white
before we are pawn or knight

oko iya mi: pet name for someone dear (Yoruba)



In early teen days I was clumsy
and time after time fell
into a trance
– The distant voices of Aquah LaLuah and Okara
sang to me of the world of songs
With the wrong end of the stick
I picked a handful of words
moulded a flying machine
and launched it damsel-wards
Years flown by
there’s a pattern to my madness
I find myself in a parish
of neologists and glossolalists:
Keke of Romasinder blues
a wretched man out of a cantos
the girl whose tomatoes turned blood
two men who seek to detumesce…
I’m on my knees
several hands hover over my head
I’m pulled into a realm where words are the fluid
that pool and preserve lungs


Poems © Kayode Afolabi
Image: Ann Porteus via Flickr (modified)

Kayode Afolabi
Kayode Afolabi
Kayode Afolabi, the chronic cakehaholic, is a Nigerian medical doctor. His first attempt at poetry was a tweaking of W.H Auden's "Lullaby" at age 11, into a love note that was never dispatched. His poems have appeared on Ake review, vox poetica, Kalahari review, and a number of other print or online mags.

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