Poetry

Homeland: Poems by Ogaga Ifowodo

Homeland

What are the things that grow here?
Those that grow from stone, lacking
life and root, flesh and water
things cut as caps
for the baldness of stone.
What are the things that flourish here?
Those that rise from dust, without
teeth for the nourishment of sand
things frail and fallen, that fly
with the winds in sweat and sadness.
And what are the harvests here?
Of corn crippled before teething
Of tubers poorer than the planted head
Of tomatoes rotted before ripening
Of sand and gravel, burntbush and anthills.
What are the dwelling places?
Houses bitter like a weeping face
homes grievous like smoke-pipes
walls held up by pillars of anguish,
where lament makes bed and roof.
And how do children grow here?
Out of wombs whipped with want
and desire, the burst forth, to be
tough like street leather, sweet and hardy
like sugarcane, to learn love in safe time.
Here, we will walk the streets
where laughter is hidden in deep places
and stores cannot shut their doors
choked with hearts that bleed from gathered wounds
and you will see nothing can grow here but agony.

(c) Ogaga Ifowodo – 3 October 1992

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He Lay Dying at Oshodi

You can trust the headless scream of Oshodi
to bury within its cemetery
a frothful battle for living or dying.
And if this concerned a child of twelve
watching death roll to her on rail tracks
what sympathy can come
from the raw-peppered heart of such a horde?
You can trust Oshodi to undertake
the wake of the living.
A mere girl of twelve!
She clutched the earth, begging life
in fistfuls of mud, foaming
in her feverish plea for a healing hand.
We filed past, casting half-glances
pleading in turn, impotent worlds of sorrow
where love, lacking muscle, weeps in little graves,
hurrying through the broken fence
to flee malediction in her fading eyes.
The train tolled its horn as I crossed the fence
and I wondered if she was bound for home
before the fever made a fire in her bones,
wondered if home was her deathbed of murk
where Oshodi profanes life and death.
I passed again the scene of her mortal battle
and saw the fight she waged then
as she lay dying by the railbars
hoping to pluck a ministering hand
from the crowd deader than her dying self.
I too filed past her on that day,
forced to pay last respects to one
more in need of life than mourning.
Dear girl, twined afresh by guilt
I plead breathing corpses of your mourners
in mitigation. I plead flesh that fell
with yours, leaving only rattling bones
that toll your silent cry forever
in the wilds of a headless world.

(c) Ogaga Ifowodo – 31 December 1990

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If One Looks at Your Face

If one looks at your face
your bosom, your waist
he will free laughter
from the teeth of crocodiles
and wash his face again.
Your eyes are the kitchen stoves
whose fires will never quench
not even in Noah’s flood,
your eyes are where we may roast
stones to bread for famished mouths.
Your breast, meat-melon multiplied
to cure the thirst of multitudes
enough for my famished mouth,
enough for my hunger-dredged gullet
I claim against tooth, nail water.
Your waist is the continent’s coast of gold,
draws envious claws to pillage,
but there, is my mine of laughter
crowned with the glitter of dust,
round it I make a fence of fire with my arms.
And when a stranger comes
beaten by streets and winds
to lay camp beneath your roofed eyes
you wash his face with his lost laughter
and kill one more crocodile from the neighbourhood.

(c) Ogaga Ifowodo – 29 January 1992

(From Homeland & Other Poems (1998, Ibadan, Kraft Books) and Homeland (Selected poems in German-English issue) (1998, Stuttgart, Edition Solitude).

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