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Obi Nwakanma: Indigo Streets XXII-XIV

Indigo Streets XXII-XIV


One day we crouched under the flowerbeds
Running from the deep wisdom of science
And the guile of politics
Hiding from the tax collector
From the immigration squad
And missing the point
The arched and precise humour
Of the city police
We hid under the pale silence of the faceless
Riding the tube in London and Paris
After 9:11, New York was like the lion’s claw
Just before the truculent purrs of the city cats
The cur, the purr
Of the jaguar at the street’s corner
Just before the pubs open
To the pubic pressure of working men
We are faceless
Among the city lights
The reticent manners of identity
With its birth certificates
And occupancy permits
The humble things that grow cold
With coffee and age
May we enquire, sir
The next time the train will run?
Accept this trifling token
My unspoken compliment, Stranger
Your well-bred and courteous manner
Your voluble speech
Your homemade dignity
Your expensive snort near Wall Street
Is a symptom of abstinence or absence
The subaltern makes a jug of lemonade
And hawks desire in teaspoons
It may be providence that furnishes me
With a quick appetite
Sir, scratch my rockets
And you will find thunder
Thunder that screwed the Moor
The matron
The bride
All saw their pride stolen
It was thunder that spoke in tongues
The urgent crisis
The verbosity, sir
The gross atrocity!
The sly fellow
Seeking integration


Speaking of which
I now stop with dignified tears
To say to the Commission on Human Rights
Look, look to Odi, and Umuechem
Bring the criminal Cat to book
And I will return with evidence
With a steady stare
But with a million dead
At the Cablepoint alone
And only silence mark their graves
With the fog still clinging to the water
And whetstones hissing again
The grim onslaught is a mere sign
The river, they say, now belches poison
Shall we then consider the evidence?
No one was left in the village
They went to dance
And to their deaths
Came five months later in a squat cavern
Shell BP struck
Seventy fathoms in daily drums
The water rose
Yours lovingly, with a pickaxe
With four lads on a narrow track
With the ingot in their eyes
Burnt the Niger bridge
What time is the next train sir?


I found some work today
But I am still incomplete
My papers, that is
But I now have a number
A green card. A residence permit
In town, young men stare at me
Some have choked on my name
Some amused at the bent of my speech
Your accent: the waitress said
Wrapping fish and fries
Ten cents less for me
Your accent, where is that from? Haiti?
You with twisted locks
Do you know Tosh?
Are you here to stay?
Did you grow up very poor?
Are you loving it here?
A sharp western light pours
Through my window
Silver blades studded
With diamonds of memory
Of you my land, my all
My day wreathed with palms
On Palm Sunday, hips swayed
And sang under tousled hair
My dear, carnivals, the hayride
Downtown petals slough off season
From Broadway, a harsh pigment
Heroin, poignant, by the Meeting of the Waters
Spouting pure venom
In front of the old Union Station
Now turned Omni
I throw a salute to my countrymen
The Eritrean cabdriver
And Senegalese doorman
The Calabari
The ebb of migrants
Into the sewage, the underground
The blank fringe fading to a pause
I found work, I said
In Iron-mongery
Assistant to the nightwatch
An old Ukrainian doctor
Now doctoring the minutes
And in silence sit
Over homemade syrup and starlight
Filtering from sea to sea
I have found a home among complete poems
Madrigals, crack cocaine bury my reels
Of fruitless Septembers
There are no autumns in my past
Nor winters in my antiquity
Love is scarce and the tax is high
The capital is disproportionate
I have sold the jewels you gave me
My name etched on it
I have heard rumours from home, love
In the last two months that have run amok
Of strong winds mixed in strong drinks
But I have remitted only bile
Through Western Union
The tax is high
Everything fluttered around the burnt city
The rest hang free – like me
Housni the Moroccan
Offered me hashish and dates
And Sufi chants on CD-rom
And Hafiz –
O horses O horses of memory
Ride me, spread your hooves
Over these stony paths
Where my frayed breadth lie aghast
Over the price of distance and of sugar
The tax is high in Florissant
Where we counted
A high number of the lost
I live in a walled place
You should see me now
High on apple cider and gingerbread
I fear calories in regular food
I have registered with the Green Party
And a food co-op for organic milk from Vermont
I have stopped taking your phone calls
That rouse me at 5:00 am from the languid hands
Of my paid consolations
But it must be lunchtime in Nigeria
Here, in the lair of the beast
The times have gone crazy
We counted in Hazelwood alone
A high number
Of the lost


My brother, Courage, read Winthrop
And found nothing of himself
In his wilderness
So what is America to me?
The same story angling intertwined?
The unreconciled cry from a charred hearth?
For I still swear by the market denizens
But whom shall I claim as forebear?
The Puritans?
Or the Quakers
Who hold everything to the light
Or to their muse, silence?
To each a handful of earth
To bury their past
And plant a future
We unrooted the four stones from the copses
We no longer offer wine or yam
The first yield of the earth
We are very modern
We eat cannibal broth: the Eucharist
The body and blood of Jesus
We call him father
The exile from Ur
Jah-Jehovah’s main man
But when is the next train sir?
To Schenectady, Ithaca and Syracuse
Where is Amawbia on the map?
And the nerve of it, stranger
The moss glistening by its season
The circus, mister, the adder
In the hands of the magus
And what nerve you have, to disturb my universe
To unsettle the settled
Poetry © Obi Nwakanma
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Obi Nwakanma
Obi Nwakanma
Obi Nwakanma teaches English and Creative Writing at the University of Central Florida. He is the author of The Horseman and Other Poems and Thirsting for Sunlight, a biography of the poet Christopher Okigbo, whose life was tragically cut short by the Biafran War. Nwakanma was awarded the ANA/Cadbury Prize for his first collection of poetry, The Roped Urn.

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