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Past Perfect: Poems by Dele Afolabi


The sun is always there,
With a fierceness that, for sure, isn’t kind,
But without a hatred either.
Few tread the narrow paths,
But if it is the heat they flee,
Enough is found at home too.
Roving eyes scan in a random roam,
Nothing in particular they’d like to see,
But all they glimpse in the air is an emptiness.
There’s no evil brewing in the wind,
But no gay laughter of growing love,
Or unsettled hustle of restless youth,
Take up the vacant atmosphere either.
A sort of stillness not quite conveying,
The ethereal peace that paradise may have,
But a stillness all the same,
And there’s no foretelling,
Of an eruption to shatter our quiet,
Which, though judged not quite perfect,
Can’t be called fleeting either.
And the inevitable comparison,
To other Saturdays in other places,
Where muscles of sporting youth seek victory,
And tipsy cheerful laughter,
Accompanies non-stop music.
Lots of disorder, lots of fun,
Other Saturdays, other places,
Their version seems so right.
But the sun shines on in Bida,
A stray bird’s flight is the only movement,
Sometimes it’s like even the wind stops.
Yes, it seems right, that other version,
But the sun burns on in Bida,
And it doesn’t seem wrong at all.



The million reasons I can always give,
Why the locale is a bad place to live,
Later they all fade and the horrible place,
Is a former abode for which I now grieve.

The wish is always to be back,
Back to run on a known track,
Back to seize once lost chances,
And attempt again to make a mark.

Back under skies I once knew,
A wiser returnee to appreciate anew,
Gems overlooked in my first coming,
Now revealed by the repeated view.

But it remains in mind as remembered,
My sojourns back are only in slumber,
The backward run for a past to regain,
Could be a voyage to see dead embers.

One day, I’ll be missing here where I now stand,
From elsewhere ‘twill look so grand,
The past will always be the lovelier,
Till the day I find my land.



73 die in Iraqi bombing,
55 perish in Baghdad morning raid,
12 killed in Basra fire,
So they die, a mounting number of pain.

You said you came to set them free,
Free to enjoy your version of truth?
A costly democracy from a ruinous war,
For the orphans and widows, the homeless and maimed?

Leave! Leave them alone to
Reach for their own version of joy,
Stumble on the path to a way that’s theirs,
Rebuild a life in which you hold no part.

They’re only numbers to you,
Faceless statistics for your Defense Department
Breadwinners, mothers, loving children,
Who never wished any evil on your land and people.

Try to count, take the numbers,
of those who won’t spit at your starry flag,
How many rejoice at sight of the liberators,
The tyrants that replaced the one they killed.

It’s a big world, we’re different people,
No version’s the greatest, all we need,
Is to grant others the same rights we claim
The freedom to be Iraqis, not American slaves.



The honest and meek must be around somewhere,
But assuming they’re not is the safer thought,
Wallets are vanishing and watches too,
Take all for pickpockets till you leave unscathed.
The human mass endlessly rush on,
Purposeful strides bespeak a worthwhile destination,
But who can tell?
The faces do not smile,
The fierce exterior of the evil heart?
Or the boldface pose of the innocent,
That, with luck, keeps muggers off?
Business thrives, second-hand clothing,
Tell the story of a people,
Condemned to a life of second best.
The muddy decay forever stinks,
But they’re not bothered as they slosh through,
Those who see the scum as theirs by right,
Their diverse bustling shows no unity,
An each for himself individuality,
That speaks of no bond.
Yet there’s a link, a potent commonness,
In the latent bitterness in all of their hearts,
Carried along daily, perhaps till a sign comes,
For those who know about these things have said,
That if these wronged sufferers ever rise,
The fire that’ll burn will ignite here.
But no fires burn this Oshodi night,
Just the weary legion trudging on,
And something in this night air,
That smells like frustration.


(c) Dele Afolabi

Dele Afolabi
Dele Afolabi
Dele Afolabi was born in Ibadan. He studied Accounting at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife. He has published a collection of stories - 'Molara's Revenge' Malthouse Press. 2006

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