Song of a Riverbird: Poems by Lola Shoneyin

Song of a Riverbird

I have sat here by the riverfront
My eyes on the grand footpath.
I have sat here long
By the bushes, upon the rocks
Deaf to the river’s silent laugh.
I am the riverbird
I do only great things with my mouth.
I have come to the riverfront to unmask.
I have come to tell of the forest path.

Some have said the medicine man
Will call away my voice
Because my tongue is burdened
With questions unasked.
Some have said the medicine man
Will seize my voice
Because I have come to the riverfront to unmask.
Many have hung their feathers
In waiting for this song
I say I have sat here long
On hook over grass
My eyes on the grand footpath.

I feel the sweep of eagle wings
I feel the sweep of unwoken winds
The eagle has found the wailing forests
The eagle has trailed the cry of nests
This is the sweep of unwoken winds
The eagle has come, he will hear great things

Eagle-of-mighty-winds, I ask,
How will you pass this grand footpath?
The egrets have passed with their bloodied beaks
Having filled their belies with golden ticks.
Bats have passed and dark loomed large,
We asked, how much longer this reign of camouflage

The darkness has frailed the fledglings in their bloom
The hornbills are hoarse with the old hollow tune
How many more weaverbirds shall hearken
To the call of the hunter?
How many more songbirds shall hang
From the branches of the thorn bush?
How many more owls shall shun the moondance?
How many more sparrows shall flee the darkness of these lands?
How many more white cocks
shall counsel with proverbial guests?
How many more firefinches shall wake up dead in their nests?
How will you pass this grand footpath?
How much longer this darkness?
Hear with your ears these great things

what do you see with your might eyes?
Do you see the forest?
A little to the right, upon the rise of your eyes?
Do you see that forest with your mighty eyes?

Look with me outside this darkness
Look with me beyond this river
Do you see us perched upon the treelets?
Do you hear the distant mating songs of
flocks in unfettered rapture?

Lead us to the place of sun-bless greens
Lead us to the saplings of new beginnings
Lead us to the roots of ageless peace
Lead us to that forest where lovesongs never cease
Hear with your ears these great things.


You Didn’t Know

When you were strutting
up and down like a chicken
looking for a place
to lay her eggs,
You didn’t know.

When you were looking at me
from over your nose
kissing those bloody lips
stained by that lipstick,
You didn’t know.

When you were calling
my old in-laws ‘Aunty this’ and ‘Uncle that’ desperately looking
for their good eyes,
You didn’t know.

When your glossy studio pictures
adorned the parlour
displacing my stern browning ones,
You didn’t know.

When he was allotting you
the single room next to mine
bellowing that he needed his privacy,
You didn’t know.

When your steaming tears
mingled with the onions
as you withdrew, pregnant,
to the grinding stone,
You didn’t know.

When you saw the new queen
and you were screaming,
of rat poison,
You didn’t know.

that the same whip
that raged up the back
of the undeserving senior wife
is simmering patiently
in the thatched roof of his bedroom
ready to bruise that pride
of young-blooded wife.

Now you know.


Poems (c) Lola Shoneyin


About the author

Lola Shoneyin

Lola Shoneyin's poetry has often been called "daring", "different". Author of "So All The Time I Was Sitting On An Egg" and "Song Of The Riverbird", Shoneyin is a graduate of Ogun State University and alumnus of the International Writers Programme at the University of Iowa.


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  • One of the most wonderful poems I’ve ever read. Simple and poietic. I like the suspense in especially You Din’t Know. Keep it up!

  • The poem –You Didn’t Know– is a well written poem. The message is clear and not muddied. It builds strength and gathers momentum as it rolls from one stanza to the next like anger that can be only come from the depth a woman scorned. It comes to a crescendo in the final stanza expressing the essence of an old Yoruba saying that should make any girl think twice before agreeing to polygamy.

    I would love to hear it read.

  • Please I need a justification that claim lola Soneyin is socially aware in the poem Song of a River bird.
    Thank you.