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The Horsemen: Poems by Obi Nwakanma

The Horsemen

for Christopher Okigbo
Emmanuel Ifeajuna &
Chukwuma Nzeogwu


It was a room above the alcove
in a city renewed by junipers

And by desires…

Stripped of words,
the moments recalled;
where the tower,
lo, was in sight:

memories undaunted by sound
or flames of the amethyst,

spoke to me;
spoke to me like the preacher from…

I recall this moment staggering through the wind,
when its breath hissed at the earth;
as we leaned out of the window
in that moment when the first light
streaked, joyous, out of the unalterable street…

Then, tuned to the immanent choir of the grassland,
untangling from the sea –

Then, stripped to the last detail, from her sinewed skin,
disheveled in the light, one aria from the immaculate concertina –

before her rebirth
a tongue licked through the core of my soul

Strange men in dark garments
riding in slow, weary steps,
paces of a far and distant journey –
in measured gestures

The clatter of hooves on the stone of the
street; wakened from the depths of
their tombs, long dead ghosts,

memories of a carnage –

There was fear bred in that silence,
nothing triumphant in their last march

nothing triumphant where
once a plot is weaved, a rider rides
into anonymity:

what is it that they seek –

These silent riders?

Glory? Memory?

What is it that they want among those
who have fallen from their swords?

Piety? Ablution? Anonymity?

It is not enough to bury the sword
in the fold of the embrace;
nor is it wise, even prudent, to
seek meaning in past deeds
when those deeds are immortal,
or of an impure genealogy –

What do they seek in the bowel of the tide;
in that place, where Onishe,
spirit-mother, swallowed the ravishers of her children?
Graves? Graves in the tide?

Theirs are troubled gestures full of potent wishes.

…are those wishes –

for as they came, those riders, each
hoof in the ascent;
each eye veiled by remorse, or anger or

a forlorn thought –

for as they came, weighed down by ancient baggage,
a skin of water, a measure of wheat, some
penicillin, in case of epidemic
a stretcher to fetch the dead;
an hourglass, and then the gloved idol,

the one that ordered the massacre –
who rode ahead of the light;
muttered a command: ‘halt!’



Marrakech: the grey hairs of
Atlas, streaks of the light of years,
like truth accompanied by a bodyguard.

It is not war: the fast tumble
is no war, Nadia.

Two pendants, each of hearts, and
the silvery lock leashed unto time;

Is no war: but the travesty of distance,
And this moment, a full breast glistening
out of the moon, the darkened streets
and hooded, like the lawless,
stranger or wayfarer:

It is the pod streaking with milk
smelt so close, it vanishes,
like the gecko abandoning her tail.

– From The Horsemen and Other Poems


The Four Seasons

ICICLES fall from trees, molten with age,
without memory – they stand aloof in their
nakedness – they limber;
like the gods terrified into silence,
like tall brooding deities looming out of the

The forest hugs them
carves them into stones,
Etches them into the slow
eastern landscape: rivers, hills
the slow running water,
times broken inscapes…

The willows are burdened with ice
the white shrouds of burial spread
upon the earth’s ravaged face; the eyes
unseeing, the mouth unspeaking,
a gust of wind proclaims the anger of
immemorial ages; the cycle, the
eternal ritual of mystical returns –

The cypress – whitening –
boneless; wearing her best habit,
a pale green in the forest of ghosts –

And so I walk through this windless night
through the narrow imponderable road
through the silence – the silence of trees –

I hear not even the gust of wind
I hear only the quiet earth, thawing underneath;
I hear the slow silent death of winter –

where the sun is yellowest.
But above, Monadnock looms
like some angry Moloch, her
white nipple seizing the space

drained of all milk…

A she-devil beckoning to worshippers
seductive – her arm stretching outwards –
to this lonely pilgrim
lost in the mist:

Behold the school of wild bucks
Behold the meeting of incarnate
spirits –
Behold the lost souls bearing tapers
in rags of rich damask,
Down Thomas – the saint of
unbelievers – down the road to bliss
Down to the red house, uncertain
like a beggar’s bowl hanging unto the cliff
of withdrawn pledges, where the well is

I have dared to live
beneath the great untamed.

To every good, to every
flicker of stars along the pine
To every tussle with lucid dusk,
To every moonlit pledge, to
every turn made to outleap
silvery pollen,

I have desired to listen – to listen –
to the ripening of seasons….

Winter 2001
This is ONE of a continuing sequence.


(c) Obi Nwakanma

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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