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When A Dream Lingers Too Long: Poems by Toni Kan Onwordi

She’s Young and Sweet

She’s young and sweet
And clad in soft silk
I shoot her looks of steel
And watch her nipples explode
Then I smile and look away


A Prayer For A Good Death

Dear Lord, I offer
This prayer for a good death
May I never fall from a Molue on a Monday morning
And may I never know the hard bite of asphalt
On my bare skin
May the road and its ogres never
Bare their fangs when I tread its pathways
Secrets have sprouted tendrils
And like the spider’s feet they spin
A web of fear around my mind
I stutter, I flutter, I flicker like a candle
In the cold embrace of the wind
I find empty solace in silence
In the cloying warmth of the womb
The unborn child suckles silence
Weaving toneless ditties
From the sad monodies of nascent dreams
Why are we born? Why do we die?
Hard questions that crack the teeth
Hard questions that eclipse answers
Drowning them in penumbra of their beginnings
So, I circle the pregnant gloom
I reach a febrile finger into its depths
I finger its rancid entrails
Exciting worms and maggots
I feel the osmosis, the kinesis
The end of life’s ultimate synthesis
Now, I ask,
Where shall I wash up?
In the belly of a fish?
A new age Jonah
Fleeing the sad Nineveh of his own mind?
Where shall I wash up?
So, I offer this prayer, dear Lord
On this morning of death and renewal
Having tasted joy and supped on tears
And having seen that man fall and die
I, who, have known love and heartache
Sweet passion and its after-glow
I beg of thee, Sweet Lord.
May I not lose my head in the urgent dialogue of tar and tyres


Earth, Wind and Fire
(For Yewande )

You are the ground beneath my feet
The clump that earth’s my rootless passions
You ground me, you root me
You are the fertile patch
I take root, I bud, I blossom
You are the howling wind
Fierce and wild and roaring
You are the soft whisper
Angling for my yearning ears
The gentle breeze caressing
My field of swaying tassels
You are the rage curled up
In the womb of a spark
The fiery tongue scorching
The ears of my longing
You are the fever, the heat
Locked in my eager loins
You are my earth, wind and fire!


They Call Me A Poet
(For Akin and Ogaga)

They call me a poet.
A poet, a maker
Like God, I exhale things into being
I am the alpha, the omega
The el shaddai of my verses.
I pluck virgin lines
From nascent stanzas
And sprinkle them with life.
We are a sad people, we poets
Silence cradles us.
Loneliness befriends us
And often we sit, sore and sorry
Alone with our vagabond thoughts
We drink, we smoke, we fuck!
Oh yes, we do.
Life is a path littered with thorns
Ah, how we’ve worn them thin!
Our prints have scarred the earth
Marked its face like acid bites.
Life is a forest overgrown with secrets
And intrepid hunters, we voyage
Into its depths, seeking, searching
For wild game
Poets are a sorry lot
We know pain, we know aches
We know hunger and thirst
We love with a passion
And hate with a fever
Life is amazed at us:
Chasing fame
And Fellowships
Wishing upon the stars
Dripping lines a-flame
With pain and passion
Lust and forbidden longings

The year is burning out
Like the wick in my lamp
I watch it flicker and die
And shed a solid tear
Frozen by the chill in my soul
Here where I lie
An impotent word
Marooned in a stutter
For I’ve learnt that words are not swords
They don’t cut or bite or break bones
So, poets like you and I
Lie lonely and sad
In dank dungeons
Wrought out of stones
And our desperate fears
Missing mothers and lovers
And willing words into action

Poets are mad spiders
Crazed by the logic of our webs
We fall to our deaths cackling as we go.
We are insane bards
Retelling the world
Flitting between the now
And the here – after
We are Kurumi’s termites
We dwell underground
In Pluto’s Cave
And like Pan we create chaos
Weaving mayhem out of the seared
Looms of boredom.

The poet is the prince of solitude
A voyager into the dark
Where secrets cluster in hives
Buzzing like mad bees
Light blights us, blinds us
So we grope in the dark
Ravaging words
Parting their naked thighs
To seek selfish pleasures
And ancient seeds of hope and renewal


When A Dream Lingers Too Long

When a dream lingers too long
On the threshold of becoming
It sires a nightmare
Taking our nights hostage
Like Carrion-crows flapping black wings over the dead
Life is a blossoming flower
Pluck it fresh when its scent lingers
Find your joy before it withers
And bless the moment for its gift
The gift of light and laughter
Of sunshine and infinite joy
Bless the quivering moment for its gift
Before it settles on the dunghill of memory
Where painful nostalgia holds us hostage
Pottering like a thief in the dark
Quarters of the mind
Seeking that which has ceased to be
That which eludes, evades, dallies
Finding anchor in the nether-parts
Where Kurumi’s termites burrow
Seeking the secrets of victory
And I have sought you with a fever
Braving ill will and danger
Steeling my heart with seared hope
As I set out for the under-world
And in this search I have known
Fear and rage; pain and loss
I have known nights darker than the first
Nights of the earth’s beginning
When the moon was a mere speck
And the stars not yet born
Nights when the heart bled
From the dumb blows of fate
Nights when I stumbled along strange paths
Seeking after you like a flame
Tormented by the wind
At the mouth of the tunnel
And full of mad exploits I crawled close
And closer yet, until I learnt
That deep in the arithmetic of greatness
Lies the indices of failure
But I have dreamt it too long
And dark wings flapping
I cower in fear.


Your Cry Was Strangled By Distance
(For Jos)

Your cry was strangled by distance,
Made dumb by lies and dissembling
Yet, I heard your scream
I felt it pierce through me
I saw my guts spill out
I played Pilate with my own blood
This is no time for casting stones
Now is time for sober tones
This no time for laying blame
This is time for the soothing balm
When tongues cleave to rooftops
Swords exit their sheaths
And filled with bloodlust
They sow sorrows!
I heard your mangled cry
And wept too, when I saw
Your children: bowels ripped open
Throats bared in grim smiles
Your cry was strangled by distance
Muted by deaths across the seas
Yet when I heard, I trembled
Like a tethered goat before a butcher
For every life lost, diminishes me


 You Left Your Traces
(For Aikay)

You left your traces
On my mind, my lips, my skin…
You left the quiet storm
To rage in my soul
And the whiff of you
To tease me eternally
You left your traces
Like the last strains
Of a sweet song…
In the wake of your leaving


I Am Afflicted By Desperate Thoughts
(For Alex)

In love and beloved
Conscience twines me like a vicious tendril
Why does this flame flare up between us?
Casting me in silhouette
A shadow, cocooned in a penumbra of doubts

I am afflicted by desperate thoughts,
Forbidden longings that excite
Questions like red dust
In a pilgrim’s wake
Shall I let this flicker
Become a consuming fire?
Shall I let myself become
Tinder, quick to burn
Like a thief bathed in petrol?
Lend me an anchor;
Root me. Offer me a cleft;
Hide me. Pull me in
And like a mother to a child
Cast away my doubts
With a gentle kiss
Guide my wayward vessel
To your shores


Life Is A 4cking Joke
(For Lola Shoneyin)

Life is a 4cking joke
So we’ve got to laugh
To exile the tears
This piece is for Lola
Who knows how to bare
Her teeth in sweet laughter
I hear the echoes now and again
Like waves crashing to shore
I’ve met her once
Or twice or thrice …
But I find her now and again
In those pages where we scheme
To make ourselves immortal
She writes with her left
About hard things that crack the teeth
Hard things that stir the loins
I like her legs and bum and…
Now, my girl might take offence
I love my girl
From the yansh of my heart
But my love is large like the sea
Large enough for two or more
Will we tango and share a kiss?
Lola and I , silly.
I think not
But it’s fun to hope
Tonight, I’m tipsy
Tomorrow, I’ll be sober
And I’ll read Lola again
And wonder why I wrote this


(c) Toni Kan Onwordi

Toni Kan Onwordi
Toni Kan Onwordi
Toni Kan Onwordi holds both a B.A. and M.A. English (Literature) degrees from the Universities of Jos and Lagos. His works have been published widely in the Art pages of prominent Nigerian newspapers and his poems have appeared in the anthology 25 New Nigerian Poets edited by Toyin Adewale. He has also had short stories published in anthologies like We-Men, Little Drops (1) and Diamond and Ashes. An award winning poet, essayist and short story writer, his awards have taken him to Scotland and Switzerland. Toni Kan is currently working on a novel, Secrets of the Untold.

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