25 July 2015

Kwame Dawes's "New Day"

A poem by USC poet-in-residence Kwame Dawes commemorates Barack Obama's inauguration. The eight-part poem, titled “New Day,” soars from Africa to Chicago to South Carolina, tipping its hat along the way to Dizzy Gillespie and Abraham Lincoln.

1. Obama, January 1st, 2009

Already the halo of grey covers his close-cropped head.
Before, we could see the pale glow of his skull, the way
he kept it close, now the grey - he spends little time in bed,
mostly he places things in boxes or color coded trays,
and calculates the price of expectation - the things promised
all eyes now on him: the winning politician’s burden.
On the day he makes his speech he will miss
the barber shop, the quick smoke in the alley, the poem
found in the remainder box, a chance to just shoot
some hoops, and those empty moments to remember
that green rice paddy where he used to sprint, a barefoot
screaming boy, all legs, going home to the pure
truth of an ordinary life, that simple place where, fatherless,
he found comfort in the wisdom of old broken soldiers.

2. How Legends Begin

This is how legends begin - the knife slitting the throat
of a hen, the blood, the callous pragmatism of eating
livestock grown for months, the myth of a father, a boat
ride into the jungle, a tongue curling then flinging
back a language alien as his skin; the rituals
of finding the middle ground, navigating a mother’s
mistakes, a father’s silence, a world’s trivial
divisions, the meaning of color and nation-negotiator
of calm, a boy tutored in the art of profitable charm;
this is how legends begin and we will tell this, too,
to the children lined up with flags despite the storms
gathering, children who will believe in the hope of blue
skies stretched out behind the mountain of clouds;
and he will make language to soothe the teeming crowds.
[continue there...]

22 July 2015

"Not My Business," by Niyi Osundare


They picked Akanni up one morning
Beat him soft like clay
And stuffed him down the belly
Of a waiting jeep.

What business of mine is it
So long they don’t take the yam
From my savouring mouth?

They came one night
Booted the whole house awake
And dragged Danladi out,
Then off to a lengthy absence.

What business of mine is it
So long they don’t take the yam
From my savouring mouth?

Chinwe went to work one day
Only to find her job was gone:
No query, no warning, no probe -
Just one neat sack for a stainless record.

What business of mine is it
So long they don’t take the yam
From my savouring mouth?

And then one evening
As I sat down to eat my yam
A knock on the door froze my hungry hand.
The jeep was waiting on my bewildered lawn
Waiting, waiting in its usual silence.
© Niyi Osundare   [more...]

19 July 2015

The Sophisticated Skinhead

We don't need
you here,
We can help you
out there
In your homeland
Go home nigger
We don't need you nigger


The day you empty your
Ethnographic museums
And send our souls back
To our homeland
Then we will know
You are for real
© Lefifi Tladi
© Picture credit and copyright

13 July 2015

Telephone Conversation

The price seemed reasonable, location
Indifferent. The landlady swore she lived
Off premises. Nothing remained
But self-confession. "Madame," I warned,
"I hate a wasted journey—I am African."
Silence. Silenced transmission of
Pressurized good breeding. Voice, when it came,
Lipstick coated, long gold-rolled
Cigarette-holder pipped. Caught I was, foully.
"HOW DARK?"... I had not misheard... "ARE YOU LIGHT
OR VERY DARK?" Button B. Button A. Stench
Of rancid breath of public hide-and-speak.
Red booth. Red pillar box. Red double-tiered
Omnibus squelching tar. It was real! Shamed
By ill-mannered silence, surrender
Pushed dumbfoundment to beg simplification.
Considerate she was, varying the emphasis —
"ARE YOU DARK? OR VERY LIGHT?" Revelation came.
"You mean — like plain or milk chocolate?"
Her assent was clinical, crushing in its light
Impersonality. Rapidly, wave-length adjusted,
I chose. "West African Sepia" — and as afterthought,
"Down in my passport." Silence for spectroscopic
Flight of fancy, till truthfulness clanged her accent
Hard on the mouthpiece. "WHAT’S THAT?" conceding
"DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT IS." "Like brunette."
"THAT’S DARK, ISN'T IT?" "Not altogether.
Facially, I am brunette, but madam, you should see
The rest of me. Palm of my hand, soles of my feet
Are a peroxide blonde. Friction, caused —
Foolishly madam — by sitting down, has turned
My bottom raven black — One moment madam!" — sensing
Her receiver rearing on the thunderclap
About my ears — "Madam," I pleaded, "wouldn’t you rather
See for yourself?"
© Wole Soyinka

More about this author: