Fela and Guevara  

By Odia Ofeimum

Fela’s choice

Souls that were ‘lagosed’ to hunger,

unfulfilled by work or play,

reclined on wind-oars, abject.

Their animal cries, their starved-dream catcalls

trailed over the miasma of failure

till, plunged into the all-gobbling lagoon,

they joined forgotten humanity at silt bed.

Lagosed to a fault, they waited

not knowing for what they waited

in solo-spurts of scratching and seeking

hoarding small triumphs in a market of defeats

they yearned for small rebirths

in package-deals of purge-fire.

Always, they craned their lives to dance,

relishing messages that they gave and took

from drum, piano, gong, pipe and string,

but none ever has taken so much from or given them

what the Musician of rattles, jokes and banter

brought from all that he had absorbed

from their Lagos-drenched famish and life-wish

With abandon that knows no let or lag

he trains snob-ears to self-conscious flapping

in a sizzling riddle of ablutions, deep-water idioms,

he trains snob-ears to self-conscious flapping

at his rebel’s dialect, wringing the neck of

their complacencies

he wrestles them from themselves, offering them

a new sex – the will to live a bit more –

and who says that that is not enough?

(from The Poet Lied)

CROOKED TIMBER (For Fela)

 monkey no fine, but ‘im mama like am

it was the knife stuck in his back that gave him eyes

the sky crashing upon the day of freedom

woke the natives of his person

to the joy he thought was only a dream

it was the knife stuck in his back

his broken sax on the rubbish heap

taught the musician of rattles and banter

to take the bitterleaf of his song to the soupmaker

the drought that reaped his crops granted him

the Will that powered stones for rainmaking

the silence of his prized cows brought the joy

of drumming to crowds preying  upon God Almighty

true, the future we look forward to

also takes us by the hand to the past we left behind;

the secrets of evolution which taught us to fly

makes us siblings of the dinosaurs quitting creation’s ant-holes

yes, we forever fear power because of the weakness

of those who possess it

we let ourselves be possessed

because of the fate that lacks apostrophes

it was the knife stuck in his back that gave him eyes

the eyes grown afresh from his wounds

brought match-flares to the darkness of flying knives

to rework life’s crooked timber.

(from Dreams At Work)

SAXOPHONE OF THE GODS

Clear jagga-jagga commot for road

The master of rattles is on his way

homing to the horns that never failed him

where horns cannot fail their maker

He steps out in a casket of baked raffia

a million feet padding the earth in unison

to a beat that will not be heard ever again

After the wayfarer has cleared manna from the hyssop,

the spider-web of grief from its true dressing

in joy that climbs to the height of a muezzin…

The strange one steps out, becoming all of us

a  worshipful  march for the king hornsman

prime anarch who steeled hearts away from  fear

with horns that never failed their purpose

to save the world from the need to bow

to tyrants high and low.

Clear jagga jagga commot for road

The patriarch of the barbed rhythm steps out

master of the stomp who measured the world

for the beaten to thrust down  their roots

Down to the deep idiom of  an underworld

where storms call, shaking up the mountains.

Un-becalmed by time and season, he reaches out

to  join storm to storm in our hearts and  to witness

his going that is also a return, the hornsman’s return

to the ancestral flow and banter that was always his cup,

always, his wrap of hemp,  the routing skill

of  the mermaid of his  harem, his last massage,

the salve of  bruises that  hurt him into song

a continent’s heartbeat, never hidden but lived now

and forever as  the rod, staff and  comforter

of  the down and out counting double to widen vision 

Clear jagga jagga commot for road

For him who built chance into an  Atzec feat

a republic of  yabis to toughen groundings

jolt of power, against horsewhip and baton charges

which  drew maps of Africa across his hide

in a seasonal swoop of plagues upon the shrine

where he worshiped the Ancestor and where now

he i the ancestor to whom we pour  libations

oiling the world’s rusted joints, as we gyrate and juba

to the master of the lyric of  grain and groin

whose face of kaolin told a constant tale of  laughter

too old  to kowtow to the transient juju of office

to roaches and rodents who deny ritual in praise of  fashion

Clear jagga-jagga commot for am who threshed the eternal

weave of human nerves to stay above the chink of coins,

crush of paper money and the promise of easy victory.

Clear jagga-jagga commot for road

for one man who was always  a multitude, sailing

above the crests of the mountain of hearts swelling

now in  homage, to touch the sweated story of the body

lying so perfectly still and cold in the raffia sheath. No,

no longer is it his body, merely ours to lift or  lower down

to the earth that he gave fulsome worship as spirit to spirit

 to clear jagga-jagga commot for road 

not as dust to dust for him who rendered death boneless

now emptied out of the pouch in which he held it

down to thirst that would not slake,  and hunger

whose rigours his undying saxophone  overtook

to fill the earth with license,  fighting music that broke deadends

to find new paths without need of iron

without need to cower or retreat

– spirit to spirit not dust to dust –

from any jagga-jagga on the  road

SERMON OF THE KING HORNSMAN

Teacher don teach me nonsense: to look and laugh

and perambulate till trouble comes like ‘expensive shit’

spattering our  Sunday best and riling the skin

like yellow fever – see why blackman dey suffer!

‘swamped’ in dirty sweat that  peppers vision

Teacher don teach me to stumble and fret, as style

and to bow, no, to prostrate to the latest minion,

VIP of the block , to whom we make rankiya dade

we salaam and shuffer and shmile in Jungle City

toasting overcrowded molues, overcrowded prisons

We go on wheels headed for the boil of the lagoon

where tribes and moieties lose self in a stalemate

of jobless lives itching to correct alleys of fear

through broken speed-limits and nighttime markets

where policemen collect toll for the Most High Boss

Still, war-mongers of the old colony, we pinch

snuff and pennies and farthings from last hurrahs

at crossroads where the  Unknown Soldier hits high

in gory settlement of burnt roofs and roasted lives,

breaking bitter in unseeing looting and laughing

We look and laugh: what lives we live, stepping up

to scratch the backs of other men as we thirst away

for  pure water wey e no get enemy. And, talking enemies,

how redress nightmares fulfilled beyond glorious dawns

after prophecies found in the mouth of the news vendor

What a teacher  the news vendor!  such a foul mouth

full of bad news that other people’s lives dictate

breaking bones with words that have no encore

as we sing No agreement today no agreement tomorrow

and dream  the World upside down in order to stand up

Yes! we ask to be slapped for cash in canned laughter

forever willing to bow to thugs in office, masquerades

who dole out the justice of the gutter and the dustbin

knowing that we fear for our mothers, fathers, children

– a holy river of  excuses  to keep the skin unscratched

 

A high tide of dark greed maiming hands that rise

for healers of the earth in truth and freedom’s city of yabis

dazed, who cares,  by the smoky mother of all cannabis

we wallow in muck and prostrate to Area Fathers

strutting birds with torn feathers – who run our alleys

So we ask, how many must carry  our mothers’ coffins

for  heads of state to dine on, to alter algebras of power

and army arrangements celebrating  stollen presidencies?

How many must walk six feet down the last  mandate

for  heaven to turn from interim agendas to eternal dance?

We look and laugh: still a whited race of shit carriers

– and who says this dark skin that dresses us so well

is not bark-brave enough to rough storms and thrive

and to ask the unanswerable, to civilize zombies

who make apes obey at checkpoints to liberate booty

We, we stand to make palaver, we make shakara big!

We whom tragedies overtake as we make comedy

we empower dark holes of impunity till we ourselves

flogged by Opposite People we become impunity

we look and laugh;  teacher don teach us nonsense

From Alagbon,  Kirikiri to Gashua, all dungeons,

where cockroaches whisper to would-be Nobel laureates

whose heads do not bow to a logos made for suffering

we  learn monafiki of the gab and the gall of the gallery

till justice begs to see the shaved head of innocence

We stretch unbowed heads Stuffed heads Sufferheads

sassheads chancing the sleep walker, zombie of the turf

barging right left and lost for cover, a Johnny Just Drop

making show: a power of errors in a dark trip of power

in the monochrome fervour of  shabby martial  music

Zombie  music,  in the four-cornered jam of legends

at Ojuelegba and wherever traffic lockjaws tell

minds that do not move, hearts that do not melt in love

pupils of planless ‘doms jamming questions to unmask

beasts of no nation who ‘chop and quench’ as creed.

So we  fight in roforofo  that makes nations smell

as the basket-mouth already open cannot close  again

against  colo-mentality that infects tout and professor

altering  DNAs, to round up dreams and fake skin-depth,

faulting destinies whose today  eats our tomorrows

How their yesterdays wrong-foot our today! at Mushin,

Ikoyi and  wherever Middle class blindness wreaks

the hearty slavery of ‘cooperative mobs’ in paid dissent,

large loaves crawling on their bellies like army recruits

facing payday afraid of the soggy downpour of market forces

So we trot from millenial promise to unfinished  story-telling,

scoffing at Year Two Thousand arrivals  to end all plagues

in search of selves lost for good Where women are burned

as stuffed pillows, stumped pads, cornered by sloth

like monkeys sold on bananas erasing nation-memory

We look and laugh. Adversity mows the playing ground

till the impervious wall becomes a porous baft

and the deaf  learns from the eloquence of tremors

How time baits knowledge for the trousered apes

bragging‘you give me shit I give you shit. God no vex’

All Area Boys, Gang Lords prowling, till no way exists

to know cracker  from cretin, knave from freeborn

hurling kicks and sticks and burning tyre-necklaces

at petty thieves already down and out, in anger’s after-foam

while the TV messiahs steal the mat from the Good Earth

Surely, we look and laugh at our world upside down,

black and bled upon the hundred and one tables of  power

where customs in illicit loves inebriate high commands

till sleep presses all to touch bottom with crocodiles

whose jaws bowl ‘no agreement today none tomorrow.

(from Go Tell the Generals)

GUEVARA

With so many islands foundering under the sea

in a heroin of power; guns growing into wrong hands

from the compost of other people’s wars,

he was not afraid to be Bolivar. Bored

with the clerkdom that held restless dreams

down to banana tastes in the simple idolatories of office;

he was not afraid to be Kristi, not ashamed

to have enough of victory in one republic

rising like buried Atlantis with the sweetness of cane

…..he willed time to reach out from the nightmare

of red carpets, the best of Ganguin, rare Picasso

the seduction of manicured lawns, and Chopin

filtering into air-conditioned boardrooms,

he swore to renew the mountains’ fever

as sambas angle for the gut of the dance

to put spine through jelly

he would renew the mountain’s fever

He reached for his kalashnikov in the boardroom locker,

his gaze widening from streets gloating;

and alleys cavorting, feckless with joy

in the stomp, raw bump and sweat of carnivals;

his ear cocked towards the broken voices

in the mines, sweatfloors, and fields

peppered across the knees of strutting caudillos

He reached for his kalashnikov, time to split

before his will leaked into the moons rising

on faces that he saw; faces that drove him

into the dark nights of the millions

denied the samba of their hearts

assured of no better day of sunshine

He turned to the sleepless valleys

convulsed with stainless laughter

of rivers seeking breath for a continent

being garroted by a rash of dictators.

He reached out towards receding dawns,

eyes grating with pain worse than his asthma

as he foresaw the crumbs grown mouldy and soggy

in estates looking North to granaries

bled away in a market of gunboats;

he reached for his kalashnikov to steel himself

against loss of himself in extreme wind-pulse,

where he stood contemptuous of death,

guided by gaiety that shielded his tracks

against fear, such fear that looked a man in the eye

and, for the thousandth time, promised

only a life of crawling on hands and knees

And that fear asked him: what if…

what if he fell to the dragons

burning the forests to trap his dream. What if…..!

He preferred to be reaped far from altars,

far from shrines and gravestones

far from grooves calling to pilgrim’s feet –

far from the herohood of grand gestures –

far better to be honoured by birds

flying with strips of his song

to fertilize barren acres

He preferred to be reaped in open spaces

echoing the larger day that will not bow

to the gods of loot and the supermarket

a day that will neither stoop

to the sale of comrades downriver

nor silence the voices that ask

only that no child may look to the sun

as drones of the flipped coin

guided by the burst of a kalashnikov

(from Dreams at Work)

 

 

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