You can trust the headless scream of Oshodi
to bury in its cemetery
a frothful battle
for living or dying.
And if this concerned a child of twelve
watching death roll to her on rail tracks
what sympathy can come
from the raw-peppered heart of such a horde?
You can trust Oshodi to undertake
the wake of the living.
A mere girl of twelve!
She dug with bone-dry fingers in the mud,
digging for a root that would clutch at life,
lathered by her feverish plea for a healing hand.
We filed past, casting half-glances,
pleading in turn our impotent worlds of sorrow
where love, lacking muscle, weeps in little graves,
hurrying through a broken fence
to flee malediction in her fading eyes.
A sooty train sounded its horn, like a funeral
Bell, as I crossed the fence. And I wondered
if she was bound for home when a fire
started in her bones, wondered if home
was the mucky deathbed where Oshodi
daily mocks the living. I passed again the cursed scene
and relived her fight as she lay dying by the railbars
hoping in vain to pluck a ministering hand
from a crowd deader than her dying self.
Yes, I too fled past her on that day,
forced to pay last respects to one
more in need of life than mourning.
Dear girl, twined afresh by guilt
I plead breathing corpses of your mourners
in mitigation. I plead flesh that fell
with yours, leaving only rattling bones
that toll your silent cry forever
in a wild and heedless world.
31, December 1990
From Homeland and other poems by Ogaga Ifowodo
AWP, NJ, 1998