or Afiniki Kyari





Rasheed has come on study leave. He brings

the taste of home, borkono, daddawa,

some of those little smoked fish coiled in rings

tail into mouth, that villagers from Hanwa

used to catch. As though under the water

now I walk the dried up river bed,

as steep banks slowly lift over my head.


For me, part of him is just this: the bush,

the sun as dark as a tomato, spokes

of big bike wheels along the paths, the hush

of kaftans as the farmers called their jokes

and greetings across that low sky, with hoes

on shoulders, and sometimes that motorcade

wailed far off like a spirit from the dead.


The river gravel now exposed in tapered

wedges getting finer at the tips,

the steep bank showing roots that went down deeper

than the plant grew up, my dry footsteps

clinking the pebbles, no wind on my lips:

as if I’d been allowed to walk beneath

the water just this once and yet still breathe.



borkono, daddawa: condiments





What do I know about that land of his,

of yours, the bungled country where I found -

oh, all these findings, these discoveries,

these looted treasures stashed away in mind

to be brought back and labelled with the sounds

of English words whose meanings I don’t know -

an ignorance? That’s what I have to show.


Oh how socratic is the wood-carved head

which I unwrap as if from waterproof

like Livingstone, and put next to our bed

still as a soul. I have to keep it, love.

Such contradiction has to be enough

although it’s not, I know. Nor is your known

voice intimately far off in a phone.



Rasheed’s as well, talking of Bessie Head

again from his MA analysis

out on the porch after he’d come and set

down rice bags in the kitchen, laughing, ‘Presents!’,

me not sure if they weren’t something else

at first. Stones on the pages, and a kind

of English not quite mine to understand.





He brings news of the killings: so-called tribe

on so-called tribe, and all goes back to oil

and looters in high places, banks and bribes,

and dead fish floating in a petrol smell,

and no Osama there, not yet, for Shell

so-called Nigeria who’s bidding’s done,

out in the bush somewhere, just before dawn.


Thought of your sister in that house, the walls

around it with barbed wire along the tops,

your brother-in-law’s rifle, the split skull

your nephew Charles had seen with wet brain slopped

on dust. Then, ’86 after they’d stopped

the quelling of the students on the campus

a thinning mist, the faintest sting of gas.



Still there, are they, yards from the office, bullet

pock marks in the wall with felt tip O’s

around each one, the total counted, protests,

speeches, loud hailers, then Kill and Go,

Farida shot still in her shower robe

as she went back along the balcony

towards her room. Oh, my inadequacy!


Kill and Go: military police





Rasheed was editor in chief. He knew

them face to face, of course, Ken Saro Wiwa

who was done because of Alli who

had nursed this grudge, Abacha who was murdered

by the CIA _/ Call-girls, viagra,

poison, agent Coleman. . . How sheltered

I am, this teacher, due so much respect.



This is safe England where shysters like Blair

mix easy words and pictures, some, at least,

part true to tell us of a country far

away and strange with different customs, feast

days, and a wicked King whose wicked secrets

hide so deep down in the tale we haven’t

found them yet. They keep us innocent.




We drive him all the way back to Heathrow:

a line of babban rigas for Abuja,

stacked up excess bags. Before he goes

he bends to give Tristan and Laraba

‘something’. He waves. He goes into Departure

as we turn back and try to find the car,

then change, then A3 against spaceless dark.


Babban rigas: traditional flowing Hausa robes










I gave him cash, sterling, to give to Joe,

who runs the English office still, and eats

meat once a week these days and is supposed

to buy goats now that he’s been made a chief

but can’t afford to. Swivelling on his seat

he’d swivel back with any doc I wanted

from that filing system in his head.



I studied it, this Africa, it’s use

of English in its poems, in Ikebe

Super Pidgin. I wrote to dispute

the thesis put forward by Ngugi

wa Thiong’o when he seems to say

that English words plug Africans with English

thoughts, surely quite unmaterialist . . .



I did a little bit. Got Awam in,

and Jenks, and Mbulelo, kept the VC’s

buddies out, began a mag, got Pidgin

on the syllabus. Though none of this

would outlast Maigida’s return to be

true head again, and send out the Department

car to Sabo to collect his rents.



Ikebe super: literally ‘large bum’, popular tabloid magazine




Ninety-eight, we came back. There was Joe

grinning and pointing at the bucket on

the floor to catch the drips. Down south Okpewho,

Soyinka, Achebe, Biodun,

‘Molara, Femi, Kole, they’ve all gone

where they can work, The States, South Africa,

UK. Our HOD’s now bloody Emma!



Flight of the scholars. No more annual

conferences held in Ibadan now

nor Calabar where you came once when still

on NYS, and we walked with Okello

to the jetty and that clanking grew

into a blurry shadow on the mist

that for a moment was the Heart of Darkness




steamer on the Penguin book (A row

of them along the shelf behind Joe’s head),

the river and the blur of primal Congo _/

where the white man trekked to his meet id,

Achebe wrote, Joe’s townsman, whom I met

once in that room, which maybe Joe was thinking

as he smiled back, with the bucket plinking.



NYS: National Youth Service, done in an area of the country

they don’t come from _/ by all students after graduation

Achebe: Chinua Achebe, Nigerian novelist, author of Things

Fall Apart