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Femi Oyebode    

She was already Dead

Femi Oyebode is Consultant Psychiatrist at the Queen Elizabeth Psychiatric Hospital, Birmingham. He has published seven poetry volumes. He lives in the UK.



(Efunsetan, Iyalode of Ibadan, assassinated 30th June 1874)

She was not laid out
Dressed in brocade or velvet

No gold or silver, no coral
Gilded the already dead stateliness of her.

She lay naked
Wrapped in a raffia mat

Already dead ready for death.

Her memories delayed
Caught up with her

And like a net that is cast wide
A net unfurled and hanging

A net with the parabolic elegance
Of a mathematical intuition

Her memories became a shroud.

The rain began in the early evening
Like the faint rustle,

The wind blowing a field of corn,
And the dry, dun dry earth darkened

Clouds gathered moved
Horsemen in a sky already depleted

Overcast with her unfurled memories
In a viscous tropical chamber

Humid with musk, the oleaginous imperative of lying in state.

They had already dug a pit
Her whole length and more,

A shallow knee-length depth
They took her birth naked body

And washed it, and oiled it
Her compact, night dark body

The stillness of death suited her.

Her crown was dressed in organdy
Bright red, brilliant vermilion,

The scarf turned and knotted gaudy
They lay her in the pit to make her

At once one with the earth again
Then they covered her over.

The darkness of death suited her.

The damp muddy mire of the earth
Smeared on their hands, their arms

Sweat beaded and glistening on the brow

The fuzz of rain on the shaven scalps
Eyes hard obsidian set in the glint

The blood-shot red of sorrow sent her
A clod of earth, mortal to death.

This final resting place
A pit in her own courtyard

Like a wound covered her up.

Rude flesh, a freshly exposed integument
First in midday sun and now dampened and darkened by

The drizzle, then the fret of tears
This pit of her resting hollow

What hinge to which door,
Which entrance and what agony

Of passage has the pit sealed over?

The marketplace was devoid of her
Midafternoon dense shadow

The women robed in Dutch block prints
Children strapped to the back

Or clinging by the teat edge
Sold or battered, counting the cowry shells

Like round red peppers narrow whistle peppers.

Across the marketspace
Words were hurled darts flying or kites

High above the canopy of the solitary baobab
Laughter, clear as bells ringing

But beneath this everyday pasture
In the heart a wound opened up

An ache gnawed at the simple place of truth.

But they had already killed her
The quickness of her in the final week

Hid like a recluse in the fold of her clothes
Clung to the wall like mimosa drooping and closed

A humiliating fragrance for one so bold
She bore her panic like a gown worn loosely

They killed her quickness dead ruthlessly.

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