Home Page African-Writing Online
HomeAbout UsNewsinterviewsProfiles of South African Women WritersFictionPoetryTributesArtReviews

  Alex Smith
  Amanze Akpuda
  Amatoritsero Ede
  Amitabh Mitra
  Ando Yeva
  Andrew Martin
  Aryan Kaganof

  Ben Williams
  Bongani Madondo
  Chielozona Eze
  Chris Mann
  Chukwu Eke
  Chuma Nwokolo
  Colleen Higgs
  Colleen C. Cousins
  Don Mattera
  Elizabeth Pienaar
  Elleke Boehmer
  Emilia Ilieva
  Fred Khumalo
  Janice Golding
  Lauri Kubuitsile
  Lebogang Mashile
  Manu Herbstein
  Mark Espin
  Molara Wood
  Napo Masheane
  Nduka Otiono
  Nnorom Azuonye
  Ola Awonubi
  Petina Gappah
  Sam Duerden
  Sky Omoniyi
  Toni Kan
  Uzor M. Uzoatu
  Valerie Tagwira
  Vamba Sherif
  Wumi Raji
  Zukiswa Wanner

   Ntone Edjabe
   Rudolf Okonkwo
   Tolu Ogunlesi
   Yomi Ola
   Molara Wood

August Debut

Issue 2; October/November


Nduka Otiono

Nduka Otiono

Otiono is currently FS Chia Scholar in the Department of English and Film Studies, University of Alberta, Canada, and Fellow, William Joiner Centre for War and Social Consequences, University of Massachusetts Boston. He was General Secretary of the Association of Nigerian Authors. His first book, The Night Hides with a Knife (Short stories), jointly won the maiden ANA/Spectrum Prize for fiction, while his second, Voices in the Rainbow (Poems), was runner up for the ANA/Cadbury Poetry Prize. He is co-editor of We-Men: An Anthology of Men Writing on Women. Otiono is also co-editor of Camouflage: Best of Contemporary Writing from Nigeria (2006), and founding Editor of The Post Express Literary Supplement (PELS), which won Literary Column of the Year 1997 and the first ANA Merit Award in 1998. Before consulting as Literary Editor for NewAge, Otiono was on the Editorial Board of Thisday newspapers.
Otiono’s second collection of poems, Love in a Time of Nightmares, is due for publication in 2008.


A Memory of Berkeley
(For Robert Hass, Malcolm Margolin and Toby Wolff)

the world
meets you through poets in a
concert of words on a sidewalk;
the words summon you,
sacred unction in communion
with Mother earth.

Far from California’s crazy infernos,
on this east shore of San Francisco Bay
a cornucopia of silk-screened words
rise to meet you at Addison Street,
and poets, step by step, tease
time and space with porcelain
enamel texts on cast-iron plates.

Here, a gathering of poets
tile by tile mingle history and
emotions of a shared destiny.
wayfarer in search of lost words, you
have travelled from Boston
bursting with traffic on Friday nights
to trace this coalition of the willing--poets,
patrons, architects, technocrats
united in vision to worship Words.

Here’s the hub of the wor’d,
a short whisper away from
Free Speech Circle at UCB
where in some gorgeous library,
Mark Twain sits, daydreaming of
San Francisco’s art-rage: from City Lights
to Addison Street before Silicon Valley
emerged from the menacing fog
to hoodwink a generation lost
on the information superhighway.

Still, on Berkeley’s Poetry Walk
words are the world’s emperor
and poets are her royal majesties
robed in such metaphoric fineries
you will quietly genuflect
to their verbal legacies.
From the Ohlone song,
“See! I am dancing!
On the rim of the world I am dancing”
seraphic voices shepherd you through
this streetscape, some whispering like
Yosano Akiko, others howling like
Allen Ginsberg and his Beat Generation.
together they resurrect in plates that
patina into antique hue, igniting
nostalgia for Clark’s Ibadan
and its running splash of rust and gold.

Here the world meets you
through poets in a concert
of words on a sidewalk; the
words become “One” in
John Roberts’ emblematic
poem, invite you to
rediscover the aura
of an era.

Homeland Securities

Security is mortals’ chiefest enemy.
---William Shakespeare

today a grey weather camouflages time
and i track the uneasy mangrove swamps
from the Garden City where poisoned
flowers transfigure into bullets and blood
to Buguma, frightened by the frothing
waters as the speedboat churns its way &
the innocent water laughs with shy waves
oblivious of the fate that’s befallen her.

i witness new pollutants thicken the sea
as a boil ripening, sack the fishermen
with their worn-out nets & perfume
the hooded creeks reeking of gunpowder
crystalline salt & suppliant hostages.
aerial roots of halophytic plants plead
for protection from the rippling, septic sea
as muse-ings over homeland securities
overwhelm me, lost in my mourning sickness.

it’s dawn in the creeks & the fear of em-
bittered militants is the beginning of safety.
youths immunized against bullets by Egbesu,
faces laced with ancient magical symbols,
chant subversive litanies & contest the feds’
control of Nature’s honeyed gifts to them.
tenants in their homeland, you will not dare
stare at the amulets tied around their necks,
nor question the potency of the warrior spirit—
here’re the new faces of homeland securities, rag-tag
citizens of a country sewn with fabrics borrowed
from ethnic nationalities like a coat of many colours.

the boat cruises with my sailing thoughts as an odd
poem yearns to be written on the tablet of the mind.
i think of Odi where there are no road signs
but ruthless graffiti in charcoal, chalk or etched with
some pin-point item by an insane army: “Weep not Odi,”
“The God almighty is the destroyer of any manmade god.”
And laugh not or so do at your own peril: for you
will learn the meaning of homeland securities
under a leaking green-white-green
in the gathering storm.

it’s dawn in the creeks & news of another kidnap
floats through the cobwebbed airwaves as i track
the mangrove swamps from Garden City to Buguma.
“In the Niger Delta,” says the newscaster,
“there’s no security, only gangs, guns & oil.”

The Sea Bears Many Secrets
(For Nneka, who was murdered and dumped into the Atlantic)

No one knew when the butcher called,
hireling from a budding secret cult

who by day is human and friend,
but at night, a bloodthirsty fiend.

You listened, following fate like the wind,
sowing friendship and reaping no pity.

Then you walked into a hideous bind
where beasts reign over a garden city.

You didn’t prepare for the mortal embrace
and so you departed your room with grace,

beauty, with a head loaded with knowledge
but not smart enough to know he wouldn’t budge.

And so like John, you walked in evil hour
into the nest of a lovesick slaughterer

with just one poisoned kiss of death
he sucked your naive blood and sought

the sea to wash you down and wash him clean
knowing the sea bears many secrets like rain.


There are secrets buried in the vaults of seas -
treasures from sunken ships, treasures from
cities buried by cyclones and earthquakes.

There are bones of drowned swimmers,
sailors, passengers and homicide victims…

There’re amphibians, plants, plankton, skeletons, and minerals,
not even underwater archaeologists can hunt them all.

On their banks, too, are more secrets,
like the huge graveyard for five million victims
left on the Congo by Leopold II of Belgium.

You could have been one, Nneka,
disappearing without a farewell or a scar

but the sea is no resting-ground for you
and so the sea rejected you,
even with the stone strung on your waist.

You floated without a lifebuoy
to give testimony at nineteen,
just a term to graduation.

You floated like seaweed,
seeking justice even in death
with nothing but a skewered heart.

The mourning time is not over yet
Every morning we think of you, and
Every water body recalls your sordid exit.

The sea may bear many secrets
But there are some it spits forth.

Copyright © Fonthouse Ltd & respective copyright owners. Enquiries to permissions@african-writing.com.