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Tanure Ojaide


Tanure Ojaide

Ojaide is currently the Frank Porter Graham Professor of Africana Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize for the Africa Region (1987), the BBC Arts and Africa Poetry Award (1988), the All-Africa Okigbo Prize for Poetry (1988 and 1997), and the Association of Nigerian Authors' Poetry Prize (1988, 1994 and 2004). His poems have been translated into Chinese, Dutch, Spanish and French. His many poetry collections include In The House of Words [Malthouse, 2006]


 Three Poems


Doors of the Forest
“The doors of the forest are closed” (Pablo Neruda)
The doors of the forest are closed. Forever
closed by poachers, government-salaried guards,
of the green dominion that kissed the sky’s face
amidst ululation of leaves topped by a majestic crown.
On the dome and over the garland of opulent leaves,
the choir out-sang symphonies, vocals of every caliber—
soloists, duets, and ensembles pouring out melodies.
The bush was a countryside fair of a thousand voices
that rang from pre-dawn through wakeful hours.
The doors are now closed to the population of treedom
after the holocaust of millennial axes and cutlasses;
a vast dune is the brown seat of the imperial desert
with hot air conducting the triumphant trumpet of victors.
Imagine the loss in capital and heritage of the nobility
of the iroko, mahogany, obeche, and the lineage of heights!
All the shields against fearsome diseases trampled to dust.
Once the giants got decapitated, the undergrowths wiped out,
all other species of glamour ground into interminable sand.
With the forest gone, the bloodbath hushed over by rites
of sprinkling confetti at wraiths of a once proud stock;
the doors themselves fueled the delirium of seasonal fires.
Once the doors of the forest closed, came a new millennium
of woodless silence—a gaping wound in the earth’s chest
thrives with worldwide denial of rain to douse flames.
Humans, shut out, smart from the climate change.
The doors of the forest are closed to peace and joy
by the poaching perpetrated in the silence of lust.



The Muse Sends me to the Market

I ask no questions of the divine command
and off I go to Igbudu Market across the main road.
I take along the cast-iron bell that completes my costume—
the messenger must deliver his message with a clear ring.
Above haggling murmurs of milling marketers
I come to mingle with sellers, buyers, and others.
The market is a vast theatre of fortune where
fate tags its caste with myriad sizes of purses:
those come with only a penny to buy all their needs
and a few with tons of cash to buy what is not for sale—
it is clear the divides elsewhere that remain covered
the market surely exposes in abysmal barriers.
Forbidden love exercises freedom here; nobody denied entry
where the living and the dead consort and exchange pleasantries
under the shade of thronged murmurs and spectacle of spices
and stalking robbers display the tortoise’s craft they learned.
I have not come to the market on my own volition
to barter songs for palm oil, fresh fish, and salt—
the songs that come free to the minstrel will not
outbid the oil worker’s wife overflowing with cash.
I come to poeticize the arithmetic of prices,
denials of poverty and delusions of wealth.
I ring the bell at tilted scales and other measures;
I sing loud against the hat tricks of usurers. . .
The muse sends me to the market
and I ask no questions of the divine command.



Elegy for Nostalgia

How will the ancestral population replenish
itself with the present crop of living folks
still fresh on the stalk falling off without storm;
brushfires ambushing brown and green leaves?
Where will the league of heroes come from
with the takeover of the nation by thieves?
Who will transform into gods to be worshiped
with no respect for followers beneath or behind;
with leaders soiling themselves with scandals,
selling their allegiance to their people’s robbers;
seizing from the blind light to recover their rights,
denying the crippled space to exercise humanity?
I am struck by the dearth of goodwill in the neighborhood,
the abundance of bad belle* despite alleluias and salaaming;
I raise the cry to build dikes against the rivers of tears,
seek silence from the cacophony of the riotous music.
If history were to die from our hands or in our keep,
what life would be left to live without chroniclers?
If the muse, angry from much needless provocation,
struck dumb the minstrel, what new songs would heal
the gaping wounds that torment folks night and day,
or move the tired world higher to a cheerful sphere?
Wish I could engrave more faces on coins or notes, but
it is a tall order to find them to fill the vacancies ahead.
I seek resuscitation of the dying breed of the earth
to sing of ancestors, heroes, gods, and chroniclers.

Bad belle: Pidgin for ill will.


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