on December 16, 2020
Words, words, words You failed me when I needed you the most You vagabond! I (For them at the Murambi genocide memorial site in Rwanda) Ploughed from the mass graves of History Exhibits on the pyre of empty testaments Equestrians of Trauma Signifiers of perpetual suffering Icons of silence, of the never-speech: To you: mangled, rancid dead on display I owe this stupefying enchantment. II (For Ngugi wa Thiong’o) Warrior of conquered tongues Digging Babel’s debris for remnants For the sounds of the soil buried by History; Soldier of idioms blackened by the Crusaders, Feeble voice of fading sagas: Tell me, chieftain of endangered tongues, how to measure History’s patois¾ That estimation of enslaved languages. III That corpse lying along History’s highway¾ Rotting unmourned, unattended Crushed beyond recognition The disintegrating dung drawing cluttered faces¾ Is sprouting flowers: a wonder! Lilies mingling with wild cactuses, unbruised, Unweeping, staring into the clouds Daring the burnishing rays To crush them one final time. IV I am a captive of my own cries Held behind the bars of choked agonies A dead tongue from subglottic stenosis Deceased words jamming the pharynx: To speak is to suffocate on words. V You plead your way into the waters Words sputtering, drenched, drowning Your tongue, imploring, tastes the saline waters Overrunning your dreams of safety As you grasp, clasp, gasp; The waters, unhearing, unheeding, claiming you Over and again. VI (For Christopher Okigbo) When you have finished & done up my stitches, Wake me near the altar, & this poem will be finished…* His body wasted on the altar A pyre stretchered for the fire Blackened by History’s horror Red patches of congealed life, embroidered: Hands working on him Stitching up rotten sores Mending the loose ends of failed lines Words, unspoken, unfinished, making their way Into the stiff ends of a dying poem. “He will not awake,” says she of sea-weed face The poem never to be finished. * From Christopher Okigbo, “Siren Limits IV.”
Chigbo Anyaduba is an assistant professor of English at the University of Winnipeg, Canada.