By Tikum Mbah Azonga
At midnight today
And no later than today
When husbands turn over and start snoring
And women looking for intelligent children fret
Roofs will quiver
And foundations will be rocked.
The reason is that we are at the crossroads
The road our ancestors took
The one along which women too vulgar are punished
As things stand we have ourselves to blame
We must then make sacrifices
There will be no peace until they are appeased.
2. Time Out
(For Pamela Abeyie)
I am the mid road man
I creep like the silent plant
Where I go, only monks enter
Where I sit, only king makers sit.
The thunder has shut up
The rain has ceased
The fire is going out
And you, you wear a cynical smile.
Don’t take it out on me
I mean you no harm
I’m only a mid road man who creeps
I can never claim to be your boss.
(For Lord Baron Pienyam Teku, the man with the literary mind)
Let those who left first
Also pay first
For, never can it be fair
That some cut and run
And those who stay the course
Are made to face the music.
If it was a matter of thirst
Then who doesn’t know thirst?
Or is it that only those who dare
And do nothing, even for fun
Must at all times and sometimes by force
Be given the Green Card and to boot, Swanzik?
4. That Which We Treasure
(For Sir Ralph Awa the Rover who made literature meaningful to me)
Oh, God of hosts
Strengthen each day our lines
Our defence lines
And help us to keep the bridge
Send the rain and thunder to the North
Not the south where we are
Those lines we carry
Come from our ancestors
And to us they are sacred
We shall allow no one take them
We shall allow no one defy them
We would rather give our breath
So that even if we are gone
These lines must remain
They must be here
Here at all times
To bear witness
To tell the tale.
5. Counting the Cost
(For my Uncle, Pa Victor, who knows something about being cut off from the rest of us by the swept away bridge.)
(For Pa Moses Moka and his long time assistant, Joshua, for making the several fish ponds a lasting land mark at the Agric Farm in Bambui. And also those of us at the time little children who prayed whenever the sky went dark and groaned noisily, that the heavy rains should come with huge tides and cause the fish ponds to overflow their banks and in the process scatter fish – some already dead, others still wagging their tails - all over the place for us to pick up and take to our mothers for dinner.
Even now that I speak
The stream still flows
With all its vigour and manhood
The tide hasn’t stopped rising
Already, the bridge has been swept away
Cutting us off from them
What we fear most is that
The rising tide may
Cause the fish pond to break its banks
If that happens, then that’s the peak
Ten years hard work will come tumbling down
Treated waters will be wiped away
Precious tilapia nilautica left without hem
Killed and flushed out for us wanton beings to eat fat
It always happens in this dreaded month of May
After that we start from scratch and close ranks.
6. Who I Am
My name is Lillian
But I assure you, I’m not a Sicilian
I’m just an ordinary Ensabian
Who is also a worthy Christian.
I don’t have much to say
Thank God you don’t ask everyday
If you did, then no way!
What I believe in is making hay.
Don’t ask me about tomorrow
That will only bring sorrow
Let’s take care of today and not borrow
Because wherever the Lord goes, we follow.
You may think I’m evasive
No, I think I’m very persuasive
Otherwise, why is everything we buy so expensive?
Only God can lead us to what is extensive.
I heard him call her an idiot
Although he strongly denies it now
Expect that from men without a vow
Because all they know is the road to the griot.
8. At a loss
What should I say this time?
I feel lost and empty and sapped
It’s like asking me to commit a crime
Otherwise, why forget the lines that were wrapped?
9. Freedom Day
All was calm on the home front
The curtains were drawn
The chickens still pent up
And the table set for three.
Then the strong winds came like a united front
And all the Christmas sparrows were flung on the lawn
Suddenly, the sky grumbled, went dark and we shut up
And a voice from above cried out:
‘We have come to set you free
For this country is rotten’.
Do you remember the dance for two?
When as if enchanted
You and I drifted towards each other
In the middle of the floor
With everyone else, watching
Either scandalised or lost?
That was for me the first earned due
Thereafter I became respected
For, they all asked: ‘How did he charm her?’
Remember the engaging ring at the door?
And the weeding ring worth more than a farthing?
Today I wonder what would happen if all that was lost.
11. Born Again
(For Ntembe Paul Amombi, the typical Aries man)
Let all the wealth I have in the world,
My gold, my silver, my diamonds
Go up in flames!
I don’t need them any more
I have found
And the life.
Let it all go up in flames
But let no one have one bit of it
Not one bit
Lest someone else becomes
As trapped and as enslaved as I was
For so long.
(For Mr Sylverius Mbuye, the unequalable secondary school teacher of ours we nick-named ‘Agent de Terre’ because he was such a good secret agent!))
The cry came from afar
It rang out once
It was shrill, sharp, agonised
At once we picked up our tools
And made about–turn
We knew that in these parts
Anything could happen.
Too bad it was dark and we were far
We knew at any time they could pounce
For it wasn’t long since the last boat capsized
So, like Azonga and Anukwe, typical examples of bush men
We were prepared to spurn.
Although we had the carts
We lacked the fruits about to ripen.
Her shrill cry rang out
And we woke up with a start
‘Oh my God! She’s lost it again!
Before I could pull off the loin
She was out in the night, naked,
Trying to catch something in the air
‘What are you doing there, Ngwenyi?’ I asked
‘They’re here! They’re here!’
‘Who? Who is here?
‘Can’t you see?
They’ve come back.
They’ve torn up my post card
And they’re tossing up the pieces
For me to catch!’
‘No, I see nothing
No one, except you
In the sheltered light of the night’
‘Well then you’re blind,
If not mad!’
It was between twelve and one
When the silent birds had sunk deep
And the midnight song had gone hollow
All the forsaken beasts of burden
For too long left on the sidelines
Knew that come what might
The wedding bells would never ring again.
Now that I sit here brazen faced with a frown
I see the shiny necklaces creep and weep
The bride set in china on an altar made fallow
And the groom too lost to notice her all sodden
All of them lined up for a parade with no lines
What I failed to see, not being a knight
Were the huge cumulus clouds announcing the rain.
I heard the tree branch crackle
And the tilley birds in the deep night
Quarrel about the futile tattle
For so long condemned rattling.
16. Deceptive flower
I love to contemplate the moon flower
With its million branches
And annoyingly identical petals
They are the very receptacle
On which David of old placed his harp.
Hearing this you may say a flower is a flower
But at church, no two benches
Regardless of their uniformity in terms of rentals
Can serve as stool for the pastor’s spectacle
The only real spectacle on earth is that which is sharp.
17. Cut It Out
(For the Rev. Fr Mac Mahon who taught us English at Sacred Heart College)
Get it together
By all means, get your act together
And save us all
From final damnation
Cut your ‘T’s and dot your ‘I’s
Never again will you see the face of the Holy one
For, Jacob didn’t live twice
So, make loose ends a thing of the past.
It was not quite anger
No it was remorse
That was what made me do it
The emptiness, the vacuum.
When the rains come back
And the last queen fails to return
All kingmakers off track
Will run round the palace with the Fon’s lantern.
20. Hold up
(The president’s traffic jam)
Tell them the road is blocked
Tell them it’s blocked at both ends
No one gets on, no one gets off
The search is on in earnest
There will be no let up whatsoever
Until the president’s jewels are found
For how can anyone get away with the kings pearls?
N:B These poems are taken from my forthcoming publication of poems in English, THE COWRIE NECKLACE,to be published by Langaa Publishers.